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.
Alf kept his composure and handed the wad of money 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 side 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.
Alf didn't understand the hilarity but knew it spelled trouble. It was time to retire, even though he was in such a rosy mood that he could have kept going all night. He wobbled slightly as he stepped toward her. The alcohol and the kissing had left him dizzy. He leaned in for a last goodnight kiss and a hefty hug, but she still laughed so hard that he couldn't get near her.
"But, love of my life, how can you laugh at a time like this? Pray tell me what has amused you, so that we may both share the joke."
She bounced on her toes and brayed like a donkey. He'd met many strange women in his time, but this one took the icing. She must be totally cracked; and as ugly as she was too. Good God. But she had money, and that was a beautiful feature with a woman. It corrected many flaws.
At last Madam Styles caught her breath and straightened up. "Alf, what a delightful fool you are," she gasped and slapped her hands to her cheeks.
A lead weight dropped in Alf's stomach. She'd called him by his proper name. His game was up. His luck had run out.
"I've known your true identity since the moment I set eyes on you. You are not a Lord, but a pauper named Alf, a security guard on the Cloud Estate, and England's bare-knuckle champion. I lost a fortune on one of your fights."
Alf jerked his head back as if she'd punched him on the nose. Madam Styles proved more cunning and dangerous than he'd given her credit for. He dropped his posh accent. "Blimey, who did you bet on?"
"A friend of mine named Pest said he had a certain winner called Crusher."
Crusher! Alf remembered that battle all right. He'd almost lost, not only the fight but his life too. If his best mate, Bert, hadn't set his two Alsatians to drag Crusher off him, Crusher would have ripped his head off.
Crusher now worked with him on the Cloud Estate, and they'd become friends and allies. Nobody knew that little secret, except his partner, Bert, and the Cloud brothers. His bosses, the Cloud brothers, had been strict about never letting Crusher leave the estate. "Did you know Crusher is a robot?" She did or she didn't, would believe him or not, either way, he needed to know.
"Yes. That's why he was a certain winner."
"But that's cheating."
She shrugged. "Gamblers who cheat seldom lose."
"You did that time..."
"Why are you here?" Her voice turned sharp, all trace of drunkenness and merriment vanished. "My brother sent you, didn't he?"
Alf placed a hand against his breastbone. "No, I swear he didn't. He told me about you and your plans for taking control of Ye Olde Inn, but I came here to play poker and win some money. Nothing else."
"Hmm." She drew back slightly and stared at Alf for an over-long moment. "Yes, you're in your element here, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I'm a crook at heart. A straight life is boring."
"And now you want to marry me and share my wealth?"
Alf wasn't sure how he should answer. She had sussed his plan but didn't seem upset. He held his tongue, but tilted his head from side to side, weighing his choices.
"I like you," she said and slid her hands over his muscular arms. "Why waste your life in that boring, underpaid job you now have? Marry me and you can share in all I have."
Alf still had a problem to answer. He bit his lip. "Well—"
"Of course, you don't have to marry me, but then you'll be leaving here in a coffin. You know too much of my affairs."
Her threat brought Alf to his senses and he knew then what he should do. The tension dropped from him. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and then placed a hand on his heart. "My love. Is it true? Do you honestly want us to wed, even now you know who I really am?"
Madam Styles moved closer. Her eyes shone, glossed over, and softened. "Oh yes, Alf. You and I will make a great team. Tomorrow at noon I take control of Ye Olde Inn at The Stables, and I'll need a good man to manage it. Someone I can trust. That man could be you."
In this post: Alf escapes…
"Right you are my little darling. I'm your man."
But the hotel was no longer an aspiring place. He'd stomached enough of upper-class lifestyle and wouldn't enjoy it in the long run. His days would be even duller. The trappings of wealth without fighting for it and a nagging wife filled him with dread: especially if he had to live with a woman like the marriage sick widow. Heaven forbid he ended as deceased husband number five. Dear oh dear.
He drifted to the window, peered out at the moon and stars, and then turned to face Madam Styles. She was checking her dress and fussing with her hair in a mirror. Alf opened his mouth and made a loud show of yawning. "Excuse me," he mumbled, rubbing his face and eyes. "Let's get some kip, both of us. We've got a big day tomorrow."
"Are we agreed, then? You and I, partners?"
"Partners and lovers. To death do us part."
Madam Styles drew a few deep breaths, savouring the moment, and then smoothed the front of Alf's jacket. "Goodnight. Sleep well." She closed her eyes and puckered her thin lips.
Alf tweaked her cheek, gave her a final peck, and escaped to his own suite.
To be continued…
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