Cutting your Losses

17 May

GWD-JLD 800x534 Sorry but this is the last day the above is free – amazon’s rules only let me have it free for five days every few months. Here’s another ghostly one that I hope piques your interest.

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Bloody, bloody fool! Why had I risked going so near to the roof’s edge?

I was falling to my death. At the last moment I managed to cling onto the gutter below the roof. I was completely alone, and shivering with terror, trying my best to pull myself back up again and failing. And, God help me, my fingers were going numb.

A year ago, my friend Tom Farmer had discovered love at first sight when he’d seen the dilapidated old oast house, whose roof I was now clinging onto. On a crazy whim, he’d bought the 1880s farm building at auction, convinced that he could renovate it and open it as an upmarket restaurant. But after he’d made a start with the renovations, the local authority unexpectedly refused to grant a business licence. This was a devastating blow, but his second idea, indeed the only option he had, was to remodel and repair it, then try to sell it at a profit.

The oast house took over his life. Every spare second that he wasn’t working at his own full-time job as a chef, he was slaving away helping the builders to fix the dry rot, the broken windows, the smashed tiles, the wrecked everything. The months went by, his ever-increasing mortgage was creeping higher and higher, and no one would buy the damned place. Maybe it was the shock, the disappointment and constant stress or the sheer hard work that led to his sudden heart attack at the age of just thirty-eight. This upset me a lot because Tom was actually a special friend to me, we shared a strange kind of bond: when we were playing together as children, I had rescued him from drowning, while we’d both been swimming in the river. Neither of us made a big deal of it, or even told our parents, but he always said to me that he owed me his life—I disagreed and told him to forget it.

His other friends and I were rallying round to help him and Jill, his poor long-suffering wife, who had seen virtually nothing of him since the oast house had claimed his time. After Tom had recovered from his heart attack, the couple had agreed to cut their considerable losses and sell the cursed place as it was, for whatever they could get. Tom had only come out of hospital a fortnight ago and meantime ten more estate agents had been round to assess the old building and advertise it at a much reduced asking price. The trouble was that although it was in the middle of idyllic fields, with splendid farmland scenery all around, as a home it was a disaster: the circular walls were hopeless for accommodating furniture, the stairs were cramped and awkward, and the windows, which couldn’t be replaced, were tiny and inadequate.

I had arranged to meet Tom at the oast house, my job being to take masses of pictures, in an effort to present it in as good a light as possible. I was especially keen to take zoom shot views from the rooftop—I really thought that the magnificent views from here were its best selling point, and Tom also wanted me to highlight features of his renovation, the special fitted cupboards and units in the kitchen, and the space-age wine cellar he’d had put in.

I’d arrived just as the light was beginning to fade, ideal for images of the valley from the roof. Tom was supposed to have been meeting me here, but there was no answer when I’d knocked on the door, and his car wasn’t in the yard. So I had used the key he’d given me, and gone inside to make a start.

The spectacular view of the valley from the roof really inspired me, which is why I’d decided to get some better shots, and walked closer to the edge of the roof. But I had tripped against something.

As I clung on for dear life to the gutter, I heard the chiming of the church clock in the village striking six. The wind was picking up and the sheer drop beckoned me. And I knew that my fingers couldn’t hold on much longer.

Then, as my panic was mounting, I saw Tom’s face appear over the edge of the roof. At once he was kneeling down and grabbing my wrists, pulling as hard as he could. Thank God, he must have driven into the yard, looked up and seen me hanging there, and raced up to help me.

It was touch and go, but gradually he managed to pull me up a tiny bit, then a bit more. Then I somehow managed to get a foothold, and soon, thank heavens, I was back on the roof and safety.

Just as I stumbled forward onto the tiles, I kicked against something and fell forwards, banging my head. I must have been unconscious for about ten minutes, I suppose. The strange thing was, when I opened my eyes I was all alone. Why on earth hadn’t Tom stayed with me? Maybe he was downstairs.

Legs still trembling, I climbed down the ladder to the top floor, but couldn’t find him anywhere there either. Then down the cramped stairway to the first floor and finally the ground floor, camera still bouncing against my chest. Belatedly, I realised that in my scramble to climb back up to safety, I’d probably knocked the button a few times and taken some shots of the rooftop by accident. Weird. Where on earth had Tom disappeared to? How come I was suddenly as alone in this place as I’d been when I’d arrived? In the kitchen I heard the sound of an arriving text on my mobile phone, and went across to get it out of the pocket of my jacket, which was hanging on the back of a chair.

I opened up the new message, which was from Jill, Tom’s wife:

Sorry Jack, Tom died at 6 o’clock tonight. He had another heart attack this morning, was rushed into hospital. Only just realised he’d arranged to meet you at the Oast. . .

With shaking hands I pressed the buttons on my camera, looking into the screen to see the last photos I’d accidentally taken. There were several unplanned ones of the roof, seen from my viewpoint, as I was scrambling to safety. And there, in one of them, was Tom’s face! Then after a second, it disappeared.

I pressed the button again, trying to find it, but after that, however many times I scrolled through the pictures I never did find that picture of Tom again.

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The Foursome

16 May

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The above is free until tomorrow, and here’s a funny one, I hope you might like

THE FOURSOME

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“Thing is, the engines on the original steam trains all had individual numbers. Of course, that was before the Great Western Railway became nationalized in 1947. The first engine was number…”

“Shut up, Peter!”

“Put a sock in it!”

“B*******!”

Peter Forester was a really nice man, always ready to help a friend at a moment’s notice, generous to a fault, thoughtful and kind.

Unfortunately he was also one of the most boring people I’ve ever known in my life.

Because he was nice he had plenty of friends, but they were the kind of friends who bawled ‘Boring’, every time he launched on his latest diatribe about railway trains, the different varieties of real ale, the origins of cricket or the international rules for table tennis championships. When he gets chastened like this he just smiles good-naturedly, never taking offence, and that’s why everyone likes him so much. He’s a bit like a TV that goes haywire sometimes and the only way to get a decent picture is to bash it hard.

