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.
The other guests at Hotel California gazed at Alf and smirked, but he 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 a sprightly folk melody. Alf picked up the lusty rhythm and never missed a beat.
Down onto a handstand he dropped and continued dancing on his hands, feet bobbing in the air. After a moment he flipped over in a somersault, followed by another, and another, and then flipped backwards again until he was back to where he started.
Press-ups came next, twenty on both hands, then twenty on each arm, one at a time. He started another round of the dance floor: cart-wheeling, fast knee-bending, high jumps, and heel slapping. For a finale, he 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 applauded and 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 felt I needed 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 and gave her a thorough hug. She was his now, to do whatever he wanted with.
Madam Styles sighed delightedly but drew away from Alf. She straightened her rumpled dress and gazed around the room. The music had stopped and all eyes were on them. Spots of colour invaded her cheeks. With a forced laugh, she clapped her hands and raised her voice. "Carry on everyone. The show is over."
Alf realised the hugging had come to an end, but determined to follow up his success. He whispered in her ear, "Can I offer madam a drink up in my apartment?"
"I say with many thanks," she answered bashfully. "A drink sounds delightful. But I insist you come to my suite."
Without protest, Alf took her elbow and guided her out. To go to her suite was exactly what he wanted.
Arm in arm they wandered past the reception desk, up a shallow flight of steps, and toward her rooms. As they strolled, Alf winked at a chambermaid standing there. "Be so kind as to hang a Do Not Disturb sign on Madam Styles's door."
The chambermaid curtsied, and the couple continued on their way.
"I'm not sure this is exactly decent," said Madam Styles. Her tongue darted out to lick her thin lips.
"We are both consenting adults," said Alf. "You inspire a love in me I never thought possible." He swallowed softly. "As hard as I try, mere words aren't enough to tell you how I feel about you."
Madam Styles hee-hawed.
"Everything is decent for the pure of heart," continued Alf as he whisked her through the door. Without delay, he lifted her into his arms and dropped into a well-stuffed armchair with her in his lap. She held up a hand, making a weak display of warding him off. At the same time, she laughed seductively.
"You are a bit of a wild man, my Lord," she said and carried on sitting there.
Bring us coffee and cognac, Charlotte," she called over her shoulder, "and then you can take the rest of the day off."
A maid floated into view, carrying a large tray that she placed on a sideboard. She poured two cups of steaming black coffee from a percolator, filled two bulbous glasses with generous servings of golden cognac, served them, and hurried out.
Then the party really started. "To us," said Alf, clinking his glass against Madam Styles's. She took a deep swallow as if it were water, but Alf barely sipped his. After refilling her glass twice, Alf sat her in the chair and sank to his knees before her. "My darling. Will you make a Lord happy and marry me?"
She closed her eyes and covered her mouth, then flung her cognac glass over her shoulder and reached her arms out to him. "At my age, I don't need any thinking time. I accept. Come, let us seal our engagement with a kiss."
Alf lifted her in his arms and planted his lips on hers. On a scale of ten, he gave her a four for effort.
"Oh, you are so wonderfully young and virile," she lisped. "I feel as though I'm in the seventh heaven."
"Yes, youth comes with the years," answered Alf and stole another kiss. "But we mustn't wait too long before we marry."
"No, the sooner the better," said the widow happily. "That I have hooked a Lord is nothing less than a miracle."
So far, so good, reflected Alf. But now it was time to strike while the iron was warm and carry his little scheme to the next level. He sat her down again and tapped on his breast pocket. "I won at poker and my wallet is stuffed with notes. I'll deposit the cash at my bank in a few days, but I need to keep it secure until then. Do you have a safe?"
The widow fended him off with her hand. "Don't worry yourself with such petty things, my friend," she chirped. "Yes, I have a vault. You can leave your cash with me for as long as you wish."
Idly, he opened his wallet and handed over the bundle of notes. Still he hadn't counted them, but the wad was so fat that he felt faint. He was taking a risk, but the odds were all on his side. Soon, he'd have more money than it was even possible to count.
In this post: Madam Styles cooed like a dove…
But he kept his composure and handed them over. "Thank you. You are sweet. And I shall ask for them back after a couple of days."
The widow hardly glanced at the bundle. She clambered to her feet and caressed him on the cheek as she passed. "Stay here. I'll only be a moment."
"My heart will stop beating until you return. Be quick."
Madam Styles hurried through a door and locked it behind her. Alf closed his eyes, concentrated, and followed her movements through the wall with his adapted third eye. He watched her swing a painting away from the wall behind a desk, silence an alarm that peeped, dial the combination lock on a vault door, and use both hands to pull it open. She tossed his bundle of notes inside and put everything straight in the reverse order.
"My pleasure to be of service," she said on her return, and then crept under his arm and cooed like a dove. "Think that life should come to us again."
"Yes, think that we have found luck." Alf had relied on his good luck all day. He didn't want to press it much further. There was another round of tender hugs and kisses, and time dwindled away. Eventually, Alf rose and yawned. "I'm tired after today's events, but we shall meet again in the morning, my love."
"Yes, tomorrow and every day forever after," she purred. And then she exploded in laughter.
To be continued…
The real world:
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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