Michael Fitzalan in Contemplation

Sick Shot By Michael Fitzalan

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Chapter One – Rufus

To Justin Velour, there was nothing so calming, nothing so guaranteed to make him feel centred for the day, than walking with his chocolate Labrador across Clapham Common. He rose at six every day, which was a remarkable effort for someone as inherently lazy as he. The reason was his dog, his soul-mate, the one loving creature in his complicated and busy world.  

Walking across the dewy grass, feeling the hardness of the tarmac path, shivering with the sheer shock of a winter morning, the cold and damp that penetrated to his bones was mitigated by the loving, gamboling, four legged friend that incessantly wagged his tail as he sniffed other dogs’ turds and chased magpies, pigeons and ravens. 

Dressed in three layers around his torso, vest, blue and white striped, Jermyn Street shirt with worn collar and cuffs, ironically striped like a city gent, to underline the fact that his career was nothing further than such a traditional trade and a rather wonderful petrol blue, crew-neck, wool jumper bought, on an impulse, from the west coast of Ireland.

No matter how cold the common was, it would never have been as cold as that ‘summer’ shoot in Connemara with a coupe of ultra-thin, uber-cool, super-snooty models whose tights alone cost more than Justin spent on shoes in a year.

It was so cold that his Polaroid pictures took an extra minute to develop and his shutter finger had become cracked and flaked like a Norwegian fisherman’s hand.

Leaving his vast flat, overlooking the common, was always a chore. The heating would have just kicked-in; he enjoyed the frisson of skipping to the bathroom with only a kimono-style dressing gown. How many people of fifty get the opportunity to skip and skip? He did. The carpet was tolerably cool under his feet but the air that circulated around the flat might as well have burst off an iceberg. Every morning, he cursed the north wind as if it were an old friend that had slept with one of his wives. 

The heat and power of his shower, temporarily transformed him to the shoot he had been commissioned to execute in the Dominican Republic.

The warmth, the sun-kissed models, young enough to be his grand-daughters gamboling in the surf like puppy dogs discovering the beach for the first time, had filled his soul with hope for man-kind.

As the torrent of scalding water pricked his back, he felt invigorated, the soap over his soft skin, the trickle of water over his flesh, it was the only physical contact he would have that day, that week, most probably that month, it was comforting, sensual but not sexual, that was even more of a distant memory than the last shoot he had done in a city, Prague in 2000. 

All of this indulgence, time, and soap, dedicated solely to himself, was of course spoilt by the knowledge that he would have to slip from behind the glass protection of the shower doors and into the cold blank space, standing, wet and wrapped in a towel, while he spent minutes shaving and brushing his teeth.    

All the unpleasantness of washing in the cold was removed by the feeling of comfort of donning his clothes and the enthusiastic anticipation of Rufus. As the dog sat wagging his tail, Justin slipped on a pair of old briefs and a pair of jeans, though he was not really aesthetically allowed to wear denim, struggled into his vest, took the shirt from its wrapper and hangar, shrugged it over his shoulders and buttoned it. 

Pulling out the top drawer of a tall-boy, he donned his sweater. Lastly, he impatiently snatched a pair of thick, grey wool, walking socks from the bottom drawer, which he had to sit on the bed to lever over his feet. Getting dressed was also a palaver.

Suitably clothed in his three layers and slipping his wallet and phone into his front pockets, he was whole. 

His flat was large but it was not a house, it had Rufus so it was a home. He opened the door, wanted to skip, but he was dressed, so he shuffled, down the stairs. His dog shot ahead allowing him to silently shut the door; he was after all a decent neighbour. The dog pattered down the stairs and Justin shuffled to the hall at the bottom. He kept his wellingtons in the common parts, outside the ground floor flat. 

There was a county uniform worn by Claphamites of a certain age, he conformed to that local custom. At the front door, at the bottom of the stairs, he collected his coat, a suitably sensible Barbour, his scarf, grey and cashmere, his gloves, a remnant of when he used to go ski-ing with friends and stepped into the pair of muddy, green Hunter wellingtons.   

There was a mist beyond the door that rolled over the common and obscured the trunks of the trees, giving the branches an interesting aspect of being suspended in a cloud. It did not faze Rufus. Justin managed to keep him to heel.

The fact that neither could see the sun was immaterial, it was light, and in England when it is light at six, either in the morning, or evening, it is a cause for sedate, reserved inward celebration.

They made it across the zebra crossing without being run over, an advantage of rising early. Rufus went foraging in the copse directly opposite the football pitches. Seconds later, he dashed out and in a usual expression of affection and devotion, leapt towards his owner, tail wagging and planted his paws on Justin’s belly. 

