Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Boiler House

I got a little story up at Shotgun Honey today called The Boiler House. Thanks to the kind folks there for putting it up.

You can read it here.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Seven Daze Chapter 1

Seven Daze is now nearly finished. Just the last couple of read throughs and plot checks left. One thing I have noticed is, as it's set in parts of London, some of the area info could be more realistic (real places, pub and restaurant prices actual instead of guessed etc) I might have to work on that.

Here's what is nearly the final version of the first chapter.

Seven Daze

The eyes didn’t belong to a killer.

Jim stared at them again. They were shifty and nervous. They were hiding something, but they weren’t killer’s eyes. Scratching his head, he looked away from the mirror.
Beside the bed, the clock stood sentinel on a cheap bedside table. Five fifty five. Just five minutes to go, but time seemed to have slowed down.

He walked to the clock and pressed a button on top, displaying the seconds. Thirty six, thirty seven, thirty eight. He knew digital clocks didn’t freeze or go slow. When they break the display blanks. Yet he had to check again. Just to be sure.
Jim knew he shouldn’t feel like this. He should be looking forward to the first day of his new job. It definitely shouldn’t have made him physically sick. After all, it’s supposed to be the chance to meet new people. The start of a new adventure.

Maybe that was the problem with contract killing. The only new people you met, you killed.

The display changed. Six fifty six.

Last night even the smallest detail had been prepared and double checked. There was so little to do now but wait. Since waking two hours ago, he’d watched the clock and daydreamed.

His stomach was in turmoil. Previously unknown muscles were twisting and spinning. He had to leave now. Despite timing every action and move many times, a little seed of doubt wondered if he’d messed up. It wasn’t just that. It was the hotel walls too. They seemed to be creeping in, pinning him down, just like the cell had for the past three years.

Avoiding his eyes as he walked past the mirror, Jim entered the bathroom. Carefully putting on gloves, he pulled the top off the toilet cistern. Ripping the polythene bag taped underneath, he shook it lightly. A few clinging drops of condensation fell to the carpet. Replacing the cistern lid, he returned to the bed and unzipped the polythene bag, his gloved fingers fumbling with the seal.

He’ d been overcautious with the gloves, as he had everything else. Originally he’d bought a pair then realised he may have left prints on their outside. Wearing them, he bought another, clean pair and kept them safe from all contamination and DNA until now.

Opening the bag, the cold steel pistol sparkled through its second waterproof wrapping. Picking at the heavily cellotaped polythene, he cursed as his gloved hands failed to rip it.

As his fingers and thumbs refused to work together, the walls closed in again. With it came the heat on his back and neck. His whole body was sweating, temperature rising. The tiny hotel room was just like the cell. Too much like it. It was a constant reminder. That was where this had started. That cell.

He’d been inside many times. The last stretch was never the last. Before prison, he’d done his apprenticeship in borstal and before that a secure children’s home. The holy trinity they called it, doing time in all three. Father, Son and Holy Ghost. All ages of man.

His home life had never been easy, not that that was an excuse. That was the domain of social workers and politicians, finding a reason. Truth was, he was bad. He knew it. A rotten apple. When others at school dreamt of careers and success, Jim and his mates wanted success, but they wanted it the easy way. Taking others success.

One little glimpse of ambition surfaced when he was twelve. Jim became fascinated by architecture and building plans. All those straight lines stretching out, building something from nothing. The careers advisor at school told him about architecture and quantity surveying. But the estate and flats didn’t breed architects, it bred villains and anarchists. The only quantities Jim ever surveyed were other peoples DVD’s, mobiles and video games. Once in the rut, he couldn’t have broken out if he’d wanted. His teens and twenties became a life of prison, breaking and entering, selling stolen goods and more prison.

A lucky break was needed to end the circle.

Picking at the tape he found a seam and peeled. The clock now two minutes to seven, he realised this was the only job he hadn’t practised. Typical. The most important part, the weapon, had been overlooked. He should have done this last night. Or half an hour ago. All that wasted time.

