Money Changes Everything (Flash Fiction)

Flash Fiction – 1040 Words – feel free to share, preferably as a link but retain the attribution if you must copy the text.
(c) 2017 Steve Catto @SteveCatto @SnowflakesTheBook

Martin paused at the edge of the valley and looked down across the tops of the trees to the waterside. Moonlight shone through the broken clouds and glistened off the river. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves and ruffled his dark curly hair. He checked his watch. Perfect! The rusty old bicycle he had bought from a junk shop two weeks ago was in a ditch beside a remote stretch of road about an hour’s walk across the fields. No-one knew he was here and, if his plan worked, no-one would ever know that he had been here. He picked his way carefully through the forest towards the docks, and climbed over the fence. As expected, the ship was still there. He had often made a point of strolling along the moorings in his lunch hour, and he had watched it on and off for months. This little ship had no fixed schedule, but it made trips every few weeks. It arrived during the day, unloaded its cargo of timber and departed on the next high tide, which would be at ten o’clock.

When he reached the ship it was in darkness. He walked cautiously up the gangway. Someone would be on guard, there was always someone on guard, but he couldn’t see them tonight. The crew didn’t change much between visits, but it wasn’t possible to predict who would be on lookout. As he scanned the length of the deck his eyes met with those of a large dirty-faced man, who was sitting in the shadow of a barrel beside the door that led downstairs to the bilges, smoking a cigarette and holding some rope in his hands. That took him by surprise and he stopped dead in his tracks near the end of the gangway. The man had been looking directly at him for a while, he suspected. Martin had seen him on the ship before, he had a feeling this man was the captain. After an uneasy moment the sailor spoke.

‘What you want?’ he growled, in broken English.

Martin’s mouth had gone unexpectedly dry, but he knew it was make or break time now for his plan, he had not spent his life wasting opportunities and he didn’t intend to waste this one. He drew himself up to his full height and spoke the words he had been practising in his head for weeks.

‘Where are you sailing to?’ he said, somewhat sternly, trying to maintain what little eye contact was possible in the gathering darkness.

‘Why you care?’

‘I’m just interested. Where are you sailing to?’ he repeated, adopting what he hoped was a slightly less threatening tone.

The sailor looked down at his work.

‘Rossiya’ he replied, before returning to his task, which seemed to involve putting a splice in the end of the rope with the aid of a marling spike. ‘Why?’ he continued, without looking up.

It seemed the plan was going as well as could be expected. ‘Rossiya’ meant Russia. Not what he had imagined, but it would do as a beginning.

‘I want to come with you.’

The sailor’s hands stopped moving, and he looked back up at him with an expression of disgust, before blowing a lung full of smoke in his direction.
Martin looked at the sailor defiantly. ‘You must want men! I can cook… I’ll work,’ he continued, his voice now tinged with an air of uncertainty and desperation. The sailor reached down to his side, and his hand reappeared holding a length of metal rod.

‘No! Wait!’ added Martin quickly, producing a roll of money from his pocket. ‘Dollars!’ he taunted. ‘American dollars! I can pay… and I’ll work…’ he continued, hesitantly.

The sailor appeared unimpressed, but didn’t raise the weapon any higher.

‘…and I can cook,’ he repeated. ‘You sail at ten!’

He held out the wad of banknotes. It probably amounted to the sum of about two thousand dollars.  The sailor looked him up and down slowly, before glancing around suspiciously. He appeared to have come to a conclusion very quickly. It was more money than he had ever seen in his life. Nobody was around and no-one ever came to these merchant docks asking for passports or identity documents. The sailor reached out to his side and pushed open the door with a grubby weathered hand, before shouting something down the stairs in Russian.

So now the figure stood there near the end of the gangway in the orange glow that trickled up from the bowels of the ship. The light revealed a tall man, in his twenties, with a thin troubled face. A man who had studied hard, earned his degree in economics and found he was good at stockbroking. A man who had got himself a job in a merchant bank and thought about marriage and children, but was too busy to enjoy a proper life. A man who had met targets, made his fortune, been successful, but still found his existence unrewarding. A man who, despite all the wealth his successes and victories in life had brought him, was still so poor that all he had was money. He looked at the doorway. The sea had always fascinated him, he had read the books, loved the stories, and dreamt about the legends. He had seen the ships at the docks as he passed by every day on the way to his desk in the city. They called to him, they promised him new challenges, and a life filled with danger and adventure. That was why he had devised this plan… to disappear without a trace. And now it had worked! He had thought it would be hard but, in the end, it had been easy, much easier than most things he had struggled with in his career.

He turned for a moment to look back into the gloom at the trees and the little hill near the edge of the valley. His home was behind him now, but a new world was ahead of him. He reached out to grasp the ship’s railings, and a faint smile crept across his face as he stepped onto the deck and disappeared down the stairs into the light, to meet his new life.

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