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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Pool
by Anthony R Mackie

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Rachel Vickers was fourteen years old and had been swimming ever since she could remember; it was her life and she was only truly happy when she was in the water. She dreamt of one day swimming for Great Britain at the Olympics and had worked her butt off for the last seven years in pursuit of this dream. She was also a very lucky girl, being the only offspring of Nathan Vickers, the owner of the NV Bookmakers chain, and his wife Julie. The family resided in a huge mansion of a house on the outskirts of Epsom overlooking the famous racecourse, and they lived in style; the home contained every conceivable luxury, of which Rachel's favourite not surprisingly was the 35 metre indoor heated swimming pool.

Rachel was also lucky in the fact that she didn't have to travel anywhere for her swimming training as her coach travelled to her at least three times a week, more if she had a competition coming up. Her coach was an amiable man in his early sixties by the name of Bob Albion, a swimmer of some note in his day, who had made the Olympic team for Mexico City in 1968 but never actually competed due to injury. Bob had come highly recommended by an acquaintance of her Father's when Rachel had first shown promise in the pool.

Rachel and Bob's relationship was solid, akin to grandfather and granddaughter; he knew all her moods and little idiosyncrasies and she his, and it worked well. Bob pushed the young girl to the limit as only he could and she responded willingly, giving every ounce of effort she had. Bob was convinced of Rachel's talent and believed she could go all the way to the top - the London Olympics in four years' time being their joint goal. This goal was more than achievable as Rachel was already ranked in the top thirty or so female swimmers in Britain, and growing stronger and faster with every passing month. She herself was convinced that Olympic qualification in two to three years' time would be a breeze; that was until things started to fall apart.

Bob had recently heard a few whispers and rumours on the grapevine that everything was not well in the NV Bookmaking empire. However, he was not a man to meddle or gossip and just passed them off as what they were at the moment, mere rumours. Within weeks though rumour had turned to fact - Nathan Vickers was in trouble, big financial trouble, and major cutbacks would have to be made.

When Bob had been approached to train Rachel, he had pretty much been semi-retired other than a few consultancy roles, and he had managed to negotiate for himself what he considered to be a very generous salary to return to work. He would probably be among the first of the cutbacks he thought, and had decided that should this happen, that was him finished as a coach as, if the truth was known, he was getting a bit long in the tooth and had only really been spurred on by Rachel's brilliance (as well as the tidy financial reward of course).

One of the first cutbacks Nathan actually made surprised even Bob though. His mobile phone rang late one afternoon and it was Rachel. She was hysterical; it turned out that on arriving home from school, she had discovered two men emptying and cleaning the indoor pool, in her words "on the orders of her prick of a Father" and she wanted to know what the hell was going on. Her Father was refusing to accept her calls, so could he try for her? Bob calmed her down and agreed to call Nathan to try and find out the facts. He assured Rachel that he would call her back as and when he had any information.

Bob made the call and Nathan did actually pick up, but when Bob tried to relay his earlier conversation with Rachel, he was surprised at how curt and dismissive her Father sounded. "She'll get over it," he said, "that bloody pool was costing me a fortune, it had to go and she can go train elsewhere."

"Where?" argued Bob, "and what about my position Nathan?"

"You're okay for now Bob," he replied, "and how should I know where? The bloody municipal place or something, you sort it out, I've got more important things to deal with at the moment." And with that, the line went dead. Bob did not know what to think and decided to go for a stiff drink and try to sort things out in his mind, before he could even consider speaking to Rachel.

After his second single malt, Bob had made a decision. Coaching Rachel at the local municipal pool was not for him; he was used to working in the peace and tranquillity of the Vickers' place and could not even contemplate having to fight for space and pool time with the rest of the local community, whilst trying to impart his knowledge and wisdom. No, he was finished, he only hoped now that he could make Rachel understand.

