Whiskey Shots Volume 4 [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Alastair J. Archibald
eBook Category: Mystery/Crime/Fantasy
eBook Description: Alastair Archibald, Whiskey Creek Press Number One Bestselling author, pens two short stories of mystery, suspense, and fantasy in this edition of the WHISKEY SHOTS short stories series. Frozen Stiff (Mystery-Suspense): Jack Forster is a cold, hard-hearted man. When the end of the world comes, he prepares to face it with his customary sang-froid. But all is not as it seems? The Last Laugh (Mystery-Fantasy): Business executive Stirling Arthur has had a busy day. After losing his precious, painstaking report to a computer malfunction, he first faces a fearsome dragon and then has to convince the sympathetic staff of a mental hospital of his sanity. Is Stirling's memory no more than the twisted artifact of an overworked brain? Only an ancient, long-forgotten god knows the truth.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, Published: 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2007
This eBook is part of the following series:
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The Last Laugh by
Alastair J. Archibald
Stirling Arthur's fingers flew across his computer's keyboard in a frenzied blur. Less than an hour remained before the company's extraordinary general meeting, but he had never missed a deadline in his working life, and he had no intention of starting now. He relished his eternal battle with numbers, regarding his job as an unending war against a mighty, evil beast.
He considered every strike of the keyboard as another blow against his implacable foe, and he visualised himself as a heroic warrior struggling against almost insuperable odds.
Stirling's co-workers often told him that he needed a break from his relentless number-crunching, but the obsessive accountant felt sure the company would collapse without his efforts.
Since his first employment, with the ink on his degree barely dry, Stirling had possessed a strong work ethic, but had not always been so obsessed with his work. Once, he had lived in an opulent city house with his loving wife and three lovely children, and he had been happy. He spent Friday night bowling with his friends, took skiing breaks with his family and drove an expensive car. Life was fulfilling and enjoyable, and Stirling lived it to the full.
All that came to an abrupt and painful end after he was elected to the board of Galen and Worley. His pay increased, to be sure, but so did the demands on his time. Once used to leaving the office at half-past-five or six o'clock, Stirling often found himself remaining at his desk until nine or ten at night, or even later, and his family life began to suffer accordingly. These days, he hardly saw his children, and his wife, Maria, was often in bed by the time he returned home, tired and ready only for sleep.
It all came to a head when Stirling was called back from a badly-needed vacation in Aspen, Colorado, in order to prepare a financial report for a shareholders' meeting the next day. Maria begged him not to go, but Stirling thought he was doing the best for his family by complying with his boss's wishes without question. He caught the red-eye flight back to Chicago, arriving at three in the morning, and he drove straight to the deserted office.
Stirling finished his report at eight and took it to Robert Galen, the fit, grey-haired co-founder of the company, only to be informed that the meeting had been cancelled.
Galen took pity on his bedraggled, exhausted employee and sent him home at once. Stirling, wanting only a hot shower, food and bed, saw a fax message waiting for him as he stepped through the front door of his dark empty home. He felt tempted to ignore it, but the paper sliver seemed to taunt him, as if the fax machine were sticking its tongue out at him.
If they want me to go back to the freaking office, he thought, they can just forget it this time.
The fax was not from the office.
Stirling, ran the hand-written missive, we can't go on like this. It hurts me more than you can believe to say it, but you don't seem like the man I married any more. I know you only want the best for us, but I can't bear to live like this. Sue, Jan, and Cam hardly recognize you these days, and neither do I. I'm going home to mom and dad after this vacation, and I'm going to start divorce proceedings. I've cooked, washed and cleaned for you for all these years without complaint, and I've stayed home to look after the kids. I don't regret that, but I do regret the loss of the man I loved.
I wish you all the best, Stirling, but I think it's best if we make a clean break, for all our sakes. I want you to know...
The curl of paper dropped from his nerveless hand, and something inside Stirling Arthur seemed to die. He stumbled into the living room and slumped into an easy chair. The empty house seemed to come alive: the whisper of the air-conditioning was a mocking laugh; Maria's joyous smile in the framed wedding photograph over the fireplace transmuted into a more sinister expression; the firewood stacked neatly in its basket looked like a series of accusing fingers, all pointing straight at him. * * * *
As part of his divorce settlement, Stirling Arthur ceded the palatial town house to his now ex-wife and his three children. He moved into a more modest domicile nearer to his place of work. He remained on polite terms with Maria and made a point of seeing the children whenever he could, but the rift remained. For nearly a year, Stirling made strenuous, desperate efforts to persuade her to take him back, but the fissure between the two opened up into a crevasse when Maria married an aspiring local author, James Metcalf.
Although Stirling tried to despise and detest James, he could not find it in his heart to do so. Stirling actually found the writer to be a humorous, sensitive, likable man, and the accountant could not deny the two newly-weds' love for each other. The children seemed to like James, too, and Stirling had no choice but to accept defeat.