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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Gordon H Sharp

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It was the sound of sobbing that drew Logan's attention away from the monthly crime figures he'd been attempting to compile. Slapping the pen down with unnecessary force, his broad features adopted a scowl of impatience as he viewed the two uniformed men who half carried, half dragged, a third man towards the charge desk.

"Now what?" Logan snapped angrily before the two young probationary constables could utter a word.

"We brought him in for his own safety sarge," was the brief, hesitant reply.

Sergeant Bert Logan looked down at the small, still sobbing figure in question, before commenting with heavy sarcasm.

"Don't you know who this is for heaven's sake? It's Frightened Freddie. He's about as dangerous as a non-stick frying pan. Trust you two to waste police time listening to his problems when there's real work to be done."

Logan, a policeman of the old school, had no time for the new breed of policemen who were constantly being placed under his wing. He winced as he recalled the speech of the new chief constable only a month ago. The chief kept repeating the phrase "Fast-tracking" whenever he referred to the new intake of policemen.

What he really meant was young graduates with no experience of life who were destined to take senior positions in charge of the real policemen like myself, Logan thought resentfully. He then reminded himself for the umpteenth time that the new chief constable was young enough to have been his son.

Now, sternly addressing the two young men, he reminded them that this was the city's central police station and not the social services department. Reverting to his former sarcasm he ordered one of them to take "Frightened Freddie" into the interview room and to stay with him until he'd pulled himself together.

As they left he couldn't resist adding, "You'd better hold his hand for a while."

Freddie, amidst his sobs, kept repeating the word, "Today! Today!"

Frederick Ronald Fulton had spent most of his adult life in utter misery, anticipating his own demise. He regarded himself as a fatalist, a man whose life was pre-ordained. Now sixty years old, he'd been convinced since his early twenties that soon there was a date on which his time on this earth would end; what's more, he was convinced that if he looked carefully enough he would find, and, importantly, he would recognise that fateful date. As the years rolled by Freddie's anxiety had grown as he sought to discover the vital date. He scanned everything from postmarks to bus tickets for clues.

During his early forties Freddie, in the depths of deep depression, had made several attempts to take his own life. They failed, and Freddie became even more convinced that he would die when the prescribed date arrived. That made him even more anxious to discover the fateful date.

One suicide attempt involved hanging himself. After perching precariously on a rickety old chair while he secured the noose around his scrawny neck, Freddie, eyes closed, cautiously stepped off the chair into eternity. (He hoped.) The end result was somewhat different. After what seemed like hours, but was only seconds, the rope, still firmly secured, stretched and stretched until his bony feet were firmly planted on the floor.

A further attempt saw Freddie leap in front of a train on the underground. Fifteen minutes later a bedraggled, embarrassed, but uninjured Freddie was extricated from beneath the mighty engine. His short, thin, almost skeletal frame had landed between two sleepers with almost six inches to spare between it and the train's chassis. After dusting him off he was taken into custody and sent to a psychiatric unit for six miserable months. Further proof to the distressed Freddie that the dreaded day hadn't yet arrived.

PC Fothergill put down the late edition of the evening paper and automatically patted the sobbing man's shoulder. Archie Fothergill now attempted to persuade him to open his right hand, which had been firmly clenched ever since Archie and his partner had picked him up. Freddies blurry eyes stared up at him in mute surrender. The long, bony fingers relaxed and the hand gradually opened. Inside it a slightly crushed lottery ticket was revealed. Intrigued, Fothergill reached over and took the ticket from the sweaty palm. This action brought on renewed pitiful cries from the anguished Freddie.

After reading the number, which was 251987, Archie picked up the newspaper and scanned the lottery results. Seconds later, after declaring to the uninterested Freddie that he was the luckiest man alive, Archie instructed him to stay where he was and rushed out to speak to Sergeant Logan.

Logan, thoughtfully chewing on the end of a biro, held up his hand as the excited Fothergill ran over to his desk. "Now then young man," Logan spoke mischievously, and sarcastically. "You're a well educated chap. What's todays date?"

Fothergill, fighting hard to contain his excitement was nonplussed for a moment. Then he said quickly, "Second of May 1987 sarge."

Logan, one hand still in the air, commanding silence, slowly wrote on the top of his report 2.5.1987.

After hearing the excited Fothergill out, and viewing the ticket suspiciously, Logan followed the young man into the interview room and approached the slight figure.

Frightened Freddie sat immobile and silent. His large blue eyes were now dry, and wide open. He stared unseeingly at the two men, because Freddie was quite dead!

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