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Charlie`s angel

by Fredja 

Posted: 16 June 2014
Word Count: 2601
Summary: How a giant pumpkin can change your life

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Charlie’s angel
When Charlie Simmons arrived at the allotments Hester was not impressed. He was average, average height, light brown hair, brown eyes, medium build and kept to himself. He wore a pair of old jeans and a sweat shirt with Billabong written across it. Perhaps he was Australian she thought. Others, seeing Charlie’s pale complexion, muttered about ‘care in the community’ and made sure to lock their sheds.
Hester was in her forties now and beginning to bloom. In her youth she had been gangly, awkward and too tall. As the dutiful only child of elderly parents opportunities to meet people her own age had been few. Now her parents were dead she made a living teaching piano and, on a whim, had taken an allotment where she found she had green fingers.  As time passed she relaxed, put on a little weight and had quietly become a good looking woman with the misfortune that there was no one to tell her.
‘Lime’ Hester said nodding at the slabs of newly turned earth on Charlie’s adjacent plot.
He mumbled. ‘Harry - what?’
 ‘Lime,’ Hester repeated ‘garden lime. If you put lime on clay soil it’ll help break it down. Make it easier for the plants to root. I’ve got some if you like.’
Charlie had been day dreaming and ‘lime’ had been like a prompt in a word association test – he didn’t want to think about them – and Orson Welles as Harry Lime had popped into his head.
Charlie shrugged ‘is that so?’ he said and walked back to his shed scraping the clay from his spade with piece of twig.
Hester sighed. She was resigned to people keeping her at arm’s length fearing, it seemed, that this shy woman might attach herself to them and become an embarrassment. She began to water her prize pumpkin. Tom Bowers called it Jabba because of its squat, enormous bulk and Hester had taken to using the name – ‘time for another drink Jabba’ she would say uncoiling the hose.
A couple of days later Hester noticed Charlie’s patch covered with a white powder. He was sitting outside his shed smoking. Hester caught a smell of herbs in the air and thought at least he was avoiding nicotine which was a good thing. His plot looked tidy with a shed and a small polytunnel where something was growing but she could not tell what.
‘Thanks for the lime suggestion.’ Hester gave a jump as she found Charlie at her shoulder. ‘I looked it up and you were right about how good it is on clay.’ Hester decided that though it was a rather backhanded compliment she would accept it gracefully.
‘Blimey, I didn’t realise how big that thing had got.’ Charlie said, looking at the pumpkin.
‘Two days to the show and Jabba’s in good shape’ she said. Charlie grinned and Hester thought it was the first time she had seen him smile. He seemed quite mellow.
‘Jabba. I like it. Good luck. Though I don’t suppose you need it.’
‘It’s usually between me and Dave Edwards – from Hollerton.  Of course Barry Drinkwater thinks he can beat us but he hasn’t got the knack. I’ve got high hopes this year.’
‘How do you move him?’ Charlie looked sceptically at the obese Jabba ‘it must weigh a ton.’
‘I wish. More like 30 stone – but not bad for our show. I’ve got a tarpaulin underneath and we drag it on to Stan’s trailer. We’ll do it tomorrow afternoon.’
Charlie nodded ‘should be a sight worth seeing’ he said, then added, without thinking about it ‘I’ll give you a hand.’
‘Well thank you’ Hester was pleased ‘to tell the truth I get worried someone might do themselves an injury – so the more the merrier.’
Charlie patted the vegetable and said ‘you’d better win Jabba or she might strangle you with that hosepipe’ and went back to his shed. He was surprised to find himself smiling. He hadn’t done much of that recently, post-traumatic stress disorder they said. Him! A soldier, capable, experienced, rock steady, a bit of a joker. But he began to sleep badly, shout at waitresses who forgot the sugar, stopped playing football and withdrew into himself. The allotment was the resettlement team’s idea and Charlie went along with it just to keep them happy. But he found he enjoyed the physical work. Turning the heavy soil, watching the scrubby waste turn into glossy ridges.
He was glad he’d made an effort to thank Hester. God knows she wasn’t his type. But that pumpkin was something else. Jabba, he smiled again, he’d have to see this bunch try and shift it.
So he came early the next day. But too late. Jabba was gone. And Charlie’s carefully turned plot was a mass of tyre tracks and churned mud. He saw Hester standing near her shed.
‘Bloody hell’ Charlie said ‘I put a lot of work into that. You’ve made a right mess.’
