July 10, 2009 – 8:12 am
My father is an author. That’s him, top left, with his older brother, younger sister and mother.
Before retirement, his job title was Typesetter, and he spent his whole adult life working with words. Other people’s words – but words nonetheless.
At the beginning of 2007, he started blogging. We already knew he was a good writer. We’d had a family update email group for some years, with aunts, uncles and cousins on it – and he was one of several family members whose messages were eagerly awaited because they were always such a good read – well told and with a light satirical humour.
He started his blog by telling stories from his day to day life. Then he decided his day to day life wasn’t providing the rich material he wanted for the blog, so he started to tell stories from his youth and his travels. And the writing got better and better.
And then, one day, he decided to try his hand at fiction. A handful of short stories that he handed around to a few people for comment. They were superb. So he decided to do a writing course or two.
And now, with one of his stories published in an anthology, he’s no longer a retired typesetter, he’s simply an author. And he’s started submitting some of his works to writing competitions.
A recent submission to a story-writing competition was summarily passed over. As he puts it: “I didn’t even make the short list of eight – and there were only 1200 entries from around the world. Boo hoo.”
Inspired by this literary oversight, he wrote another story, which I really love, and so with his permission – I include it below for your enjoyment. Or, if you’re a short-story competition judge, your instruction.
The Writing Contest
By Chick Dubber
A Man of his Word
A long time ago, back in the old country a farmer and his wife raised three sons and two daughters. Farming in the rocky hills was difficult even in the best of times. The two older boys and the girls were hard workers and a great help to their parents. They were short and stocky. The boys muscular and the girls of the fuller figure type common of the local peasantry. There would be no problems marrying off the girls. They were good cooks, did their chores around the house and would have many children. The boys had a natural affinity with the land and the animals and were expert horsemen. Their father was very proud of them.
Seth, the youngest of the brood, was different from his siblings. Slim, tall, wiry and athletic looking. He was lighter in colouring than the rest of the family. And he had blue eyes. Deep blue eyes that took in everything and gave out nothing.
Often his father would sit by the fire at night sipping a nightcap after a hard day and stare at his youngest. Seth was born during the German occupation, a late and unexpected child. The father would turn and look at his wife. The mother would look at Seth, then her husband, and either stand up saying there was something she needed to do elsewhere or fuss about and ask her husband about his day and how the goats were.
Seth was ambitious. He wanted to be rich and successful. As soon as he was old enough he left the family home and went to the nearest town. His father didn’t try to stop him as he wasn’t much help round the farm and a drain on their limited food supply. Only Seth’s mother was sad to see him leave. She walked with him to the bus stop and told him she had a brother, Azeb, who had a stall in the markets. She asked Seth to look him up and give him her love.
Sorbolo wasn’t a very big town and, once Seth had found a place to stay, he went to the market. It didn’t take him long to find his uncle.
“My mother, your sister, sends her love,” he said.
Azeb grunted. “Why aren’t you helping in the farm?” he asked.
Seth explained that his brothers were better at it and, quite frankly, that type of life wasn’t for him.
Azeb looked him up and down. “No, you don’t look like the farming type. What do you intend to do here?”
“I don’t know. I’ll give you a hand on your stall if you like till I find something,” Seth replied.
“I can manage on my own thanks. Have done for years.”
“I don’t expect you to pay me. You’ll need a break sometime, and I don’t see anyone else who could do that for you.”
Azeb grunted again. “Well, seeing you’re family, you can stand and watch me for a while.”
Seth watched how Azeb worked for an hour or so then said, “Why don’t you go and get a coffee. I’ll look after the stall.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” his uncle asked.
“You can. I give you my word, and I always keep my word,” Seth replied.
Azeb shrugged and said he’d give him a try. Seth kept his word and not just because he knew his uncle was secretly watching him.
The following day he did the same, this time Azeb went off for a longer break. Seth kept a record of his sales and the money he had collected. Azeb found that not only was Seth not robbing him, but that he was a good salesman. He would cajole passers-by about the quality and cheap price of the fruit and vegetables. He had a special way with the women too. Complimenting and flirting outrageously with them which usually ended in a sale.
