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 loitered outside his ivy-covered gatehouse one morning, scratched the stubble on his chin, and stared off into the distance with half closed eyes.
It was spring again, and birds sang in the treetops, but somehow there was no sparkle in their songs, especially when the constant drone of traffic from the nearby road dominated all other sounds. What he craved was adventure. His way of life as security guard at the Cloud Mansion was in a rut deep enough to smother him.
There was no thrill in his heart these days. He'd won his last three bare-knuckle fights with dreary ease. There had been no trespassers on the Cloud estate to deal with, and apart from his sparing fights with Bert and the company of his dumb robot, Crusher, he was almost always alone.
He missed his wild youth, when he'd been free and frank, a different woman in his arms each week and stopping men in dark alleys to steal their wallets. The only responsibility he'd toted was to himself. There were no bills, no house to keep, and it had always been easy to pick fights with stroppy guys in the pubs.
Now he lived in a comfortable tenancy, ate as much delicious food as he wanted, and had a steady income. Dull, dull, dull.
With a profound sigh, he closed the door behind him and sauntered off across the estate. He soon joined an overgrown lane that wormed its way through a dense and ancient forest. Reaching its end at a lofty stone perimeter wall, he passed through a high-security gate.
He now found himself in The Stables. In the old days, the village had been part of the Cloud Estate, a hamlet where servants and farmers lived. These days, it was a thriving privately owned riding stables for the rich.
Alf hovered at the gate and rolled his neck and shoulders. From a distance, the small village looked drowsy. But if nothing was going on, he'd soon find some mischief to liven things up.
The village clustered around a large green, formed in the shape of a triangle. In the centre flourished a great oak tree, its canopy almost as broad as the green. A stone-built church, the vicarage, and a graveyard dominated one side of the green. A blacksmith, a general store, and Mr Sykes's stately townhouse ranged along a second side of the triangle. And Ye Olde inn with its stables filled the third section.
Three dirt track roads spun off from the green at each corner. One led out to the entrance and mini zoo at the busy main road. A second led to a residential neighbourhood. The third dropped to a ford and narrow footbridge that crossed a gentle river and then opened to rich meadows. This is where the horses grazed and the farm buildings stood.
Alf made straight for Ye Olde Inn, the community's thriving centre. He usually steered away from alcohol but hoped a beer would lift his mood. As he drew close, he noticed something strange. The Stable's rules prohibited motorised vehicles in the village, but today, apart from three tethered horses, a Mercedes and a moped had parked in the forecourt.
Alf quickened his step. Whatever the special occasion, he didn't want to miss out.
In this post: Alf is itching for a fight. Will the man at the bar be his next victim?
He loved the Inn with its low-beamed ceiling, open fire, and small diamond-shaped lead-lined windows. The scent of ancient cigars and wood polish hung in the air, and the heavy curtains, deep carpets, and thick stone walls muffled sound as though they cocooned him in cotton wool. Today, however, it didn't agree with his mood and only added to his irritation.
"Hi there, Alf," said the barman, polishing glasses. "The usual Coke." He was a pot-bellied little fellow with a bulbous nose, unkempt dark hair, and marble eyes.
"Give me a pint of your best bitter," said Alf. "And have one yourself."
The barman plucked a mug from a shelf above his head and pulled the beer. "What are you celebrating?"
"I'm taking a few days off, a sort of holiday. Any objections?"
"Might have." The barman's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Wan't to settle it outside?"
Alf swallowed half his beer in one gulp, showed the barman his finger, and shifted his attention to a stranger seated at the end of the bar. He was almost as tall as Alf, wore a black leather jacket, matching trousers, and a bright red silk scarf tied neatly around his neck. If the gear hadn't been so shiny and new, Alf might have mistaken him for a Hell's Angel.
Alf couldn't be sure, but he suspected the man was staring at him from behind his mirrored Ray Bands, "What're you looking at?" he said, staring right back. A twinge of hope made him lick his lips. If he played his cards right, perhaps he could provoke this man outside for a fight.
To be continued…
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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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