Hester turned and Charlie saw she was on her cell phone.
‘A pumpkin!’ she snapped into the phone. There was a pause whilst the other person took this in. Something was said and Hester responded testily.
‘Yes, stolen – from my allotment……I don’t know when exactly. During the night.’
Another pause then ‘it’s not funny. I’ve spent months growing it and now it’s been stolen and I want it back.’ She rang off and stared at Charlie without really seeing him for a moment then said ‘I’m sorry about your garden. I’m sure we can rescue it. Had you planted much?’
Charlie relaxed once he realised the damage was not Hester’s doing. ‘It probably looks worse than it is and I hadn’t planted yet. So what happened to Jabba?’
‘I came in to water early on and found this. That was the police I was talking to but a stolen pumpkin is just a joke to them – they even said ‘what’s Cinders going to do now?’’
‘Who do you think did it?’
 ‘I bet it’s Drinkwater – he hates losing, especially to a woman.’
‘Wouldn’t it have been easier just to smash it up?’ asked Charlie
‘Yes but Dave Edwards would still be in and likely to beat anything Drinkwater could grow. So maybe he wants to pass Jabba off as his own.’
‘That would be risky. What would he do if you came along claiming it was yours?’
‘He’d stick it out. He’s so brass faced you could take him for a tuba. Anyway I‘d be pressed to prove it wasn’t his. All pumpkins are big and orange. He could get away with it.’
Hester kicked at a loose stone ‘I feel so bloody helpless’ she said, dipping into her limited vocabulary of swear words.
 ‘So where do you think Jabba is now?’
‘A pound to a penny it’s in Barry Drinkwater’s garden.’
‘So why don’t you just go round and get it back?’
Hester sighed ‘because it weighs thirty stone, is in a walled garden behind locked doors and there’s a guard dog. Not to mention that Barry is always spouting about how he’ll see off trespassers with his shotgun.’
Charlie could see Hester was itching to do something. He felt his spirits rise in a way he hadn’t experienced for months, even years.
‘Well then’, he said ‘why don’t we do a bit of a recce and get ourselves a plan of action.’
Twenty minutes later Hester was standing on Charlie’s shoulders peering over Barry Drinkwater’s garden wall. ‘I can see it!’ she said ‘the gall of the man. It’s sticking out from behind his greenhouse. He’s giving it water. He’s got the stalk in a bucket. He’s going to pass it off as his own.’
 ‘What’s on the other side of this wall?’
‘Some, er…’ Hester hesitated ‘bushes. They would break a fall.’
‘Good. What about the gate?’
‘A big padlock, but that’s all. And Jabba’s still on the tarpaulin. I can see the edge.’
‘OK. Climb down.’ Hester stepped into Charlie’s cupped hands and he lowered her to the ground.
‘Now you meet me back here at midnight.’
Hester’s eyes widened. ‘Just us two?’
‘Yes, I’ve got a bit of kit that’ll help us spring Jabba from his jail.’
‘Alright’ Hester said ‘I hope I don’t get one of my migraines. Stress tends to bring them on.’
Charlie hesitated a moment then fished in his pocket and gave her a small packet with some dried leaves in it. ‘This is some of my herbal tonic. I know you don’t smoke but you can put it in with scone or cake mix and it’ll help calm you down.’
‘Right.’  Hester said ‘I’ll be here at twelve.’ And she would. Charlie in action felt like someone she could trust – even though she knew he’d just given her a bunch of cannabis leaves.
Charlie’s business was repairing old military vehicles. At just before midnight he was driving the one thing he had that could shift Jabba. It was seven feet wide, six foot high, fifteen feet long and left hand drive. All of which were reasons why Charlie’s count of broken wing mirrors was approaching double figures. Before tonight he’d only ever driven a Humvee around a yard – this was much more fun.  He parked in the lane beside Barry’s garden. There was a hedge of scrubby hawthorn on one side giving onto a field and beyond that some houses. Low cloud reflected light from the town.
A figure on a bike came bouncing down the lane, zipped past him, and stopped a few yards beyond the Humvee. ‘My mother’s old bike’ said Hester panting ‘dodgy brakes but goes fine. My God, what’s this?’ She stared at the Humvee.
‘It’s to move Jabba. Why didn’t you come by car?’
‘The bike seemed a good idea. It was lovely riding in the dark.’
‘Ah’ said Charlie ‘Did you use my herbs?’
‘Yes, scones. Slightly odd taste but I haven’t got a migraine. I brought some with me and a nice flask of tea’ Hester patted a small haversack on her back ‘in case we need refreshments. A bit of a lift, if you know what I mean?’
