Friendship Thriller Fiction

The black velvet painting of a bullfighter that had hung unmolested since before the millennium, tore and fell from its wall mount, as a whiskey glass shattered upon impact with it. Closely following the glass, a wicker chair violently crumbled against the bare stucco wall where the painting had just vacated, while raised, angry voices grunted and yelled foul obscenities, as their despatchers of vulgarity wrestled and rolled around the sawdust floor of the small Mexican cantina. The scene resembled an old western movie bar fight where head locks were preferred to throwing punches, but the gunshot that rang out, not only shocked the two barroom gladiators, it also shattered a bottle of expensive Don Julio Tequila innocently perched on the bar.

This melee was more than mere combatants seeking bragging rights to the victor. This was personal, like a spat between broken-hearted lovers wallowing in the anguish and pain of betrayal.

Escaping each other’s vice-like grips, the two men simultaneously kicked out at each other, before scrambling backwards for space to recover. With rendered walls halting each man’s retreat, the men resigned themselves to the inevitable outcome of nowhere to run or hide, so they momentarily rested, panting heavily while trying to catch their breath before round two broke out.

Exhausted by their outburst, the two men exhibited an oddly mutual familiarity with their respective counterpart - as they sat upright on the floor opposite each other, wiping the sweat from their furrowed brows. Apart from the inanimate objects wildly scattered across the sawdust floor, the only witness to the battle’s fallout were the modestly decorated red adobe walls, now absorbing the pugilists’ drenched backs like a thirsty sponge - portraying darkened patches of purple-hued exhumations that porous glands energetically leaked fluids onto in the hot Mexican afternoon. A fleeting evaporating evidential witness to the battle’s fallout, quickly cooled the moment. Fighting was thirsty work, and it eventually requires sustenance. The man sat with his back to the bar, however, was not thirsty for agua. He was hankering for more tequila to add to the bottle he had already downed during the afternoon siesta.

Several silenced moments ticked by, allowing each exhausted man to check for damage to himself and to quickly survey his opponent for any visible signs of injury. Blindly probing the bar’s surface above his head, an investigative hand found the familiar shape of a tequila bottle and swiftly retrieved it.

“You ever wondered how we got to this point, James?” The fairer-haired of the two men asked, before taking a swig directly from the bottle.

“I know exactly how, Kev. You went and batted for the other side.”

“Hardly a game changer, old chap,” Kevin stated as he replaced the cap on the bottle, then shared it by rolling it across the short space between them. “It was simply business, my dear fellow and was just a matter of going with the highest bidder.”

Kevin Arnold and James Herriot had been lifelong friends. Growing up together through various private and boarding schools, they had struck up a friendship so close, that everyone that knew them considered them as inseparable – like conjoined twins from different mothers.

A joint career in the army saw them fighting alongside each other in campaigns from Iraq to Afghanistan, where at the latter, they both jointly ran an operation in counterintelligence against both Chinese and Russian interference in the region. After the pull-out of allied forces from Kabul, the two men were assigned to flush out foreign agents from the UK - in an attempt to slow the spread of fake news and foreign elements interfering with voting and public opinion. Through a vast web of agents and double agents, the two best chums brought Russian intelligence almost to its knees, until Kevin Arnold disappeared without a trace. Soon after, British agents began to vanish from outposts around the world – defecting to what was termed the dark network of covert operatives. Without confirmation of foul play, it was presumed they had been turned and were now working for intelligence services sworn to undermine the free world.

Desperately trying to track his friend down, James followed a lead to an off-the-beaten-path Mexican cantina in Baja, California – a three-hour drive from San Diego’s, San Ysidro border crossing. Kevin was suspiciously surprised to see James, but not as surprised as James was to be face-to-face with his old pal - staring down the barrel of a pistol held steadfast in his hand. The knee-jerk reaction of having a gun introduced to the reunion, resulted in the two ex-brothers-in-arms grappling for control of the loaded gun. When James managed to wriggle free of Kevin’s grip, the only remaining response was for both of them to let out their mutual frustrations in a demonstration of childish schoolground scuffling, ending with both their backs to walls, exhausted.

Shaken but not stirred, James calmed himself enough to strike up some surprisingly congenial conversation.

“How have you been, Kev? Or should I ask, where have you been?”

“Travelling here and there,” Kevin cautiously replied. “Mostly there than here, obviously. And you, my old friend?”

“Mostly here than there,” James astutely answered, causing a smile to break out across Kevin’s face.

“God, I’ve missed your dry wit, old chap. All the others I’ve met along the way are far too serious about life.”

“It’s a serious business, Kevin,” James noted while taking a long swig of tequila. “Not many laughs in the spy business.”

Kevin chuckled to himself, like he had just remembered a funny joke.

“Wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air, what? Instead of secrets, we could all swap one-liners for cash, no?”

