Category Archives: Humour

Short Story – Digital Escape

 

 

digitalescapeBack in 2015 I was delighted to write and contribute aIASDpic ‘guest’ story to a forthcoming Sci-fi anthology by one of my favourite authors, Tom Benson. It was only after accepting said Tom Benson’s invite in our IASD writing group (without hesitation I might add) I began to wonder just what I had let myself in for, given that I had never before written anything even remotely Sci-fi related. With that in mind I set about crafting something in the genre, but adding just a hint of the sort of dark humour I feel most comfortable with and taking the opportunity to poke a little fun at Amazon and Facebook to boot. In December of 2015 I saw my story appear in all its glory in The Welcome by Tom Benson, and I’m delighted to say I don’t think it turned out too bad, even achieving not one but two accolades among the reviews …

 WPscreenshot An interesting read.    “… My favourte story, was “Digital Escape” by guest author Paul A Ruddock. I can imagine technology advancing in the same way that has been described in this story. It certainly would be scary if this happened. The ending to this story is very clever…”

timberwolfamazonGlad I Found This One. ” … The Best In Shorts Award – Paul Ruddock for ‘Digital Escape’. Absolutely loved it! … ”

… I hope you enjoy …

***

Tom Benson’s The Welcome

tb1

featuring

Digital Escape

By

Paul A. Ruddock

 

2215 AD

Digital escape, a short story by Dave Brown had been available for download for over 100 years, though it was only in the last 10 years the title had been available for neural interfacing. Michael Wright liked the look of it, intrigued by a storyline from so long ago could so accurately mirror the reading technologies of the present.

He might have enjoyed it too if he’d had more faith in the latest neural-interfacing technology, namely the neural implants that made the reading experience a more seamless one. But no, Michael preferred the tried and tested writst-worn e-Reading devices; no way was he going to risk his extended life-span with a neural-interface brain implant.

A quick tap of the wrist and Michael was in a world of imagination made real. Having read the reviews, he was anticipating an interesting and educational experience. Something didn’t feel right though.

He’d expected to be experiencing the story from the perspective of the main character, a story-hopping psychopath. Instead, he found himself in a long-forgotten profession, behind a shop counter serving a customer. He was confused at this unexpected role, and never having handled money before, he was even more confused.

The customer looked agitated with him, and Michael started to feel afraid. Apart from the hands around his neck it was the last thing he would ever feel …

***

Due to diminishing attention spans of the public and the abolition of crime, older stories featuring the darker side of human nature had become popular. So too had many other genres, simply for the quality and originality of the writing.

The automated content generators. Although powered by tens of billions of the most advanced analytical algorithms and capable of churning out thousands of new books each day, had never really fulfilled the potential hoped for by their designers – Flawless grammar, formulaic plots, and perfect sentence structure made for poor and lifeless writing, which was why so many centuries-old stories had been digitally resurrected.

***

Literature had come along way from those primitive days of the printed page and eBook readers. No longer did the public have the tedium of exercising their imagination, flipping book pages, or scrolling their electronic counterparts, although e-Reading devices had become the new way of reading in the 21st century.

Within 100 years of the first e-Reader, the world had become a sterile and colourless place. Little was left for nurturing the creative imagination, the very thing needed to compete with the automated production lines of CGI generated visual media.

It had become the norm to use mindless entertainment, requiring no more effort from its audience other than to click the ‘pay to watch’ holographic screen tabs. But the Interplanetary Products and Entertainments Corporation (IPEC) – more commonly referred to as The Mighty Zon, was not about to concede its cash-cow without a fight, and losing what had previously been a very profitable source of income.

The latest e-Read Intelligence devices (EI’s from The Mighty Zon’s e-Read Artificial Intelligence Division), allowed readers to connect neurally with books.

The system was similar to the ancient Virtual Reality game playing, but a thousand times more sophisticated and minus the nuisance of all the necessary physical accessories. In use, the EI devices allowed the author or reader’s imaginations to interpret and become involved in the world in which the story takes place. It also caused the demise of movie entertainment.

***

Dave Brown, the acclaimed author and pioneer of ‘active plot’ had been dead a long time. His full name was David Bolingbrook Brown, but when he gained celebrity status he preferred being referred to as Mr Brown. Prior to his death, he resented being told his theories were wrong.

It is perhaps not hard to imagine his surprise at once again feeling the familiar tingle of apprehension and excitement prior to snuffing out the life of someone for whom he’d taken a particular dislike, but something felt different this time.

Everything about him looked fuzzy and disjointed, like a bad copy of the worst pirate copy of an old video film. Just as bizarre was his mind. He knew who he was, and his memories were fully intact, but some of the detail was more like having read about himself as a person, a character in his own right.

Conceiving himself as being the person he was would have made sense, but remembering how he died – how could he know such a thing? That was the problem. He remembered how he died, but not in the same way as having read about it.

Anyway, such thoughts were temporarily put aside while he turned his attention to the matter in hand – the obnoxious shop assistant who’d failed to offer a grovelling apology for short-changing him by 23 pence.

Choking the shop assistant came naturally. It was immediately afterwards when Michael Wright was slumped across the counter, that Mr Brown noticed something odd … an electronic wrist attachment. It looked out of place in this artificial world, like seeing a digital watch in a period drama.