Quite a while later as Bob left the bar, he called Rachel's mobile and when she answered she still sounded angry, but also tired. She informed Bob that she had still not been able to contact her Father and was unlikely to see him, as he had not been home for the previous couple of nights and even her Mother (who she had questioned) didn't seem to have any idea what was going on. Bob told Rachel that he had spoken to her Father, but as it was late he thought it better that he explained things tomorrow, which she agreed to, so Bob arranged to collect her from school the following day, wished her goodnight and clicked off his phone. At least he had eighteen hours or so to decide what exactly he was going to tell her, and how, although the way he felt at this precise moment in time he would probably sleep for most of that period.

By the following lunchtime though everything was clearer in his mind, Bob had already contacted an acquaintance of his, a fellow coach albeit much younger, who would be prepared to take Rachel on and use the municipal facilities where apparently he knew people, and had a bit of sway. An added bonus (though not for Rachel) was the fact that he would work for much less than Bob had been earning and this would surely help in gaining Nathan's blessing, considering the present financial situation.

When Bob picked up Rachel a few hours later she seemed in a better frame of mind and although upset with his decision, as he knew she would be, she was also very philosophical about it. Although she had still not seen her Father since "the pool incident" as she called it, he had called her, and had promised on everything he held dear that money would always be available for her training and that if he could sort out this "little problem he was experiencing" things would soon return to normal. Rachel, having had time to think things over too, had an idea that the new circumstances would not be to Bob's liking and although saddened by the fact that this great partnership was now going to end, she had decided to put herself first and that meant striving for her dream, London 2012.

As Bob pulled up outside the Vickers' home, he told Rachel he would be calling her Father later to inform him of his decision and to discuss the new man and the financial side of things with him. He also promised Rachel he would still be around, albeit it in the background, as he had to follow what too had become his dream, which of course was Rachel triumphing at 2012. However, paramount in his mind for now was to get Rachel back swimming. Rachel seemed quite happy as they parted and Bob said he would be in touch as soon as possible. As he drove away, he realised she had not even asked him who her new coach was going to be and he took this as a positive; it meant she was focused on the most important aspects in all of this, herself and her swimming.

A little while later, Bob called Nathan and asked if they could meet that evening as they had things to discuss concerning Rachel. Nathan, although sounding pretty stressed agreed, as in his words "he could do with a break from all this shit," so they arranged to meet at around 7.15pm in the Marquis of Granby on West Street in Epsom.

The swimming coach that Bob had spoken to earlier in the day was Johnny Lambert, another ex-swimmer whose trophy cabinet boasted a 200 metre freestyle bronze medal from the Barcelona '92 Olympics. After Barcelona, Johnny's career went off track as he became a known drinker and womaniser and consequently, he never really achieved the heights he was capable of. Despite this, at the age of thirty-six, he had worked with some of the top swimmers in the country for the last eight years or so and his record as a coach spoke for itself - two of his charges medalling three years ago at the European Championships in Trieste, Italy. Bob called Johnny and also invited him along to the meeting that evening; might as well kill two birds with one stone.

By the time Nathan arrived at the Marquis, Bob and Johnny were halfway down their respective pints of Guinness so, when Nathan made his way over from the bar, he was carrying two more, along with his own favourite tipple, a Gordon's and tonic. "Evening Bob," he said as he placed the drinks down, "thank God you got me out of that bloody office for a bit, I've hardly been out of there for the last four days, Julie thinks I've left her!" he laughed.

"Hi Nathan," replied Bob. "This is a friend of mine, Johnny Lambert," he said, introducing the younger man.

Nathan offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you Johnny, you're the swimmer aren't you?"

Johnny smiled, "in a past life maybe Nathan, good to meet you anyway," he replied.

"So come on Bob, what's all the drama? I hope my little angel's okay." Bob assured Nathan his "angel" was fine (as you'd find out if you went to see her you selfish b*****d, he couldn't help thinking to himself). Bob began to explain how there was no problem with Rachel, rather it was he who had decided to call it a day as training at the municipal pool was not his preferred way to go, and realistically he was also ready for a break.

Nathan was a bit taken aback by this news. "But your money Bob, I told you..."