Charlie had half expected she would not come. The good feeling he’d had would be deflated. But here she was. And here he was standing next to a Humvee with a woman so trusting she came to a midnight meeting in a remote lane with a man she hardly knew on a mission to recapture a thirty stone pumpkin. It was beautiful. He felt alive. ‘Right’ he said ‘let’s go.’
Charlie put the bike and Hester’s bag into the back of the truck and climbed on the vehicle to get to the top of the wall. A dog growled so Charlie took out his secret weapon, a Mars bar, and threw it down. The dog swallowed the bar almost whole. Charlie threw another then a third. The dog began to look a little unsteady and wandered off so Charlie dropped into the bushes. He felt as if he fallen on to a roll of barbed wire. ‘What the…. what are these things? I’m torn to shreds.’
‘Gooseberries’ Hester replied in a small voice ‘I forgot to say. They are a bit spiny.’
‘A bit spiny! You could plant these round Dartmoor and do away with the walls.’ He went on muttering, adding considerably to Hester’s range of terms of abuse as he used a crowbar to lever the hasp screws from the wood and the gate swung open.
Charlie’s experience of reversing a Humvee was nil and the manoeuvre took out a swathe of hedging opposite the gate and one of the gate posts. Then it ploughed deep furrows across the garden towards Jabba.
Hester gazed at the trail of devastation. She could see crushed plants wrapped in a tangle of broken canes and shredded netting as if a giant wave had thrown up a heap of flotsam. ‘Goodness’ she said ‘he’s sure to have heard that.’
‘Better get a move on then.’
‘How are we going to lift Jabba?’
‘I’ve brought a can of spinach’ said Charlie. It took Hester a moment for this to sink in. Then she grinned. She was beginning to like Charlie as well as trust him.
‘I’ll leave it to you then Popeye’ she said.
‘Anytime, Olive. Tie this rope through the loops on the tarpaulin and I’ll get the winch going.’
Hester was almost finished when a light went on at the back of the house. ‘Oh bugger’ she said, making Charlie feel she was definitely getting into the swing of things. She hurried to find the final hole and clattered over the pail of water feeding Jabba.
‘Who’s that?’ Barry appeared at the back of the house peering into the gloom, his eyes blinded by the outside light.
‘I’ve done it’ said Hester giving Charlie the ends of the rope. He fastened them to the winch. Barry was shuffling down the garden, pyjama top flapping and carrying his shotgun. ‘What’s going on? I’ll get you vandals.’
Charlie started the winch and Jabba began to move. But the pumpkin was slightly behind the greenhouse and as it edged forward it dragged against the corner post, strained for a moment then slowly and majestically swept it aside and rode up a ramp onto the truck leaving a trail of broken glass and shattered wood.
‘Stop or I’ll shoot.’ Barry said, venturing closer. Charlie didn’t think he’d use the gun, even if it worked. Having it was one thing, using it against real people twenty feet away was something else. In any case Hester went on the offensive..
‘Put that thing down you old rogue Barry Drinkwater. I’ve come to get what belongs to me. You’re a thief and a cheat.’
Barry hesitated. ‘Where’s that bloody dog. Captain!’ he yelled ‘Captain! Come here.’ The dog walked out of the darkness and stood in front of Barry. It seemed bemused. ‘Get them!’ shouted Barry waving at the intruders. The dog looked up and then gushed a stream of brown and yellow vomit over Barry’s legs and feet. ‘Oh God!’ he said and stepped back, catching his foot on the broken greenhouse frame and sitting down abruptly on shards of glass. A howl of pain echoed across the garden followed by a deafening boom as he dropped the gun and a barrel of shot blew out most of the remaining greenhouse panes.  As Barry struggled to rise, pulling at bits of glass and splinters of wood, his pants snagged on the broken frame and did not rise with him. Charlie switched on the truck’s rear spotlight revealing Barry’s great belly swaying over pipe cleaner legs.
‘My God, I think Jabba’s got competition’ said Charlie.
‘I’m tempted to take a picture’ said Hester ‘but I don’t think I’ll forget this.’
Barry, swearing, searched for his gun. Lights had come on in several nearby houses. ‘Time to go’ said Charlie. Hester thought the Humvee removed the other gatepost as they left but she didn’t look back.
They decided to drive to the showground and wait until it opened at about six. ‘Jabba had better win after all this’ said Charlie. ‘Maybe’ Hester said ‘but he’ll end up as soup whatever happens.’
Charlie smiled ‘there’s a whole philosophy in there somewhere’ he said. Hester reached behind the seats and brought out her haversack. ‘While we’re waiting why not have some tea and scones?’
Charlie felt himself submerge under a wave of contentment.
The end

