International bestselling author Jeffrey Archer has enthralled readers with his riveting suspense, surprise denouements, and unforgettable storylines. Now Archer's three acclaimed collections of short fiction are brought together in one irresistible volume...
THE COLLECTED SHORT STORIES
A Quiver Full of Arrows takes readers on a journey of encounters that befall an assortment of kindly strangers, wary old friends, and long-lost loves.
Sly reflections on human nature are at the center of A Twist in the Tale in which blindly adventurous game-players compete for stakes higher than they dreamed.
Expect the unexpected and you'll still be surprised in Twelve Red Herrings, a dozen tales of betrayal, love, murder and revenge capped with a startling twist.
Thirty-six stories in all, each poised to astonish and inspire, revealing "master entertainer" (Time) Jeffrey Archer at his artfully entertaining best.
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Jeffrey Archer was educated at Oxford University. He has served five years in Britain's House of Commons and fourteen years in the House of Lords. All of his novels and short story collections--including And Thereby Hangs a Tale, Kane and Abel, Paths of Glory and False Impression--have been international bestselling books. Archer is married with two sons and lives in London and Cambridge.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Never Stop on the Motorway
Diana had been hoping to get away by 5:00, so she could be at the farm in time for dinner. She tried not to show her true feelings when at 4:37 her deputy, Phil Haskins, presented her with a complex twelve-page document that required the signature of a director before it could be sent out to the client. Haskins didn't hesitate to remind her that they had lost two similar contracts that week.
It was always the same on a Friday. The phones would go quiet in the middle of the afternoon and then, just as she thought she could slip away, an authorization would land on her desk. One glance at this particular document and Diana knew there would be no chance of escaping before 6:00.
The demands of being a single parent as well as a director of a small but thriving City company meant there were few moments left in any day to relax, so when it came to the one weekend in four that James and Caroline spent with her ex-husband, Diana would try to leave the office a little earlier than usual to avoid getting snarled up in the weekend traffic.
She read through the first page slowly and made a couple of emendations, aware that any mistake made hastily on a Friday evening could be regretted in the weeks to come. She glanced at the clock on her desk as she signed the final page of the document. It was just showing 5:51.
Diana gathered up her bag and walked purposefully toward the door, dropping the contract on Phil's desk without bothering to suggest that he have a good weekend. She suspected that the paperwork had been on his desk since 9:00 that morning, but that holding it until 4:37 was his only means of revenge now that she had been made head of department. Once she was safely in the elevator, she pressed the button for the basement garage, calculating that the delay would probably add an extra hour to her journey.
She stepped out of the elevator, walked over to her Audi suburban, unlocked the door, and threw her bag onto the backseat. When she drove out into the street the stream of twilight traffic was just about keeping pace with the pinstriped pedestrians who, like worker ants, were hurrying toward the nearest hole in the ground.
She flicked on the six o'clock news. The chimes of Big Ben rang out before spokesmen from each of the three main political parties gave their views on the European election results. John Major was refusing to comment on his future. The Conservative Party's explanation for its poor showing was that only 36 percent of the country had bothered to go to the polls. Diana felt guilty---she was among the 64 percent who had failed to register their vote.
The newscaster moved on to say that the situation in Bosnia remained desperate, and that the UN was threatening dire consequences if Radovan Karadzic and the Serbs didn't come to an agreement with the other warring parties. Diana's mind began to drift---such a threat was hardly news any longer. She suspected that if she turned on the radio in a year's time they would probably be repeating it word for word.
As her car crawled round Russell Square, she began to think about the weekend ahead. It had been over a year since John had told her that he had met another woman and wanted a divorce. She still wondered why, after seven years of marriage, she hadn't been more shocked---or at least angry---at his betrayal. Since her appointment as a director, she had to admit they had spent less and less time together. And perhaps she had become anesthetized by the fact that a third of the married couples in Britain were now divorced or separated. Her parents had been unable to hide their disappointment, but then they had been married for forty-two years.
The divorce had been amicable enough, as John, who earned less than she did---one of their problems, perhaps---had given in to most of her demands. She had kept the apartment in Putney, the Audi suburban, and the children, to whom John was allowed access one weekend in four. He would have picked them up from school earlier that afternoon, and, as usual, he'd return them to the apartment in Putney around seven on Sunday evening.
Diana would go to almost any lengths to avoid being left on her own in Putney when they weren't around, and although she regularly grumbled about being saddled with the responsibility of bringing up two children without a father, she missed them desperately the moment they were out of sight.
