Geoff Nelder

The March 2015 Editor's Pick Writer is Geoff Nelder

Please feel free to email Geoff at geoffnelder@yahoo.com

Geoff Nelder

by Geoff Nelder

“Deadlines, Forrister, you’re missing too many,” Zita snarls and narrows her piercing black eyes as if sizing him up for a meal. An image enhanced by her mane of hazelnut hair. “Here, this is your next and possibly your last case.”

“I won’t let the firm down. This is for Tuesday?” I glance at the manila folder. It’s another airline liability case. “Directly to the Barrister, not one of our solicitors?”

“Monday, or don’t bother coming back.” She stands behind her onyx desk, her emerald ring tapping out a warning. “The barrister needs time to go through your summary of the Bassinger research by the preliminary hearing on Monday. Critical, Forrister.”

I want to say a big BUT, being that it is Friday and this weekend my Salford Quays apartment is to be invaded by my loony uni-mates for our five-year reunion. I can’t cancel now, nor can I refuse this task. Dammit. An incipient headache rattles.

Just as I am about to lie to Dave that I’m in London because that’s where I’ll say I thought the reunion is, my mobile trills. Annabelle.

I launch a pre-emptive strike. “Hey, babe, I’m on my way, kinda. What was it I’m supposed to bring for this reunion?” As if I’m really going to it.

“Never mind, just get here now. The landlord? Way overdue rent? He’s threatening to bag all your stuff and dump it outside in the next twenty minutes.”

Dammit. The headache arrives full steam.

At least I remember what booze I’m to take home, but do I have time? I see the Express supermarket and urge my feet to walk faster while my brain tries to catch up. On the way I pass the Co-op Travel. A starred sign flashed at me enroute: Only £300 if you Go today.

I’ve always wanted to waltz into a travel agency and see what they have going if you leave the same day. It’s as if King Kong, who’s been sitting on my head, leapt off, taking my headache with him.

“Yes sir, Gozo, Xlendi Bay, 2 star hotel, simple but all inclusive, except for alcoholic drinks. £450.”

“It says £300.”

“Didn’t you see from in small print?”

“Never mind. I’ll go.”


I’m on a plane taxiing runway two at Ringway airport. I should be wracked with guilt but sometimes life piles so much crap on top of me there’s no time to sort it. If I stay my head will explode. It’s survival, survival of the craftiest. Of the he-who-runs-away-lives-to-fight-another-day kind. My fight-or-flight hormones are in fine form. I could win medals for the flight response.

I’ve been to Malta before so I know to hire a tiny Fiat 500 and head north for the Ferry port. The ferryboat reminds me of the pushme-pullme Dr Doolittle animal with a head at both ends because the boat has two bows so it doesn’t have to turn. It’s only a few choppy miles to Gozo yet the wind whipped up to laugh at me on the forward rail. I like to see the arrival, pretending I’m Rais Dragut, one of the pirates that regularly invaded the island in the sixteenth century. Even at a mile away he would have seen much the same view: gigantic limestone churches above the cliffs and huddles of mellow yellow buildings clinging together near the shore. Driving off the ferry and up a steep road to the plateau interior is like travelling back in time thirty years. Old British phone and letter boxes, ancient buses and cars jostled for non-potholed sections of roads. I park in the capital, Victoria, to stock up on weekend booze. I might stay longer especially if come Monday I’m jobless again.

Xlendi Bay is guaranteed peace and excellent diving waters if I am inclined to bury my head in the blue. St Patrick’s is a grand old-fashioned hotel right on the bay. My hotel is not that one. It takes me an hour to find it up a steep hill. Gozo Heights Hotel might have been grand when it was built a century ago but judging by the scaffolding and the door held open with an unlidded can of white paint with flies learning to swim, I’ve been sold a scammed holiday.

No matter. I’m away from my troubles in Manchester and Annabelle doesn’t know about my inherited rainy-day savings. These Heights are unbearable I might even buy an apartment in the village, become a tour guide. I’ve seen and heard them, and I can invent history better.

A woman with silver-streaked black hair and sunglasses while inside a dark hall, takes my booking chit. She must have been the original dweller of the 6000-year-old temple up the road at Xaghra. Their receptionist too. She turns the piece of paper over several times as if it’s lying. She can’t find me in her ledger but tosses a bent Yale key on the desk and in English with an Arabic accent says, “Room 403, next to the roof-pool bar. You might like to take the stairs as the lift is slow. Beware of maintenance works.”