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Comments by other Members

euclid at 08:34 on 06 July 2014  Report this post
Good story, Fred.
A bit old-fashioned, I'd say, but a pleasant read.

It seems to lack something: a plot twist, a surprise, maybe.
It's a bit too one-dimensional. 

Also, you could do quite a lot more with the two characters, I thought.

Hoping these comments are some help.


RalphFSmith at 13:51 on 18 July 2014  Report this post
Hi Fred,
A few comments as I read through your story and then a general observation or two at the end.

He was average, average height, light brown hair, brown eyes, medium build and kept to himself.

I don't think you need to tell the reader that Charlie was average because you show that, at least in the eyes of Hester, that he is so.  So this sentence could read; "He was of average height, and he had light brown hair, brown hair, brown eyes and was of medium build.  He kept to himself." 

In her youth she had been gangly, awkward and too tall

Presumably she is still just as tall.  You might say "In her youth she had been self-conscious about being tall and she was gangly and awkward."

Charlie had been day dreaming and ‘lime’ had been like a prompt in a word association test – he didn’t want to think about them – and Orson Welles as Harry Lime had popped into his head.

This is a very interesting association but you do not show how it comes about or make anything more of it later in the story.  I thought that somehow the link would be through the title of the movie - The Third Man.   

 he was driving the one thing he had that could shift Jabba.

Could you name the vehicle rather than referring to it as a "thing?"  Always best to be concrete.

Fred, I really enjoyed your story.  It is whimsical and suspenseful.  The characters are well-drawn.  I don't think you need to revise it very much. 


BILLINGTON at 21:07 on 03 September 2014  Report this post
Unable to believe the weight of the pumpkin here, I googled it up and have to admit defeat.

2032 pounds, or around one hundred and forty - five stone, is the world record. Jabba is a mere infant.

The conversation sounds a bit stilted, with too many 'he said''s and 'she said's, and putting 'the end' at the end is, well  -  a touch like the entire plot and style...unsophisticated???

Maricellus at 11:55 on 22 October 2014  Report this post
Hallo Fred

(Just a readers point of view)

I read this from the very top right down to the end and I mean literally 'the end' and that's saying something. I really liked the setting, I liked the dialog and I liked the build up to the climax. Unfortunately there was, for me, no climax. It fizzled out into farce and nothingness but that can always be changed.

Something I have a problem with is the way it looks. It's too klunky looking and makes it difficult to read . What I mean is that there is not enough white space. An empty line between each of the characters dialog makes it easier to read and follow. I used to be a computer programmer and was advised by a colleauge that I should hold my printed code up at a distance and admire the form of the print. If it looked right then the coding was right, he said. Absolute rubbish advice but I did have nice looking code ... and lots of bugs. Also, the use of the single apostrophe for quotes - I duuno. 

No matter - I found it amusing and the characters were real in my bonce and it rattled along well for the most part. Pretty good.


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