Cursing, he picked more polythene off. The worst of the tape gone, it peeled like a banana. The gun exposed, he checked the barrel and silencer: just as he’d wrapped them last week. Though the ammo clip was also wrapped, he made short work unravelling it. Snapping the clip home gave a satisfying click. Holding it in his nearly shaking hands, he looked in the mirror. For a moment he barely recognised the suited gun wielder staring back.

The suit, an off the shelf number but still the best part of four hundred pounds, made him unrecogniseable. It was only when he looked at his face, his eyes, that he saw himself. Those pale shifty eyes, looking uncomfortable. He still didn’t look like a killer. He looked at them again. It might be the last time he could bring himself to do it.

As lucky breaks go, Jim wasn’t sure if his was lucky or not. His cell mate for the past two years, Fingers Harry had changed his life. That wasn’t in doubt. Was it for the better though?

Despite his size and short-fused temper, Fingers Harry had become a friend. A close friend. Jim assumed Harry was missing his son who was destined to grow up fatherless during Harry’s twenty five stretch. Harry had a way of glamorising his life that Jim could listen to for hours. The tales of his blags and scrapes kept their spirits up during those lonely nights.

It was that cell and Fingers Harry that’d changed his life. Gave him his break.

One minute to seven. Jim slipped the safety catch on the gun and placed it on the bed. Picking up his new shoes, he squeezed them onto his feet, wincing as chunky toes hit the sides. Finding shoes wide enough had always been a problem. Even expensive ones gave no more room. This pair seemed okay in the shop, but now felt two sizes smaller. He put it down to pressure causing his feet to swell and reached for his coat.

Slipping it on, he again felt sticky and hot. A thick bulky coat on a summer’s day only made it worse, especially with a suit jacket and tie on underneath. However he needed the bulk. He needed to hide something inside the bulk. Picking the gun off the bed, he checked the safety was still on before slipping it into his inside pocket. Fastening the coat, he walked to the mirror and looked hard at his body.

Did it show? Was there a small outline, a bulge just above his stomach?
He closed his eyes, telling himself he’d been through this before. The gun couldn’t be seen through the coat. His brain was playing tricks, making him think he’d missed something.

He told himself again, no one will notice the gun.

Throughout the stretch, Fingers Harry hadn’t been happy. One of Harry’s relatives, Porky Rob, had gone down because of a witness. This plucky member of the public had refused to be scared, intimidated or bought off. This, according to Harry, was a very poor showing. After all what would happen if everyone started witnessing crimes and all the criminals were locked up? Anarchy that’s what it would be. Of course, Harry thought he was doing society a service. “Think of all them coppers, briefs and security guards who’d be unemployed if they locked us all up,” he’d say, “what I’m doing, is helping society to help itself.”

During the lonely nights, it was clear Harry wanted just one thing: the witnesses head. “Bring me the head of Gregory Pectin,” he’d say. A contract went out and when some lag took the job, Jim was gobsmacked by the amount of money involved. Ten grand. Ten big ones for a few minutes work. Sure, it involved killing, but from what Jim had heard, it was no great loss. The witness would have drunk himself to death soon anyway. Rumours abounded he hadn’t actually witnessed anything; the rozzers had paid him to lie.

Contract killing just seemed so easy.

The clock flicked over to seven. Jim checked his pocket for the keys and money he’d placed there last night. Still there. He pulled out the keys to check it was still the hotel key and had not morphed into some other key overnight. Still the hotel key. Still there.

One last look in the mirror, but not at his eyes, and he was ready.

“Gun, keys, money, phone.”

Shit. Phone.

He looked at the cabinet crammed between the bed and wall. Sat atop it, next to a few brochures for museums he’d never visit was the cheap pay as you go mobile he’d bought two days ago. Lying on the bed, he reached over and grabbed it. Aware he was lying on top of the gun, he slowly eased off and raised himself by his arms.

Reaching into the pocket, he pulled the gun out. The safety was still on.

Sighing, he stood up, re-pocketed the gun and grabbed the mobile. Placing the phone in his trouser pocket, he walked to the door and stopped.

“Gun, keys, money, phone,” he said again.