Seth became a regular on the stall and his uncle offered him a job. He would get 50% commission on what he sold. Seth accepted. Sales on the stall increased so much that Azeb had to go round other stallholders and buy some of their produce to re-sell.
“We can’t go on like this,” Azeb told Seth one day. “I’m working twice as hard and, because you’re doing most of the selling, I’m not making any more money.”
“So, what are you suggesting?” Seth asked.
“I don’t know. I’m getting old, but I still need an income to survive. I can’t keep this up much longer.”
“Why don’t I buy you out? You can work for me. You do the buying, I’ll do the selling. That way you just have to pick up the produce in the morning, bring it here then spend the rest of the day in the café drinking coffee and playing cards with your cronies.”
So it was arranged. Seth was fair with his uncle and gave him a good price and paid him well. Both men were happy with the arrangement.
One Friday afternoon as Seth was closing up his stall two men approached him. Seth had seen them coming and was sizing them up. They certainly weren’t coming to buy anything.
“Got a second Comrade?” the shorter of the two asked.
Seth ignored him and carried on working.
“I’m talking to you,” the man said a little louder.
“I’m closing up. You’ll have to come back tomorrow,” Seth said.
“We’re not here to buy. We’re here to collect what’s ours,” the man said.
“I don’t owe you anything,” Seth said as he carried on working.
“Oh yes you do. Ask your uncle,” the taller man threatened.
Seth turned to face the men. His piercing blue eyes bore in them. “My uncle no longer owns this business, I do,” he said.
Seth’s gaze had unnerved them a little. “We’re only here to help you,” the shorter man said.
“I don’t need your help. Go away.”
“There’s a lot of lawlessness around. You wouldn’t want your stall smashed and your produce stolen, now would you? We’re here to make sure that never happens.”
Seth looked at the two men and spat on to the ground in front of them. “I’ll know who to come looking for then if it does.”
“You owe us” the shorter one said.
Seth just stared at them with his deep blue eyes. The men tried to hold his gaze, but couldn’t. “We’ll be back. You might wish to reconsider,” was their parting shot.
“If you try anything with me you will regret it. I give you my word, and I always keep my word,” Seth shouted at them.
Nothing was heard or seen of the men for a few weeks. Then one Sunday, usually their busiest day, his uncle didn’t turn up for work. As he brought in all the produce there was nothing for Seth to sell. He left his stall and went round to Azeb’s house. There was no reply to his knocking but the front door was unlocked. Seth went in and found Azeb lying in a corner. He had been badly beaten. Seth carried him to his bed and cleaned his wounds as best he could.
“Who did this to you?”
“Ballon,” Azeb whispered through his swollen lips.
Seth had to bend down and put his ear to Azeb’s face to hear. “I should have warned you. He runs this town. You’d better give him what he wants if you want to survive in business,” Azeb breathed.
“We’ll see,” Seth said. He stormed out and walked back to his stall. He was not surprised to find the two men leaning against the wall, smirking as Seth walked up to them.
“I want to talk to Ballon,” Seth shouted.
“He doesn’t talk to small fry like you,” the taller one said.
“He’d better, or he’ll find himself two men short on his staff. Tell him that.”
The men were visibly shaken with Seth’s anger and steely gaze.
“You’re making a big mistake,” the tall man said with hollow bravado.
Seth dismissively waved them away. “Just do it. Go on, get lost.”
The men hesitated, shrugged, then turned and walked away.
Three days later they were back. They gave him an address and told him to be there the next day after the market closed. “And come alone,” they warned.
Seth did as requested and arrived at the appointed time. As he approached the door it was opened by the shorter man and silently shown through a door off the hall.
He entered a large room and, judging from the number of books on the shelves, obviously a library. In the middle of the room behind a large leather-topped desk sat a smallish, swarthy-skinned man wearing a dark suit, fedora hat, holding a long cigarette holder in one hand and the other hand resting on a cane. Like someone out of a 1940s’ American gangster movie, Seth thought. Seated in a chair to his right was Azeb, looking very scared, as he had every right to be as the other henchman was standing behind him with a knife held across his uncle’s throat. The man who had shown Seth in moved over to stand beside his partner. Both men were smirking.
