The Greers’ Holiday
by James Finn
part 1 of 2
The store clerk finished packing the last items into the large cardboard box and then slid it across the counter towards Ted. The box was full of wire, fuses, memory boards, resistors, keyboards, control panels, and almost every other electrical component the shop stocked.
“What the hell you building, a space ship?” asked the clerk taking the money.
Ted smiled. “No, just going on holiday.”
Leaving the clerk with a somewhat bemused look on his face Ted exited the store to the car park where he loaded the back of his Range Rover. It was going to be a great holiday this year, he thought. Yes, this year was gonna be special. Putting the key into the ignition Ted fired the engine and drove home.
* * *
Eddy and Claire ran in unison to met their father as he pulled up onto the driveway.
“So, where we going?” Claire asked excitedly like any ordinary eight year old would.
Her father was barely out the vehicle.
“Yeah, Dad, come on tell us. We’re bursting,” added Eddie, trying to act nonchalant; with the typical bigger brother indifference attempting to hide the mere two year gap between them.
Unloading the back. “It’s a surprise, you know that. Just like last year’s holiday.”
“Yeah, Rome was a nice surprise, but I don’t want another surprise. Last year I wasn’t totally prepared for when we got there. Please tell us, that way I can look up some things,” complained Eddie.
“Sorry, son. You know how it is. Grab that roll of wire.”
Scuffing his feet, Eddy reached over for the wire when the leering voice of Stanley Perks emanated from beyond the hedge. Ed looked up and saw the glazy-eyed, red-nosed and thread-veined face of their neighbour. By the look of him he’d already started on the whiskey.
“I said, I see you’re going away again,” Stan repeated.
Ed just nodded. He thought the old guy was creepy and nosey. His Dad had told him not to let it bother him, but Stan’s appearance and course voice always bothered him. And to make things worse, everyone had gone inside. He was alone with the guy.
“Where you going?” Stan drew deeply on a cigarette then allowed the smoke to creep from behind his crooked yellow stained teeth like a toxic miasma.
Ed shrugged. Non-committal. He disliked talking to his neighbour; nods and shrugs were, he felt, safer.
“What’s a’matter, cat got your tongue?” he sneered. “Most people buy sun cream, malaria tablets, and plug adaptors from the chemist when they go on holiday. Your father seems to do his shopping at NASA,” he said suspiciously, glaring at the young boy.
“Ed, what’s taking you?” called Ted. Ed used the sound of his father’s voice to snap himself out of his paralysis and escape into the house. “Oh, hi, Stan. Great day isn’t it?” Ted politely acknowledged.
Stan muttered something under his tainted breath before turning away back into his house. Ted locked his vehicle then headed back inside.
* * *
“How about Germany?” asked Claire at the dinner table.
“Don’t be so morbid,” admonished Sue.
“But Germany’d be cool, mum,” Eddy added. “I’ve studied German at school and am pretty good at it.”
“I think you’d need to be a little more than good, son, don’t you?” said Ted wrapping spaghetti around his fork. “Besides, the weather isn’t particularly great. I want somewhere warm again. It helps the arthritis in my knee.”
“France then. France has nice weather,” Claire noted.
“I’m not going to tell you again. We’re not going to France or Germany, so drop it,” Sue said drinking her wine.
“Stan was asking questions,” Eddy piped up. “I don’t like him, he’s weird and scary.”
“Oh, and what was he asking?” Ted enquired mildly, through a mouthful.
“He said that normal people shop at a chemist not NASA.”
Sue laughed almost choking on her drink. Ted smiled. “What did you tell him?”
“Nothing. I told you he’s creepy. He also smells out of date.”
“The smell of a man with too much time and alcohol at his disposal,” Ted said. “Don’t worry about him, what can he possibly suspect, that we build a spacecraft and fly home to our home planet every year?”
“You’re forgetting something, honey. He was an intelligence officer during the Second World War. He has a nose for these things.”
“Yeah, and now look what it’s done to him. He can’t keep his nose out of other people’s business.”
“He’s harmless, Ted, don’t let him bother you.”
“It’s not me I’m concerned about, it’s him. I just don’t want him snooping too much. He may get more than he bargained for.”