It was fortuitous for all of us when the two women came into the Dog and Duck that evening, when Peter, Stuart, Jonathan and I were chatting desultorily over our pints.

The moment Peter saw Susanne Butler he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

Actually neither could any of us, but the other three were married or had girlfriends, so they couldn’t admire her quite so obviously. Susanne had long dark hair, a wonderful figure, sensational smile and an intelligent lively face. Susanne was with her friend Jane—we didn’t know their names at first of course, but it was a quiet evening in the pub, and Stuart chatted to them at the bar, and they were happy to come and join us.

They were Scottish student nurses, in their early thirties by the look of it, and on holiday in the south of England, staying nearby, keen to see the delights of Canterbury and the other beauty spots in Kent.

We spent a very pleasant evening, and I hope they enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed theirs.

Peter collared me in the Gents toilet.

“Jack, you’ve got to help me,” he said. “I’m in love! I’ve just got to ask her out.”

“Which one?”

“Susanne, of course, the beautiful one. I mean Jane, the blonde girl, is really nice, but Susanne is sensational.”

“Well, she’s on holiday. She’d probably love to spend an evening with you.”

“Maybe. But she’s with her friend, she’s obviously a thoughtful girl, wouldn’t want to leave her friend alone for the evening, it wouldn’t be fair.”

“S’pose so,” I agreed.

“Whereas she might come out on a foursome. With you and me.”

Bugger! The thought of an evening of ‘undiluted Peter’, with no one around to shout ‘Boring’ to shut him up, made me feel almost suicidal, but then, if the two girls agreed they’d be coming too, I’d surely be spared Peter’s tedious rants. And maybe I could tactfully steer the talk away from anything that seemed too onerous.

“Okay,” I agreed without enthusiasm. “Let’s suggest it.”

Secretly I was quite excited about the idea, because I was keen on Susanne too, and if by any chance it turned out that she was more interested in me than Peter, I certainly wouldn’t complain. She seemed a really interesting friendly girl, full of lively chatter, whereas her friend Jane seemed quiet and actually rather hard to talk to.

Everything went according to plan. The girls agreed with alacrity that on the following evening, Thursday, they’d meet the pair of us at six o’clock in the Dog and Duck, and we’d take them on the ghost tour of Canterbury—an inspired suggestion of Peter’s, because Jane had let slip that she was interested in the supernatural.

But early the following evening fate stepped in and wrecked everything. While I was climbing on a stepladder, it toppled over and I fell to the ground, twisting my ankle. No damage was done that wouldn’t repair itself in time, but, for the next few days I was going to have to hobble about, and driving or walking was out of the question.

I phoned Peter with the bad news; unfortunately it had happened only half an hour before we were due to meet the girls, so Peter had no choice but to take the pair of them out on his own. It really was the worst luck imaginable, but what could I do? Of all the ironies, I had the uncharitable feeling that Susanne did like me better than Peter, and I had been looking forward to hoping that the ‘best man’, i.e. me, might win. Perhaps fate had kicked me in the teeth on purpose. Maybe I deserved it.

An hour later there was a knock on my front door.

I hobbled out to answer it.

To my delight, Susanne was standing on the step.

“D’ye mind if I come in, Jack?” she asked, stepping into my hallway. “Peter told me about your accident, and I was worried about ye.”

“There was no need for you to come.” I welcomed her into the living room, unable to suppress my delight. “You should have gone on the ghost tour.”

“Och, away with you, it’s Jane likes the ghosts and ghoulies, not me, tell the truth I’m glad to get out of it. Besides, the pair of them were rabbiting away together, I didnae want to play gooseberry. Between you and me, sometimes Jane tends to talk too much, you have to find a way to tactfully shut her up, poor old Peter’s probably getting earache by now. Sit yerself down Jack, you’ll be needing a wee bag of frozen peas on that ankle, you stay put now in the chair, I’ll make us some supper later, but how about a wee snack now?”

This was better than I could possibly have imagined. Susanne was kind and attentive, and arranged cushions on my armchair, a footstool to prop up my foot and made some coffee, even found some biscuits in the kitchen.

She sat down in the sofa opposite.

“Och this is cosy, is it not, Jack?” She smiled and I noticed an attractive dimple in her chin. I imagined moving to the sofa beside her later on, perhaps draping a casual arm across her shoulders.

“Do you ken something? Between you and me, I know Peter’s your friend, but I’d never have gone out with him on my own. He’s really not my type. I’m so glad it’s just you—Jane’s a lot nicer than I am, she’s a born listener, she can put up with any amount of boring blather about railways and cars and real ale and computers, I know you men like to blather on about that kind of thing.”

Susanne was even more attractive than I remembered, she was obviously thoughtful and kind, and shortly afterwards she’d found some ham, eggs and bread and managed to knock together something for us to eat. I was eying the space beside her on the sofa more and more, wondering when I could hobble across without making my intentions too obvious.

“Aye, Jack, d’ye know I liked you from the moment I set eyes on you,” she said, reaching into the shoulder bag she’d brought with her. She looked at her watch. “Jack, would you mind very much if we have the telly on? Think Corrie is on a wee bit later. I’m addicted to the soaps, me. D’ye know, Jack, I’ve watched every single episode of the TV soap operas Coronation Street (Corrie) and Emmerdale – you know, the one about farmers and scandal and gossip in the countryside – since I was ten years old? In fact I’ve made two hundred and thirty-eight pages of notes covering every episode of Corrie, since 1999! They’re right here!”

She placed the large folder on her knees and opened it up, taking out some pages.

“It’s lucky, we’ve got a couple of hours before it starts, we’ve just got time for me to bring you up to date on all the story lines…”

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Jack Lockwood Diaries

15 May

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Here’s another story from the above, that is free to download right now. It’s an adventure, where Jack acts as a police negotiator in a desperate situation.

