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Harry had no way of knowing that the decision he made – the simple, mundane every day decision – would have such terrible consequences for him and his wife.

He was ready to go. He had checked in online for their flight. His suitcase and cabin bag were packed and standing in the hall. On the coat rack hung his jacket with keys, wallet, sunglasses, passport and printed boarding card tucked into the pockets.

Molly was still pulling together the contents of her handbag, always a long job before a long trip. Harry looked at his watch; he still had fifteen minutes or so before the taxi was due. What else had he wanted to do before he went on holiday?

Water the roses? They were parched but maybe they could wait. Clean and polish the Jag? It would be tight to fit that in. Mow the lawn? Definitely not enough time. Download another travel guide? He had three already.

The roses it was then.

He put on his jacket and walked through the hallway and dining room, his airline boarding pass flapping out of the breast pocket like a stiff handkerchief. He opened the French windows and went out onto the terrace. The rose beds stretched away on either side in lines of scarlet blooms.

What a shame we’re going away when the flowers are out, he thought.

The lawn was speckled with daisies, their white spots stretching away past the fountain and the larger flower beds towards the orchard. He knew there was pruning and weeding to do and tried to push it from his mind; he loved gardening but never found enough time to do any. It was one of his main aims for retirement in two years. In the meantime, he was resigned to the fact he would have to get the gardener to come more than once a month.

He went towards the standpipe on the edge of the patio.

“Where’s the bloody hose?” he said out loud to himself. “Surely it hasn’t been put away.”

Tutting in disapproval at the absence of his watering equipment, Harry went back into the house and took his car keys from the box on the telephone table. He then went back across the terrace and out of the side gate, under an arch of climbing red roses to the front, crunching his way along the gravel drive to the garage. One click of the key ring and the automatic doors eased silently open. He walked past the Jaguar – Gosh, it’s really grimy, maybe I should have washed it after all – and started sorting through the garden implements at the back. There’s the hose – but where is that adaptor?

As he stooped over a box of garden tools, his passport fell with a loud plop onto the concrete floor. He scooped it up, shoved it in his inside jacket pocket, and started rummaging through the trowels, pots, secateurs and other implements. Somewhere in here was a small grey piece of plastic that attached his hose to the tap…

 

“Harry, where are you? Harry?” He came out of the garage, a coiled hose in one hand, the adaptor in the other. Molly was in the driveway; next to her a man in a dark suit and tie stood to attention by the side of a black Peugeot.

“Harry, what are you doing? The taxi’s here. We need to go.”

“I wanted to water the roses.”

“You don’t have time.”

Tutting for the second time that morning, Harry wandered back into the garage and placed the hose and fitting where he’d found them. When he emerged the taxi driver was loading their suitcases in the trunk. He clicked the garage doors closed and trudged off towards the house.

“Where are you going now?” cried Molly, leaning out of the back seat of the car.

“Hold on a minute, love. I don’t need to take my car keys all the way to Mallorca.”

Harry had to unlock the front door again. He dropped the car keys into their box by the phone, had one last check that no bags were left in the hall, then went outside to join his wife. When he closed the front door, the curtains in the dining room billowed in the breeze.

 

As the car pulled out of the driveway, Molly said, “Honestly, darling, what were you thinking?”

“I have so much to do,” said Harry. “I never have enough time to get it all done. Work just takes up my whole life.”

“I know, that’s why two weeks away from it all will do you some good – it’ll do both of us some good.”

“But the roses are parched.”

“Doris can water them. She said she’d pop by on Tuesday.”

“That won’t be enough if this dry spell keeps up,” he said, his brow creased in a frown of concern for his beloved garden.

“Darling, it’s alright. Doris will be round the following Thursday too. Honestly, you may be organized at work but if it wasn’t for me the house would fall apart.”

“I know, my love, thank you.” His fears finally put to rest, Harry relaxed and slumped back in the seat. His wife smiled at him and touched his hand affectionately.

“I hate to see you so stressed. It’s great you were made COO but you’re so busy and you’re always so tired.”

“I agree, but the rewards are worth it, aren’t they?”

“Of course, it’s great you can buy the car you’ve always wanted, and I love the new necklace, darling – you know I appreciate your generosity. We just need to get your work-life balance sorted. And this holiday can be the start.”

