SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Change of Direction by Barbara McMeekin

Picture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub.

Charlie had just finished talking to his brief and had been left alone. He turned and flopped down on the hard mattress of his cell. How could he have been talked into helping that idiot?

Bob said he’d got it all worked out and nothing, simply nothing, could go wrong. All Charlie had to do was sit in the car, read a newspaper and look like he was minding his own business.

When Bob opened the car door, Charlie folded the newspaper and turned the ignition key. They both fastened their seat-belts and drove away without any haste, making sure that no attention was drawn to them.

Bob said it was necessary. He said that was why people got caught. It was important not to alert anyone.

All had gone well at first. They’d driven down the main street, through the traffic lights, heading towards the ring road. Charlie couldn’t relax though. The palms of his hands were becoming moist as he gripped the wheel hard.

‘Chill Charlie,’ Bob kept saying. ‘Stay calm. Don’t bottle it now.’

‘I’m trying, but what if there were cameras watching and recording us? They’ll soon be able to track us down.’

‘Well if there are then it’ll take a while, long enough for us to get away and go underground.’

‘Hope you’re right, but what if you’re wrong?’

‘Just keep driving and concentrate, any raspberry ripples, then panic.’

Charlie checked his mirror as Bob spoke. ‘Time to panic!’ he shrieked.

‘Hold on,’ said Charlie and began accelerating as he saw a patrol car with its blue light flashing not too far behind.

Bob looked through the rear car window. ‘Turn left,’ he said with an edge of urgency in his voice. ‘But keep it steady, mustn’t look suspicious, it might not be us they’re looking for.’

Charlie turned without indicating while Bob kept watch. For a moment they held their breath, but soon realised they were being followed.

‘Quick, change direction.’

Charlie turned left down the next street. ‘Change again,’ said Bob as he watched the police car catching up with them.

‘Right, right,’ he shrieked. ‘There’s a track at the end of here.’

Increasing the acceleration even more, Charlie sped down the road while Bob began throwing rubbish out of the window in the hope of littering the road to slow the police down.

‘Hey, not that,’ shouted Charlie as Bob picked up his mobile in his urgency. Bob dropped it, then threw out a spanner followed by the cigarette lighter, and as he reached for a torch the wind caught his cap and it blew upwards before landing on the windscreen of the police car.

‘Quick, change direction. Go through that gateway,’ Bob screamed, pointing to a gap in the hedge.

Charlie hit his brakes and skidded on the gravel as he drove through the gate. After about 50 yards, the chassis was being pounded and battered from the furrows carved out by heavy farm machinery.

First one wheel trim came off, then the car teetered on two wheels before striking another rough-edged trough.

Ping went the springs of the exhaust, and as it dragged along the terrain a sharp stone cut through the fuel tank.

‘For Gawd’s sake, change direction. Get on the grass and go across field.’

Before Charlie could respond they heard a loud noise from above. Looking upwards they saw the whirring blades of a police helicopter as it circled high in the sky.

‘Get on the grass,’ repeated Bob. Charlie swung the car to the left, noticing that the fuel gauge was dropping fast.

‘Great. We’re losing fuel. We’ll not get much further. We’ll have to make a run for it.’

‘Right, get out and head for that block of trees.’

Flinging their doors open, both men rolled out of the car as it continued moving.

Bob clutched his booty close to him and both men ran. Within a few seconds they turned at the hissing noise and watched as the car burst into flames.

‘Keep running Charlie. The fuzz are closing in.’

As both men headed towards the copse they saw a police dog being released from its owner.

‘Quick, change direction. Go that way,’ shouted Bob pointing at a rough hedge. Both men hurried through the gap.

The dog was closing its distance. They could hear its panting and pounding of paws.

‘Change direction again. Down there,’ ordered Bob.

Charlie tripped and slipped down a slope at such speed he was unable to control himself and landed with a splash into a deep brook. He lay there stunned, bruised and in shock.

As he tried to stand he looked into the eyes of a fierce canine barking to alert its owner to where he was.

He looked upwards and stared at Bob being cornered by two burly men in uniform. Charlie sat back down in the water and waited for his fate.

Charlie now knew his destiny. Two years for being an accomplice to a no-good thief.

Bob was to blame. What a fool he was not to check for CCTV and where it was pointing. He probably hadn’t looked for CCTV in the shop either.

It had taken no time at all for police to be alerted. Telling me to act normal and not draw attention was rubbish, thought Charlie.

Now with a criminal record, he was faced with a change of direction in life, whether he liked it or not.

He’d already lost his job and the chance of a reference was unlikely. As he relived the incident, Bob’s words ‘quick, change direction’ began to haunt him, and he swore to himself that, if he ever heard them said once more, then he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions.

Barbara McMeekin is a retired infants school teacher who started by writing children’s stories. She is currently writing her first novel.

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