UPDATE: The Title and the Illustration of SteemShort #4 have been Chosen (2018-03-15)
The Title of SteemShort #4 is:
proposed by @catalincernat, one of the three authors of the story.
As there were only one illustration proposed by @dorth, the jury had an easy job.
SteemShort #4 - Post 4: Request for an Illustration and the Title of the Story
SteemShort are short stories written collaboratively by three differents authors and illustrated by an artist/photographer.
The process to create a SteemShort is described in this post. The rules to select the authors and illustrators have been modified in this post.
This is the request for an illustration and the title of the story.
Each of the three authors may proposed a title for the story, in a comment.
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The height should be between 500 and 1,000 pixels.
The image/photograph can be in black and white or in color.
For the chosen illustration, the artist/photographer needs to be the single author and has to agree for a "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike" (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode).
There can be only one proposed illustration per artist/photographer. The proposed illustrations must be received less than 4 days after thist post has been published.
After sending their illustration, artists/photographers should tell in a comment that they have sent their illustration, so that they can receive confirmation that their illustration is valid.
So, artists and photographers, send your proposed illustrations.
And authors, send your proposals for the title of the story.
Here is the full text of the story by by @catalincernat (Cătălin Cernat) @tin-tin and @vanessahampton
Nicky looked down at the dotted landscape that was the busy crossroads in Brooklyn on 5th Avenue between 4th and 12th streets. Colorful umbrellas floated around aimlessly while yellow cabs honked at pedestrians and street lights flickered under the heavy rain. A stray sun ray pierced the heavy clouds making its providential approach onto a nearby park bench where a beggar was sleeping under some rags. It was making it look like he was chosen for something.
Nicky always loved to let herself pray to these diurnal reveries where she tried to make some sense out of this broken world by replacing it with funny anecdotes. The air in the room was smelly. Sweaty. She had been there for fifteen straight hours. Richard, her client, was sitting in a not so formal posture on a chair in the corner of the room.
"Are we done? I am starving," he said.
Nicky smirked. "Done?" In six hours he has the first hearing. "You are charged with murder Richard. Murder!"
Richard mumbled something in an anemic attempt to reply.
"What's that?" Nicky asked in a patronizing way.
"We've been over this for the last God knows how many hours Nicky! I love her... I loved her!" Richard started to sob.
"Oh please, listen to me. Tell me again! From the beginning!
Nicky turned her back to Richard in a quick move, like in a tango dance, retreating to the window again.
"You can start whenever you like Richard," she continued while biting one of her nails that she had already broken while slamming a desk during one of her previous cases. She had defended a mother accused of mistreating her child.
Richard was wiping off his nose with the end of his cheap shirt. He started to tell the story. Their story. His and Anna's. He remembered again all those details that when put together in a coherent way would mean nothing other than love, in his opinion.
A sick love if you ask me. Nicky thought to herself as she waited for him to tell his story again.
Richard was 38 years old. He worked 8 to 5 every day of the week. There was nothing special about him. He had that bland emotional structure, bovine-like. His body geometry was in the same common parameters. Nothing added, nothing taken. Deadpan.
"Tell me what happened after you showed Anna the matrimonial bedroom. Tell me how the scene unfolded," Nicky urged him.
Anna was a blue blood. A royal one. At least Richard saw her like that. She was an art student. He asked himself many times how and why Anna picked him. Out of all the men in her circle of readers, philosophers and artists why him? A casual looking, emotionally bland commuter? One day Anna asked why he liked her. He struggled to find a metaphorical reply to show that he also had some artistic whims. The only words that came out of his mouth were "Because you are beautiful!"
Anna would laugh and pat him on the back, giving him an almost polite kiss on his cheek. Little did she know that in that word, "beautiful", Richard packed a lot of passion that hardly could be described by words.
"Richard! You killed Anna with a hammer! You smashed her head with..."
Nicky stopped as her phone was ringing. She took a glimpse at the caller's number and quickly dispatched him. Then she pulled her skirt up and started scratching her inner thigh whispering something about a damn rash that wouldn't go away.
"Where was I?" she continued while scratching her leg.
"Oh yes, you smashed her head with a hammer. The same hammer that you told me you used to repair that beautiful old oak cabinet that was the 'la piece de resistance' in your matrimonial room. Understand that this is our best chance to get you out of this alive. You were insane, maddened by Anna's rejection. You lost control of your mind and killed her."
Richard had an apartment. He and Anna spent time there, dreaming, laughing and just killing time. They made plans. He was thinking of that place in terms of a nest. He always said to Anna that he would rebuild that place and make a sparrow nest for her. A place to raise their kids and to live as happy as humanly possible.
