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.

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