“Covert stand-up,” James mused. “Where you’d like to tell the punch line but you’d have to kill the audience first.”

“Exactly, my boy!” Kevin exclaimed before chuckling to himself. “It would bring a whole new meaning to the coined phrase, Dead Pan Audience. Instead of trade or government secrets being banded around, one could just leak them out in jolly jest for all to share.”

“I’m afraid that would still contravene the official secrets act.”

“Precisely, James. Keeping secrets is so boringly unhealthy.”

“And not funny,” added James.

“No? Well, what do you call a Russian spy who drinks too much vodka?”

“A double agent,” James sullenly replied.

“See? There is comedy in the spy game.”

“That’s just a schoolboy joke lacking intelligence,” James mocked.

“Oh, a double entendre punchline, James. That was very clever, indeed.”

“Purely accidental. Old boy.”

“Did you hear about the triple agent that defected from Russia to the USA, then regretted his decision, so defected back again?”

“No,” James huffingly replied.

“That’s strange. Every time I ask about him, no-one knows anything.”

James shook his head while rolling his eyes. To him, the joke was as lame as a knock-knock joke, and his bored reaction to it, prompted him to return their conversation back towards reality.

“I strongly recommend that you avoid the footlights,” James derided. “Stick to the shadows of deceit. You belong much better there.”

Spooken like the true, dull person you have become,” Kevin quipped.

“Still not funny,” James retorted, before consuming another gulp of tequila.

“Be a good chap and pass that bottle back, would you?”

Copying Kevin’s earlier sharing of the tequila, James replaced the cork, then rolled the bottle back to Kevin – who downed approximately two shot glasses worth of drink, before letting out a satisfied Aah sound.

“There’s nothing like a quality tequila,” Kevin described. “So smooth without it biting your throat.”

“Unlike you, who bit the throats of his handlers by going rogue.”

“Blame SpyBay, old bean.”


“Think of it as eBay for governments,” Kevin explained. “Except, you have to be invited to sign up to any offer of employment.”

“Isn’t that just freelancing?” James asked.

“In a way, yes,” Kevin replied. “By signing up, you become an independent operator open to the highest bidder offering big rewards.”

“How do you trust them to pay for your services?”

“It’s all done digitally, dear chap – on the dark web.”

“You mean cryptocurrency?”

“It’s called SpyCoin,” Kevin revealed. “And get this, it’s completed via an app called, SpyPal.”

“Like PayPal?”

“Yes, now isn’t that a hoot.”

“But don’t you feel any remorse being an operative without a country?”

“My dear, dear friend,” Kevin reassured James. “I am a man of the world.”

“Is that another joke?”

“What I mean is that each agreement includes instant citizenry to whatever government hires my services. My wall safe at home is full of valid passports from many countries. I have freedom to travel anywhere I want.”

James’s ears pricked up as a realisation suddenly washed over him.

“That’s very risky, Kev.”

“How so, old bean?”

“Well, for one, it opens you up to charges of treason – should you anger the wrong government official.”

“You know, I never thought about that,” Kevin retrospectively pondered. “What strange bedfellows we spies choose to work with.”

“Please don’t include me in your category of bedfellows,” James corrected.

“I’ve been meaning to ask, old chum,” Kevin changed tact. “Why are you here?”

“I was ordered,” James bluntly responded.

“Yes, I suspected as such. Sorry about the firearm. Purely a defensive reaction on my part. I presume I’m capture or eliminate?”

“I refused those terms.”

James’ sensational proclamation immediately grabbed Kevin’s scrutinous attention.

“Then, that can only mean one thing, my friend.”

“Yes,” James confirmed. “There will be more joining us soon.”

“Ah, I see. You’ve disobeyed orders.”

“Friendship transcends duty. Isn’t that what you always use to say?”

“Indeed, I did, James. Indeed, I did.”

“Remember the time back in Basra when we ran over that IED in our carrier? Chatter over the radio warned us of an ambush, so the brass ordered you back to base, which meant leaving me to wait for a medivac.”

“Yes, you had taken a bit of shrapnel in your leg and couldn’t be moved by road,” Kevin added.

Go fuck yourself, is what you yelled over the radio to the brigadier. I’m not leaving my mate, you categorically stated.”

“That outburst cost me a promotion. Was worth it, though. Thank goodness that medivac was already close by. Would have been a hell of a firefight, what?”

“And one-sided, judging by the numbers we could see descending on the carrier when the chopper got high enough and out of firing range.”

“I resigned my commission soon after that,” Kevin bitterly recalled. “Thought a life in the Civil Service would be safer. Little did I know that my new position would lead to Kabul and espionage.”

“I knew exactly that – when I left the army to join you,” James revealed.

“So, what’s the plan, dear chap? Blazing guns in the hot Mexican afternoon?”

