They'll be posted here as they are provided to us
The first is Clare Dornan's story:
A shady character
She anxiously chewed her nails, chipping away the Lilac Dream varnish that had been flawless only hours before.
Her eyes flicked once more to the suitcase sitting ominously in the hall.
She slid the screwdriver through the tiny lock and twisted it round until the metal contorted and finally gave up the fight.
She unzipped the case and raised the lid.
Lucy was proud of her transition to a language school teacher. She was not just a Teacher of English, but provided the foreign visitor with the full experience: a place to stay, excursions through the city and home cooking of a standard that she knew was some what above the usual fare. Now five years into her new calling and the bookings were steadily increasing.
She rarely stewed over her days at the BBC any longer. The 15 years of service, arranging filming shoots for increasingly younger, increasingly impatient producers. No matter what tight schedule they would harp on about, no document ever left her desk until she was sure grammar and punctuation was perfect.
When the rounds of redundancies were announced, she sensed the shift in her boss from a frosty reception to a patronising smile. And when she was told that she would be leaving, she realised there was no one left who cared to hear her complaints. Even John in the Canteen, was in no mood to listen that day, having just discovered he was soon to be replaced by a Nestle vending machine.
But now she was her own boss, teacher and educator. She even had a website with links to her Menu for the Week, Testimonials and photos of students smiling while tackling the pluperfect.
Juan had come on the recommendation of his sister Maria - one of her earlier students He’d surprised her by turning up on her doorstep just as she was about to leave to collect him at the airport. He’d arrived early and hitched a lift – he didn’t want to put her out he said.
There was a glint in those dark eyes that instantly made her a little sheepish and she was aware of her own flushed chitter chatter, as she showed him round her compact Victorian terrace.
It had been the start of an unusual week’s teaching as unlike his linguistically challenged sister Maria, Juan’s English was surprisingly impressive. Her lesson plans had been torn up and replaced with in-depth discussions about her business, life and interests. She had been flattered when he said how Maria had praised her cooking – particularly her tiramusu – and she’d broken her menu plan and made it twice in one week. He’d been so complimentary about the many handmade crafts in her home…. Even admiring the embarrassingly overstuffed embroidered cushion – the outcome from her brief foray into re-upholstery night classes.
The small twinges of uncertainty about her student had never risen above the quickened heartbeat and extra layer of lipstick in the morning. They had only started to rise, like bubbles oozing up through a thick and reluctant syrup when he hadn’t returned this afternoon.
She was sure he knew when they should leave for the airport and her panic had briefly subsided when she found the suitcase already packed in his room. He was just running late, she consoled herself – perhaps a last minute shopping trip to get a gift for Maria.
What was it about Maria that caused a small mental bubble of doubt to form?
Then she realised. She couldn’t remember Maria ever mentioning a brother. And Maria’s testimonial on her website made her even more unsettled… “Everyone should come and study with Lucy! I recommend to all my friends. And her cooking! – the best Tiramisu ever.”
It was when she tried to phone that she noticed the flashing message light. The call must have come in that morning when she’d been frying up his English breakfast. It was impossible to hear the phone from the kitchen, yet from the dining room it was impossible to miss. Juan must have heard the message being recorded – yet he had not said anything about the Bank wanting her to call them urgently.
She laughed at her paranoia. He would be back for his case soon. He wouldn’t just leave all his things and disappear!
So she had sat there, twitching. It was only after the intended flight had long since taken to the air when she had placed the screwdriver into the lock.
She lifted the lid and her heart froze as she stared into the case. It was totally empty except for one sickeningly familiar, overstuffed embroidered cushion.