I wrote Briefcase Encounter in 2011 in an early attempt at Flash Fiction. Earlier this year I entered it in the annual Pennine Ink Short Story Competition, which invited stories themed on “A Journey”.
Much to my surprise and pleasure, it made third place and was published in Issue 36.
Pennine Ink is a small magazine of poetry and prose that, in a cultural climate where such publications tend to be short-lived, has achieved astonishing longevity and, indeed, appears to go from strength to strength with each issue, drawing contributors not only from the UK, but also the USA, India, Canada, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
The standard of content is remarkably high, but far from being obscure or inaccessible, it’s a hugely enjoyable read.
Pennine Ink limits itself to one issue each year and Number 36, the current one is available from http://pennineink.weebly.com at a surprisingly modest price.
I chose the story title as a play on the name Brief Encounter, David Lean’s iconic film based on a short play by Noel Coward, much of which was set in a railway station. My character, Harvey, who delivers the fateful briefcase to the terrorist, Pandora, borrows his name from Alec Harvey, one of the two main protagonists in the film.
My story is obviously fictional. However the recent nightmarish escalation in global terrorism suggests that fiction may yet become fact.
Eurostar disgorged its passengers like a pod expelling seeds. Harvey, clutching his briefcase, allowed himself to be carried forward slowly, legs still stiff from the journey. Security checks were in progress but he moved forward confidently, certain his bland exterior would ensure cursory attention.
Waved through, Harvey waited by the railing close to Betjeman’s statue, briefcase resting at his feet. He saw the woman approach; her stride confident. She gave him a quick, cold smile and set down her briefcase, departing with his.
Harvey picked up her case, identical to his own, and hurried to board the returning Eurostar to Paris. He wanted to be far away from London when Pandora released the deadly spores in Oxford Street.
Safely aboard the speeding train, Harvey cradled the briefcase, itching to handle the stacks of hundred-euro notes he knew lay inside. He thought of Pandora preparing to text him with the combination to open the case: his portal to a new life. Of the devastation awaiting London’s population, he thought very little. Who said life was fair?
Mid-way through the Tunnel, Harvey was on his third cognac when the text came through. He fumbled with the briefcase lock; suddenly remembering Pandora’s icy smile, and felt terror engulf him as he opened the lid.