‘WHAT IS SUSPENSE?’
‘In conclusion, then, the suspense novel can be about any subject but it must hold the reader in an ever tightening grip. You must tantalise the readers, allowing them to watch with growing unease as the characters unwittingly plod towards their doom. It’s show, don’t tell; but don’t show too much. If you show too much, it becomes horror.’
This fitting conclusion to his talk echoed in his mind now as Grant Adams let his lips curve in a self-satisfied smile while he left the community hall and walked to his Rover in the municipal car-park. Because he was a keen observer, he noticed there were five other cars parked here; all of them with registration plates older than his. Some way behind him, two women hurried down the steps to one of the cars; perhaps they had another appointment or a husband to appease.
As he triggered the remote to unlock his car, he moved to the boot and dumped his holdall on top of the first-aid box. He swung in behind the driving wheel and wondered if his audience had appreciated how much good writing time he had expended on preparing the drivel he spoon-fed them tonight. The Crimewriting Fraternity’s paltry fee hardly covered the cost of the electricity that fed his computer. Still, he’d managed to sell and sign twenty-three paperbacks and four hardbacks to boost his coffers. Every little helped.
He switched on the engine and a Fiat Punto pulled out in front of him. That person must have left pretty sharpish, he thought.
Grant drove past the unmanned raised barrier and followed the Fiat. He reflected that if he was honest with himself, he should feel grateful to them for inviting him. All week he had been mired in one impasse after another in his latest suspense novel; it looked as though he would have to bin the lot of it and start again.
It started to rain. His silent windscreen wipers kept his visibility clear. He noticed that the Fiat ahead had slowed down and was braking frequently, more than the conditions warranted. Bloody hell, the driver’s probably drunk! He decided to overtake – carefully.
The road ahead was familiar and the straight stretch afforded him plenty of time to overtake. He checked his mirror, nothing was coming, then indicated and accelerated smoothly, experiencing a slight pleasure at the power of the vehicle at his command.
In the blink of an eye he was level with the Fiat. He glanced at the driver – a woman, he recognised her, probably in the audience – and smiled a little condescendingly as he revved past and moved back into the right side of the road. He put his foot down and burned up the road.
Surprisingly, the Fiat kept pace. Typical! She was one of those drivers who dawdled and kept holding you back and suddenly when they were overtaken they found that their car had a go-faster pedal.
Well, he wasn’t playing her game. He’d only had a largish glass of red wine all night but he wasn’t going to get caught speeding. He kept to the limit.
Twenty minutes later he pulled up outside his mews flat. Well, it was two knocked into one, really. A wide pavement in front of the bow window afforded sufficient space for him to park without causing an obstruction. It helped that he was friendly with several councillors and the Chief Inspector of the police. It was strangely gratifying to have your writing talent acknowledged by the powerful nonentities. The occasional acknowledgement at the back of a book helped, of course, whether they contributed or not.
The rain had stopped about two minutes earlier. He got out and locked the Rover. Some sixth sense urged him to glance down the road and he could have sworn he saw the Fiat Punto parked against the kerb about a hundred yards further down, in front of W H Smiths; on a yellow line. The headlights were off and it was just using sidelights, like two eyes watching. The engine was idling and sounded in good condition. An odd shiver traced his spine and he shook it off. Too imaginative, by half, he that was his trouble – or blessing, as a suspense writer. There were plenty of Puntos about. Besides, he hadn’t cut her up or anything. It had been a straightforward overtaking manoeuvre.
Unlocking the front door, he stepped over the threshold and his ears detected that the Fiat’s engine noise had stopped. Before closing the door behind him, he couldn’t resist popping his head out to take another look.
The driver – it was a woman, he could see that by the way she walked, even though she wore trousers – was heading towards him. He shut the door and leaned against it. Coincidence. She’s probably calling on somebody nearby.
Peeling off his jacket, he hung it in the hall, switched on the lounge lights and went to the drinks cabinet. A decent Rioja beckoned. The Group’s red wine had been palatable enough, but his taste buds needed something more up-market.
He poured a generous measure. He believed that he had deserved it.
Grant took a sip to tantalise his palate and at that moment the doorbell rang.
‘Who the hell is that?’ he wondered aloud and lowered his drink.
The oblong glass panel in the front door gave him no clues. The shape could be anybody’s.
Inserting the safety chain, he opened the door.
‘Hello, Daddy,’ the woman from the Fiat said. ‘I’m Phoebe.’
‘You’re my father. Didn’t Mummy tell you?’
After an embarrassing lengthy silence, he noticed that the resemblance was there, once he studied her. ‘My God! You’re – you’re Jackie’s daughter?’
She nodded. ‘Yes. And yours.’
He felt sure his heart had plummeted to his shoes. Good God, that was thirty years ago, at least. He remembered it vaguely, a silly writing retreat romance. Jackie wrote awful poetry and mystical fantasy so deep you could drown in it. So she’d become pregnant. But she hadn’t bothered to tell him.
He supposed he owed the girl a chat. ‘Wait a moment,’ he said. Shutting the door, he unlatched the chain and opened it wide. ‘You‘d better come in.’
‘No, I’m happy enough here.’ And she pulled out a revolver from her mackintosh pocket.
He gaped. ‘Is this some kind of joke?’
‘No. It’s real too, not a fake.’
‘You can’t be serious. Until tonight, I didn’t know you existed!’
‘This has nothing to do with you being my father. I just don’t like your books.’ She fired twice.
As he clutched the door handle and sank to his knees, he noticed that the pain wasn’t so great, even as the red stain spread from the mortal holes his chest. Just like in my books, he thought. Damn the girl – everybody’s a critic these days.
Previously published in Costa TV Times, 2009. Copyright Nik Morton, 2014
If you liked this short story, please consider reading my published short story collections: They are When the Flowers are in Bloom (Solstice Publishing) and
Spanish Eye (Crooked Cat Publishing)