THE HOSTAGE

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I blinked when strong sunlight blinded my eyes as I carried Jean Chapman’s body in my arms, out through the smashed front door of her house, and towards the police cars and armed SO19 officers, who were pointing their weapons in my direction.

As I came closer to the waiting paramedics, I heard DCI Connors shouting over the tannoy. I was aware of activity behind me, weapons clacking against the front drive, each of the three vicious men being told to lie flat on the ground, spread-eagled, one by one, as armed officers ran past me to cuff them.

Why on earth had everything gone wrong?

At six o’clock that morning four armed men had forced their way into Mark and Jean Chapman’s large detached house on the outskirts of town. One of these desperados, Alfie Mason, had then driven Mark into Canterbury, to the Northanger Building Society of which Chapman was manager, while Jean was held captive. There’d been an agonising wait until Simon Rutherford, Assistant Branch Manager, had arrived with the second pair of the vault’s regularly changed access codes, but finally the cash had been bundled into Alfie’s car, and he’d gone. Mark had been told that if there was any deviation from Alfie’s instructions, or if the police panic button was pressed, a single text or phone call to Alfie’s three colleagues at Mark’s house would mean Jean’s death. Compliance guaranteed her release.

Little did Mark realise that by the time he was able to tell the police what had happened, they were already at his house, having been summoned by neighbours who’d heard shooting.

Since I had done a police negotiator’s course, I had volunteered to try to get inside the house. That had been hours ago. More shots had been fired while I’d been doing my best to negotiate a way out.

And right now, when I reached the crowd, I caught sight of Mark weeping uncontrollably as he watched me handing Jean’s body to the medics.

“Why?” he kept asking anyone who was within earshot. “Why did they do it? I did everything they asked of me.”

Now behind the police lines, I moved close to Mark, and put an arm around his shoulders to try and comfort him, as I’d done years before when we’d been eight-year-old classmates in prep school, and Mark had been the victim of bullies. No one had liked him at school, and I’d never known quite why. I’d always felt sorry for him in those days. Since then he’d done well, but people said that it was his wife’s money that had paid for the huge house and the fancy cars and foreign holidays.

Surreptitiously, I slipped my hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out his mobile phone, then, clapping Mark on the shoulder in farewell, I walked across to DCI Connors, and quickly passed the phone across to him.

Mark, his crying having abated, came across to us.

“Jack?” He was frowning, hand in his pocket. “Why on earth did you just take my phone?”

I turned to face him. “Jean overheard those three guys discussing how you’d arranged everything so neatly, your little idea to avoid paying for an expensive divorce, and about the increased life insurance,” I told him. “But two of the guys weren’t prepared to go through with it. There was a fight. Jean got involved. The gun went off.” I looked across at Jean’s body on the medics’ trolley. “Afterwards I managed to persuade them that if they were prepared to say who’d put them up to it, the police might believe they hadn’t intended to kill her, that it was a genuine accident.”

“What a warped imagination you have, Jack,” Mark said quietly. “You actually believe this nonsense? I’ve been the victim of this terrible crime and my poor wife has just died because of police incompetence. And who’s going to believe those three guys? They’d make up any crazy story to save their skins.”

“But they might believe your girlfriend.” Connors showed Mark his mobile phone screen with the words We’ve done it! there.

“Mr Chapman,” Connors went on. “This was sent just now to your secretary, Sandra Page, who tells us you’ve been having an affair with her for a year. When we confronted her she denied having anything to do with your plan to have your wife ‘accidentally’ killed.”

Mark’s face drained of colour. “Of course she denied it! There is no plan. It’s not illegal to have an extra-marital affair. That text is no proof of anything!”

His words stuttered to a halt as Jean Chapman climbed off the paramedics’ trolley and walked across to her husband.

She just stared at him.

 

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Jack Lockwood Diaries

14 May

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MAKE FRIENDS WITH JACK

The above book of short stories is free for the next dew days, and here’s another story to give you a flavour of the rest.  This one has a supernatural flavour.  Do you believe in ghosts?

CRASH

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When you think you’re going to die, it’s true, your past life does flash up in front of you.

In my case it was just the few moments before the train crash: running along the platform and leaping on the train as it had started moving, and accidentally colliding with the blonde-haired young woman standing near the door in the crowded carriage. I apologised, and she smiled as she readjusted her raincoat, and I caught a glimpse of her jacket’s name badge: Dr Wendy Summers, St Thomas’ Hospital. Then I shuffled along amongst the standing passengers, groping for a tiny space to call my own.

Shortly after we’d got moving there was an incredibly loud bang and a splintering, tearing sound. I heard some people shouting, someone moaning. I’d been thrown sideways, was part of a pile of bodies, most of us trying to flounder to our feet.

The train compartment’s roof had collapsed, seating and luggage racks were broken, bags and cases strewn everywhere. I got the impression that someone had opened a door along the carriage and those who were able to were leaving the train. To my relief I was unharmed, unlike the man beside me on the floor. Luggage and debris had fallen onto his leg, and his face was contorted with pain. I managed to lift away the heavy things that had trapped him, but I could see a lot of blood.

And there, standing above me, was the woman doctor whom I’d bumped into when I’d got on the train. She knelt beside me, and was gesturing frantically, pointing to the man’s thigh, making gestures of tying something together. The penny dropped: a tourniquet, tie it around his thigh to restrict the blood flow. She then gestured, pointing upwards, and I caught on to that too – raise his leg up in the air. Then she disappeared, clearly in a frantic hurry to help someone else. As I undid the man’s tie and used it to strap around his thigh tightly, I caught on to her logic: telling me what to do, rather than doing it herself, saved valuable seconds in which she could be saving someone else’s life. I managed to do what was required, and propped the man’s leg up on some piles of bags.

By now most of the able-bodied people had left the train. I saw the doctor on the other side of the carriage, and moved towards her. She turned and saw me, frantically gesturing towards a red-faced lady who was on the ground, who seemed to be in distress. The doctor pointed to her own mouth, gesturing that the injured woman’s mouth needed to be opened. I caught on, remembering my first aid training: clear the airway. While the doctor rushed away to some other emergency, I knelt beside the lady, and prised open her mouth. My finger located the object – her false teeth plate – lodged in her throat and I pulled it out. She took a huge intake of breath and started coughing and spluttering.