She hadn't taken a lover, and she didn't sleep around. None of the senior staff at the office had ever gone further than asking her out to lunch. Perhaps because only three of them were unmarried---and not without reason. The one person she might have considered having a relationship with had made it abundantly clear that he only wanted to spend the night with her, not the days.
In any case, Diana had decided long ago that if she was to be taken seriously as the company's first woman director, an office affair, however casual or short-lived, could only end in tears. Men are so vain, she thought. A woman had to make only one mistake and she was immediately labeled as promiscuous. Then every other man on the premises either smirks behind your back, or treats your thigh as an extension of the arm on his chair.
Diana groaned as she came to a halt at yet another red light. In twenty minutes she hadn't covered more than a couple of miles. She opened the glove compartment on the passenger side and fumbled in the dark for a cassette. She found one and pressed it into the slot, hoping it would be Pavarotti, only to be greeted by the strident tones of Gloria Gaynor assuring her, "I will survive." She smiled and thought about Daniel as the light changed to green.
She and Daniel had majored in economics at Bristol University in the early 1980s, friends but never lovers. Then Daniel met Rachael, who had arrived a year after them, and from that moment he had never looked at another woman. They married the day he graduated, and after they returned from their honeymoon Daniel took over the management of his father's farm in Bedfordshire. Three children had followed in quick succession, and Diana had been proud when she was asked to be godmother to Sophie, the eldest. Daniel and Rachael had now been married for twelve years, and Diana felt confident that they wouldn't be disappointing their parents with any suggestion of a divorce. Although they were convinced that she led an exciting and fulfilling life, Diana often envied their gentle and uncomplicated existence.
She was regularly asked to spend the weekend with them in the country, but for every two or three invitations Daniel issued, she only accepted one---not because she wouldn't have liked to join them more often, but because since her divorce she had no desire to take advantage of their hospitality.
Although she enjoyed her work, it had been a bloody week. The two contracts had fallen through, James had been dropped from the school soccer team, and Caroline had never stopped telling her that her father didn't mind her watching television when she ought to be doing her homework.
Another traffic light changed to red.
It took Diana nearly an hour to travel the seven miles out of the city, and when she reached the first two-lane highway, she glanced up at the A1 sign, more out of habit than to seek guidance, because she knew every yard of the road from her office to the farm. She tried to increase her speed, but it was quite impossible, as both lanes remained obstinately crowded.
She had forgotten to get them a present, even a decent bottle of Bordeaux. "Damn," she repeated: Daniel and Rachael always did the giving. She began to wonder if she could pick something up on the way, then remembered there was nothing but service stations between here and the farm. She couldn't turn up with yet another box of chocolates they'd never eat. When she reached the traffic circle that led onto the A1, she managed to push the car over fifty for the first time. She began to relax, allowing her mind to drift with the music.
There was no warning. Although she immediately slammed her foot on the brakes, it was already too late. There was a dull thump from the front bumper, and a slight shudder rocked the car.
A small black creature had shot across her path, and despite her quick reactions, she hadn't been able to avoid hitting it. Diana swung onto the hard shoulder and screeched to a halt, wondering if the animal could possibly have survived. She reversed slowly back to the spot where she thought she had hit it as the traffic roared past her.
And then she saw it, lying on the grass verge---a cat that had crossed the road for the tenth time. She stepped out of the car and walked toward the lifeless body. Suddenly Diana felt sick. She had two cats of her own, and she knew she would never be able to tell the children what she had done. She picked up the dead animal and laid it gently in the ditch by the roadside.
"I'm so sorry," she said, feeling a little silly. She gave it one last look before walking back to her car. Ironically, she had chosen the Audi for its safety features.
She climbed back into the car and switched on the ignition to find Gloria Gaynor still belting out her opinion of men. She turned her off and tried to stop thinking about the cat as she waited for a gap in the traffic large enough to allow her to ease her way back into the slow lane. She eventually succeeded but was still unable to erase the dead cat from her mind.
Diana had accelerated up to fifty again when she suddenly became aware of a pair of headlights shining through her rear windshield. She put up her arm and waved in her rearview mirror, but the lights continued to dazzle her. She slowed down to allow the vehicle to pass, but the driver showed no interest in doing so. Diana began to wonder if there was something wrong with her car. Was one of her lights not working? Was the exhaust billowing smoke? Was...?
She decided to speed up and put some distance between herself and the vehicl...
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