“Extraction,” James replied. “I have a boat waiting down by the jetty.”

“And what is our destination?”

“We’re heading North. I have a few agency contacts in San Diego awaiting our arrival.”

“Oh, I do hope it’s a fast boat,” Kevin excitedly commented.

“We just need to get to Ensenada. There’s an airstrip there and an agency plane fuelled and ready to go.”

“Very elaborate, James.” Kevin commented. “Who’s paying for all of that?”

“You are, Kevin.”

“I commend your enterprising valour.”

“What are friends for,” James quoted, just as his smartphone beeped a text. “ETA is six minutes. We can be at the jetty in four. Let’s go!”

Helping his friend off the floor, James led him out of the cantina and into the narrow village alleyway. Turning right, the two men hurried down a set of steps leading to the beach, then proceeded towards a ski boat docked at the small beachside jetty. Hopping into the boat, James turned a key in the ignition, then pressed the start button. Instantly, the boat’s three-hundred horse-powered Evinrude engine roared into life.

“Nice boat, old chap.” Kevin joyfully commented. “But only one engine?”

“Yes,” James deliberately replied. “I find one engine has less drag than two, so will propel us faster on the water. Plus, we need all the fuel we can conserve if we’re to reach Ensenada in a hurry.”

“Drink?” Kevin raised the bottle of tequila that he grabbed exiting the cantina. As he lifted it to his lips, James put the boat into full throttle, throwing Kevin backwards onto his seat.

“Steady on, James,” he protested. “This is far too good to spill.”

“No time to waste,” James shouted above the roar of the engine, while pointing back at the village. “They’re here.”

Turning to look, Kevin noticed a police helicopter banking to its right, then heading towards them in pursuit.

“We’ve been spotted,” alerted Kevin.

In response, James throttled up the engine to maximum, causing it to skip over some small waves. Cutting through the water, the speedboat glided across the calm sea like an Olympic speed skater – only much speedier. However, the fast-approaching helicopter worried Kevin.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Kevin shouted. “Why are the police chasing us?”

“Stands to reason, Kev. Our government catching you, means a public trial, headlines, and embarrassment. Hand the glory over to the Federales, and it’s a case of wanted dead or alive.”

“I’m so sorry I dragged you into this,” Kevin tried to apologise, as he shouted above the noise.

“Smoke and mirrors, Kev. Typical government deception.”

Suddenly, a voice shouting through the helicopter’s Tanoy system, ordered the men to stop the boat.”

“I presume that person speaking Spanish is ordering us to stop,” Kevin attempted to interpret.

“Don’t worry,” James yelled back. “This boat will surprise you.”

Again, a voice through the Tanoy ordered them to stop. This time in English, adding that failure to obey would result in gunfire.

“How many men hanging on the side?”

“Four!” Kevin counted.

“They’ll need to hover to shoot accurately,” James pointed out. “When they do, grab the flare gun from the box under your seat, then try and see if you can shoot it through the helicopter’s door opening. They’ll probably try and get ahead of us, so they can get into a hover position as we approach. I’ll swing the boat to starboard. That will be your opportunity.”

“Okay,” agreed Kevin.

“Don’t miss, Kev.”

“I’ll try not to! Hey, want to hear a joke?”

“Right now, Kev? It’s hardly the time.”

“What do you call a Mexican that has his car stolen?”

“Okay, they’re moving ahead of us,” James noted. “Get ready with the flare gun.”

“Carlos! Get it?”

“Slightly inappropriate, Kev.”

“Why can’t I just shoot them with my own gun?”

“Do you want to be hunted by every law enforcement agency on the planet? Just do it my way, okay?”

“Will do.”

Just as Kevin retrieved the flare gun, the police helicopter flew directly over them and headed a further three hundred meters in front of their path. Swivelling so that two of the agents perched on one side of the chopper could get a clear line of fire to the approaching boat, one final warning was issued over the chopper’s Tanoy followed by a volley of warning shots across their bow.

“Lock your legs around your seat, Kev, or you’ll end up in the water. Get ready! Three, two, one!”

Turning sharply to starboard gave Kevin a clear site of the chopper’s door opening. Raising the flare gun to aim, he took a deep breath, then slowly let it out, before firing the gun. Immediately, a flare arced into the air towards the helicopter, then with great marksmanship, found its way into the helicopter’s cabin, causing panic and disarray amongst its crew. With red flare smoke billowing out from the helicopter, it broke contact with the speedboat, spun several times, before turning away, heading back to shore.

“Good shot, Kevin. That gives us a little more time. Once they’ve sorted out the flare, they’ll be back, so I’m going to take us in somewhere further up the coast. We can find someone willing to take us to the airstrip for a price.”