As the paramedics arrived, the crisis gradually de-escalated, and I followed the route I’d seen so many others take, to the trackside, fresh air and freedom.

It was as I was passing paramedics carrying a stretcher that I happened to look across at the victim. I instantly recognised the blonde doctor lady who’d been helping the wounded people. What on earth could have happened to her? Had some part of the train collapsed on her unexpectedly while she’d been struggling to help others?

One of the paramedics saw my distress as I looked at her. He touched my arm sympathetically. “I’m really sorry mate,” he said in a kindly tone. “Was she a friend of yours?”

“Was?”

“She didn’t suffer. Looks like the roof came down on her head as it happened – it would have been instantaneous, she wouldn’t have known a thing, I promise you my friend, she wouldn’t have suffered.”

“No, you don’t understand, that’s impossible.” I floundered in confusion. “After the crash she was moving around, helping people.” I remembered Dr Summers, looking at the man whose leg I tourniqueted, explaining what to do, the way she used her hands to gesture. The way she never actually did anything because she was so busy, how she just rushed around giving orders. Then I realised that she had never actually physically done anything herself. Nor had she spoken.

“Sorry mate you’re confused, you’re in shock,” the paramedic assured me patiently. “She couldn’t possibly have helped anyone. She was killed outright at the moment of impact.”

“But I saw her moving around. I saw her.”

And I did see her. I swear to you that I saw her.

How come no one believes me?

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Jack Lockwood Diaries

13 May

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My collection of short stories, featuring Jack Lockwood is free to download from 13 – 17 May.  Here is one of the most popular stories.  Some are adventures, some are supernatural, others are humorous.  All of them are easy reads, ideal for a train journey of a coffee break.  You’ll find that Jack is good company.

LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND

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It started with a mass of headlight-shimmered droplets, then escalated to a swoosh-whoosh-slurp as my wipers tried to dash it away, until it took over everything, the windscreen, the road ahead, the very air in front of my face. It wasn’t Christmas-card snow, that was pretty and sweet. This was fat hunks of sloppy ice, dirty and dangerous, chunky great flakes falling much too fast for comfort.

I’d hoped to make it home in time, but for the past few hundred yards I’d begun to realise I’d been kidding myself. When the car started to slither, and snow began to pack itself into white hills almost before my eyes, I knew I couldn’t go on.

It was a freezing cold night in a pitch-dark country lane in the wilds of Kent. Eventually I just slithered to a stop in the middle of the road, or wherever I guessed the invisible road or pavement might be.

My engine was still running, so, in theory I could sit it out here and stop myself from freezing to death by using the car’s heater. But soon the snow would be deep enough to block the exhaust. So if I just sat here in this freezing cold, I could then literally freeze to death, or rather go off into that gentle sleep someone told me about, where, from feeling freezing cold and shivering, you suddenly get a lovely glow of warmth, and have an overwhelming urge to sleep. Those are the seconds before hypothermia tells you you’ll never wake up again.

So there was only one option. Wrap up as warmly as I could, push the car door open before the weight of snow jammed it shut, and walk to a house and hope someone would let me in. I knew that Brindley Cross, a tiny village with a small church, grocery store and a scruffy pub was a mile or so ahead. I was twelve miles from my own home, in Brookham, much too far to walk.

As I shut the door and locked the car, I tried to dispel the image in my mind of Angela Swan, a woman I had been out with a few times, opening her front door to me in obvious irritation, leaving me to follow her inside, where a good-looking man was sitting in her living room with his shirt undone and his face flushed. It was clear why Angela hadn’t been keen on answering the door, and I left before she could offer any explanation. What hurt more was that I had liked her a lot, and was hoping that she might feel the same way. But the man in her living room was better-looking than me, and his clothes, the few he was wearing, looked high quality, and the way Angela looked towards him made it clear that they had some kind of understanding.

And if I hadn’t spent the early evening driving to Ramsgate to sort something out, then detoured to call into Angela’s without warning her, I wouldn’t be on this road right now, unwillingly dicing with death.

The walk helped to keep my limbs from freezing, but my shoes were hopelessly inadequate for the deep snow I was crunching through, slush oozing over the top and soaking my socks and feet. After what seemed like hours I saw a couple of lights in the distance: Brindley Cross, thank goodness. Further on I passed the old village sign, almost obscured by the falling snow.
There in front of me was the Barley Mow, the village pub, and that was where the lights were coming from. I stepped into the candlelit grotto that looked more like a shadowy cave than the public bar, where a log fire blazed away in the hearth along the far wall.

A man looked up and smiled at me as he came around from behind the bar.

“Another stranded motorist, are you?”

I nodded. “Can I come in and warm up?”

“Course you can, mate, sit by the fire before you freeze to death. Meanwhile I’ll get you some of that tomato soup that’s been so popular tonight. Excuse the candles, the electrics went out ten minutes before you arrived.”

I sat at a table beside the fire opposite a tall man in a crumpled suit who appeared to be around thirty-five. He had a mobile phone pressed to his ear and was shouting into it as if his life depended on it.

“Look, the line’s breaking up!” he yelled frantically. “My names Rogers, Alan Rogers. My wife is Jenny Rogers. She was brought in. Hello, hello, HELLO!” He slammed the phone down on the table. “FUCK!” he shouted to anyone who might listen, closing his eyes in fury.

“My wife’s having a baby.” He was speaking to me now. “We live in London, she was rushed into St George’s hospital—it wasn’t due for another ten days, so I thought it would be okay to come down to Dover on business, but an hour ago I got the call that it was on its way, bloody well premature. And the land lines are down and the mobile signals fucked so I don’t know what the hell’s happening! God above, she could be dying by now, and I’m stuck down here!”

