My wife, Coral, had become rather ‘tubby,’ to put it kindly, fat to put it less so, since the birth of our first child, Crispin, so I was pleased that after the Christmas festivities were over she began to take herself in hand. She’d leave little Crispin asleep with me or the babysitter to take an occasional walk, spurred on by the GetFit watch her mother had given her for Christmas. Well, I was tied up with a novel, the fourth in my series of Sargent Fosdick mysteries, and mighty pleased that Joe Public was finally shelling out his – or her – hard-earned to the relief of my long-suffering literary agent, Rupert. Anyway, for whatever reason I was finding it pretty hard going, trying to think of original twists and turns to the basically mundane ‘whodunnit’ plot, so was only vaguely aware of Coral’s increasing slavishness to the watch, just that the walks became daily, then daily jogs.
“Sebastian darling, do you think I’d be able to run a marathon?” she asked me one winter evening as we sat by the open fire, drinking red wine and generally taking a break from the child care and writing and all the daily stresses and strains they entailed. She stretched her smooth calves out in front of the fire and flexed her toes so that the muscles in her legs stood out.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s just something I’ve always fancied doing.” She pulled a face. “But I was too fat and unfit before.”
I went across and gave her a hug from behind and kissed her neck. “Don’t be hard on yourself, darling.”
She turned and kissed me and I saw the GetFit on her wrist flash. “What’s that about? I just saw your watch flash.”
“Oh, that, it’s just to tell me to get moving. I’ve sat still for too long. It vibrates too.”
“What, how does it know?”
She sipped some wine as I went back to my armchair. “I don’t know. Altimeter, barometer, LEDs to sense your blood flow, clever shit.”
“What else does it tell you?”
“Oh, I’ll show you tomorrow, I’m tired now. But there’s an app on my phone and a dashboard on my computer and they show me how far I’ve walked, how many steps I’ve taken, what percentage of oxygen I’m burning for exercise, blood pressure—”
“Phew, that’s amazing.” I wasn’t what you’d call a technophobe but I wasn’t a computer geek by a million miles.
She smiled. “How long I sleep, when my period’s due and er …” She blushed. “How often we, you know, do it.”
The next day I had an interesting conversation with Rupert. I told him I’d decided to give the corpse a GetFit watch and Sargent Fosdick could solve the mystery from the victim’s computer or phone.
“Even if he could get the devices,” Rupert said, “how could he get into them? You’re talking British Plod, not Licence to Kill.”
“Anyway, I’ve someone I’d like you to meet. Another author, Cedric Bangs, he’s writing an exposé of those GetFit devices, all hush hush right now. Even I don’t know the dénouement, so to speak. But he’s a fan of Sargent Fosdick and he’d like to meet you.”
So, a few days later I found myself going up to Cedric’s office on the second floor above a cycle shop, reeling from a glance in the window. I’d never realised you could spend ten grand on a pushbike before.
“Look,” he said, once pleasantries had been exchanged. “I’ve discovered something.” He emptied a box of GetFits onto a table. “This lot were seized in a robbery, then found their way to me, no questions asked.” He winked. “Watch this.” He took a hammer and put a GetFit onto a brick.
“Oh … my … God,” I said, one hammer blow later. “I feel sick. Are they all … are they all like this?”
“Yes,” he pulled a face, “all the ones I’ve tried.”
I looked down at the remnants of the watch and what looked like an earwig wriggling around in the wreckage. “What the hell is that?”
Cedric looked me in the eye. “Obviously I’ve had them checked out, as far as I could without raising the alarm. My best guess is some kind of genetically engineered intelligent insect.”
He threw the creature onto a fire where it let out a screech before bursting into flame. “My guess is they look out through holes in the device and send what they see to a central computer via the Bluetooth signal.”
“Yuk, so those … things … are basically spying on people?”
“Yes. Rupert doesn’t know all the details yet but he’s behind me on making this public. Then we’ll see what obtains, in the words of Sherlock Holmes.”
I got home to find Coral working out on a step to raucous pop music. I turned it off.
“Oh, it’s … you. Why d’you … turn it off?”
“So we could speak.”
She got off the step, breathless and panting, her black skin-tight leotard wet in places and her face perspiring. When she’d recovered she looked at her wrist. “629. This thing’s great. It counts the steps, even tells me when I’ve spent too long in the loo or used too much toilet paper, it’s almost like it’s watching me!”
“Look, you’d better sit down,” I said. “I’ve got something to tell you.”
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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