He didn't translate Anna's innocent laughter as being a rejection, a laugh at him rather than with him. Not that Anna was that sinister. She was just young and beautiful. Nothing is intentional when you're young and in love. All seems to be permitted.
So he started to buy new furniture, to restore an old oak cabinet, with beautiful insertions and models on it, given to them by his grandmother. He would come back from his job and start working again on their nest, Anna's nest. The girl with the blue blood, the artist in his deadpan life.
One day he asked her to cover her eyes and introduced her to their matrimonial bedroom. He had bought one of those huge beds with curtains on each side. It looked like a King's bed.
"And what did she say to you? Tell me what she said after! Why did you kill her? Richard! Please, I need to know. You are not a bad man." Nicky was growing frustrated.
We don't know what Anna said or could have said to Richard but shortly afterward he went down to the local shop and bought some bleach that could be used to remove the blood stains.
He calmly got back in the apartment and washed the sheets. Richard placed Anna's bloody head very softly, leaning it on one of the flower pots on the balcony filled with wildflowers. Caged but wild. He placed her on a chair that he used for sitting on when he smoked during the hot torrid summer nights. Then he fell asleep for an hour or two while watching a boring TV show. After he woke up he went out on the balcony, sat down near her chair and phoned the police department.
"It is something you don't understand Nicky. You never will." Richard exclaimed.
"Why Richard? she retorted. Why, because I don't kill innocent girls whose life has just begun? Or because my face is more than a rock with eyes and a breathing apparatus like yours?"
"What is love to you, Nicky?" he asked.
"Oh come on...really? You're facing first-degree murder charges and you ask me about love?" she responded.
Nicky continued, "Tell me what she said to you! She said she was cheating on you right? All of your work and love and...blah blah gone right down the drain and you snapped, right? We can pull for a loss of reason and maybe get you out of the life without parole sentence."
"But I do want to spend the rest of my life in prison without parole," he replied.
"Then WHY DID YOU AGREE TO WORK WITH ME?! Why? How can I help you? Why didn't you just defend yourself?!"
"Because when you entered that room, at the police department, you presented yourself in a way that reminds me of myself at work," he claimed.
"What? How's that?"
"You said, 'Hi, I'm Nicky, I was dispatched to your case. I work as legal aid.' At my work, although different than yours regarding the field in which we operate, I say to every customer 'Hi, I'm Richard and I am your guide today!'"
"What?" Nicky chortled.
"I think we are very much alike Nicky. You are in love, aren't you? You are also a mechanical thing wandering through this life with a soul that has much more to offer than what it currently is, like me," he jeered. "You still can't figure it out what Anna said to me."
"Richard! You are going to be convicted. I... I've tried. I really have. I cannot do more for you. Today, at the hearing, I will enter a plea of guilty for you as... as I don't know what..."
Nicky's phone rang again. She took the call and went away in a corner, whispering. She giggled and pulled a stray strand of hair between her fingers.
She returned and acknowledged Richard again. "Ok, Richard! I will see you in 6 hours. I need to get some sleep and put my plea in order. The officer outside will take you directly to the courtroom. Get some sleep. You're going to need it.
"I am going to get plenty of sleep Nicky. Don't worry," he said calmly.
Nicky left the building in a hurry. The streets were filled with the never-ending background noise of the big city. Across the street, a stray black dog was biting the beggar resting on the bench while some pedestrians were filming it with their phones. The pristine sun ray was gone. The clouds grew heavier, splashing grey tones over that corner of the world.
Nicky tried to escape into her own world but she kept thinking about Richard and his words. She twisted her ankle in a failed attempt to jump over a puddle. She cursed and moved on with a slight limp. Suddenly she started to smile, thinking that soon she would be in his arms, resting for a couple of hours in her cocoon of love. Nicky was going home. It was eight in the morning.
Before heading over to her lover's place, Nicky decided to stop by a shop to pick up some wine for her and her love to enjoy. She knew this little place off of the main roads of the city, hidden between an antique store and an Italian bistro that served the most excellent pasta.
She knew how he loved the red wine that was sold there, expensive but good stuff. Just thinking about how his thin lips would tilt up in that familiar smirk made her heart rate speed up, anticipation filling her with glee. Her steps sped up despite the limp that she sustained, ignoring the pain that stabbed her foot.
She could almost sense his arms around her, surrounding her body with his warmth. Theirs was a forbidden and secret affair, hidden from the eyes of society. Not that they cared about what others thought. Rather, they just enjoyed the thrill of sneaking about, thumbing their noses at the judgemental snobs that littered their particular professions.