“Very rare to die in childbirth these days.” This was said by a silver-haired chubby old man who was sitting on his own in the corner.

“WHADDA YOU KNOW ABOUT IT, YOU OLD FART?” yelled Alan Rogers. “My Jenny’s scared stiff, it’s her first pregnancy, she’s very frail, she’s very delicate, and, fuck it, she needs me and I’m not bloody with her!”

I nodded sympathetically.

“You got kids?” he asked me.

“No. Is this your first?”

“My first with Jenny. I was married before, got a couple of girls, aged five and six.”

Alan looked nervously across at the older man he’d bawled at just now. There was an awkward pause.

“Look, I’m very sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that, I didn’t mean it okay?” Alan tried to sound sincere. “I don’t know what’s got into me.”

“Apology accepted.” The old man smiled. “I’m a friendly old fart. I don’t bear grudges.”

Sitting at another table was a woman, who appeared to be in her thirties. She had red hair, a chunky figure, and lively eyes above freckled cheeks. She looked up at me as I turned towards her.

“So what’s your story?” she asked. In her perfectly enunciated tones there was just a trace of a Scottish accent. “As you’ve just heard, our friend Alan is desperate to be in London to be with his wife. I’m an actress whose life depends on turning up for an audition in the morning, that I haven’t got a hope of making. And it’s the first part I’ve had a hope of getting for a year, and my damned car’s stuck down the hill. Because of this god-awful weather, that role I was hoping to get will go to some other desperate-for-work actress, and it looks like it’s going to be back to standing behind the burger-bar counter for little old me. And it’s not bloody fair!”

“Sorry. I suppose I’m the odd one out here,” I admitted as the landlord arrived and put a steaming bowl of lovely tomato soup with bread in front of me. “I haven’t got to be anywhere desperately urgently. I was just on my way home.”

“Well lucky you!” She stuck her tongue out jokily.

I turned towards the old man, not wanting to exclude him from the conversation. “Are you in a hurry to be somewhere else?” I asked him.

“I was.” He looked wistful for a few moments, then shook his head as he looked down at the table. “But it doesn’t really matter anymore.” He took another mouthful from the glass full of amber liquid. And walked to the bar to get another. His walk was swaying slightly, as if he’d had quite a few drinks already. Alan looked at him behind his back, raised his eyebrows at me, and lifted his hand with an imaginary glass to indicate that in his opinion the man had already had enough to drink. I pretended not to notice. Alan was getting on my nerves.

The pub didn’t have spare bedrooms, but in the exceptional circumstances, the landlord, John, was happy to do what he could, and we helped him move some tables out of the way and to bring down mattresses, blankets and pillows from upstairs. Without electricity there was no TV and no one had a battery radio, the phone lines were down and the nearest mobile signal mast was having problems, as Alan had discovered, and now appeared to have stopped working completely. So we were literally totally cut off from the outside world.

However a trip to the front door told me that the snow had stopped falling, and it felt as if the temperature had risen slightly. But I couldn’t imagine the snow melting enough tonight to move my car.

I was in one corner of the room and Alan was in the other. Lucinda, the red-haired actress who, now I’d seen her more closely, struck me as extremely attractive, had the adjacent room to herself. As the only woman amongst us, it seemed right that she should have a modicum of privacy. Elderly Harry told us he didn’t want to sleep, would rather sit up all night in his chair in the corner, and our long-suffering landlord left him a bottle of whisky to keep him amused.

An hour later, at around one in the morning, I found I just couldn’t sleep. I got up and tiptoed across to a room with an open door, where a single candle was flickering on the table, its glow reflected in the almost empty bottle of whisky, lighting up Harry’s face as if he was an evil old genie. It was a small kitchen that he’d found to sit in by himself.

I sat down at the table, opposite Harry. He was awake. Gloomy and drunk. A scowl was etched into his face as he leaned back in the chair.

“It was all planned so well,” he said.

“What was?”

“All planned to the last detail!” He hiccupped and leaned across the table so that he was inches from my face.

“I’ve worked for that shop for forty-five years. Hardly had a day’s sickness, done everything that was asked of me. And every Friday, regular as clockwork, I take the day’s takings to the local bank. We take a lot of money on a Friday, see, end of the week. This week they wanted me to take an extra lot from the other two shops as well. So it was all arranged. I drive down to Dover, meet this guy, he takes care of the car, gives me a pile of Euros in exchange for the English cash, arranges to smuggle me onto a boat to get me onto the French coast. Then a train journey across France. The bank account is already all set up in another name, I been adding bits to it over the years. Eileen, my wife, she’ll be okay, she’ll have the house, there’s no mortgage on it. See, I was planning to disappear from the face of the earth. In seven years Eileen could claim my life insurance, assume I was dead.”

I nodded.

“And by now, because of this snow, they’ll know the money hasn’t been paid in. Just a question of time before the coppers catch up with me.”

“Don’t you think you should hand yourself in?”

I turned to see Lucinda at the doorway. She’d heard what he’d said. She sat down between us at the table and covered old Harry’s hand with both of her own.

“I know what it’s like to be desperate for money,” she assured him. “Really, Harry, I do know. But that’s no excuse for doing what you did. As you said, it’s too late to get away with it now, and there’s nowhere to run. It would be so much better if you go to the police and just give yourself up. You could pretend you’d had a mental illness or something—that you weren’t responsible for your actions.”

He shook his head, staring ahead, not even meeting her eyes. “Wouldn’t work. I told you, that account’s been set up for years now. They’d know it was all planned.” He leaned back and sighed to himself miserably. “All I wanted was a decent pension settlement. But no, they said, we can’t afford it. ‘If you can’t make ends meet,’ they told me, ‘What’s wrong with coming back in part-time, that way you can make up the difference?’ That’s what they said to me, the little bastards! And I thought, why the hell should I? Don’t I deserve a decent pension when I’ve worked for that company for the whole of my sodding life?”

