Dear friends, 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.
"Why should I want to help you lot?" asked Alf.
"Would you like to see this wonderful Inn turned into a desolate den of corruption?" asked Vicar Bitter.
"Yes," said Alf, a little too quickly, then tilted his head from side to side, weighing choices. "No, not really," he admitted. Like the Hotel California, The Stables was also a classy joint, visited by the rich-middle and upper classes, and Ye Olde Inn was the social hub of its province. Unlike his own common-as-muck background, both management and clientele were mostly from an excellent breed of people, decent and honest. Here, all accepted him as a friend and an equal, a pleasure he'd never encountered in his previous criminal life.
Apart from that, the young Cloud Masters had banned him from staging his bare-knuckle fights on their estate. He was England's champion, so he had to have somewhere to pitch battle, and Styles had allowed him to use one of his barns. Vicar Bitter and Chief Inspector Dobbs didn't approve, but they both turned blind eyes. In secret, he suspected the vicar had even won a few bob on the side.
"Have you asked the young Cloud Masters for a loan?" asked Alf. He had no way of knowing, but suspected his employers were the wealthiest people in Britain.
"Yes," said Styles, "but they aren't interested."
The news didn't surprise Alf. The Cloud brothers lived in a secluded and unearthly world on their estate. As long as nobody interfered with them, they didn't much mind what happened on the outside. No, legal means wouldn't solve Styles' problem.
Alf wriggled his fingers and flexed the muscles in his broad shoulders. The time had come to apply his gumption. The Hotel California called to him, and he didn't have the will to resist. "I'm taking a few days off work," he said.
"I forbid you to go to the Hotel California," said Chief Inspector Dobbs.
"Really," protested Vicar Bitter, cheeks sucked in. "England is a free country. How can you prevent him?"
"I can't," admitted Chief Inspector Dobbs. "It's just that…" He scratched at his neck as if a bunch of words had stuck in his throat. "It's just that I wouldn't like to see him get in trouble."
Alf raised his eyebrows at him in disbelief. "You care about me?"
"I care about upholding the law."
A burst of dismissive laughter bubbled from Alf. "I need a holiday. That’s all." He swung to leave and then stopped. "I haven't let anyone else know, not even my bosses. Can one of you get a message to the Cloud Brothers and tell them I'll be away for a few days?"
The brothers wouldn't need him at the present. They were home on one of their rare visits. With all their out-of-this-world equipment to guard the estate, intrusion was impossible. And anyway, his good old mate Bert would cover for him. He set his jaw and a sour expression crossed his face; if the young masters didn't approve of him taking a few days off, then he'd quit.
"Don't look at me," said Vicar Bitter. "The last time I went over there, an evil-looking woman brandishing a mace chased me off."
"It's not easy for any of us to visit them," said Styles. "Can't you phone them?"
Alf didn't have his smartphone with him. And anyway, he couldn't be bothered. If he were told to stay on at work, he'd go barmy. All he wanted was to clear off without a fuss. "When you see Bert, tell him I'll be back in two or three days." And with that, he strolled out of the inn with nothing but the white T-shirt on his back, a threadbare pair of blue denims, a pair of worn army boots, and a look of elation in his eyes.
Moments later, he paused on Ye Olde Inn's doorstep and drew a deep breath of fresh air. Now that he'd taken the plunge to start his roaming, he felt much easier at heart and whistled along with the birds. It was a beautiful spring day, with summer right around the corner. What more could a poor soul wish? No responsibilities for a while; life was for living in the now.
He carried no food. There was no need to fret about such minor details; he'd find something along the way. He had no need of money either, or his smartphone, or a knapsack filled with useless junk. Leaving with nothing but the fluff in his pockets gave him a vast feeling of freedom—just like in his younger days.
Yet, he couldn't fool himself. He wasn't as free as he liked to think. His friends' world was under assault from an evil foe and on the verge of collapse. From this instant, he was on a quest: to find entrance into the darkest depths of the Hotel California in search of a golden nugget. On his journey, he'd do battle with fierce bouncers and vanquish Styles' wicked witch of a sister.
He chuckled to himself and eased the fantasy from his mind. Later, he'd recline under the stars, dream his dreams, and let the world and time drift along without him.
In this post: Alf borrows a moped…
The lawyer had followed him out. As he squeezed past, he patted Alf on his back, stared up into his eyes, and said, "These are good people. Don't cause them more problems than they already have."
Alf stared back but didn't commit himself. Whatever he did now was nobody's business but his own.
With a frail salute and a vague wink, the lawyer slumped into his car and drove off.
Standing alone now on Ye Olde Inn's car park, Alf noticed a small moped scooter with orange and silver trimmings. It had small balloon tires and a large luggage box in the same style behind the seat. The moped was nothing like his own Harley monster, and he couldn't understand why anyone would want to drive such a feeble machine. A bike like that couldn't even keep up with the traffic along the highway.
He strolled across to inspect it closer and wondered if he could loan it for a while. It was neither a sin nor a shame when the owner was most likely the fake Hell's Angel he'd met at the bar just now.
Alf swung a leg over the softly padded saddle and noticed the keys remained in the ignition. A jab on the start button brought it to life and the exhaust popped like an idle chainsaw.
There were no gears, so Alf gave it full throttle and helped it on its way by pushing off with his long legs that dangled on each side. Not caring what others thought, he whooped, did a lap of the car park, and zipped off toward the main road and freedom.
To be continued…
The real world:
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Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A curious book this, about an Englishman searching for his lost infant son in France just after WW2. Laski wrote this book just after the war too, and it shows its age, stuffed with adverbs, adjectives, and telling rather than showing.
It's a heartbreaking story, well worth a read for its stunning portrayal of war-torn France, but the hero, because of his weak morals, is a tough person to cheer for. Also, the plot is obvious and falls flat on its face at the end.
View all my reviews
James at Goodreads