If you like a good chuckle, dim-witted heroes, and larger-than-life villains, then you'll love this fascinating series. On Wednesdays and Sundays, I’m blogging nibble-sized chunks of new ‘Life in the Clouds’ stories. You can check in regularly and read them for free, or wait to buy the entire story when published.
#3: Gamblers who Cheat ® James Field.
With time to take life easy, Alf lolled on the grass almost until evening. His belly was good and full, insects buzzed lazily, and the day's sunny warmth showed no sign of fading. He cast a happy smile to the world: a free and frank man like him enjoyed this way of living better than many would think.
Of his two choices, gambling at The Hotel California excited him most, especially now he had the means to fake his eligibility. The poker tables waited for him, and his enhanced third eye would ensure he won every hand.
When the evening grew darker, he examined the stolen clothes. Apart from the suit itself, he found a sporty bowler-hat and shoes polished to a mirror shine. There was even an extendable silver-handled walking stick. An outfit intended for a wedding, but which would suit his purpose well.
Talk about luck. For once in his life, folk would take him as a gentleman, and not a day too early. Dressing like a lord had been a dream of his for years, but there'd never been the occasion.
Of course, his cockney accent would give him away, but then again, not all toffs spoke like the royal family. Posture and bearing were more important, and the confidence to pose as an eccentric millionaire. He'd need to concoct a believable background history too, but he had all night, and by the morning he'd be ready.
One thing was clear; if he were to feign his way into The Hotel California, and have them accept him as an eccentric millionaire, then he would need luck on his side. In his experience, luck was with you, or against you, and the difference either made you or broke you. Some people relied on their horoscope to tell their future, others on signs like finding a four-leaf clover, but Alf preferred to go by the trend.
As a test of his luck, he sneaked back to the main road where he'd abandoned the stolen scooter on the grass verge. There was little traffic this late in the evening and it rushed past smoothly. Sure enough, the scooter had vanished, relieving him of the original theft.
With his tummy full, providence on his side, and somebody else to take the blame for stealing the scooter, Alf strutted back to his den. Now, if his good fortune held, he didn't doubt he'd soon make a killing at the hotel's poker tables, and his heart raced with anticipation.
But as the sun dipped below the treetops and darkness fell, he set off to wander again. Somewhere or another he needed to find a roof over his head for the night. If worse came to the worse, he'd break into a barn someplace and sleep in the hay: one final night of blissful serenity.
Soon, far from people, he came across a small cattle shed that suited his needs. It sagged crookedly, abandoned and neglected. The door stuck ajar on broken hinges, and as he dragged it wide enough to squeeze in, three mice scurried out. It smelled dank, and the roof loomed open to the stars. But genially it offered a safe and regal haven to spend the night without fear of discovery.
He hung his new set of clothes over a beam in the roof and settled on a mound of old but dry straw in one corner. He couldn't have wished for a more comfortable bed. He folded his hands over his chest and sighed blissfully. If his luck held, he wouldn't regret taking time off from work.
A full moon smiled at him through the hole in the roof, and birds flitted across its face. Or were they bats? Alf couldn't tell. Either way, the effect was enchanting, spoiled only by his skin that had begun to itch.
To take his mind from the irritating sensation of something crawling over his skin, he envisioned his future situation. This close to London, no township was far away, and the closest of them embraced the Hotel California. Tonight he would share his bed of rough straw with rodents and creeping bugs. Tomorrow night he would sleep in a king-size bed, and who knows what delights he might share it with.
In this post: Alf bathes in lavender...
When he woke the next morning, he realised he needed a thorough wash. If he was to act the gentleman, he couldn't walk around stinking like a tramp. Luckily, a meagre stream trickled past the hut, but with barely enough water to sop his face and armpits.
On the other side of the stream, flanking a field of yellow rape, lavender plants and colourful tulips grew wild in a tangle of blackberry thorns. Alf remembered his parents telling him that before the war, farmers cultivated commercial flowers in their fields. These scraggy examples were all that remained.
Praising his luck, Alf stripped off and rubbed handfuls of lavender leaves over every inch of his body. The feminine scent didn't match his macho physic, but it covered his stench of decay. Soon, in his hotel room, he'd take a proper bath with soap, shampoo, and a good drenching of Old Spice aftershave.
Twenty minutes later, Alf stared at himself in a cracked and tarnished mirror that hung on a wall. Silk socks, heavy and gleaming, snugly encased his ankles, and the reflection in his shoes almost outdid the mirror. That the trousers were a wee bit short mattered little. If he should dance, by chance, trousers shouldn't be too long.
The plaited whiteness of the shirt enthralled him; the soft material gave freely, comfortably, as he breathed. Its collar strangled him though, and he had to retie the knot in his cravat seven times before he got it right.
The waistcoat stretched tight across the chest and flapped loosely around his waist, but not a poor fit. And the coat accentuated his already broad shoulders, offsetting the trouser's lack of length. He carried the suit in a fashion unusually straight as he studied his reflection. "Lord Alf," he muttered. "Welcome to the world."
Cheerfully, he donned his bowler, swung his cane, and strolled off across the countryside. All he desired now was a substantial breakfast, but his motto had always been not to worry about the future. And that was looking rosy.
To be continued…
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