“’Course you do,” I said. “But Lucinda’s right. It would be better if you handed yourself in.”
Harry drifted off to sleep and I started talking to Lucinda. She told me all about her life, her loves, her troubles and hopes and dreams. She asked me about my work, too, and we talked and talked. She was adamant that Harry ought to hand himself in, and that right was right and wrong was wrong, in fact she got quite heated about it. We argued long into the early morning, me saying that I felt sorry for him, but with Lucinda insisting that she felt sorry for him too, but that in no circumstances should he have broken the law. That for his own good, and for the sake of common decency, Harry ought to go to the police.

She was obviously a woman of very high principles.

Soon we talked about other things, and I found myself drawn to her more and more. I really liked Lucinda, and from the way she stared into my eyes, it looked as if she liked me too. When we kissed and held each other tight, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I suddenly realised that if it hadn’t been for this storm I would never have met this fascinating woman, who just might have changed my life for the better. Of course it was early days, but the likelihood was that this relationship might lead somewhere.

Eventually, after another passionate embrace, Lucinda and I went back to our respective ‘beds’, in adjacent rooms, promising to meet up in the morning. As my head touched the pillow, I soon dropped off.

I woke up at around nine am the following day. The place looked different in the grizzled murky daylight, and I caught sight of Alan’s smiling face as he jabbered away on the phone. I gathered that his wife’s imminent labour of last night had been a false alarm, and she had returned home, and mother and unborn baby were safe and well.

“Come on, mate, chop-chop,” Alan said, now all cheeriness and full of bonhomie. “It’s warmed up a bit and there’s heavy rain, and it’s melting the snow like blazes. You’d better shift your car or it’ll be blocking the road. I’ve moved mine and I’m on my way. Good to meet you, Jack, all the best to you, mate.”

It was true. Crisis over. After I’d paid the landlord and moved my car, I went back to look for Lucinda and Harry, whom I hadn’t seen since morning, assuming they were in another part of the Barley Mow, or outside, attending to their own cars. I knew Lucinda would say goodbye to me before she left, as we’d agreed. But neither of them seemed to be anywhere around outside.
And when I went back to the Barley Mow, there was a police car parked outside.

As I walked into the bar I heard them talking to John, the landlord. They turned towards me.

“Good morning, sir, can you tell me if you saw this man here yesterday?” One of the policemen showed me a picture of Harry.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Did you talk to him?”

“We chatted for a bit.”

“And when was the last time you saw him?”

“Yesterday night, just before I went to bed. About, I don’t know, midnight I suppose.”

“Was anyone else here, apart from you and him?”

“There was a guy called Alan.”

“We’ve got his phone number and spoken to him already.”

“Well then.” Some instinct stopped me telling them about Lucinda.

“Thanks for your help, sir.” They turned away abruptly and from their talk on the radio I gathered that they’d found Harry’s car, which they’d been on the lookout for, but there was no sign of Harry. And, I guessed from their anxious expressions, they hadn’t found the missing money either.

It didn’t make sense. The chances that someone had picked him up and given him a lift in the middle of the night, when the snow had hardly melted, were practically zero. At his age he couldn’t have walked far, and there weren’t that many places to hide out.

And where was Lucinda? Was she still outside somewhere, having difficulty starting her car?

As I folded up the blanket I’d been sleeping on to give back to John, a note dropped onto the floor. It said: Sorry Jack, but I couldn’t let him spend it all on his own, could I? I read the note, on which Lucinda had drawn a downturned mouth face, like the opposite of the smiley ones you get on emails. Call me sometime XXX Mwah! You lovely man you! And there was a mobile number beside the smiley face she’d drawn.

As I got into the car I screwed it up and threw it away.

Download it free here  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jack-Lockwood-Diaries-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00T241Y96/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431513140&sr=1-1&keywords=Jack+Lockwood+Diaries

Sheer Fear

10 May

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My kindle book Sheer Fear is free until 13 May, so here’s the first chapter, hoping it tempts you to download the rest – free!

Chapter 1
FALLING OFF A CRANE

David Hart had about a minute left to live.

I foolishly thought I could save his life, otherwise I’d never have been standing on the rain-slippery metal pole of a crane, four hundred feet above the ground. Vertigo had kicked in. Everything was starting to spin, my vision was blurring and sounds whacked me like fat wet sponges. My senses were closing down one by one.

“David?” I yelled. “Listen! There’s a way out of this.”

“You reckon?” he spluttered.

I was still a few yards away from him. I held out my right hand: a peace offering. The other was gripping the steel pole beside me. Random smells hit me. My own sweat. Diesel fumes. An incongruous lavender perfume aroma. The sweet-sour tang of hard hot metal.

Nobody tells you that the structure of a metal crane bucks and quivers with the wind, it’s like you’re on board ship on a choppy sea. I’d just climbed up eight long ladders within the quivering metal structure, and my leg muscles were screaming. When I was halfway to heaven the endless silver struts gave way at last to the steel bars that pointed out into the sky, directly below the door to the operator’s cab. That big chunk of solid metal, with SHEFFIELD CRANES shouting out in coloured lettering, almost pulled me back to mundane reality. Those letters, and a smear of brown bubbling rust, were tantalisingly close above my head.

David Hart, the man with whom I shared a very special, secret bond, was just a few yards away from me. His eyes were red-raw from the hysterical weeping I’d just witnessed. All I remember from that day is random images: beads of rainwater on his pink bloody forehead. Single unshaven whisker on a dirty throat. A lonely unfastened trainer lace caught up in the breeze.

Drizzle hacked my face. The spinning sensation diminished. Gradually I could see and hear properly, aware mainly of a thumping heartbeat in my ears. Legs still trembling, I somehow managed to stand on the jib, the horizontal arm that was shaped into a knee-level cage, towards where David was balanced halfway along the finger in the sky.

