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.
Madam Styles sighed delightedly but drew away from Alf. She straightened her rumpled dress and gazed around the room. The music had stopped and all eyes were on them. Spots of colour invaded her cheeks. With a forced laugh, she clapped her hands and raised her voice. "Carry on everyone. The show is over."
Alf realised the hugging had come to an end, but determined to follow up his success. He whispered in her ear, "Can I offer madam a drink up in my apartment?"
"I say with many thanks," she answered bashfully. "A drink sounds delightful. But I insist you come to my suite."
Without protest, Alf took her elbow and guided her out. To go to her suite was exactly what he wanted.
Arm in arm they wandered past the reception desk, up a shallow flight of steps, and toward her rooms. As they strolled, Alf winked at a chambermaid standing there. "Be so kind as to hang a Do Not Disturb sign on Madam Styles's door."
The chambermaid curtsied, and the couple continued on their way.
"I'm not sure this is exactly decent," said Madam Styles. Her tongue darted out to lick her thin lips.
"We are both consenting adults," said Alf. "You inspire a love in me I never thought possible." He swallowed softly. "As hard as I try, mere words aren't enough to tell you how I feel about you."
Madam Styles hee-hawed.
"Everything is decent for the pure of heart," continued Alf as he whisked her through the door. Without delay, he lifted her into his arms and dropped into a well-stuffed armchair with her in his lap. She held up a hand, making a weak display of warding him off. At the same time, she laughed seductively.
"You are a bit of a wild man, my Lord," she said and carried on sitting there. "Bring us coffee and cognac, Charlotte," she called over her shoulder, "and then you can take the rest of the day off."
A maid floated into view, carrying a large tray that she placed on a sideboard. She poured two cups of steaming black coffee from a percolator, filled two bulbous glasses with generous servings of golden cognac, served them, and hurried out.
Then the party really started. "To us," said Alf, clinking his glass against Madam Styles's. She took a deep swallow as if it were water, but Alf barely sipped his. After refilling her glass twice, Alf sat her in the chair and sank to his knees before her. "My darling. Will you make a Lord happy and marry me?"
She closed her eyes and covered her mouth, then flung her cognac glass over her shoulder and reached her arms out to him. "At my age, I don't need any thinking time. I accept. Come, let us seal our engagement with a kiss."
Alf lifted her in his arms and planted his lips on hers. On a scale of ten, he gave her a four for effort.
"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, but the odds were all on his side. Soon, he'd have more money than it was even possible 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.
In this post: Madam Styles brays like a donkey…
Alf didn't understand the hilarity but knew it spelt 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.
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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