Their fiery, illicit relationship had Nicky drowning in a sea of emotion. It made her feel alive for the first time in so many years. He caught her and she caught him, both acting as predator and prey.
He had pursued her with an intensity that left her breathless. Nicky was powerless to deny him but at the same time, she was filled with the desire to tease him. She ran and he followed, like a beast stalking his meal after a period of hunger. She also tied herself to him, acting as the pursuer whenever it seemed like he would take a step back.
It was a dance in which both tried to lead and be led. They both reveled in it, each movement sparking their desires and fantasies of each other.
On paper, their personalities were a clash of opposites. Hers was open in its nature, mocking the world around her with a gleam of cold amusement and disdain, not bothering to hide the fact that she found her own clients as toys to play with as she helped them in court. His personality was more subtle, hiding its ruthless nature behind a gentleman’s charming smirk, always ready to give helpful advice and a caring hand when needed.
Nobody would have suspected them to be together. Not only were they wildly unlike, their status dividing them. Their façade was perfect, presenting them as they were but at the same time not. They did have some things in common. Mainly their craving for the forbidden and to each other.
Nicky grinned as she thought about how they’ve been fooling the eyes of people. Her walk slowed down as she caught sight of the wine shop. It's front hiding its extravagant interior.
Bells tinkled in greeting as she opened the door, breaking the still silence that permeated the atmosphere of the dim room. It was empty of the normal furniture that one would see in a shop. A chandelier hung from the ceiling, casting a faint yellowish tinge over the place, the subdued light falling on the sumptuous red carpet and leather sofa that was placed beneath a painting that showed a young girl in repose.
“What can I do for you?” A man in a black suit appeared from behind a door that led deeper into the building. He smiled at her as he ushered her in and motioned for her to take a seat.
She sat down, leaning against the cool leather as she thought about the wines choices. After a period of contemplation, she said, “A bottle of 2008 Californian Kapcsandy State Lane Cabernet.”
The man gave a slight bow. “An excellent pick. Please wait for a moment, I’ll have it packed right away. Is it for a gift or for your personal consumption?” he asked.
“Personal,” Nicky replied.
“Well then. Normal packaging it is then.”
After a short time, the man appeared with a wooden box placed in a plain paper bag. He handed it over to her.
“Charged to the same account I presume?”
“Yes.” Was the only world Nicky left as she headed for the door with the newly acquired wine in hand.
Cold air greeted her outside.She shivered, cursing her decision to wear a short coat. Nicky flagged down a taxi. Impatience was getting the best of her in such weather. She was lucky that the first one that came by was empty. The warmth of the car enveloped her as she settled inside for the short trip to his apartment.
Her phone suddenly rang just as the taxi moved and in her haste to answer she knocked the case of wine to the floor. “What the--!!” She grabbed the wine in one hand and her phone in the other, her mouth spilling a stream of curses.
“Nicky darling, don’t swear too much,” The deep voice on the other end of the phone sent delicious chills down Nicky’s spine. Unconsciously her mouth settled into a coquettish smile as she placed the wooden case in her lap.
“Jeremy, you’re being a gentleman. It's sweet but not necessary. Not when you’re talking to me,” Nicky responded.
Laughs came out of the phone’s speakers. “Nicky, don’t joke around. I’m not a gentleman, especially when it comes to you.”
Nicky giggled. Her thoughts descending into the depths of naughtiness when...
In a split second, the world suddenly seemed to explode around her in chaos. Pain pierced Nicky’s body all over as her mind tried to understand what happened. She felt like she was being shaken like a pair of maracas. She screamed with no idea about what was occurring, her physical suffering going beyond the bounds of her tolerance. The torture of the inexplicable predicament that she found herself in seemed to go on and on.
Suddenly it stopped and everything went blank as Nicky fainted.
The phone that she had been clutching fell from her hand and the connection that had been on throughout the entire event finally broke.
On the other end of the phone, Jeremy stared in horror at the device in his hand. He looked at the angelic, smiling face of the man in front of him. Dropping the phone, he grabbed the man by his neck and shook him violently. “What have you done?!”
Laughter left the other man’s mouth, cool and eerie despite the physical abuse he was suffering.
“Cousin, you care that much about such a vulgar woman? Really? When did your taste deteriorate so much?” The man forcibly detached Jeremy’s hands from his neck, ignoring the look of despair on his face.
“You...! What did you do? Did they order you to do it? I told you I was close to getting it from her. There’s no need to hurt her!”
“Jeremy, Jeremy," he scoffed. "Just a few months away from the family and you’ve become so soft, and the reason being the pawn that should have sacrificed earlier.”