Molly leant over and gave her husband a tender kiss on the lips.

Harry smiled, put on his sunglasses and looked out the window at the English countryside hurtling by. At long last, things are starting to get better, he thought.

How was he to know?

 

Thirty minutes later the taxi pulled up outside the departures terminal. As the driver unloaded the bags, Harry fumbled in his wallet. He handed over notes worth twenty pence more than the fare and cheerily muttered, “Keep the change”. He didn’t notice the face of the driver, who looked as if he’d just been handed a rat pellet rather than a tip.

Harry and Molly spent a minute pulling retractable handles out of their luggage and then wheeled the procession of brightly colored cases through the sliding doors into the airport.

“Wait a minute,” said Harry, stopping in the middle of the concourse. “I think I left my sunglasses in the taxi?”

“They were on your head.”

“Yes, but I put them away when we went through that tunnel.” They turned towards the entrance; the taxi had gone.

“Don’t worry, love,” said Molly. “I’ll buy you a new pair in duty free. Let’s not have anything ruin this holiday.”

“Thank you.” He gave her a kiss and they moved off towards the check-in desks.

“You do have your passport though, don’t you, love?”

 

The taxi descended the ramp from the terminal building and joined the main road towards the motorway. After a few minutes, on a quieter stretch of highway, the driver braked and swung the car into a layby. He turned off the engine and got out.

The sun emerged from behind a cumulus cloud; it was another beautiful day. He loosened his tie, stretched in an exaggerated manner, then fumbled in his jacket pocket for a crumpled packet of cigarettes. He lit one and inhaled the smoke, tar and nicotine as if his life depended on it. He paced up and down for a few minutes, enjoying his smoke, deep in contemplation.

Flicking the cigarette butt into the gutter, he shrugged off his jacket and opened the rear door to place it on the back seat. A black glasses case was lodged next to the seat belt clip. The driver opened it and pulled out a smart pair of shiny new designer sunglasses. Smiling to himself, he got back behind the wheel, put the Ray-Bans on his nose, and pulled his mobile phone out of the glove compartment. He hit a familiar contact and the ringing was answered quickly.

“Hi, it’s me. I’ve got another one for you.” There were exclamations of disbelief at the other end of the line.

“Yes, I know I said ‘no more’, but the missus is on my case about getting that extension finished. And this is too good to miss – it’s a dead cert.”

He admired himself in the rear-view mirror.

“Yes, that’s what I said, but I want ten per cent more of the cut this time. OK?”

He tilted his head in the way people always do when they’re trying on eyewear.

“There’s a car – the new X-type Jag. Can’t be more than a few weeks old. And the keys are definitely in the house. What’s more, there’s almost certainly some expensive jewelry.

“I know. Well, what are brothers for? Yes, I’d take Tommy in case there’s a safe.”

Ray-Bans always looked good on him.

“So ten per cent more this time? Great. It’s the same village as that last one. Write this down.” Harry adjusted his new glasses and looked at himself from another angle while his brother found a pen.

“It’s The Old Farm House, Manor Lane.

“Two weeks. But be careful: next Tuesday and the following Thursday there may be someone about. And try round the back first – I’d say there’s a strong chance the door or French windows will be unlocked.”

He raised the glasses onto the top of his head; he liked the way they looked when they were embedded in his thick dark hair.

“Fantastic. Let me know. Yeah, a good day’s work. Cheers.”

Putting the phone on the dashboard, he gunned the engine and looked at himself one last time in the rear-view mirror. Pulling the designer shades back down over his eyes, he smiled at his reflection and said, “Thanks for the tip, Harry,” and drove off.

 

ENDS

 

Author Bio – PJ Stephenson

PJ is a British writer living near Geneva, Switzerland with his wife and Parson Russell Terrier. He sees the Alps every day but misses the Cairngorms. His fiction is inspired by history, nature and human nature. He has had short stories published online and in print in outlets such as Writing Magazine, Writers’ Forum Magazine, Dream Catcher Magazine, The Fiction Pool, Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Frontier, STORGY, Edify Fiction, The Sunlight Press, The Short Story and several anthologies. Follow him at @Tweeting_Writer.

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