Boom, the thunder rent the silence, a stunning onomatopoeia of such violence that Julian’s chest-cavity shook. It reminded him of a shoot. Rufus collapsed on the ground without a sound. 

It was several seconds before Julian realised what had happened. He would have imagined it was a car back-firing, had he not been on a photographic shoot of a clay pigeon-shoot. Being able to recognise a shot, did not help his shot dog. Panic seized him. If his dog had been shot, would he be shot next? Dropping into a crouch, he shot a glance around. He was scoping for anyone who might shoot at him.

All he saw was a jogger in black running towards the bandstand.

Where was everyone? He always met people walking their dogs, always resented having to step out of the way of runners who determinedly stuck to their course no matter who was in front of them. Where were the cyclists with their bloody bells, ringing them like sirens as they illegally and without due regard for the pedestrians sped across the common like flying Dervishes?

Cars still drove past in their furious hurry. What was he to do? He could not dial ‘999’; you cannot bother the emergency services for a dog, no matter how precious. Maybe the police should be informed. Who would do such a thing? This was a nation of dog lovers. Surely, it had not escalated beyond mere tit-for-tat littering.   

Meanwhile poor Rufus was lying there. Justin looked down at his dog: the tongue lying twisted, lolling from his mouth, the crimson stain on his thigh growing, matting his beautiful brown fur.

It was only a second since the report but it seemed like forever as thoughts flooded into Justin’s shocked mind. It was all so unbelievable. 

Saving Rufus, he noticed that the dog’s chest cavity was moving up and done. He stood up, still craning around for any sign of an assassin but logic cut in, if there was going to be any more firing it would be at other dogs or at him and it would have started by this stage. There was reassurance in that knowledge, which allowed him to be calmer. Automatically his had reached into his pocket to fetch his mobile phone. He could feel his heart thumping as he scrolled down to the number for the veterinary surgery. 

“Hello” he said several times before realising that the call had not yet been connected. 

“Good Morning, Scone for the Dogs Veterinary Surgery, Martine speaking, how can I help you?”

Justin tried to remain clam, he had practiced yoga and knew a thing or two about tantric sex; it was all about being in control of the situation. 

“Hello, Martine, how are you?”

“Is that Julian, I’m fine, how are you and how is Rufus?”

“I’m fine; but I’m afraid Rufus has been shot.”


“Yes, not from a cannon, but by a bullet.”


“Yes, from a gun.”


“Yes, that’s correct, Rufus, shot, bullet, gun.”


“Yes, my dog, the brown chocolate Labrador, the one you met as a puppy, that one.”

“Rufus, shot?”

“Yes, I know it’s a shock for you, it’s a bit of a shock for me too, a nasty one for Rufus too, I should imagine.”

“I cannot believe it, who would do such a thing?”

“No idea, but I was wondering if you or anyone else there would know what to do?”

“Stop the bleeding.”

“Good thinking.”

“Have you got pet insurance?”

“Is shooting on the policy?”

“We can get you a pet ambulance if you have.”

“Yes, I have insurance.”

“Stay near the phone, we’ll come and get you.”

“Thanks Martine.”

The phone went dead.

Suddenly, the world was full of people. 

A cyclist flew by.

“Get your stupid bloody dog out the way; I almost had to go on the grass you bastard.”

A jogger sprinted by, tight leggings, oblivious to the world hooked up to her “i-pod” nice arse, he would have looked any other day.

Another dog walker approached, Victoria, from Wakehurst Road, her Alsatian tugging at his lead. Justin pulled off his Barbour, slipped off his jumper and to Victoria’s consternation, ripped off his shirt.   

He would do anything for that dog but freeze to death, flinging the shirt to the ground; he picked up his jumper and jacket and put them on. 

Then, he scrunched up the shirt and pressed it against the wound, blackish blood was oozing out. The dog was still in shock and hardly registered the pressure he was applying to the wound. There was a pool of blood growing and he was curious. If there was more blood on the pavement, could it be that there were two wounds? He felt under the dog’s leg, there was another perfectly round hole oozing blood on the other side. 

If that was the case, then, perhaps with nay luck the bullet had gone clean through.  It was feasible. He wondered where the bullet had ended up. Then, he heard the voice of Victoria.

“Julian, what’s the matter with Rufus, he’s bleeding. You’re bleeding too.”

That was when he blacked out. 

Sitting up in a hospital bed, Julian read a book of poetry as a rather gorgeous looking young Ghanaian nurse fussed around him. He gave her furtive glances, after all he did not want to be seen as a dirty old man; her cheekbones were marvellous, she would photograph superbly, but her body was not that of a model. She left with a smile; he waved and thanked her, watched her leave, then read. 

A dream within a dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! Can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream? 

Edgar Allan Poe

Had it been a dream; had he dreamt being shot, but who had shot him?

Written by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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