Ten minutes later, the two men sat at the back of an old Chevy pick-up truck trundling its way along a dusty road toward several aircraft hangars rising from the desert terrain, like the Great Egyptian Pyramids. Parked next to a Lear jet sitting on the tarmac, were two large black SUVs providing shade on one side for eight black-suited men and women. James banged on the truck’s cab for the driver to stop just short of the protective fence surrounding the airstrip. Thanking the driver, the two men jumped down and walked towards the welcoming committee.

“Congratulations, Agent Herriott,” the leader of the group greeted James.”

“Package delivered as ordered,” James declared.

“James?” Kevin intriguingly asked. “What’s going on?”

Grabbing two bottles of water from another agent, James handed one to Kevin, drank a swig from his bottle, and held out a handshake to Kevin.

“SpyBay, I’m afraid, my friend. I was the only one who could get close enough to you to bring you in. The Mexicans wanted revenge on you for that bit of business in Cancun, but I couldn’t let them have you. Better you be handed over to a friendly than rot in a Mexican jail.”

“What happened to friendship over duty?” Kevin asked in a vexed tone of voice.

“This is friendship, Kev. I’ve saved you from a fate worse than death. Our friends here just need some information, then you can choose where you want to retire to.”

“Well played, James, old chap. I did not see this coming.”

“Friends still?” James probed.

“Always,” replied Kevin while shaking James’ hand.

“Funds are ready for transfer,” the group leader interrupted. “How would you like them sent?”

Smiling, and without breaking eye contact, James replied,

“A good friend recommended SpyPal to me.”

“Are you sure? They’ll take at least four percent in fees.”

“If it’s good enough for my friend here,” James pointed out. “It’s good enough for me…”




June 23, 2023 16:52

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Amanda Lieser
16:07 Jul 18, 2023

Hi Chris, As always, your dialogue is absolutely stellar so for this coming, I want to focus on how you decided to introduce us into this world. Frankly, I initially thought you were going to go down the art heist pathway. I had initially envisioned a series of art heist for this piece, and I imagined that you were going to play at the dynamic between the two main characters with each one. However, your cheeky creation of Spypal what is much better than my prediction. Nice work!!


Chris Campbell
01:25 Jul 20, 2023

Amanda, Many thanks for the great feedback. My intention was for our MC to orchestrate a humanitarian betrayal of friendship. In the spy business, I see it as a unique act of kindness. 😎 Glad to have changed your course prediction.


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Helen A Smith
16:12 Jul 09, 2023

Great fun. I loved the witty banter.


Chris Campbell
01:19 Jul 10, 2023

Thanks, Helen. I channelled a little movie-style Fleming into this one.


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Colleen Ireland
01:37 Jun 28, 2023

Fantastic read! Bravo!


Chris Campbell
02:26 Jun 28, 2023

Thanks, Colleen. So glad you liked it.


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John Siddham
00:00 Jun 28, 2023

Wow, action thriller and the fight scene is so real. Enjoyed reading it. Well done, Chris!


Chris Campbell
00:32 Jun 28, 2023

John, Thanks for the great feedback. So glad you liked it.


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Michelle Oliver
13:27 Jun 26, 2023

This is very cinematic. I love the pacing, fast and punchy just like their fists. The dialogue is witty and punchy too. Love everything about this especially the double crossing ending. I could hear every spy movie theme running in the background as I read.


Chris Campbell
14:47 Jun 26, 2023

Thanks, Michelle. I was hoping to capture that Action/Adventure movie feel. I very much appreciate your great feedback.


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Lily Finch
13:09 Jun 26, 2023

Nicely done Chris. As always. LF6


Chris Campbell
14:46 Jun 26, 2023

Many thanks, Lily.


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Dragon The Poet
17:30 Jun 24, 2023

I love how detailed the beginning was, and then the opposing quips!


Chris Campbell
02:29 Jun 25, 2023

Dragon, Many thanks for your kind feedback.


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17:29 Jun 24, 2023

nice work!. Sometimes, stories like these make me sad...Why isn't this a movie!!?? Well done, as usual!


Chris Campbell
02:28 Jun 25, 2023

Thanks, LJ. It does have a bit of a movie feel to it. So glad you liked it.


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Delbert Griffith
16:45 Jun 24, 2023

What a fun tale, Chris! This is what spy stories should be: fun, witty, clever, and fast-paced action. Spypal. LOLOL Great piece, my friend. Loved reading it. Cheers!


Chris Campbell
02:32 Jun 25, 2023

Thanks, Delbert. I hoped it would read fast paced with the action sequences. So happy to have that work in such a short space. Thanks for your great feedback, mate.


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Mary Bendickson
05:45 Jun 24, 2023

Now you are into espionage, too. Sneaky, sneaky. Thanks for liking my Hour-Glass Figure


Chris Campbell
08:39 Jun 24, 2023

Thanks, Mary, and yes, I like to dabble in cloak and dagger. So glad you liked it.


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