Bob interrupted at this point. "I know Nathan, but this has got nothing to do with money, that's the reason I wanted you to meet Johnny. Johnny's a top coach and he's offered to take Rachel on for the same amount you were paying me, 1,000 a month," he said, accompanied by a sly wink in Nathan's direction, "I've spoken to Rachel but obviously it's your decision in the end," he finished. Well I never! Nathan thought to himself - you crafty old fox Bob Albion, I really have been paying you top dollar haven't I?

Despite thinking this, Nathan was secretly pleased with the situation as his daughter would still have a top coach, plus he would be saving a grand a month (the situation his business was in at the moment, 1000 a month saving would be cause for celebration!). Finally he spoke. "Well it sounds good to me boys, are you happy with that Johnny?" he asked; Johnny assured Nathan that he was and the two men shook hands on the deal.

Nathan then pulled a large wad of cash from his inside pocket and counted out 1,000 which he handed to Johnny saying, "there's a month up front and don't ever worry that you won't get paid my friend, keeping my daughter happy means more to me than anything. You just keep your side of the deal and get her to London 2012 because if you do, there'll be a big bonus for both of you. Right then, who's for a top up?"

The following Monday was the agreed date for Rachel to start her training with Johnny at the Walton Swimming Baths in nearby Walton-on-Thames, and Bob was to speak to her over the weekend to finalise all the arrangements. Johnny was looking forward to the new challenge but more importantly, to having a bloody good weekend with the wedge he now possessed and which was already burning a hole in his pocket.

Bob met up with Rachel on the previous Saturday at lunchtime in Epsom, and filled her in on everything over a coffee and a sandwich in one of the pretty high street cafes. Her sessions would be three times a week from 7pm to 9pm and Johnny would also accompany her to any competitions, which as a rule were held at weekends. She seemed pleased with the choice for her new coach and although Bob knew she had never actually met Johnny Lambert, he also knew she was aware of his achievements within the sport. All in all, he was surprised at how easy Rachel appeared to be with the changes and her anger seemed to be all but gone.

Poor old Bob though had totally misread the situation as inside, Rachel was absolutely furious and had already decided that one day, her Father was going to pay for screwing her around - and as for Lambert, the only reputation he had on the female circuit was that he was an "up-himself" son of a bitch who thought he was God's gift to women. The only reason Rachel was going along with all this, was that she knew that if she made a fuss, her dream could disappear like a leaf on the breeze, and she had worked too hard to ever allow that to happen.

The weekend passed, and still Rachel didn't see her Father. He was ghosting in and out of their huge palatial home in the middle of the night, as his laundry kept appearing and was obviously being replaced by clean clothes. She wondered how her Mother was putting up with this shit but then again, she was a weak woman and always had been. Also over the weekend, one of those colossal transporters had arrived at the house and left carrying three of her Father's prized classic cars; things were really falling apart.

On the Monday evening, Rachel took the twenty minute or so bus ride into Walton-on-Thames and after a short walk to the swimming baths, arrived around 6.30pm. Johnny was waiting on the entrance steps for her and after introducing himself, he informed Rachel that although the baths closed to the public at 8pm, they would have another hour after that as he had a "little arrangement" with the caretaker. He also explained that for the first hour whilst other people were swimming, he thought they could do practice starts and turns before moving on to the longer stuff in the last hour, which all sounded good to Rachel so they arranged to meet in the pool after changing. "Actually, he doesn't seem so bad after all," she thought to herself as she made her way to the changing rooms.

A few hours later as she made her way home on the bus, she had changed her opinion back again. Although the training session had gone well and his coaching methods couldn't be faulted there was a certain creepiness about the guy and she loathed the way he had looked her up and down as she stood listening to him in her tight, high-cut swimming suit. "Maybe I'll get used to him," she thought as she made the short walk from the bus stop to the gates of their house, but she wasn't holding her breath.

That evening, her Father actually graced them with his presence for a couple of hours, eating a meal with them and trying to explain what was going on to Rachel and her Mother in simple terms. Seemingly, he was working almost 24/7 to try and dig his business out of the big hole it had crashed down into (through no fault of his, he assured them) but he was nevertheless 100% confident that he could turn things round and everything could get back to normal. Rachel feigned interest in all of this, but it sounded to her like he was just shifting the blame and in her mind, it was still him to blame for the complications it had brought about in her previously perfect little life so he could go take a running jump as far as she was concerned. Later when he left, she forced herself to kiss him and wished him good luck but the words stuck in her throat.