The jib was made up of a triangle of three metal struts joined by latticework metal, the topmost one of the triangle the only surface to walk on. David was sitting astride this topmost strut, legs hugging the sides, outlined against the black angry clouds. Directly below him were the steel lines fixed to the giant jib-line hook on a pulley. It was attached to the straining wires around a rectangle of pure white concrete that was bigger than a car. I’d seen it weaving to and fro mesmerizingly close to my head above the streets of Canterbury as I was climbing up.
I thought about Mary Doyle. And of how it felt to hold her in my arms, and to feel the thump of her heartbeat against my own. And I thought about the tiny mole on her shoulder that I’d never see again if I died.

David was facing me, hysterical eyes alive with a burning desperation. His grip on the metal bar in front of him slackened as his hands began to tremble uncontrollably.

I dropped myself down, so that I too, was sitting astride the jib. And I pushed myself along so that I was closer to him.

I reached out.

“G-G-G-Get away from me, J-J-Jack!”

His stutter had made him the butt of jokes when we were in the same class at school, when we were both aged eight. I’d done my best to defend him then.

Some things never seem to change.

“Just come down, David. Please!”

A long way below I could see people were looking up, their bodies as tiny as dolls, their faces craned skywards. I could just about hear the cacophonous sound of a car’s blaring horn, deafening as I was climbing, but steadily decreasing the higher I got.

“Look, David, you locked Sian in the car. She doesn’t know what’s going on, and she’s terrified. What if she takes the handbrake off?”

“She’ll be all right.”

“You need to get down to your daughter. Think of her.”

“W-Why else do you think I grabbed her and made a r-run for it? It should have been okay. I just wanted to take her away somewhere, anywhere. Why the hell did you have to follow me, Jack? Why couldn’t you just mind your own business for once?”

“You wouldn’t have got far.”

“But it was my only chance! Janet wouldn’t let me take Sian—that’s why I hit her—I didn’t mean to hurt her, but she fell onto the fireplace. I –t-t-t-think I killed her. So I’ll go down for sure now. Sian will get taken into care.”

And all at once I was transported back to the school changing rooms, when David’s football boots had been snatched and were being tossed from one to another above his head, all the boys taunting him, laughing at him, as he was crying and pleading, reaching out in vain to get them back. The more he cried and screamed out, the more they laughed. Until I grabbed his boots from the biggest boy and smashed my fist into his face.

There was the faint honking noise of someone yelling on a tannoy, muffled irrelevant words scattered into the breeze. From up here the grand spires of Canterbury’s St Augustine’s Cathedral looked almost close enough to touch. The rest of the city of Canterbury was like a fine colourful tablecloth spread out far below us, though I was too absorbed in the hell of the moment to look. My Land Rover Discovery was slewed in front of David’s mangled Vauxhall, its front wing crumpled against my passenger door. What seemed like a lifetime ago I’d deliberately forced him to ram me. He’d leapt out of his car and climbed.

And I, like a fool, had followed him.

My legs were beginning to tremble even more, agonised muscles locking down tight. I felt myself losing my grip against the metal. Things were once again beginning to spin.

I was going to die.

But I had to move closer to him. Had to get within reach.

“Come on, David,” I shouted.

“Leave me alone, Jack! I’ve got no choice now. You know I’d never survive jail.”

The wind was whipping up, the gust smacking a blast of rain into my eyes. The slippery metal beneath my thighs was shivering again. Water ran down my face. I tried to keep my voice steady.

“You can’t do this.”

“Got no alternative. Not now.”

The wind picked up again, blowing away the words.

“There’s a way out of this—”

“—Just leave me alone, Jack! You ruined my chance of getting away.” I saw his grip loosen slightly on the metal bar. “Now—”

“—Come on, David. Come down now and let’s get it sorted.”

“I think I killed Janet. Didn’t mean to. But I had to get Sian away from her. Do you understand, Jack? Everything kind of went out of control.”

“Listen to me! I know you didn’t kill those women.”

“Then why are they going to arrest me for the murders?”

“Because they’re wrong! We have to fight them.”

“Fuck it, Jack, you’ve got no idea. This whole thing is bigger than anyone realises.”

“Tell me then.”

Things were spinning again now. The sky was falling down to meet me, the earth rising up. I felt myself slipping sideways.

“Does anyone know about us, Jack?” He glared at me earnestly.

“No. It’s our secret.”

“I never even told Janet,” David said.

“Our secret.”

I was moving closer and closer. Soon. Very soon.

“See, Jack, there’s so much you don’t know—things that no one’s gonna believe.”

“So tell me.”

“Guys like you and me, Jack, we don’t matter. These kind of people are way out of our league. You get in their way and they just tell someone to snuff you out.”

“What kind of people? Who are you talking about?”

“You’d never believe how high it goes. Had no idea there were men like that who’d want to…” He began to cry again, continuing between sobs: “Shit. The copper told me. They take what they want and just use people. They had to cover it up, see? If they hadn’t fitted me up it would’ve been someone else.” He broke down again, his voice barely a croak.

“Listen, David. If someone framed you, then tell me and I’ll help.”
I was about three feet away from him now, clinging onto the strut in front of me.

David Hart frowned through his tears. “Will you really help me, Jack? Will you really try to find someone who’ll listen to me?”

“Yes. I swear it. Okay?”

“You mean it?”

“I won’t lie. They are going to charge you with the murders. But we fight it. You tell me all you know. And I’ll fight for you. God knows, I always have, haven’t I?”

“But what if—?”

“—Forget what if, David, nothing else matters but you surviving so that you can look after your little girl. It’s Sian that matters. You’ve got to focus on Sian. She needs you. And Janet’s not as badly hurt as you think. She’ll be okay.”

“Yeah?” He looked down and swayed slightly. “You’re right. Sian does need me.”

“And I’m going to help you, David, I swear we’ll sort it out.”

“Just like you always have, Jack? You’ll help me again? Whatever sort of shit they throw at you?”
I nodded. “But first things first. I’ll shuffle backwards, you come towards me.”

Still clinging to the bar in front of me, I moved back. He came towards me. As he came closer I could see the expression in his eyes. The faint beginnings of relief, of hope, in their depths. He raised his hand, lifting it up towards me.

