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.
The distant clank of a tractor made Alf look up. Wide-open countryside surrounded him with the occasional copse of trees spread here and there, and old rotting shacks and barns forgotten in fields.
A cloud of birds followed in the tractor's wake, feasting on worms turned up by its plough. The smell of cow manure assaulted his nose. "The farmer's wife," he muttered, recalling his and his friend's retort whenever the farmers spread muck.
The rumble of traffic on the distant main road invaded his awareness, triggering his sense of survival. Time to get rid of the stolen scooter. By now, the fake Hell's Angel would have reported the theft to the police and they'd be on the lookout. Nonchalantly, he opened the luggage box to see what it contained.
Beneath a helmet and warm gloves, an expensive dress-suit met his gaze: the fake Hell's Angel's set of wedding garments. With the ease of two mated jigsaw pieces locking together, an idea slid into Alf's mind. If he were to make entry to The Hotel California he wouldn't stand a chance in his scruffy T-shirt and frayed jeans.
Ah, but with such a fine wardrobe of clothes, he reflected, tipping his head back, eyes closed to face the sun's life-giving warmth, I might just get away with it.
The wisest move right now though, he reckoned, was to vanish before any ruckus over the stolen scooter started. No sense chancing fate too much either. Working quickly, he donned the gloves and rubbed away any fingerprints he might have left on the scooter. A short dab on the start button brought the happy little machine to life again. Alf drove back to the main road, continued along it for two-hundred yards, and parked the scooter on the grass verge.
He rolled the ill-gotten wedding garments into a thick bundle, tucked it under his arm, and stepped lightly back towards the country lane, the carrier bag of snacks swinging in his other hand. Well into the lane, he dodged into a copse of dense trees, and sat on a fallen log.
Starving, he emptied the shopping bag's contents at his feet. Four cream cakes, a bottle of his favourite coke, and a king-size packet of spicy crisps—not his usual diet of high protein nourishment. Nevertheless, what a feast!
With everything consumed, he nestled on the grass with his hands behind his head and glanced up through the green canopy of trees to the blue sky above. The day was still young, all was right with the world, and he had plenty of time to do nothing but daydream.
As he savoured the moment, a deep, satisfying sigh eased from his chest. He didn't need to worry about weight training and sparing with Bert, or to pursue his dreary work as a security guard. Instead, either the promise of serenity, or the making of his fortune at The Hotel California's poker tables would dominate his life, all depending on which way fate carried him. Ah, heavens above, what a wonderful few days stretched ahead of him.
With time to take life easy, he lolled there almost until evening. His belly was good and full, insects buzzed lazily, and the day's sunny warmth showed no sign of fading. A free and frank man like him enjoyed this way of living better than many would think.
Of his two choices, gambling at The Hotel California excited him most, especially now he had the means to enter. His special skill with his third eye would ensure he won every hand.
When the evening grew darker, he examined the clothes. Carefully packed with the garb, he found a sporty bowler-hat and shoes polished to a mirror shine. There was even an extendable silver-handled walking stick. An outfit intended for a wedding, but which would suit his purpose well.
Talk about luck. For once in his life, folk would take him as a gentleman, and not a day too early. Dressing like that had been a dream of his for years, but there'd never been the occasion.
Of course, his cockney accent would give him away, but then again, not all toffs spoke like the royal family. Posture and bearing were more important, and the confidence to pose as an eccentric millionaire. He'd need to invent a believable background history too, but he had all night, and by the morning he'd be ready.
In this post: Alf tests his luck…
If he were to feign his way into The Hotel California, and have them accept him as an eccentric millionaire, then he would need luck on side. In his experience, luck was with you, or against you, and the difference either made you or broke you. Some people relied on their horoscope to tell their future, others on signs like finding a four-leaf clover, but Alf preferred to go by the trend.
As a test of his luck, he hoped someone had stolen the moped, relieving him of the original theft. To satisfy his curiosity, he sneaked back to the main road where he'd abandoned it on the grass verge. There was little traffic this late in the evening, and sure enough, the moped had vanished.
With his tummy full, providence on his side, and somebody else to take the blame for stealing the scooter, Alf strutted back to his den. Now, if his good fortune held, he didn't doubt that he'd make a killing at the hotel's poker tables in the morning, and his heart raced with anticipation.
But as the sun set below the treetops and darkness fell, he set off to wander again. Somewhere or another he needed to find a roof over his head for the night. If worse came to the worse, he'd find a barn someplace and sleep in the hay: one final night of blissful serenity.
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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