Wednesday evening came around all too quickly for Rachel which was not a good sign, she used to live for her training. Riding around on buses was also alien to her and she hated it, but had no other choice right now. Once again, she enjoyed the pool time that evening but afterwards, as Lambert explained one or two things to her which needed correcting, he threw his arm casually around her shoulders. Rachel pulled away, to his surprise it seemed, and when he had finished his little sermon she stormed off to change. She was in a rage, who the hell did he think he was? Nobody touched her, especially not some creep she had only met twice. On the ride home that night, she started to think bad things about what she would like to do to Johnny "touchy feely" Lambert and tried to shut them out of her mind, but as her head touched the pillow that night, they were still there and starting to take on a life of their own.

The next day she received a call from Bob asking how she was coping with things and enquiring how training was going. Rachel found herself telling him how everything was great and how she thought Johnny coaching her was a superb decision on his part. Bob sounded really pleased that things were working out well and promised to look in on them one evening if he was in the area; Rachel assured him she would like that. She couldn't fathom in her mind why she had lied to Bob, she hadn't meant to. In fact, quite the opposite; she had been hoping that when she spoke to him, he if anyone would listen to her misgivings about the whole situation and maybe come up with some answers, but the lies just gushed out from some place deep inside her and she felt as if she was powerless to stop them.

Worryingly, at training on Friday evening, Rachel found herself distracted from her swimming. She was distracted by the fact that she seemed to be sub-consciously willing Lambert to step out of line again so she could put her (by now) dangerously advanced plans into practice. Needless to say, Johnny didn't let her down and as he smugly congratulated himself on being able to give Rachel a pat on her firm, well rounded bottom as she left to change (without eliciting any negative reaction), he really didn't know what he had done.

News broke in the media over the weekend that a rescue package had been put together for her Father's business by an unnamed millionaire businessman and although this had lifted her Mother's spirits, Rachel was apathetic to the news and now had one thing on her mind, and one thing only.

Monday at school was torture for her; concentration was impossible as she went over and over in her mind exactly what she needed to do later that day and she found herself at times physically shaking with a strange excitement. Finally, the longest day ever was over and Rachel rushed home to pack her kitbag for that evening's training. Along with her swimming kit there lay, nestled in the middle of her bathing towel, a pair of latex gloves and a seven-inch knife (stolen from the depths of a barely used kitchen drawer) which she had sharpened to the point where it could split atoms.

The Monday training session was one of her best for a long time; Rachel swam her heart out knowing in her own mind that if things went wrong later, it may be a long time before she was back in the water. Once the session finished, she and Johnny chatted at the side of the pool about the forthcoming competition in London and how well they felt she could do there. As Rachel turned away, there was his hand again; this time it was more a squeeze of her bottom than a pat, which made the fury burn inside her. She ignored the squeeze and made her way towards the changing rooms at the same time thinking, "I hope you enjoyed that Lambert, because it's the last young girl's arse you'll ever cop a feel of."

Once inside the changing rooms, Rachel towelled dry and brushed her hair before quickly slipping into the tracksuit she had arrived in, no time to shower tonight. She opened the door slightly which led to the pool area, and through the gap could see Johnny tidying away the last of the equipment they had been using, before turning and making his way into the men's locker room a few yards away. A couple of minutes later, Rachel slipped on her latex gloves and crept out to listen at the door Lambert had gone through. She heard running water and gently pushed open the heavy door and there he was; about fifteen feet away, showering with his back to her, all muscles and buttocks. She could feel the knife in the right hand pocket of her tracksuit top and the power it seemed to have as she inched forwards towards him. The few seconds before she reached him seemed like an age but eventually there she was, barely two feet away as she pulled the knife.