And then? Who knows?

He slipped, stumbled, couldn’t hold on any longer.

All in a flash, he slid sideways. Then tumbled over.

His hands were scrabbling frantically as he tried to hang onto the bar. One of them clung on. The other waved wildly, swinging around to try and get a handhold.

I shimmied above him, reached down and grabbed his waving hand with both of mine. Pulled as hard as I could, gripping the metal framework tightly between my knees.

His left hand couldn’t hold the slippery steel any longer. As he let go, his full weight jerked against me. I gripped as tightly as I could.

“Please!” He was yelling, tears running down his cheeks. “PLEASE! DON’T LET ME DIE. I WANT TO SEE MY BABY!”

And then I felt my body swivel sideways.

I was tumbling over the barrier. Falling with him.

Get the rest free by clicking:

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Do you believe in ghosts?

31 Oct

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Strange, but mention of the paranormal evokes strong feelings in lots of people. Some get unaccountably angry and vociferous, declaiming that ‘it’s all nonsense’ and anyone who believes in such phenomena are deluded dimwits or liars. The same people who have strong religious beliefs, which exist on the basis of faith alone, can still be furious at the prospect of any kind of psychic phenomena, and I wonder just where this anger comes from. Are they secretly afraid of something?

The question itself ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ always seems a bit simplistic and banal to me. No one but a fool would believe that every person’s alleged supernatural experience is genuine, but again, no one but a fool would condemn all of those who claims such things as dishonest or deluded. The question should really be: ‘Do you believe in the possibility of there being ghosts?’ I do. Very much so.

I have never seen a ‘ghost’ or had any paranormal experience, but I must admit the prospect of other dimensions to life beyond death I find absolutely fascinating. Because a great many rational, honest, intelligent people claim to have had genuine paranormal experiences so even if 99 per cent of them can be discounted as mistaken, or rational explanations can be found for them, what about the one per cent that cannot be explained away?

Obviously many ghostly tales are invented or are the product of an overactive imagination. In a house I once stayed one door kept opening on its own, and someone said this was a ‘mischievous spirit’, until I set a spirit (unintentional pun) level against it, finding that, as it was slightly askew, gravity would cause it to close on its own. There are scores of other reasons for unexplained phenomena in a house: shrinking woodwork, underground water, noisy rats and mice, ordinary sounds magnified by particular acoustics, and I daresay many other things. But what about the cases that are reported where all these possibilities are examined and excluded, so that there is no realistic explanation at all?

An old lady I knew was absolutely certain that at her husband’s funeral, when she was at her lowest ebb, she felt his hand on her shoulder, and she ‘knew’ he was there beside her. A friend reported that her mother appeared to her in a dream very shortly after she died, and she was aware of her presence somehow. After my mother’s funeral, at the gathering at the house, a photograph came off the mantelpiece, and fell to the floor – it was a photo of the granddaughter of one of the guests in the room. He said ‘That’s Margot’s spirit did that!’ Afterwards I was certain it must have been a draught or a gust of wind, yet when I put it back and blew from all directions, nothing moved the photograph. The next morning the record player stopped working for no apparent reason. Then started. The radio in my car did the same thing: stopped for a few moments then started again.

The talented painter, Tom Keating, in a radio interview, calmly referred to a castle in Scotland where held been employed to restore paintings, was haunted. He made no big deal about it, just referred to it in passing, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. This is the point. If phantoms or the spirits of dead people do exist they’re not something separate and phenomenal, they must be in the real world, unexciting, there all the time, part of normality. There are also a great many groups of individuals, teams who professionally investigate unexplained happenings. These aren’t fools, they are predominantly scientific people with scientific instruments, who want to record facts, and they presumably do so and publish their findings.

Most alleged sighting are non-provable things that scientists would scoff at. But there are other unexplained things I can think of. The dream I once had of a man telling me about a German pilot shooting a British pilot who had bailed out of his plane, and his anger at such a despicable act. And the very next day a man said exactly that same thing to me in those same words. When I was 19, and about to go out one evening, the fact that my mother (who I lived with at the time) had a horrible premonition that something would go wrong. The car chassis cracked and I barely made it out of the drive, and when I told her she was delighted and relieved as she ‘knew’ something unpleasant was going to happen and was just pleased it wasn’t a crash.

There was once a marvellous TV series on Channel 4 (in Britain) called ‘After Dark’, where experts in a particular field would gather together and have a live discussion. Once there was a gathering of spiritualists. And they were casually talking of people they could ‘see’ who had recently ‘passed over’ and describing what they looked to the others. This wasn’t rehearsed or scripted, you could tell, and they were unremarkable casual very ordinary people, not what you call imaginative in any way.

Again, recently on television, the likeable and eminently honest actor Joe Swash did a programme I believe in ghosts, where he travelled around Britain investigating reported phantoms. Predictably most of it was pretty unimpressive, despite his best efforts, with eccentric people waffling on about paranormal happenings, but Joe saw nothing untoward. However right at the end he spent the night in the underground passageways somewhere in Edinburgh, which were reputed to be haunted. He felt uncomfortable, and towards the end of the night he could stand it no more and left. Apparently nothing more than his inherent fear had overcome him. However, he had recording equipment with him, and a sound engineer magnified what had been recorded on it. There was conversation, in a language that couldn’t be deciphered, but it was beyond doubt human voices, even occasional words could be delineated. And the sound engineers carefully considered the possibility of sounds being bounced from some other location and this was completely discounted. So, again, it comes down to trust. Do you accept that Joe Swash, as a man of integrity, and his sound engineers, who have a professional reputation to think of, might have falsified this evidence? I don’t. It’s down to trust, and I trusted Joe Swash and his team to be honest and truthful. They could have falsified other evidence in the programme and they didn’t.

So I’d very much like to know about your experiences. Do you believe in ghosts?

Please tell me, and share your experiences. I would love to hear from you.

Brrrrrrrr!

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