This is a revised version of one of my first efforts on TKnC...
Derek Oddman had forgotten about his ‘strange gift’ - if you could call it that - until the day he shook hands with his old snooker buddy, Jack Rickworth.
Many years ago, as a schoolboy, Derek had felt a bizarre ZAP when he’d shaken the paw of next door’s puppy. Later that day the puppy had died. This hadn’t set any alarm bells ringing at the time, until he’d met Jack again.
He’d not seen Jack and the snooker lot since moving in with his girlfriend, Jenny, two years ago. Why-O-why had he devoted so much of his time and energy on her? She repaid him by kicking him in the balls when he’d returned home from work early last Tuesday.
He thought he’d surprise Jenny on her birthday, twelve roses behind his back, only for him to hear the creaking bedstead and moans of pleasure. He found Jenny in their bed with his so-called, ‘snooker buddy,’ Gerry McEwan!
Any man in his right mind would’ve given it to McEwan good-style, but no, not Derek. Such was the shock, his legs became blancmange and he tossed the roses downstairs at the fleeing, and half-naked, McEwan. That’ll teach him: yeah, right.
His hopes and dreams of having kids with the girl he loved and living happily ever after had been annihilated as sure as an ant under a size ten boot. Derek didn’t do disloyalty – end of! So there was no going back, no forgiveness and no interest in any explanation.
The same old repetitive mistake of becoming obsessed with a woman and neglecting all your friends when it’s those very same friends - McEwan apart - who are there for you in the end to help you pick up the pieces of a shattered life. So with the proverbial tail between his legs he’d returned to his old haunt, cue in hand.
Feeling more than a tad guilty about seeing his mates again having completely ditched them for a woman, Derek entered the spacious snooker hall. He heard the remembered clink of balls being potted echoing around the place and instantly realised by the looks on the lads’ faces that they already knew that one of their own was responsible for breaking his heart.
Fortunately, that smoothie, McEwan, wasn’t there tonight.
A few of the lads came over and passed pleasantries, telling him to get his name up on the chalk-board for a game and that he was welcome to rejoin the team, Derek clocking their lack of eye contact.
It was then that snooker veteran, Jack Rickworth, came over.
‘I heard what happened, mate, and I’m so sorry. McEwan’s a right sod,’ said Jack, proffering a hand.
Derek didn’t even have time to answer before he automatically reached out his own hand. At least old Jack had the guts to speak his mind. Derek felt the warmth of Jack’s palm as their hands clasped in a friendly, but firm, handshake.
Jack leaned in and gave a partial hug, saying, ‘It’s good to see you back, Dek.’
Still shaking hands, Derek felt a surge shoot up his right arm into the base of his stomach. Nausea engulfed him and he was completely drained of energy. However, he managed to force a smile and quickly release his grip, saying, ‘Cheers, Jack…I’m just gonna…nip to the loo.’
A few violent heaves later and the toilet was full of puke: a bog brimming with what seemed like evil badness from within. Derek flushed the toilet and scrubbed his hands like a man with OCD. He stared at his reflection in the mirror wondering, what the hell was all that about?
Derek persevered with the evening and after a few beers began to feel a little more at home, managing to have a laugh while temporarily suppressing his troubles and even arranging to meet them all for the next match.
The following morning, in his old box-room at his parents’ house, he was awoken by his mobile ringing, his head feeling like he received a couple of whacks from Mike Tyson.
‘Yeah…hello,’ he said, half asleep.
‘Derek, it’s Tim, from the club. Bad news, mate. Jack had a heart attack last night.’
Derek’s senses suddenly kicked in. ‘What? How is he?’
‘He’s dead, mate.’
Derek couldn’t deny he’d thought about the handshake, but soon dismissed it as him feeling sick, a reaction to his current circumstances. The lads had all agreed to play the next match – ‘Because it’s what Jack would’ve wanted’ – and the score was 2-2 with Derek on the decider.
He thought of Jack throughout, summoning all his reserves of concentration and experience to win the match on the black and got a good old buzz from his team-mates’ cheers.
He strode proudly over to shake his opponent’s hand and…
This was like an electrical surge throughout his body. Yet the other lad didn’t seem to feel it one iota. Derek quickly released his grip and avoided the handshakes from his friends, settling for pats on the back and clinks of pints glasses.
Later back at his parent’s house he began to dwell on this handshake business. He remembered that poor puppy. The signs were pointing to what he’d subconsciously feared for years as being true: was his handshake really a death warrant?
Latent thoughts, he’d tried to suppress, began to resurface. He was a schoolboy at the time, but now those horrific memories which preceded the shaking of the puppy’s paw came gushing back. The day before he’d had a somewhat more shocking handshake experience.
One of the most malicious kids in the school, Bobby Maguire, had tagged along with a gang of them as they headed, out of sheer morbidity and laddishness, up to Asker Hill, or ‘Death Rock,’ as it was commonly known: the local suicide spot. Five lost souls had already jumped back then, and to this day the death toll was well into double figures.
Maguire, in his wisdom - and bang in character for the school bully that he was - had thought it funny to pretend to push Derek over the edge. Derek recalled instinctively shuffling aside only for Maguire to slip over.
He’d frantically grabbed Maguire’s sweaty hand and managed to clasp it while the others were screaming hysterically and clutching onto Derek’s legs. He could see the utter terror on Maguire’s face; the silent pleading in his desperate eyes.
Derek felt a tingling in his hand which intensified into a violent ZAP. A feeling of sheer evil engulfed Derek and he couldn’t hold on any longer. He watched Maguire disappear down into the distance, his shrieks diminishing with him the further he fell. There was a sickening splat and crimson spray as his body buckled on the rocks below.
Over the years Derek had consciously shunned handshakes and slowly forced all this into the gloomy recesses of his mind, but recent events had brought it all back. And he began to wonder if the upheaval of finding Jenny in bed with McEwan had somehow triggered something that had lay dormant for years.
It was standing room only at Jack’s funeral. His favourite song, ‘My Way,’ intensified the emotions as the burgundy curtains closed on Jack’s coffin; a plethora of forlorn faces, the sniffles of his family on the front row.
Derek, however, felt emotionless. Of course he was sorry, and somewhat guilty, to see Jack go as he was one of life’s true characters, but Derek had been doing a lot of soul-searching, a lot of deliberating.
Especially since he’d heard about the lad he’d played in the deciding snooker game last week. Only twenty-five and, while out jogging, he’d dropped dead from a mystery illness even second and third opinions couldn’t diagnose.
As the congregation edged out of the crematorium the vicar was shaking the hand of each passing person. Derek avoided the cleric, just giving him a polite nod. Instead he headed for the group of snooker friends and saw McEwan amongst them.
The lads looked up at Derek, their faces tense, one even placing a cautionary arm across him.
‘It’s okay, lads,’ said Derek smirking.
McEwan moved toward him. ‘Look, Dek, I’m really sorry. Can you possibly forgive me?’
All stared agog at Derek.
‘Sure, man,’ he said coolly, proffering his hand, ‘Let’s shake on it…’
Col Bury is currently writing a crime novel and his ever-growing selection of short stories can be found on TKnC and A Twist Of Noir. He blogs and interviews crime authors here: