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.
"Right you are, my little darling. I'm your man."
But the hotel was no longer an aspiring place for Alf. He'd stomached enough of upper-class lifestyle and wouldn't enjoy it in the long run. The idea of wealth without fighting for it, and loosing his freedom in exchange for 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 long 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. Till 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.
He waited until the early hours, and then he opened the window quietly and hopped out. His room was on the second floor, three metres up. Nimble as a cat, he landed safely on the soft grass. A quick check with his adapted third eye told him nobody was about.
A fresh morning chill had replaced the evening's balmy warmth, and Alf shivered. He found Madam Styles suite and stopped outside her window. Having made sure it was off the latch earlier and had no alarm, he now slid it open. Once in her rooms, he eased on a pair of thin white gloves and made for the vault.
He'd watched Madam Styles open it the night before, and although she'd kept the lock hidden from him, he'd easily seen the vault's combination and alarm codes with his improved third eye. He'd also seen a pile of gold bars stacked inside.
He stuffed his wad of banknotes back into his jacket's breast pocket, where it belonged. The gold bars were heavy and awkward, but he only needed four of them. Leaving everything tidy, he returned to the window, climbed out, and closed it behind him.
"Goodbye, my love. Hope you don't miss your Lord too much." He laughed silently and would have waved his bowler-hat if it hadn't been for the gold in his hands. He found his way back to the deserted barn in the woods where he'd spent the night before his adventure. There he changed into his old clothes and folded the suit into a bundle. It might come in handy again one day.
Then he snuggled down into the straw and gave a contented sigh. In the morning, he'd stroll to The Stables and have an early chat with Styles and his lawyer. And with these thoughts, he drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Five hours later, just as the sun cleared the rooftops and spread its warmth, Alf sat in Styles office at The Stables and waited for the fireworks to fly. He'd dressed in his comfortable white T-shirt and blue jeans, both clean. Apart from Styles and him, the lawyer, Vicar Bitter, and Chief Inspector Dobbs were present. All of them to serve as witnesses.
At ten-o'clock, Madam Styles and her two bodyguards arrived. She also had her own lawyer with her, a man with a hook nose and deep-set crater grey eyes. Her mood was top; she even gave her older brother a quick kiss on the cheek.
Then she saw Chief Inspector Dobbs and after a moment of studying him, a glimmer of recognition crossed her face. "Inspector Dobbs. How pleasant to see you again. No hard feelings, I hope. It's good to have the law here to monitor procedures."
"Chief Inspector Dobbs," he said, and gave her one of his piercing stares until she turned away.
"And a priest," she said. "My word, you are covering yourselves."
"I'm a vicar, and my name is Bitter."
"Pleased to meet you. I don't expect we'll see much of each other when I take control of this place. You might say it's going over the opposition."
Vicar Bitter crossed himself and gazed up into heaven.
"Ah, there you are," she said when she sighted Alf and blew him a kiss. "I fancied you'd be here, ready to launch your new life right from the start."
"I'm gambling on it," said Alf.
Madam Style's lawyer opened his briefcase and withdrew a sheaf of papers. He lowered his chin to look down his nose at all present. "Let's get down to business," he said. "We're here today to witness Madam Style's right to claim a fifty-one percent share of Ye Olde Inn. Shall we proceed?"
"By all means," said Mr Style's lawyer, a playful grin on his jowls. "But there is another clause you haven't mentioned."
"You mean Mr Style's right to buy Madam Style's share at market value?"
The lawyer leafed through his papers and found the survey papers. "Six million and eight-hundred thousand pounds. You agree?"
"And to pay off Madam Styles you need three million, four-hundred thousand pounds. Do you have such funds?"
"Oh, yes. Most certainly."
Madam Styles's face dropped. "What?" she screeched. "How?"
The lawyer leaned back in his chair and looked Madam Styles straight in the eye. "Mr Styles has secured funds from influential friends."
"I'm not prepared to disclose such information. None present, apart from Mr Styles and I, know the benefactor's identity." He swung his gaze back to her lawyer and aped the same haughty tone. "Shall we proceed?"
All lawyers are born liars, thought Alf. He'd told all of them the full story of his adventure. Chief Inspector Dobbs had refused to listen but had sat through the entire tale fighting not to smile. Vicar Bitter had kept a straight face and prayed to God for forgiveness. But they were all excellent poker players and revealed nothing to Madam Styles and her lawyer.
Madam Styles breathed fire, and Alf feared the top of her head might blow off.
In this post: Gamblers who cheat seldom lose …
“How will you transfer these funds?” asked Madam Styles’s lawyer in a last-ditch attempt to save the calamity. “We require payment right now.”
Mr Styles opened a briefcase by his feet and lifted four gold bars onto the table. “These will cover all costs easily.”
At the sight of the gold, Madam Style’s face brightened again. Little did she suspect it was her own bullion.
“Indeed, it will.” Madam Styles’s lawyer rubbed his hands and jotted down the bar’s serial numbers. He rummaged in his briefcase, found a small, chunky horseshoe magnet, and held it to the bar. It didn’t stick. “Just a precaution.”
“Now let’s sign the papers and finish this scandal,” said Styles. He sat back, folded his arms across his chest, and clenched his jaw.
With the papers signed, Alf winked at Madam Styles. “Gamblers who cheat seldom lose.”
She flayed him with her gaze and stalked away in a huff.
Alf laughed aloud. He would love to see her face when she opened her safe and learned the truth. Making a fuss would mean exposing her own illicit business, and she would never do that. As for his own destiny, he’d stashed his winnings aside in his cosy Gate House Cottage and had absorbed enough excitement to keep him content for the near future.
The real world:
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Like to know more about Alf, Bert and the rest of the gang? You can read their chaotic history in What on Earth.
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A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To save the jobs of those in the Japanese government who helped him escape, Masaji Ishikawa wrote: “…obviously I wasn’t going to start talking to the press.” Instead, he wrote this mammoth best-selling book? Sorry, but I don’t believe this man’s autobiography can be true. If it is, then he is likely responsible for the sacking of those government officials who helped his return to Japan, and worse, expose his family to torture or execution in North Korea.
It may well be that he moved to North Korea in 1960, aged thirteen, where he lived until his escape in 1996. However, I rather believe his memoir is an over dramatised collection of exaggerated incidents he picked up from others. In which case, good for him.
I hope this is the case; otherwise, he puts himself in a poor light. From his book, he already comes across as egoistic, beating up anyone who upsets him and often leaving his family to starve while he runs off to find work to feed himself.
North Korea is undoubtedly not an agreeable place to live, but propaganda and false news flourish. The story in this book is captivating and mind-bogglingly tragic, hence four stars. I just don’t accept Mr Ishikawa’s life was as awful, or maybe I don’t want to believe, as he relates.
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