Two deep breaths later, he opened the door.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Little bit of flash

I started writing this little bit of flash for The unicorn flash thing on Chuck Wendig's site last month. With one thing and another, it never got finished.

However, having been on holiday for the past two weeks, the story kind of filled out a bit while I was relaxing. It's just a bit of fun really. Just a bit of fun.

What's the point?

That’s the problem with being a unicorn. You have to be very careful about itches. One of my mates, Pointy, he stabbed himself in the knee one day. He was only trying to look left at a crossing. Took half his leg off. Poor sod.

That’s what people don’t understand. They think it’s all rainbows and waterfalls and that. Bugger me if it ain’t. The reality is, if you lie down wrong you castrate yourself. God knows how we’re supposed to breed. Got disaster written all over it. No wonder we’re endangered.

I knew this girly once, many moons ago. Getting on fine we were, until that day. Well, you know, things was getting a bit fruity between us. I mean that in itself’s dangerous, if you know what I mean. I turned around at the wrong time and accidentally skewered her. Bit of a passion killer that. She was alright, mind. But from then on, whenever I called, she was always washing her mane or down the gym.

The hunter’s are a problem too. Got to keep on your toes. Keeping your head down’s difficult when you got a big pole sticking out of it. Another of my mates, Spike, hunter’s got him. Drugged him with some sort of sleeping dart then sawed his point off. When he woke up he kept falling over. His balance was all gone, see. He’d got used to the weight in front and kept over compensating. Poor lad. He’s changing his name by deed poll you know, can’t blame him, can you.

Na, you can keep this unicorn lark. Next time, I’m coming back as a donkey. Much easier life. Much easier.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Inspector Cliche - Chapter 4

It's time for more Britwell. If you've missed the first three chapters, they're posted on here a month or so ago.

Chapter 4

DS Walters crept the car along the kerb two streets from the police-taped crime scene. Like a good farmer, the working girls and boys had been quick to rotate their crops to a nearby street. Only a few lined the street, wares on display. These were the most desperate, the lowest of the low, the most addicted of addicts.

Britwell knew them all, for the right reasons.

“If we’re talking turf wars,” said Walters, “who the hell would muscle in? This is Basingstoke, not the Bronx.”

Britwell shook his head. Not much made sense anymore. Say what you like about Safford, you knew what he was up to. Proper old school criminal, sure he might hurt people, but gunning them down? Not his style. Not like these youngsters. “Dunno. East Europeans?”

“Hardly enough of them around for a turf war, is there?”

Britwell shook his head. “Don’t make sense. Mind, you I’ve seen a couple of polish shops pop up the past few years. Wonder who’s protecting them?” What he didn’t tell Walters was the first time he saw a sign, Polish Shop, he wondered how on earth a shop could survive selling just polish. Just furniture polish and brasso seemed too specialised to him. He shook his head.

“As you say, sir, not really enough of them to take over. Maybe it’s some kids trying to muscle in? Out of towners? Londoners spreading out? The Kent lot?”

Britwell grunted. It could have meant yes. “Here’s Junie, pull up next to her.”

Walters pulled up beside the most deathlike forty year-old that was still breathing. Skirt no larger than the proverbial belt, her huge hoop earrings pulled her ears towards her knees. Eyes like vending machine coin slots, a drooping, unlit cigarette hung from her mouth. Her face was dotted with moles and scars with parts of it hidden under a dollop of pound shop makeup. Track marks up her arm looked like an google streetmap of Paddington station’s approach.

“Hello love.” She poked her head in through the open passenger window. Seeing both of them, she added, “I don’t do nuffin kinky. You want Cheryl up ... Oh, Inspector Britwell, come for your freebie have you?” She grinned showing a row of yellowed half teeth, the cigarette somehow defied gravity to stay attached to her top lip.

Britwell turned to Walters, the disgust already embedded in her face. “She’s a card ain’t she?” Turning back, he said, “How’s tricks Junie?”

“Bit quiet, you know the score.” She pulled out a disposable lighter and lit the cigarette.

“ Who was it earlier then? Who pulled the trigger?”

She stepped back from the car and looked up and down the road. “I didn’t see nuffin.”

“Come on Junie. I ain’t looking for a statement, just want to know. Strictly off record.”

“I weren’t there.” She took another step backwards.

A car behind them, crawling along the kerb, overtook and stopped at the pleasure purveyor up ahead. Britwell saw Walters pull out her notebook and write down the registration.

“We know who's car it was, but someone else was driving. Did you recognise them or not? That’s all I wanna know. There’s fifty quid in it?”

Her eyes half lit up. Given the lack of punters and her lack of sex appeal, fifty quid was a good night’s wage. She was more than thinking about it.

Eventually she shook her head. “Didn’t see nothing.”

“Is someone trying to muscle in?”

She took another step back and walked towards the other night workers.

Walters crept the car along in time with her walking.

“It’s someone new isn’t it?” said Britwell.

“Didn’t see nuffin.”

“Come on, Junie, it’ll be worth your while.”

She stopped, turned and poked her head through the window. “Two hundred.”

Britwell pulled out his wallet and counted out five twenties. “Hundred tops.”

She nodded, snatched the money and prodded it down her bra. Britwell saw more than he wanted to and decided never to eat mashed potato again.

“Don’t know who they were, but it weren’t the normal lot.”

“Description?” said Walters.

Junie twisted her head to exhale a cloud of smoke. “Six foot, brick shit house, scars on his face, short brown hair. Been around a few days. A couple of girls didn’t come out tonight, rumours say they’re now working for him.”

Britwell pulled out another forty quid and handed it to her. “Buy yourself a train ticket somewhere, eh? Start afresh.”

She nodded, but it wasn’t convincing. Not convincing at all.

As Walters sped off, she said, “What she said about a freebie.” She paused. “You...”

“No, not at all. What do you take me for?”

She nodded, but like Junie’s nod, it wasn’t convincing.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Two score years and none

Life began, apparently, two weeks ago. Maybe the last thirty nine plus one years was incubation or gestation, I don't know. Either way, all my worries that I'd somehow wake up wearing slippers, smoking a pipe and listening to the Glen Miller Band were unfounded. Life is exactly the same as before.

You see, growing old is just that. A gradual decline of faculties, joints and organs. Nothing specific was ever going to change or happen on the 14,610th day after I was born (give or take the odd miscalculated leap year). So why was I, and I know others, so worried?

Turning thirty didn't seem that bad ten years ago. Thirty nine and one more, though, I suppose people associate this one more with middle age. I haven't had the corresponding crisis yet, or maybe I have but I think I haven't. However I do find myself saying 'It's not like when I was [insert age] anymore.'

However, if anyone had told me twenty years ago how I would be spending the two weekends after my 39+1th birthady, I would have thought them mad.

I got a greenhouse for my birthday. If that doesn't say middle aged then what does. However, over the past two weeks erecting it (fnarr fnarr, see I haven't grown up at all) I have come to the following conclusions.

1 If a greenhouse says it's 6 foot x 4 foot, don't be surprised if it's 5'10" x 3'9"

2 If a greenhouse base says it's 6' x 4' don't be surprised if it's 6'3" x 4'2"

3 A greenhouse that is smaller than it's base does not fit on the base. The base needs to be made smaller with lots of wood. Basically, you have to build your own base making the purchase of the original base a waste of time and money.

4 Instructions, however well meant, are useless if converted from Chinese to German then to English.

5 The picture on the box of an eighty year old woman, single handedly erecting said greenhouse, must be some Chinese idea of a joke.

6 My back now officially feels middle aged.

Problems, and a lot of swearing, aside, it's now up and doing a grand job of keeping the tomatoes warm. I got a load of reduced chili and pepper plants from the garden centre too.

Anyway, that's this years moan out of the way. Normal service and a new chapter of Inspector Cliche will resume in a few days. The last batch of submissions for Too big to fail/ Keep Calma and eat cabbage/ The bailout (or whatever it ends up being called) are being sent this week. If I get no bites by the end of september, I will start self publishing. Spies, Lies and Pies will be first.