Hot Dates

Angelo DeVeel’s Travel Agency gradually appeared on a weekend in February. Horace the tailor had occupied that space, on the corner of Dante’s Drive and St Paul’s Avenue, for over fifty years. He’d finally had enough of grumbling and moaning about life in general and had gone off to spend his retirement years in Worthing. Early that Saturday, a large white van parked outside the shabby old shop, which had grimy windows facing down the drive and up the avenue. Four men, dressed in white painting overalls, appeared from the van with ladders, dustsheets and paint. Two of them worked their magic inside, giving the shop a sparkling makeover, and the other two laboured away outside, repainting the walls and window frames, and replacing the dark old wooden door with a lovely new door with stained glass windows. A lot more people than usual walked past the shop and there was a buzz of excitement about what was coming to the community.

On the Sunday, a black transit van drew up outside and four more people clambered out. They looked a little bit like funeral directors, it has to be said, because of the black suits, and the locals peered from behind their curtains, rather than taking a little stroll, in order to see what was going on. Aggie, who live at number 20 the Ave (the locals had dropped the Dante and St Paul’s bit of their street names), couldn’t decide if she would be pleased or upset if the shop were to become a funeral parlour. The men carried in huge wooden chests that could have contained chairs or coffins, plus several enormous oil paintings in ornate frames; views of distant lands and tropical oceans mainly. Aggie now wondered whether she had an art gallery on her doorstep. Probably better than a funeral parlour, she decided.

At four o’clock, when it was starting to get dark, two of the men erected a sign above the door and DeVeel’s Travel Agency was born. It could have been the wind, but Angelo DeVeel, a dark haired man of indeterminate age, who arrived and at that moment, felt the gust that blew round the corner was a sigh of relief from the local residents that they were being blessed by the addition of the upmarket establishment he had brought to the area. Mr DeVeel gazed around, then took a number of flyers from a black briefcase he was carrying and headed for number 22 St Paul’s Avenue, the one with the blue door, where he dropped a yellow note through the door. Aggie hoped this wasn’t going to make poor Amelia Brown feel worse than she already did. Her brute of a partner, despicable Dougie, had deserted her and gone on the holiday that Amelia and the children had been looking forward to for so long. Aggie realised that Mr DeVeel had spotted her and was waving. Then he dropped a green leaflet through her door. She hurried downstairs to pick it up and Angelo could hear her whooping with delight as he walked away from her house.

The next day, being Monday, DeVeel’s Travel Agency opened for business. The first customers were the Brown family: Amelia Brown, aged thirty six and her two small children Danni and Leroy. The children had big brown eyes and gazed open mouthed at the paintings round the shop. Amelia smiled shyly at Mr DeVeel, who had come forward to shake her hand. He bowed a little and reminded Amelia of a butler in one of those period dramas.

Amelia was clutching a yellow card, which she showed Mr DeVeel.

“This came through my door at the weekend, and I wondered whether there was any chance it’s for real?”

Mr DeVeel smiled and nodded.

“Of Course.” He turned his gaze to the remarkably well behaved children who seemed in awe, and addressed his next remark to them.

“Would you like to go on holiday to the seaside?” Excitement broke through the children’s faces, shining in their eyes and smiles.

Amelia, looked anxiously at them.

“I just wanted to check this is for real before I book. I don’t want to disappoint my children, again. ”

Mr DeVeel took the card and read it out.

“You have been gifted an all-inclusive, free holiday for your family in sunny Spain.” He turned to the children again.

“Does that sound fun.”

This time Danni and Leroy bounced up and down, their grins stretching their mouths as wide as could be.

“There is one thing.” Amelia drew in her breath, ready to make a hasty retreat if Mr DeVeel mentioned money. Because the truth of it was, she had no money. But instead Angelo said something amazing.

“None of this is going to cost you a penny. This is a gift. You deserve a taste of heaven.”

Amelia gasped as Mr DeVeel handed her a folder containing all the tickets and the hotel booking and insurance.

As the Brown family skipped out of the door Mr DeVeel noticed a man watching them from across the road. He started towards them, but Mr DeVeel called out to him.

“Dougie Brown?”

Dougie turned and looked at the strange looking man who had opened this travel agency. A weirdo, he thought. But then Dougie looked at the orange flyer that had come through his door over the weekend. ‘Hot Dates Holiday just for you’. It sounded too good to miss. He could catch up with his ex later. Play the repentant partner seduced by some tart who wanted a holiday. Dougie thought he could give the kids a balloon, say he’d brought it back from Spain for them.

But first he just might have to take advantage of the Hot Dates on offer from DeVeel’s. So Dougie crossed over and sauntered into the travel agents, greeting Mr DeVeel with a curt “Hey there.”

Mr DeVeel nodded at Dougie and steered him towards a painting of a tropical island. In front of a mountainous background was a long white beach and azure blue ocean. Also in the picture was beach bar and several exotic dancers were performing – it was hard to see if they were men or women strangely.

“So, Dougie, I see you’re interested in our Hot Dates holiday”.

Dougie looked at him with suspicion.

“How do you know my name?”

Mr DeVeel gave a little chuckle.

“Your ex noticed you. She was in here just now. You may have spotted her.” Mr DeVeel noticed that Dougie seemed a little annoyed.

“Just like you, she’s been gifted a holiday.” Dougie had nothing to say about his ex to some bloke selling holidays. He sniffed instead.

“So what’s the catch? I’m not paying out. I just want this freebie I’ve been promised.” Mr DeVeel nodded.

“No payment. All I need from you is you signature, then your Hot Dates holiday awaits – and you can see what pleasures you’ll be able to experience.”

Dougie started to read the forms that Mr DeVeel handed him, but there were pages and pages of them, so he fished out the last page and signed. It was only after he’d signed it that he noticed the mountain on the painting seemed to be smoking, like a volcano. Then the features on the characters at the beach bar seemed to grow clearer, and closer. Dougie seemed drawn to the painting. In fact, he felt as if he was being sucked in.

It was getting hotter and Dougie felt it was time to clear out of this strange shop. Mr DeVeel had vanished and Dougie felt himself surrounded by the characters in the painting. These were not exotic dancers, these were demons. And the volcano was erupting. Flames surrounded him as fire balls crashed down around. He heard shrieks of agony and realised it was him. A dagger seemed to twist in his heart, and Dougie knew this was no holiday. This was hell.

Day 2 story for the Prose Challenge.

Hot Dates
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