Sunday 29 May 2011

Sample Sunday: Blood Ties

And now something different - a fantasy novel extract:

Andry wondered how long it would take to die. It was difficult to think straight, difficult to concentrate on any thought for more than a few seconds, but his eyes kept being drawn back to the rope on the dais at the far end of City Square and the crowd that was even now beginning to gather around it.

It was raining, a fine drizzle that soaked through the thin cotton shirt and made him shiver. He was finding it increasingly hard to stay awake – never mind keep warm – and since the last dose of whatever drugs he’d been given, he’d finally realised that there was no way out. This time he wouldn’t leave Ariathen alive and he wasn’t sure he cared anyway.

Why did you do it, Elene? When you had so much to live for? The only one of this violent and bloodthirsty race who had cared about him and she was dead, had been dead these seven years past and he hadn’t known. Not until now. She’d ended their affair, determined to make her marriage work and then she’d killed herself. He’d have cried if he’d had the strength, but all he could do was stumble across the cobbles and hope to meet her in whatever world she’d gone to.

A diversion up ahead and one of his guards stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. He turned his head to one side and saw a familiar face pushing his way to the front of the crowd. Jereth? But the cocktail of drugs was too potent and he couldn’t reach his friend’s mind. Words would have to be enough.

“Andry.” Not much more than a whisper, but the guards were looking towards the source of the disturbance across the square.

“Jereth.” What could he say? There was nothing his friend could do without jeopardising his own safety. “She’s dead.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

He knew? Was that why they’d kept him away from the city for so long? “There was a child. A girl.” The words kept getting stuck in his throat, but he was alert enough to see Jereth’s wide-eyed expression – he obviously hadn’t known this much.

He nodded, but even the slight movement made him lose his balance and he fell against the guard. By the time he’d got his feet underneath him, he was pushed forwards again and Jereth had melted back into the sea of people, all jostling for the best vantage point to see him die. Someone spat at him, but his hands were tied and he couldn’t even wipe his face.

Up on the dais stood a familiar figure. Dressed in the uniform of the City Militia, the man’s complete lack of any badges of rank marked him out from the other soldiers positioned around the square – both Watch Guard and Militia had turned out for the event. Andry wondered if they knew what he’d done. Why he was really here. Not just because he’d broken the treaty.

“Andry. Are you prepared?” The man’s voice was low but the tone deadly.

“To meet Elene again? Oh, yes.” If he’d been capable of it, he’d have laughed at the effect her name had on Ariathen’s Guard Captain. He wished he could shout it out loud.

His last thought as he felt the rope was that he’d never even known his daughter’s name.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Love Story (Part 2)

They took mam away. For a rest, they said, though I didn’t know what from – she never seemed to do any work that I could see, apart from ironing Little Billy’s shirts. He was fussy like that, said it was important to look good, and it impressed the social enough for them to say he could look after me while mam was gone. I had to iron his shirts then and that’s when things started to go wrong, when I left the iron on for too long. 

“Moron!” The back of his hand hit my face and I fell over, catching my foot in the cable and pulling the iron down on top of me. I screamed as it landed on my arm, but Little Billy grabbed me and dragged me into the kitchen and made me stick my arm under the cold tap. Then he said I didn’t need to go to school no more in case the teachers saw how stupid I was and they took me away too.  

And now mam was gone, uncle Kenny came round more often. Sometimes he stayed all night and I had to make breakfast for them both and I thought maybe he should just move in with us. Little Billy said I was thinking too much again and I should just do as I were told and shut up whining. And he went into the bathroom and came out all shiny-eyed just like mam did. 

When uncle Kenny brought uncle Liam to meet me when Little Billy was out. I didn’t want to let them in, not when I was alone in the flat and Little Billy said not to answer the door to strangers. But uncle Kenny wasn’t a stranger, and they brought me chocolate cake and I ain’t never had chocolate cake before, so I let them in and gave them Little Billy’s beer. They left me sixty quid, so I stuffed thirty in the drawer by my bed and put the other thirty in the kitchen. Then I had a bath. After that, I got the iron out and started ironing Little Billy’s shirts again as I’d messed up so bad last time. 

“Thirty quid?” Little Billy stomped across the room. “Thirty quid? Nobody screws with Billy Martin, least of all Kenny-fuckin’-Briggs.” He threw the ashtray at the wall and all the dog-ends landed on the carefully-ironed shirts, which were my fault really, as I should’ve put them away before he got back from the Rocket. I tried to clean up the mess, but Billy hit me again and said I obviously hadn’t been nice enough while he was out. I heard him swearing, then punch the wall in the bathroom and then it went quiet for a bit and he came out again, only this time, his eyes were so shiny I thought they’d bug right out of his head, and his nose was runnin’ with snot.

“Look at ya, little whore. Just like your mam, you are – can’t be nice enough to earn a decent livin’.” 

I backed away. Little Billy was scarin’ me and I wanted to tell him about the rest of the money uncle Kenny had left but he wasn’t listening; he was muttering to himself about how he’d be better off without me and I could go and work the streets for all he cared. 

There was spit coming out of his mouth and he didn’t look like Little Billy no more as he stumbled towards me, and I was really scared then as I’d never seen him so angry and I didn’t know what I was s’posed to have done anyway, so I shoved the ironing board at him and he fell over it and the hot iron landed smack on his face and there was a God-awful stink.

I wish I'd been a nice girl and then p'raps Little Billy would've been OK.

