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.
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 to loosen a bunch of words that 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." Chief Inspector Dobbs' voice was flat, and his smile was false.
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 to guard thier estate at present. They were home on one of their rare visits, and with all their out-of-this-world equipment to safeguard the property, 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."
"That would have been Sibyl," said Styles, crossing himself. "She's a witch." He swallowed. "A real one." His eyes swiveled to meet Alf's, an apologetic expression on his face. "It's not easy for any of us to visit the Cloud Mansion. 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, his threadbare 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, after the sun had set, he'd recline under the stars, dream his dreams, and let the world and time drift along without him.
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 during the next few was nobody's business but his own.
With a frail salute and a vague wink, the lawyer slumped into his car and drove off. From his open window he called, "See you in three days."
Standing alone now on Ye Olde Inn's car park, Alf put the lawyer from his mind, glanced about, and noticed a small moped scooter parked next to a bicycle satnd. It had small balloon tires, orange and silver trimmings, and a large luggage box in the same style behind the seat.
He strolled across to inspect it closer and considered loaning 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.
In this post: Like a friendly Pug, Alf turns on the charm…
The scooter wielded even less power than Alf expected, and he kept the throttle opened at full. He'd ridden many a motorcycle, his own was a massive Harley, but none of them were as puny and light as this. But what did it matter? he consoled himself. You never know how life will turn when you have no expectations.
The dirt track road that led out of The Stables was riddled with potholes, forcing him to drive slalom. A cloud of dust followed, and a young couple holding hands almost fell into the ditch as he swerved past. "Yahoo!" shouted Alf, both legs and his free arm raised as high as he could get them.
Driving along the highway proved much less fun. This time, it was he who almost fell into the ditch as lorries squeezed past to overtake. At the first opportunity, he veered into a single-lane side road, which wormed its way to a cluster of distant farmsteads.
As soon as he turned into the lane, throttle still wide open, he recognised the slim outline of a young lady ambling beside the curb, hips swaying like a pendulum. She carried a handbag over her shoulder and a plastic carrier bag in one hand. If Alf guessed right, he reckoned a bus had dropped her off on the main road and she was walking home.
One minute later, he swished past her, skidded to a halt, stopped the little machine, and bowed his head. "Hello there," he said, presenting his friendliest Pug smile. "My name is Alf. Can I give you a lift?"
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).
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James at Goodreads