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 wisest move right now, reckoned Alf, 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 govern 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. He cast a hard smile to the world: 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 stolen clothes. Apart from the suit itself, 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 a lord 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 concoct a believable background history too, but he had all night, and by the morning he'd be ready.
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 his 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 sneaked back to the main road where he'd abandoned the stolen scooter on the grass verge. There was little traffic this late in the evening and it rushed past smoothly. Sure enough, the scooter had vanished, relieving him of the original theft.
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 he'd soon make a killing at the hotel's poker tables, and his heart raced with anticipation.
But as the sun dipped 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 break into a barn someplace and sleep in the hay: one final night of blissful serenity.
In this post: Alf shares his bed with rodents…
Soon, he came across a small cattle shed that suited his needs. It sagged crookedly, far from people, abandoned and neglected. The door stuck ajar on broken hinges, and as he dragged it wide enough to squeeze in, three mice scurried out. It smelled dank, and the roof loomed open to the stars; a safe and regal haven to spend the night without fear of discovery.
He hung his new set of clothes over a beam in the roof and settled on a mound of old but dry straw in one corner. He couldn't have wished for a more comfortable bed. He folded his hands over his chest and sighed blissfully. If he kept as much luck with his plans as he'd enjoyed today, he wouldn't regret taking time off from work.
A full moon smiled at him through the hole in the roof, and birds flitted across its face. Or were they bats? Alf couldn't tell. Either way, the effect was enchanting, spoiled only by his skin that had begun to itch.
This close to London, no township was far away, and the closest of them embraced the Hotel California. Tonight he would share his bed of rough straw with rodents and creeping bugs. Tomorrow night he would sleep in a king-size bed, and who knows what delights he might share it with.
To be continued…
The real world:
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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At long last I got around to reading about Ove, pronounced Oover. Brilliant story: amusing, heartbreaking, and so true to life. My main problem with the book is that I think they modelled Ove on me! When my wife read it, I heard repeatedly, "That's just like you."
Minus half a star for shoddy translation in places (from Swedish).
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James at Goodreads