Another story (well, the first chapter) for today’s A-Z Challenge or rather #atozchallenge – I’m trying out Twitter…
Arnold took the final sheet of his 90,000-word novel, Strike Hard, from the printer and added it to the rather impressive looking stack of pages on his desk.
It had taken over eight months of trying to fit in writing around his full time job. Eight months of getting up at 5.30am, turning down social invitations and letting the house fall apart around him – all of which caused his wife, Jen, to constantly nag at him. He’d become adept at letting her discontented voice drift around him like spring blossom dropping from the trees, gently blowing in the breeze, occasionally landing on ones shoulder before falling to the ground, not making any impact on anyone or anything who lay in its path.
‘You’ll never finish it, Arnold.’
‘Don’t know why you’re bothering, Arnold.’
‘It’s all about who you know, Arnold. You won’t be able to find a publisher for it.’
Well, she could stick the proverbial pipe in it now.
Because, finally, he’d finished. And, if he said so himself, it was rather good. A twisted thriller in the style of Harlen Coban or James Patterson. Ok, so it wasn’t a great literary novel or one that was going to be up for the Booker Prize. But he was pretty confident that it was gripping story that could keep the reader up late at night; desperate to find out what happens next to the hero, George Striker, who is forced to become a vigilante after the police refuse to take the disappearance of his wife seriously. Arnold had put in plenty of twists and turns, a few red herrings and a surprise ending.
Arnold glanced at the clock. Almost 7pm. Jen should be back from work at any moment and – damn! He’d just remembered that she’d asked him if he could have dinner ready for when she returned. Stuff it. He’d get a takeaway to celebrate and open a bottle of wine. She’d stop complaining once she saw the completed book. He’d do one more back up onto his USB stick and then he’d ring for a curry.
Back up done, Arnold whistled merrily as he perused the Indian takeaway menu. Mmm, chicken jalfrezi with saag aloo or maybe a prawn balti? So many delicious choices. Jen, of course, would just have a korma, as usual. She didn’t like to try anything new when it came to food. Or, indeed, life, now that he thought about it. She was still working at the same branch of solicitors where she started as an office junior at 16. Office junior: did they even exist anymore? He couldn’t see some stroppy school-leaver being happy with that title nowadays. They were probably called administrative executives now.
He phoned through the order and opened a bottle of white wine. Just a small glass before Jen got back. Flicking on the TV, he distractedly took in the tiny portions and ridiculously fancy food on some cookery show as he pottered about, getting out cutlery and setting the table. He topped up his glass and put the wine back in the fridge. No more until Jen came in. Where was she? It was 7.30 and the curry would be here any minute.
Arnold texted her mobile: Curry on way. Wine open!
The cookery show finished to be replaced by a DIY show. What was it with modern TV? Where were the decent dramas and comedy shows of his youth? Maybe Strike Hard could be made into a three-part drama? Now there’s a thought. He pondered who could play the lead role as he took the wine out of the fridge and added a splash more to his glass.
The doorbell rang as he was deliberating between Colin Farrell or Ross Kemp for the role of George Striker. Nope, definitely Colin Farrell. He paid for the curry and carried the plastic bag into the kitchen. The spicy aroma smelt good and his stomach rumbled hungrily. Come on, Jen.
Arnold rang her phone but it went to voice mail. He left a message, checking that she was on her way. He’d just have a couple of poppadums to tide him over.
Twenty minutes later, the DIY programme had finished and Arnold had eaten most of his jalfrezi, half of the rice and all of the saag aloo. The bottle of wine was almost gone and Jen still hadn’t returned. This wasn’t like her at all. She had a set routine on a Friday. She finished work at 5pm, went to her aerobics class for an hour and was back just after 7pm. Regular as clockwork for the last twelve years. Arnold’s stomach felt slightly queasy and he didn’t think it was just down to the wine and curry. Should he be worried about Jen’s lateness? He rang her number again. Still no reply. Who did she do aerobics with? Was it Sandy? Did he have her number? He looked in the leather address book that Jen kept by the phone. Yep, there it was, trust Jen to keep the book up to date.
‘Hi, Sandy, it’s Arnold. Jen’s husband.’
‘Oh, hey Arnold. Hope Jen’s ok? Not like her to miss the class.’
‘She didn’t go to aerobics?’
‘No, I rang her phone but she didn’t reply. Is she ok?’
‘Um, I’m not sure, to tell you the truth. She hasn’t come back from work yet. I assumed she’d gone to her class as normal.’ Ok, it was official. Arnold could start to worry.
‘Maybe she went round to Pam’s?’ said Sandy. ‘You know Simon’s had some sort of fling at work? Pam was trying to get me to go around tonight but I’m off out in a minute. She probably rang Jen too.’
Of course. Pam had rung Jen two or three times last night, in tears about Simon’s affair. That’s where Jen would be.
‘Cheers, Sandy. I’ll give her a ring.’
Pam hadn’t heard from Jen since last night, but had Arnold heard what a bastard Simon had been? It had been going on for months, some medical rep tart, apparently, all short skirts and too much make-up…Arnold tried to extricate himself from the conversation several times before successfully managing to hang up on Pam.
Should he start calling all of her friends? Was it silly to think about calling the police? Oh, come on, Arnold, she’s only an hour late. Probably got caught up at work and then stuck in traffic. Work: of course, Rita! She and Jen shared an office so she’d know if Jen was late leaving work.
‘Rita, it’s Arnold Cooper, Jen’s husband. I just wondered if she was working late tonight?’
‘Jen? She didn’t come in today. She sent a text this morning to say she had flu and wouldn’t be in until Monday. Where are you? Aren’t you with her?’
‘I’m at home. She’s not here.’ Arnold was now having a major panic attack. ‘She left for work at the usual time this morning.’
‘Oh my god. Have you checked the hospitals? Maybe she fell ill on the way to work and texted me from a hospital?’
‘I’ll call them now. Gotta go, Rita.’
What the hell was going on? Jen had left for work at 8.15, the same time as she did everyday. She’d followed the exact routine as usual. Up at 7am, shower, dressed, breakfast (two Weetabix and a cup of tea) whilst listening to Radio Two. Then they’d left the house together, before getting into their separate cars and driving to work. Nothing out of the ordinary at all.
He opened up his laptop and googled local hospitals.
To be continued…