“Is the pool open now?”


“The bar?”


It doesn’t look like she’s going to take my luggage up, but then it is only a holdall and a double-carrier bag of cans. Um, I should have bought some spare clothes in Victoria. No matter it’s only a few shaky minutes in the car. I smell onions so the inclusive all-in might be handy.

The room will not do. How can you get mustiness in a Mediterranean climate? However, the bed’s clean and the pool has only a few leaves and cans floating on it. Hey, a stretched bikini is reading over there. Maybe I’ll hang out for a while.

After a putrid dinner of slimy octopus, albeit with onions, I wander down the hill to St Patrick’s Hotel to check out their prices. Not for long, the mobile signal is too erratic. I’m hedging options by bringing that folder with me along with a laptop. Perhaps a cocktail will loosen the brain enough to put a report together to save my job if I email it to my boss in time.

At a forecourt table, close enough for occasional sea spray to reach, I see the woman I saw before, by the pool. I think it’s her because it’s the same book – Reaper Man – otherwise she could have been any younger Cher look-alike.

I am a little tipsy and so bold enough. “May I join you?”

She smiles and doesn’t say no.

After I buy her a couple of Tiger Beers she says, “Elle.”

“John Forrister, London.”

“Manhattan. Say, you have transport?”

“Hardly need my car, Elle; we could walk right across this teardrop of an island in half a day.”

“So, you don’t want to take me on a tour tomorrow?”

I need Saturday to read all the documents. Dammit. “I can’t.”

“Why not? Calypso’s Cave is on the other side. She used to lure good men to her lair.” She sips her beer, a touch of froth on her peachy lips. “Then maybe Sunday at the Citadel? A picnic at Ggigantija – my treat?”

“You’ve been reading the guide books.” I need Sunday to write it up and send it. Dammit.

Later, I walk her back up the cliff path to the hotel. I’m eager to use the hotel wifi to check my emails in case the court hearing has been postponed. It often happens.

Elle speaks. “Wow, John, honey, look at that view.”

I turn to face the bay, and the ocean horizon shimmering with the full moon. She’s sitting on a bench to take in the view and perhaps gauge my reaction to Nature.

“It’s why I come here and want to live here,” I say.

“It sure is a fine place to stay for the rest of your life.”

 I sit next to her, just for a few minutes...please. Her hand, cool in mine, is promising an interesting night. How do I tell her of the imperative for me to work?

I try. She listens and thinks and smiles. “Be assertive, John. Man up. Email or text to say it will be done for Tuesday.”

Assertive, me? When we reach the Heights I leave her in the bar while I use the intermittent wifi. The sticky keyboard whiffs of stale beer, but I tap away only to read, “User name or password is invalid.”

Damn my brother.

I have other email addresses but they all say something similar. It’s as if my password system has gone wrong. Yet, how can my birthday be wrong? Numbers and words, of course, I’m not an idiot. Even if my parents had made a mistake with the date and that’s just been found out and corrected...

I can text Zita, my boss. Hey, look at that, only a third charged. I hit the contacts and scroll but there’s only three, TelBuy, PhoneBillShow and EM. What’s happening? Where are all my numbers? No idea who EM is either. At least the phone works, I tap in the code and number for my office reception.

“Fitzgerald, Fitzerald and Smith; office hours are Monday to Friday, ten till four. Leave a message after the beep.”

“Hi, Jenny, it’s John. Message for Zita. Apologies but due to a family bereavement the Bassinger report won’t be with you until Tuesday ten in the morning. Sorry.”

Dammit, the phone’s not sending it. Rubbish signal. I’ll have to use the hotel landline. Of course, if my mobile phone was working properly it would be red hot from angry Annabelle, struggling to entertain my uni nutcase friends. I’ll be a pal and call her.

“Hi Annabelle, look sorry abou—”

“Who’s this?”

“John. Look, I know I’m supposed to be at the flat but I’ve had to work late.”

“John who?”

“Your John, and they’ve made me go on a weekend residential in...erm... London. I’ll be ba—”

“Stop it. This is mean.”

“Hilarious. I’ll let you know wh—”

“You’re a creep, whoever you are.” She disconnects me. Annabelle must be really angry.

Elle walks up with a couple of long blue drinks from the bar. Vodka and blueberry?

