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 swished past the attractive young woman, skidded to a halt, stopped the little moped, and bowed his head. "Hello there," he said, presenting his friendliest Pug smile. "My name is Alf. Can I give you a lift?"
"No thanks, I don't have far to go," said the young lady, looking at him with suspicion.
But Alf, enjoying himself, couldn't let her slip away so easily. "It's a beautiful day, my darling, and you are a beautiful woman. Hop on behind and I'll take you for a spin, just for the fun of it."
The young lady screamed, dropped her carry bag, and set off running as if the devil loomed on her heels. Alf laughed out loud, swallowed his disappointment, and considered his haggard features. Baldheaded, flat-nosed, cauliflower ears, a stubble of scruffy hair on his jaw, and enough scars to make anyone think he was a veteran battlefield casualty. Who wouldn't run off?
Before he'd started his career as a street fighter, he'd been an irresistibly handsome hunk. In those days, girls threw themselves at him, and if he still had those looks the young lady would have gladly climbed on behind him and hugged him tightly.
He clasped his hands together in his lap and stared at them; today, he couldn't think of anyone who found him attractive.
It dawned on him then that perhaps this was the reason he sought solitude: a desire to escape the lonely sadness, a need to be alone. Being in his late thirties, he was still a young man, plenty of time to find a warm companion willing to share his days. But where was she?
He leant forward, elbows resting on the moped's handlebars, and stared off at nothing; one more dream he'd save for later.
Not downcast by nature, Alf set his gloom aside, stepped off the moped, and picked up the girl's carrier bag. Just as he suspected, it was full of nosh: cakes, potato crisps, and coke. With a bitter smile, he told himself off for thinking negatively. Heaven smiled on him today, and he couldn't wait to see what it had in store.
The distant clank of a tractor made him 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, 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 was either the promise of serenity for the next few days, or of making his fortune at The Hotel California's poker tables, all depending on which way fate carried him. Ah, heavens above, what a wonderful few days stretched ahead of him.
In this post: Alf plans his mutation into a wealthy gentleman…
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 made a fortune.
The evening grew darker, and 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.
To be continued…
The real world:
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When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In many ways, this book reminded me of Fredrik Backman's 'A Man called Ove', so much so I had to check to see which came first. As far as I can see, 'A Man called Ove' was published five years before 'When All is Said'.
Of the two, 'A Man called Ove' is the better. But that might be because I read it first. 'When All is Said' rattled on at times to the point of yawning, and many descriptions of emotional stress are over-written.
Overall though, I enjoyed this book, but not enough to get excited about it. Rather, it left me feeling sad and depressed.
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