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.
All women are alike, thought Alf and laughed to himself. But the old hag was disgustingly rich, and would soon own a majority share in Ye Olde Inn at The Stables. Without a doubt, it would be wise to pursue the relationship. When they'd finished eating, he offered her his arm and guided her elegantly out of the dining salon. He knew how a cavalier should behave.
"For now," said Alf, "we must part ways. I'm now going to enjoy a few rounds of poker, but I hope we can meet for the dance this evening?" He bowed.
"Thank you," she answered tenderly. "I hope so too."
Alf bowed again. Her two bodyguards stood side-by-side at Alf's shoulder, with scowls on their faces that didn't inspire enthusiasm. A thought crossed his mind: were they off to play poker, or had they seen through his guise and planned to work him over? Either way, Alf looked forward to the sport and flashed them a wide grin. "Let's go, boys."
Madam Styles lifted her hand and stroked his cheek. "Don't forget we have a date. Save some energy for me."
"Have no fear," said Alf, and kissed her fingers. He turned away and, bouncing from foot to foot, followed the goons towards the illegal casino in the basement. His plan was blossoming better than he had hoped. Before the night was over, Madam Styles and he would be engaged to marry.
The casino was larger than Alf had expected. It covered the entire basement. Colourful lights glittered and flashed, a thick carpet deadened sound, and a choking smell of cigars polluted the stale air. No non-smoking rules here. A horseshoe-shaped bar built from glistening glass and chrome dominated a centre position, its barman wore a crisp white shirt and black bow tie. He polished glasses with a tea-towel, and smiled with friendliness at Alf.
Alf recognised one or two of the oldies he'd seen in the dining salon, sitting now at slot machines, but otherwise the local was almost deserted. A roulette table stood unattended. Two middle-aged men slouched at the bar; whisky glasses in hands and chortling with stiff-upper lips. Another two played snooker at the other end of the room. What a marvellous place, thought Alf, but he wondered where he would find partners to play poker.
The two bodyguards conducted him to a round table covered in green-felt, with six chairs spaced equally around it. "Pick a seat," said the one he'd paralysed. Alf sat and the two bodyguards removed three of the chairs and dropped into the remaining two. Alf's eyebrows rose in question.
"That's right," said the bodyguard. "You're going to play poker with us. How many chips do you want to buy? The green are a hundred pounds each, the yellow a thousand pounds, and the red ten thousand."
Alf swallowed, if he were lucky, he might have one hundred pounds in his bank account. "Do you extend credit?"
Both bodyguards narrowed their eyes.
"My wallet went astray at the airport. Some honest person found it and handed it into security. I should have it back later today or early tomorrow. I'm lost without my cards."
"You should phone the bank and tell them," said the bodyguard. "Get them to send you new ones."
"Yes, that's precisely what I did. Could be a day or two before I have them."
The bodyguard sniffed. "We've got a credit limit of twenty thousand pounds."
"Excellent. All I require is one thousand pounds."
"Is that all?"
Alf smiled. "It's all I need. I never lose. Not at cards, not in a fight, and not in love."
"We'll see," said the bodyguard. "One thing at a time, eh? First, you lose at poker because me and me partner are the best there is. Then, if you don't clear your credit, we'll pulverise you. And when we're finished with you, you won't have any equipment left for love."
They dealt cards from a new pack. Play opened. Alf had to admit they played well, and it was obvious they used a secret code to cheat. But with his modified third eye he could see their cards and it wasn't long before the chips piled up beside him. The bodyguards, faces as expressionless as planks of wood while they played, smacked their foreheads and ordered a stop.
Alf laughed to himself. He never counted his chips until the game was finished, but he knew he'd never won anything like this much money before. Luck still smiled on him. He called to mind the frustrated old hen he would dance with later that evening. She reigned over more money than he could dream of, and the encounter promised to be an interesting fraternisation.
With his winnings converted into hard cash, Alf stuffed the notes into an inside pocket in his jacket, patted the bulge, and strolled up to the dining room. They had removed most tables and the maestro now conducted his orchestra with gusto. Couples filled the dance floor, the youngest full of energy, the eldest hardly moving and stumbling over their own feet. A few of the couples comprised of elderly women dancing together, their husbands long deceased.
Madam Styles sat at a table in a corner, smiling at him. He strutted across to her and bowed gallantly. "Shall we try this dance, Madam?"
"With pleasure, my Lord," she lisped and rose to her feet. She stunk like a perfume shop, her diamond rings glittered, and her low-cut gown hung on her like a listless windsock.
Alf pressed her knobbly skeleton into him and waltzed her out onto the dance floor. To her credit, the old hen displayed talent and followed Alf's inexperienced style with ease. "Isn't it wonderful to swing a little," he said and squeezed her.
"Heavenly," she said and looked up at him with shiny eyes. "I take it from the bulge in your jacket that you had success at the poker table?"
"Yes, Madam, but my greatest success is having you in my arms."
She laid her head on his broad chest and gave his hand a delicate pinch. He'd made instant contact.
In this post: Alf does the moonwalk…
The other guests gazed and smiled, but Alf couldn't care less. Here he'd show them a Lord the likes of which they'd never seen. He spun Madam Styles in a jive swing, first one way and then the other. When she began to pant and sway dizzily, he dropped her hands and scooted backwards across the dance floor in a perfect Michael Jackson moonwalk.
He received a mixed reaction. Some clapped, others stuck their noses into the air and turned their backs. But he ignored them all and carried on. He spread his arms and twirled around the dance floor, knees bending, slapping his heels as they kicked up behind him. Every so often he leapt high and landed in a crouch, only to spring up again like a Jack-in-the-box. The orchestra came alive and switched to playing lively folk music, and Alf never missed a beat.
Down on his hands he dropped and continued dancing with his feet in the air. After a moment he flipped a somersault, followed by another, and another, and then flipping backwards again until he was back to where he started.
Press-ups came next, twenty with both hands, then twenty with one arm at a time. He took another round of whirling, fast knee-bending, high jumps, and heel slapping, did a headstand, lifted his arms and spun on his bald head. Faster and faster he spun, arms folded now, legs spread like the blades of a helicopter.
Back on his feet, he stooped in a deep bow. The guests laughed out loud, but Madam Styles seemed a little troubled. "You're such a teaser, my Lord."
"Yes, I've been away from England's green and pleasant lands for so long that I feel I need a release."
"You are like a breath of fresh air," she said and wrapped her arms around his waist. "You're not even breathing hard."
"I have energy enough for the both of us, my darling." He reached around her thin waist gave her a thorough hug. She was his now, to do whatever he wanted with her.
To be continued…
The real world:
Rather than miss an instalment, it’s easy to follow my blog on bloglovin’. They’ll give you a friendly nudge as I release new parts.
Like to know more about Alf, Bert and the rest of the gang? You can read their chaotic history in What on Earth.
It's easy to follow James's blog on: Follow
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At long last I got around to reading about Ove, pronounced Oover. Brilliant story: amusing, heartbreaking, and so true to life. My main problem with the book is that I think they modelled Ove on me! When my wife read it, I heard repeatedly, "That's just like you."
Minus half a star for shoddy translation in places (from Swedish).
View all my reviews
James at Goodreads