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.
"My wallet went astray at the airport," said Alf. "Some honest person found it and handed it into security. I should have it back later today or early tomorrow. I'm lost without my cards."
"You should phone the bank and tell them," said the bodyguard. "Get them to send you new ones."
"Yes, that's precisely what I did. Could be a day or two before I have them though."
The bodyguard sniffed. "We've got a credit limit of twenty thousand pounds."
"Excellent. All I require is one thousand pounds."
"Is that all?"
Alf smiled. "It's all I need. I never lose. Not at cards, not in a fight, and not in love."
"We'll see," said the bodyguard. "One thing at a time, eh? First, you lose at poker because me and me partner are the best there is. Then, if you don't clear your credit, we'll pulverise you. And when we're finished with you, you won't have any equipment left for love."
They dealt cards from a new pack. Play opened. Alf had to admit they played well, and it was obvious they used a secret code to cheat. But with his modified third eye he could see the faces of their cards and it wasn't long before the chips piled up beside him. The bodyguards, mugs as expressionless as planks of wood while they'd played, smacked their foreheads and ordered a stop.
Alf laughed to himself. He never counted his chips until the game was finished, but he knew he'd won more money than ever before. Luck still smiled on him. He called to mind the frustrated old hen he would dance with later that evening. She reigned over more riches than he could dream of, and the encounter promised to be an interesting fraternisation.
With his winnings converted into hard cash, Alf stuffed the notes into an inside pocket in his jacket, patted the bulge, and strolled up to the dining room. They had removed most tables and the maestro now conducted his orchestra with gusto. Couples filled the dance floor, the youngest full of energy, the eldest hardly moving and stumbling over their own feet. A few of the couples comprised of elderly women dancing together, their husbands long deceased.
Madam Styles sat at a table in a corner, smiling at him. He strutted across to her and bowed gallantly. "Shall we try this dance, Madam?"
"With pleasure, my Lord," she lisped and rose to her feet. She stunk like a perfume shop, her diamond rings glittered, and her low-cut gown hung on her like a listless windsock.
Alf pressed her knobbly skeleton into him and waltzed her out onto the dance floor. To her credit, the old hen displayed talent and followed Alf's inexperienced style with ease. "Isn't it wonderful to swing a little," he said and squeezed her.
"Heavenly," she said and looked up at him with shiny eyes. "I take it from the bulge in your jacket that you had success at the poker table?"
"Yes, Madam, but my greatest success is having you in my arms."
She laid her head on his broad chest and gave his hand a delicate pinch. He'd made instant contact.
The other guests gazed and smirked, but Alf couldn't care less. Here he'd show them a Lord the likes of which they'd never seen. He spun Madam Styles in a jive swing, first one way and then the other. When she began to pant and sway dizzily, he dropped her hands and scooted backwards across the dance floor in a perfect Michael Jackson moonwalk.
He received a mixed reaction. Some clapped, others stuck their noses into the air and turned their backs. But he ignored them all and carried on. He spread his arms and twirled around the dance floor, knees bending, slapping his heels as they kicked up behind him. Every so often he leapt high and landed in a crouch, only to spring up again like a Jack-in-the-box. The orchestra came alive and switched to playing a sprightly folk melody. Alf picked up the lusty rhythm and never missed a beat.
Down onto a handstand he dropped and continued dancing on his hands, with his feet bobbing in the air. After a moment he flipped over in a somersault, followed by another, and another, and then flipped backwards again until he was back to where he started.
Press-ups came next, twenty with both hands, then twenty on one arm at a time. He started another round of the dance floor: cart-wheeling, fast knee-bending, high jumps, and heel slapping. For a finale, he did a headstand, lifted his arms, and spun on his bald head. Faster and faster he spun, arms folded now, legs spread like the blades of a helicopter.
Back on his feet, he stooped in a deep bow. The guests applauded and laughed out loud, but Madam Styles seemed a little troubled. "You're such a teaser, my Lord."
"Yes, I've been away from England's green and pleasant lands for so long that I felt I needed a release."
"You are like a breath of fresh air," she said and wrapped her arms around his waist. "You're not even breathing hard."
"I have energy enough for the both of us, my darling." He reached around her thin waist and gave her a thorough hug. She was his now, to do whatever he wanted with her.
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 the stairs, 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.
"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."
In this post: Alf proposes to Madam Styles…
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 Alf. "At my age, I don't need any thinking time. I accept. Come, let us seal our engagement with a kiss."
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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