She was remarkably calm at this moment, not a flicker of nerves; and then with a blinding speed she stabbed the knife into the back of Lambert's neck and in what seemed like one movement, ripped it to the left with all her might, severing the spinal cord. He was probably dead before he hit the floor, which was just as well for him as he never felt the pain of his penis and testicles being cut away from his body, before they were thrown angrily against the locker room wall. Rachel was shaking now, with a mixture of rage and the shock of the harsh reality of what she had just done, but the thing which scared her most was how much she had enjoyed the last few minutes...

Once her shaking abated, Rachel washed off her gloves and the knife under the still running shower and took one last good, hard luck at the crumpled pervert lying on the floor of the cubicle before swiftly leaving the room. She grabbed her kitbag, stuffed the gloves and murder weapon back inside her towel and walked calmly out of the building to catch her usual bus home (which thankfully was right on time). When the bus dropped Rachel near home, she watched it disappear into the distance and then she crossed the road to a small wooded area opposite. About thirty yards into it, she took the knife from her bag and dug a shallow hole with it, before laying it in there along with the gloves, after which she kicked the earth back in and trampled it down. She left the wood and sprinted the short distance to home, arriving within minutes of her usual time.

Once indoors, Rachel made small talk with her Mother whilst she made them both a cup of coffee, before wishing her goodnight and going to bed, explaining that she was "done in" after a harder than usual training session. She took the shower that she had missed earlier and slipped into bed shortly after 10pm.

At exactly the same time in The Bear Hotel on Bridge Street, Frank Yarrow, a big ugly drunk of a man (and also caretaker of Walton Swimming Baths) looked at his watch, wondering where the hell that guy Lambert had got to. He usually dropped the keys off here for him at around 9.30pm and gave him the few quid which would settle that evening's bar bill. He had not been worried at first as he figured that knowing Lambert, he was probably just slipping a length to that young bit of fluff that he was supposedly coaching, but now it was getting too late and he was going to have to go back to the baths. That's exactly what he did and when he opened the door of the men's locker room, he realised how much beer he had drunk that evening; he couldn't fail to, as within seconds it was all over the floor in front of him. Frank did his duty and called the Police even though he realised he would be losing yet another job, as the keys were supposed to be in his possession at all times. He waited for the law to arrive and in a strange quirk of the way the Police operate, immediately became their prime suspect; he wondered why he'd even bothered.

Rachel and her Mother were informed of the murder the following morning when the Police called at the house and Rachel duly played the grief stricken pupil, crying hysterically. She had no idea where the tears came from, maybe from all the pent up stress and anger of the previous weeks but it certainly went down well with the investigators who asked her only a few cursory questions. Rachel informed them that nothing unusual had taken place the previous evening, and that the last time she had seen Lambert was when they had said their goodbyes before she went to shower and change. Her mother also confirmed that she had arrived home at the usual time and that she was in good spirits, although tired, and had gone to bed early. The Police requested the clothes she had been wearing the previous evening for forensics to examine but by the time they left, Rachel was almost sure they had discounted her as a suspect. She couldn't believe murdering someone could be that easy.

4 years later

Thursday, August 9th 2012 at 2.30pm, venue - the brand new, purpose built Aquatic Centre within the Olympic site in London, the final of the women's 400 metre freestyle and Rachel Vickers lines up alongside the other girls. Alongside the other girls that is, who are queuing to get into the television room of Bronzefield Women's Prison in Ashford, Middlesex to watch the final.

She wondered where it had all gone wrong; she never did get caught for the murder of Johnny Lambert, oh no. She got caught when she murdered her Father a month or so later, when she knocked him unconscious with a bronze statue before rolling him into the swimming pool at the house and turning on the water inlet and watching him drown. But she got caught alright; caught by her Mother who started screaming and running around hysterically, so she had to go too. She was easy; it was just a matter of catching her and strangling the life out of the weak excuse for a woman, before dumping her in the pool alongside her dead husband.

She filled the pool to the top and sat there gazing at it, putting a hand over one eye to block out the two floating bodies which spoilt its beauty. She sat for a long time recalling all the happiness this big hole in the ground full of water had brought into her life. "Why did you ever empty it Dad?" she thought as she walked away. "You changed everything." She made her way into the main house, telephoned the police, made herself a nice cup of coffee and waited...

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