“Gee, John, sorry. Has she cold-shouldered you? Well, that kinda frees you doesn’t it?”

I take the drink. “I get the feeling, Elle, that she meant it. She doesn’t know me. I wonder if she’s had a small stroke or something? Maybe I should head back early.”

A long black fingernail traces a prominent vein on the back of my hand. “Everything will look different in the morning. We could have Room Service deliver breakfast in bed.”

My eyebrows rise by themselves. “You mean to us...in bed...together?”

“John, what kind of girl do you think I am? We have separate rooms, don’t we?”

My face radiates heat and the glass hardly hides it. The ice cubes shrink in seconds.

Her words came over as mock indignation, which meant that she might be expecting me to join her tonight, or not. Dammit. I daren’t risk a scene so after another drink and forgettable conversation, I sneak off to my room. I close but don’t lock the door, just in case she really means for us to have fun together.


I wake up, see the time is 0215 and my door is wide open. Elle has stopped me working on the report, and okay, it’s my bad to leave home and come out here to escape trouble, so why am I bugged with her? I sit up, decision made to go back home on the first flight.

My mobile shows a single bar signal strength but the contacts still only has the phone company links and EM. Is that for emergency? Not seen it at home, but perhaps over here...I try it.

“Hi, John, can’t sleep?”

I drop the phone. E for Elle. How did she put that in? If I don’t answer she might come across. Why should that be a bad thing, she’s gorgeous, yet creepy. I recover the phone, “Sorry to wake you, Elle, I was playing with the buttons. Good night.”

“Do you need any help to sleep, John?”

Now what? If I say yes, she’ll say she’ll order a hot chocolate for me. Hah. “No thanks. See you at breakfast.”

I reach for the room phone and dial 0. Amazingly, there is staff on duty and puts me through to the airport. A sweet untired voice asks what she can do.

“Hello, I need to change my return flight from next Friday to later today.” I give the ticket number only to hear:

“There’s no such ticket, sir. Your name?”

“John Forrister; it’s Air Malta to Manchester at 1500 on Friday.”

“No one of that name. There are, sadly, many available seats on that flight, do you want to book one?”

I ponder on the ‘sadly’ for a few moments then switch to annoyance because one of those seats is already mine but hey ho. “Okay then.”

All goes well until I read out my card only for the annoyingly honeyed voice to tell me it’s not recognised.

“All right, look up yesterday’s flight KM0147. Was I on that or did I sprout my own wings?”

“Your connection must be weak, you’re getting fainter. Sorry, sir.”

“Sorry about what? You can’t find my name...hey, don’t cut me off.”

I let the phone drop and lie back on the bed.

Sadly, many available seats on that flight exactly one week after the one coming out. My brain hurts.

Suddenly Elle is in my room. “Are you ready for me, now, John, dear?” She’s wearing a long black negligee, same color as her hair so the only feature not black is her ghostly white face.

“Am I ready? Everything’s weird, so I might as well be ready for you. Come to bed...hey, Elle, what is your full name?”

El Muerto, sweetheart.”

Muerto? My heart pounds in my chest.

I pick up the phone to try again, but the receptionist doesn’t hear me. I rush past El Muerto and stumble down the stairs. There’s no one at reception.

I see two things sending a chill up and down my back. My reflection in the mirror is so faint I can hardly see myself, and it is wavering. They need a new mirror.

On the dusty black Formica desk lies a copy of last night’s Malta Times.

‘Air Malta KM0147 disappears over the Mediterranean.’ 

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I do wish he would go away.
(corrupted from Antigonish by Hughes Mearns 1899) 

Geoff Nelder has a wife, two grown-up kids, an increasing number of grandkids, and lives in England within an easy cycle ride of the Welsh mountains. Geoff is a competition short-fiction judge, and a freelance editor.

Publications include several non-fiction books on climate reflecting his other persona as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society; over 50 published short stories.
2005: Humorous thriller Escaping Reality. Republished 2013.
2008: Award-winning science fiction mystery with hot-blooded heroine, Exit, Pursued by a Bee.
2010: Hot Air received an Award d’Or from an Arts Academy in the Netherlands. Republished 2012.
2012: ARIA: Left Luggage science fiction apocalypse. Voted Best science fiction novel of 2012 at the P&E Readers’ Poll. Sequels 2013 and 2014.

The Aria Trilogy