It started, unimaginatively enough, with someone looking up at the stars.
That someone was Laurie Entwistle, who instead of writing up a review of up and coming ska punk ensemble The Mucus Plugs, looking for new ways of saying that they “absolutely tore the bloody roof off” of local pub Dog & Gristle (a venue which truthfully remained quite intact), was actually stuck on making tweaks to her dating profile.
Likes: travel, reading, her sofa, art, photography, blueberry muffins, endless scrolling
Dislikes: punctuation mistakes, plants (especially ones that don’t respond to watering/plaintive beseeching), dogs that are too large/too small, flipflops
“What?” Laurie asked one of the brighter-looking stars. “What am I looking for exactly?”
Somebody not in a band, she thought. Not with those egos. Nor a fellow journalist (egos in more sombre clothing). Not a toyboy. Not a DILF, either. “Do I even want a man at all”, was a thought that had been occupying more headspace recently, particularly after the last few shambolic dates. Maybe the love of my life is a woman? What if it’s a rice farmer on the other side of the globe, who I’ll likely never meet, and even if I did would speak another language that would require years to learn? What if I’m destined to be alone to devote more time to my first true love, music-writing?
She looked at the blinking cursor on the review in progress. Another band that would rotate the same dusty venues for a few years, with the same support acts, never moving up or down the scale, selling more t-shirts than songs, before wives and kids crept into the picture demanding more time and fixed salaries.
Nah. Perhaps not.
Laurie wondered if her rice farmer was looking up at the same stars right now (minus the birdshit-streaked pane of glass in the way). Given it would be daylight on the other side of the planet, she guessed not.
Maybe travel was the answer.
She logged into her employee portal, fingers flying faster than they had done all week (except perhaps for when ASOS had announced a 50% reduction in the price of ankle boots). After multiple failed logins, password reset and a two-factor authentication process that nearly had her throwing Martin from account’s ridiculous mascot (an oversized ‘lucky’ penny on a stick) at a picture of Pink Floyd album artwork (also Martin’s) she was in.
Two weeks of leave to take. “Yessss,” she hissed in delight.
She dashed off the rest of the review, borrowing from her secret spreadsheet of stock phrases/crowd-pleasers (‘unstoppable’, ‘unmissable’, ‘notoriously difficult sophomore album’, ‘roaring behemoth’, ‘will make your ears bleed – but in a good way’, ‘beautiful electronic soundscape’, ‘searing anthems’ and of course the winner: ‘you heard it here first’). The spreadsheet told her how many times and how recently she’d used them. Quite handy, really.
Even if meeting the fabled farmer wasn’t on the cards, she just needed to disappear for a while.
To remember what it was like to be out in daylight, rather than skulking in shadows drenched with giddy gig-goers’ spilled pints. To not be glued to a screen, whether the big one or the small one. To get some vitamin D. (Reader’s choice of what the ‘D’ stands for there). To not be stuck on a tin snake filled with other people’s crisp dust where a voice bleated at intervals “See it. Say it. Sorted”, forever reminding her the act of a simple commute was a dance with death.
To get away from Martin, who had once found her profile on another dating site and who had had his messages left on read and got his own back by loudly quoting snippets of her profile to anyone who happened to be passing their desk (which given it was by the snack box, was many). “Watch it with waving that Milkybar around, Liz. Our Laurie here is lactose intolerant.” Capped with a drumroll of his little piggy gruntings. Ha bloody ha.
Laurie looked up from where she was glowering again at the picture of the man on fire shaking hands, which was an act she committed so often she was surprised the whole picture and frame hadn’t combusted yet, distracted by a movement beyond the window.
A shooting star.
That confirmed it. She filed her copy, booked a last minute sea and sunshine deal, then picked up her things. Time to go home and prepare to disappear.
“See it, say it, sorted!” she declared, snapping her monitor off with a flourish.
Martin opened the door to his basement flat, an act that usually required a fair amount of jiggling and often a shoulder heave or two. It seemed some days that even his front door rejected him.
He said hello to Elizabeth the lizard then shuffled through his mail. The usual burger flyers, visitation notices from TV licencing. He discarded all but the solo cruise company’s latest brochure. He liked to look through the pictures, even if he never booked anything.
He fixed himself a decaf coffee, then punched in the key code to his basement-within-a-basement. The construction of which had taken him all of lockdown to complete.
His chair groaned in protest at contact with his derriere. He adjusted his headset, and switched on the PC he had also built himself. After multiple failed logins, password reset and a two-factor authentication process that nearly had him throwing the stiletto he’d stolen from under Laurie’s desk (on 23rd December 2022, when the distraction of the office Christmas party was in full swing) at a framed picture of Fred West, he was in.
The miniscule camera he’d pinned to the collar of her jacket when Laurie had gone for her usual extended trip to the bathroom after her traditional Wednesday burrito (spicy beef, naga sauce, refried beans, green rice, cheese and sour cream) had of course gone unnoticed by the wearer, who had adorned her jacket with so many feminist pins and band badges he was surprised she managed not to topple over face first whenever she put it on.
It worked perfectly. He had sharp Laurie-vision, which was of her fluffing her fringe in the reflection of the train window. Then a lipstick entered the shot. Martin’s stomach twisted as he guessed perhaps she was preparing for a date, a possibility he’d spent ages toying with in his calculations. It unknotted itself as he remembered in – he checked the timer on another screen – seven minutes it wouldn’t matter anymore.
There was a fast blur on the Laurie-vision cam. She was shrugging off her jacket. From the new angle, Martin could see the rucksack he’d planted on the luggage rack thirty-six minutes prior was waiting like an obedient, unobtrusive guard. When he’d spotted that shooting star earlier, he’d known then the plan was going to come together exquisitely, but hadn’t predicted such serendipity that the camouflaged device would be in shot. He felt a pang of remorse for his brave little soldier that he’d spent so much time helping create, that he would never get to thank.
One minute to go. Laurie-cam wobbled as she inevitably did that twisty thing she did to get comfortable, which always reminded him of a cat rotating until settling down to sleep.
“Goodnight, Laurie,” Martin whispered to the screen.
Fifteen seconds. Martin dabbed at the sweat on his brow with a scarf that Laurie had ‘lost’ on 2nd November 2022.
“Three, two, one,” Martin chorused, and then a flash of bright white filled the screen. Then snow.
“See it. Say it. Sorted.”
He snapped off the monitor with a flourish.