Seth looked at the little man behind the desk. “Mr Ballon I presume,” he said.
“And you sir,” Ballon replied in a high squeaky voice, “are a nuisance to me and my organisation.”
Seth smiled at the image of the ridiculous little man with the silly voice.
Ballon stood up and smacked his cane against the desk top. “You are like a fly in my kitchen. Do you know what I do to flies in my kitchen? I squash them,” he shrilled.
“What do you want from me?” Seth asked quietly.
Ballon stood shaking with rage for a few seconds, then sat back down again. He took a long drag from his cigarette, blew the smoke out slowly as he looked at Seth. “I will tell you what I want from you. If you had listened to my men when they first visited you it would have been 10 per cent of your takings. When you refused, it rose to 20 per cent. Now that you had the audacity to refuse again and demanded to see me, it has risen to 50 per cent.”
Seth remained outwardly calm. “Now that I know who you are, perhaps you’d like to hear what I want? No? I’ll tell you anyway. I want you to leave town within a week. I intend to take over your business interests from now on. If you are still here one week from today, you will regret it. I give you my word.”
Ballon started to laugh, more a giggle than a laugh. “And how do you intend to do that?” he asked.
Seth pulled a gun out from his inside pocket.
“Put that away sir, or I’ll have your uncle’s throat slit,” Ballon said.
Seth looked round the room. Azeb and he were the only ones not smiling. He raised his gun, took aim and shot Azeb through the forehead. The two men behind jumped back in fright as blood splattered over them. Ballon stood up.
“You’re mad,” he shouted. “You’ve killed your uncle.”
“And you have just lost your bargaining power,” Seth replied.
Ballon’s two henchmen recovered their composure and started to move towards Seth. “Hold it right there,” Seth ordered as he pointed the gun in their direction. Then he turned and pointed it at Ballon. “You, both hands on the desk where I can see them.” They did as they were told.
“You’ll never get away with this,” Ballon whined.
“One week,” Seth re-iterated. He turned to the two henchmen. “If you two don’t try anything silly in the next seven days, I may have a job for you.”
He backed towards the door, keeping his gun wavering between the three men. He opened the door and was gone.
Ballon spent the next seven days trying to find Seth. He had men watching the market. He asked the police in his pay to use their resources to help in the search. He used every contact and called in every favour but Seth seemed to have disappeared into thin air. He was bluffing and left town, Ballon decided.
On the Sunday at the end of the week, as Ballon’s wife and mother-in-law left church with their bodyguard, a motorcycle courier drove up to the church steps, parked, turned round and pulled an automatic gun out of the carrier bag, fired a round of bullets and killed them. Before anyone realised what had happened the motorcyclist sped off.
Ballon was sitting in his library when he heard a motorcyclist slow down outside his house, then quickly drive off. He got up and opened the front door to find out what was going on. There was no-one around, but as he turned to go back into the house he noticed an envelope lying on the ground. He picked it up and opened it. Inside was a note which said ‘Your son will be next.’
Ballon went back inside, sat at his desk and looked at the note, wondering what it meant. The phone rang. He picked it up and listened as the police chief explained what had happened at the church. On Monday morning Ballon withdrew all his money from the bank, asked his brother-in-law to organise the funerals, packed up what was left of his family and moved to the capital.
Seth took over Ballon’s business in the town. He prospered and outgrew the provincial town and moved to a larger one and eventually took over that one. Now he is in the capital city and his influence is spreading there.
– The End –
International Short Story Competition,
The above story is my humble entry in your famous writing contest. I hope you find it interesting and entertaining. It is a true story, told to me by my father. He has been encouraging me in my fledgling writing career and thinks this is my best work. He says he cannot see any reason why my story will not win this competition and launch me to international recognition and fame. My father promised he will do everything in his power to make this happen. He gave me his word.