“I already told you I could get what we need from her! Just a few more days,” Jeremy exclaimed.
“But you’ve been telling us that same reason for the past few weeks,” The other man sneered at him, mockingly. “That’s all you would say, ‘Just a few more days’ and still no results. Do you take us for idiots?”
“Have you forgotten? She has to die! You have to kill her,” He interrupted Jeremy. His cold and menacing words were directed at the now silent but still enraged man.
“We manipulated Richard into being a diversion. This was all to draw her attention away from things that she might notice. You didn’t take advantage of the opportunity!”
Jeremy gritted his teeth, unable to say a word in defense. He was supposed to kill Nicky after he got what the family wanted from her but he couldn’t. Not after he fell for the bundle of contradictions that was Nicky.
While his family and the rest of the world saw her as a crude and tawdry woman, he saw that as the side that was distinctly flawed with human depravity. The one that enjoyed the emotional and mental suffering of others. It drew him to her, he liked that side of her. She was vulnerable to him but untouchable in her malice to others.
He had taken the job his family gave him expecting to finish it quickly and efficiently. However, he stumbled when he met Nicky, and now he had to choose.
His cousin smiled coldly as he stood by the door of Jeremy’s apartment.
“What’s it to be my dear cousin? You do realize that Richard’s crime is also a warning and a reminder for you. After all, in our family runs blood tainted with madness. A madness spurred on by love. Our obsession and our passion for those we yearn for turns us into monsters.”
The words of his cousin froze Jeremy. He knew it. He could feel the insidious whispers that came out of nowhere, telling him that the only way to tie Nicky to him was through death. An eternity together in its cold jaws.
Nicky jerked awake in the hospital. One minute she floated in a sea of nothingness numbed by the blankness of unconsciousness and the next her eyes were open. Nicky stared fuzzily at the expanse of the white ceiling above. She struggled to get her bearings.
She was filled with a feeling of foreboding. Bone-crushing fear and darkness took over as a metallic terror ran through her. Her chest rose and fell rapidly as panic sidled into her bloodstream like a lover in the dark of night. She tried to move her lips but her mouth was as dry as parchment. Her tongue was so swollen it stuck to the roof of her mouth as if they were two pieces of material sewn together.
Nicky coughed. The screeching sound of a chair being dragged across the ground filled her ears. Its jarring intensity overwhelmed her. She turned her head and saw a distraught Jeremy.
Pain as stark and punishing as a death sentence blitzed through her frame. Suddenly, Nicky felt every single one of the cuts, bruises, and aches on her body. She moaned.
Jeremy stopped by her bedside. She looked up at his handsome features through burning eyes and tried to smile. To show her gratitude for being alive, and having such a dynamic, handsome man by her side.
"Hi," she croaked. Nicky ran her tongue over her lips and winced at the painful dryness.
Jeremy remained silent, this caused her to grow uneasy. She narrowed her eyes. Jeremy looked guilty. Since she knew him he'd never looked so mournfuller. Something was wrong.
"Is everything alright?" she asked in a hoarse voice.
He stared at her mutely, lips compressed so tightly they seem to disappear into his mouth.
"If you're just going to stand there," she forced through a scratchy throat, "at least give me water. I could kill you for a glass of water right now." she joked.
Yet Jeremy didn't smile, nor did his expression change. He simply turned away to do her bidding. Nicky grew alarmed.
Without a word, he supported her head gently and tipped the cup to her mouth. After a tiny, measly sip he took it away.
Nicky glared. "More."
He shook his head.
"More," she whined. "I don't care..."
The door pushed open. For a moment the nurse gaped at them. Then she rushed toward Jeremy.
"Mister, how did you get in here?" the nurse asked sharply. "Like I told the other man, it isn't visiting time yet. You should leave."
Perhaps, if she hadn't been watching the pair so keenly, she might have missed the change that came over Jeremy. As minute as it was, it didn't make it any less startling. He paled. "What?"
The nurse frowned, turning a quizzical look from Nicky to Jeremy. Nicky wanted to spread her hands and say, see? We were in the same boat of ignorance gliding along on a sea of nothingness with no end in sight.
"Her friend," the nurse said haltingly with a hesitant glance at Nicky, "he wished to see--"
"Come on, we need to go," he muttered, heading straight towards Nicky.
"Jeremy, what the hell is going on?"
"I will explain later," he replied grimly, "but right now? We must leave!"
The nurse caught his sleeve. "You can't take her anywhere. She was involved in a serious accident--"
"I know", Jeremy said quietly, "and yes we need to go."
Nicky frowned. "What do you mean 'you know'?"