Monday 16 May 2011

How Long is a Piece of Rope?

Just about long enough to hang myself. This and other interesting questions are debated over at Dan Holloway's Company Of Fellows website.

And this really should have been posted on Friday - but with the blogger outage last week, it got lost somewhere in cyberspace.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Sample Sunday: Blue Flamingo

For my first #SS posting, here's an extract from my new work-in-progress thriller Blue Flamingo:

“So what do you think?”

Matt reversed into the parking space, pulled the hand brake on and turned off the engine. Ignition key in one hand, he folded his arms, not looking at his passenger. “I think you’re out of your league.”

“We’ll make a fortune.”

“So? Can’t spend it inside, can we?” He wasn’t convinced. Ever since Christian had suggested a change in business direction, Matt had been having second thoughts about the whole thing – not that he got any say in the matter; his status generally hovered somewhere between chauffeur and technical advisor, depending on Christian’s mood and financial state of affairs. And although the other man frequently asked for his opinion on other matters, he rarely took any notice of the replies.

Scrambling out of the car, Matt hit the button on the key fob. The indicators flashed once in response and he followed Christian across the wet tarmac to the motorway service-station. At nine-thirty on a Wednesday evening it was quiet, the commuter traffic long gone, the overnight truckers yet to arrive and there was a air of desolation about the whole place, from the bank of telephone kiosks outside the double doors to the empty foyer. Even the small arcade was deserted, the games machines flashing green and orange lights across dirty glass doors.

“Who is this guy, then?” He watched Christian’s arse climb the stairs to the footbridge over the motorway. Either he purposefully bought his jeans a size too small or he’d put on a few stone since he’d bought this pair – probably the latter since in the five years they’d been working together, Matt had never known the man buy any new clothes. Not even a pair of shoes. Christian was a slob. Correction – a pretentious slob, if such a thing existed. And why he thought Christian Valeccine was going to impress people more than plain old Christopher Williams was beyond Matt’s comprehension. He’d seen the name once, on a tax demand, and had almost asked him about it, before he’d changed his mind. Some things were better left alone.

The man turned on the steps, allowing his protégé to catch up. “He wants to buy me out.” He paused for effect, then carried on walking.

“He wants to what?” This was new. On the way up from London, Christian had been talking about using this man’s contacts and expertise to branch out, expand the business with some new sidelines – singers maybe, or theme evenings. He’d had concerns about Christian’s suggestions even then, but he’d heard only the briefest details so far. It was difficult to speculate at ninety-five miles per hour in the rain on the M1. However, a take-over bid wasn’t what he’d had in mind. Where does that leave me? he wanted to ask, but now was not the time. Not with an imminent meeting with Mr Mysterious. And anybody who insisted on conducting business at ten at night on the M1 was not the kind of man you irritated with trivialities. Christian was out of his league all right.

They were on the footbridge now, a covered walkway connecting both sides of the service station. Dull yellow squares of linoleum led a haphazard path to the Southbound carriageway and Matt wondered who was waiting on the other side. He tried not to imagine the drop beneath his feet, tried not to visualise the traffic hurtling through underneath him. He didn’t like heights; he never had – not since Jeff had made him climb out of the tree-house onto a particularly thin-looking branch and then left him there, clinging precariously until he’d fallen off some ten minutes later. Jeff had thought it hilariously funny, but all it had proved to Matt was that he couldn’t compete with a brother two years his senior.

“So what will you do, then? If you sell up.” He had to ask.

“Oh, I don’t know. Get out of the country for a while. Maybe America or Australia.”

“You’d give it all up?”

“All what? In case you hadn’t noticed, Matt, the club’s been half-empty for months. If we don’t pull in some extra trade somehow, we’re sunk. And I don’t see what you’re concerned about, anyway. You’re part of the deal.”

“Oh, no. Not me. You sell, that’s your business. I’m a free agent.”

“You think so?” Christian smiled. “You walk out and you’re on a one-way ticket to Her Majesty’s holiday camp, my son.”

Matt stopped walking. This wasn’t the way the conversation was supposed to go. Christian’s voice had lost its friendly bantering tone and taken on a harder edge Matt hadn’t heard before. He looked out at the night, but could only see his own water-streaked reflection staring back at him, eyes half-hidden under brown hair. His contacts were irritating his eyes again and he rubbed them, wishing he’d worn his glasses instead.

There was no point in arguing with the man. Not at the moment. In any case, he had the car keys and he could be gone in minutes if the situation got out of hand. And Christian wasn’t really threatening him; they’d gone through variations of this a thousand times before and it was the man’s way of showing Matt who was boss, because on an intellectual basis, both of them knew Matt would win hands down. It was all a game, an elaborate ritual to be played out whenever Christian’s ego needed a boost. Like the time Kit left, Matt thought. For a while, Matt had taken up the reins of the business, but Christian had survived the affair, then thrown himself back into work with a renewed vigour. He’d criticised just about every decision Matt had made, but it was wounded pride talking and things had quickly returned to normal. But this was different. Something had changed and Matt wasn’t sure what it was.

He heard footsteps behind them and could see the reflection, distorted colours bouncing across both sides of the glass corridor. A man stood at the top of the steps outlined in the neon glare of the strip lights. Black boots under black jeans, he stood there, hands in the pockets of his denim jacket like something out of a bad cowboy movie. He was watching them quite openly and Matt shivered. Who was this guy they’d come to meet? There was more than the Blue Flamingo at stake here.

Wednesday 4 May 2011