* * *
Locking the shed door behind him Ted set to work emptying the large box’s contents onto his work top table. The shed was large, more like an expansive garage, than a small cluttered tool shed where you broke your neck trying to grab the garden rake from the back. Positioned at the top of his garden it was an ideal getaway when he was feeling creative. Kitted out with electric, gas and water it had everything he required for working on his projects.
Ted laid all the materials required for the holiday, out before him. He smiled to himself. This year’s holiday would be one to remember.
A subtle knocking at the door roused him from his reverie.
“What do you want?”
“I want to watch,” said the voice of his daughter.
“You know there’s no peeking before we go.”
“Please,” she whined. “Five minutes, no longer.”
He heard his daughter walk off muttering under her breath that it was unfair. The only time any of the children got to take part was when it was time to dismantle and scrap from the previous holiday. It could never be used again for another destination. Easier to build a new one every time.
Filled with excitement he set to work. He guessed it would be about two weeks before they would be ready to take off. He’d informed Sue of their destination. She’d almost fallen off her seat in shock. He knew she would have already begun preparing for the trip. But it would all be clandestine. He admired her for that. She was fantastic at arranging things behind the children’s’ back. No matter how hard they searched, she’d leave no clue; not so much as an atom. She was thorough; she was competent, but most of all she was the woman who he loved dearly and trusted explicitly; after all, not all holidays were like the Greers’.
* * *
Stan Perks stood in the back bedroom of his home. It was night and the room was in darkness; perfect for his surveillance. He knew he wasn’t even a shadow in the ink blackness. If the war had taught him one thing, it was how to remain invisible and out of sight. Become less than a breeze.
He slowly moved to towards the window. He could see out over the Greers’ back garden. He could also see Ted’s workshop: windowless. He knew Ted was in there with his box of bits; he could see the corona out light from around the edges of the door.
He knew Ted was up to something funny; that things were amiss. Three years the Greers’ had been his neighbours and this year he was determined to find out where they all went when the entered the shed, only to reappear two of three weeks later. The family wasn’t normal.
Lifting the box off the chair next to him Stan took out a pair of binoculars and studied the shed. The slight gap around the door offered no kind of view or angle of the goings on inside.
You son of a bitch, he thought. You don’t want people to know what kind of person you are. They’ll know if I have my way.
“Well, sonny,” he said to the empty room. “I’ll uncover your secret this year. I served my country throughout the war and every mission was a success. Just like this mission is going to be.”
It was close on midnight when Ted finally exited his shed for the night. Stan had dozed off in his chair and only became alert when he heard Ted coughing. He bolted upright, binoculars to eyes before they had any real chance of focusing. The Greers’ sensor light set Ted’s figure in relief, but Stan wasn’t able to make out anything clear or incriminating.
Stan cursed himself for falling asleep. If he’d been awake when Ted had exited he might have made something out; but the silence and boredom of waiting had been enough to send him to sleep.
He was out of condition, he told himself. It’s been many years, his body wasn’t used to all night watches anymore, which meant he also couldn’t trust himself on another night’s watch. He needed a partner. Someone that could remain alert and watchful without flagging. Stretching his aching muscles Stan got up. Tonight was a failure, but tomorrow night would not be. He’d have a new watchman by then, that way he wouldn’t miss a trick.
* * *
Climbing in next to his wife, Ted sighed: he was exhausted.
“Get much done?” she was still awake.
“Ah, you know, the start of the holiday is always a pain. I’m sure it’d be easier booking with a travel agent.”
Cuddling him. “You’d never to that. There’s no excitement when somebody else does it for you.”
He sighed again. “True. I must admit, I’m excited about this holiday, Sue. I really am.”
“Do you think it’ll be better than Rome?”
I don’t know. Rome was good. It had its own attractions. Very cultural. The food was great and the scenery was out of this world.”
“Better than Egypt?”
“Egypt will take some beating, don’t you think?”
Kissing him on the cheek. “Yeah, Egypt was great wasn’t it? I’d like to go back again. The children really enjoyed it.”
“They enjoyed the camels and pyramids. They made a few friends didn’t they?”
“Eddie did. Claire was young and quite shy.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Do you think you’ll need more parts?”
“It’s too early to say yet. I’ll see as I go along. Oh, Stan’s even more curious than usual.”
“Yeah, I saw him in the bedroom window. Well I didn’t see him. I saw the reflective glint off his binoculars when the sensor light came on.”
Straightening. “Binoculars? He is going all out isn’t he?”
Copyright © 2005 by James Finn