He lurched forward, grabbed the sheets and tugged them off her. Completely immune to the nurse's threats and Nicky's refusal he half carried and half dragged her to the door.
"Dammit!" Nicky hissed as her head swam in confusion. She held on to his sleeve to hold herself upright as she fought to stay conscious. Dark spots danced before her eyes and she swayed.
"Look what you've done. She's going to faint," the nurse wailed. "I'm calling security."
She ran off but Jeremy paid her as much attention as he would a fly. He threw the hospital gown over Nicky's head in record time and opened the door. Nicky came to her senses enough to dig in her heels.
"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on!"
He stared at her in frustration. There was a hint of desperation and fear in his eyes. Nicky fought to tamp down her panic. What would make debonair, perfect and unflappable Jeremy nearly jump out of his skin?
"This is not the time," he warned.
Nicky gritted her teeth against the pain and effort it took to remain on her feet.
"The nurse went to get security and believe me I will scream bloody murder if you don't start talking."
He dropped his head in defeat. "My name is Jeremy Branston."
Nicky raised an eyebrow. "Is that all?"
"We're wasting time," he said.
"You've already started, you might as well finish," she pointed out.
"My cousin Zigger is here at the hospital to kill you. We arranged your accident."
Nicky released his sleeve. She swayed. Jeremy reached out to help. She glared at him. "Don't touch me!"
His shoulders dropped. "We need to run," he said.
She shook her head stubbornly. "I need to hear this."
Jeremy ran agitated fingers through his hair. "My family paid Richard to kill Anna and make sure he hired you to defend him."
Nicky stared at him, stunned. It explained why Richard insisted she represents him, but not why he agreed. It also explained why the case had made no sense from the beginning. Ordinary Richard fell in love with Anna and butchered her in a fit of bloody rage with a hammer, smashing her head with it. Then he turned around and insisted that she represent him.
Nicky forced herself to tune in to Jeremy's monologue.
"...we own the oil company, BDG Petroleum," he finished.
Nicky's mouth dropped open as all the mismatched puzzle pieces fell into place. It began to make a sick kind of sense.
The Branston family were the defendants in a suit filed by one of her clients, a Mr. Henry. She'd hired a private investigator who uncovered damning evidence against BDG Petroleum. The investigation showed that they dumped chemical waste in a river in the village where Mr. Henry resided with his family. He eventually lost his family of four to cancer.
She laughed mirthlessly and heard her heart-shattering. "So, tell me your role in all this?"
Jeremy walked towards her. "I'm a useless coward and I don't deserve..."
Nicky raised her hand. "Spare me your apologies!"
Approaching voices and the sound of rushing feet reached their ears. Jeremy grabbed her by the elbow. "We need to go."
He carried her to the back stairs and began to run down them with an agility that shocked her. He got to the base of the stairs and shoved the door open with his shoulder. They burst into the hospital parking lot. Panting hard, Jeremy sprinted with Nicky in his arms and placed her gently in a black car.
He got in just as a man with a faint resemblance to him rushed out. Nicky saw the gun in his hand and clutched the window for support.
Seconds later they were on the road. Nicky stared at Jeremy. Unable to believe how much of a fool she had been. She thought of the laughter, the excitement and her desperate desire to be near him. She closed her eyes in shame. What had made her think a man like Jeremy would pay her any attention. Because he wanted her?
"Why didn't you kill me?" She asked.
Jeremy had one eye on the overhead mirror. Nicky realized belatedly that the cousin must be in pursuit.
"Why didn't you kill me?" she repeated.
Wrapped around the wheel, his knuckles went white. "I fell in love."
Nicky burst into laughter. "So why didn't you just kill me at our first meeting?"
"I was sent to get the file you have on us," he confessed.
Nicky grimaced. "Of course the file." She smacked the flat of her palm against her forehead. "How could I forget the most important piece of this nightmare?"
"I'm sorry." He pulled to a stop with a screech of tires and a lurch that threw Nicky forward. She looked around and realized they were at the airport. Jeremy got out and ran around to throw her door open. "Get on that plane. The pilot is waiting."
Nicky stared at him without moving. "You're really sorry," she breathed.
"Why do you think I went to all this trouble?"
"Then there's another way," she held out her hand. "Give me your phone. I will leak the information online and call the police."
Jeremy stared at her and she stared back. Nicky held her breath, praying silently he was half the man she thought he was. With slow deliberate movements, he handed her the phone. Soon the sound of a car pulling up reached their ears.
Zigger got out. The sound of police sirens split the air. Zigger gave Jeremy a disbelieving look.
"Are you insane?"
Jeremy's lips curled. "It's over."
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