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 lifted Madam Styles in his arms and planted his lips on hers. On a scale of ten, he gave her four for raspberry flavoured lipstick.
"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, trusting this sly woman, but the odds were all on his side. Soon, he'd have more money than it was possible even to count.
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 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?"
"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.
In this post: Madam Styles offers Alf the job of manager…
"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?"
"Yes, 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 job you now have? Marry me and all this can be yours. Besides, you know too much of my affairs, but I'm sure you'll keep your mouth shut when you share my wealth."
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."
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."
To be continued…
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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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