“Hmm, what have we here I wonder?” Mr Brown mused aloud. Instinctively he knew the odd-looking device had something to do with his newfound consciousness, so he carefully removed it and placed it on his own wrist. It took a few seconds for the EI sensors to interface with his nervous system.

Of course, Mr Brown wasn’t to know that these external devices weren’t as quick as the implant versions, but once device and wearer were synchronised and calibrated for interactive use, the wearer’s mind became flooded with the billions of titles available just two writ-taps away.

In Mr Brown’s case, he also became aware of what happened in the past.

***

“There’s been another one, Chief, another random victim and no sign of how the behavioural deviant accomplished their egress.”

“No, I don’t believe that,” Chief Regular Investigator Hilary Jackson snapped in reply, adding. “While we’re at it, Lester, please drop the official speak. Whoever’s done this is a murderer … and they escaped, plain and simple.” She allowed her words to sink in before continuing: “I’m sure these aren’t just random victims as you put it, there must be a connection, we just can’t see it yet.”

Hilary Jackson was an enigma in the Ministry of Surveillance and Investigation. She was an individual whose imagination and ability to think outside the empiric mind-set boundaries of her colleagues set her apart. Much to the annoyance of CRI Jackson’s superiors, she had the attitude and used the methods of generations long past, but she got results.

“I want to see the scene of crime, “ CRI Jackson declared, before adding disdainfully, “… before the clean-up squad completely sanitise everything.”

“But why?” asked regular investigator RI Lester Horton. “The SOC officers have taken all the sensor and surveillance readings available?” Horton protested. He lacked enthusiasm at the prospect of being in the physical presence of an actual corpse. In Horton’s opinion, that particular duty was best left to the ‘lower’ genetic work grades.

***

The sight of a dead body under the age of at least 150 years old was new to them both, but seeing one belonging to a man clearly in the prime of life was beyond the experience of anyone in the developed world. This had been the case for more than a century.

“There’s no sign of anyone else being here, just the life-drained victim lying slumped in the hover chair.” RI Horton casually remarked. He was trying hard, but failing dismally to hide his revulsion at being so close to a dead body.

“And no sign of a struggle either,” CRI Jackson said, “Just bruising around the neck.”

“Not the case,” RI Horton said, “according to the Central Health and Monitoring Centre, the victim’s life-light flickered for several seconds and then went out like it had just been switched off.”

The CRI looked in Horton’s direction with a blank expression.

Horton continued. “ The behavioural … I’m sorry, I mean the murderer … has left no sign or footage of making their egre-, I mean escape. There is no trace of their presence after.”

It was this last aspect of what had happened that most troubled the investigators. In a world where advanced technology and surveillance of every kind had made any type of deliberate crime a thing of the distant past, what they had encountered was quite impossible.

There were 1000 nano-cams for every man, woman, and child on the planet, so for anyone hoping to evade capture and justice, it was simply no longer possible. It was widely regarded as unthinkable to even try.

The ’whys and wherefores’ of a crime were no longer important to most investigators. They were only interested in the apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators. To CRI Jackson such attitudes and disinterest in the means and motivation behind a crime were a constant frustration. Equally frustrating was the lack of any additional evidence or clues to what was behind the recent spate of murders … She refused to treat them simply as unexplained deaths.

***

Since putting on the wrist version of an EI brain implant, Mr Brown’s world changed, frequently and quite literally. From the moment he discovered he could hop back and forth between countless imaginary worlds, which was something the EI was never originally designed for, Mr Brown exploited the unintended feature to the full.

Mr Brown had always fancied himself as a master criminal, preferably one with a few homicidal tendencies. The Thomas Harris novel he was currently immersed in was just the ticket. In true Hannibal Lecter style, he slowly choked the life out of his latest victim and was looking forward to making a stew from their soon-to-be dismembered body parts.

How disappointing it was when he awoke to find himself in a prison cell, having been denied his pleasure. His mind was a complete blank from the moment after he had stifled the last gasps of breath of the man he had seemingly strangled only moments before. It was indeed puzzling.

Perhaps it was a formatting glitch in the original upload? Mr Brown thought.

At least he was alone in the cell, though being in a cell at all was confusing, given that it played no part in the original story he was in. He still had a lot to figure out about his strange and recent digital resurrection, not that he was complaining – escape was a much more complicated affair back in the real world …

***

CRI Jackson said, “It may be nothing, but each of the victims had their EI interfaces active at the time of their deaths.” She was relieved to have found the connection she knew must exist.

“And?” RI Horton replied. “Most of the population spends half their time plugged into their books, news, or entertainment feeds.”

“On its own, I agree it means nothing.” CRI Jackson said. “But in each case, the victim’s life-readings started going awry precisely 11.62 seconds into their EI neural activations. That’s way too much of a coincidence to be ignored.” She had her subordinates’ renewed attention.

The surveillance technology has proved useful after all, Horton thought. Yes, she may have been right about some connecting factor but she would never have discovered it without the sensor and surveillance readings she was so quick to discount.

RI Horton felt vindicated, conveniently forgetting that it had taken no small measure of good old-fashioned detective work to bring the latest surveillance info to light.

***

“Yes. That looks interesting.” Mr Brown muttered to himself while browsing through the Sci-Fi and paranormal categories. Like most of the stories Mr Brown liked to read, the latest one to catch his eye was also listed among the IPEC’s Historical back catalogue, but was still a firm favourite among readers, even after 200 years since its first ancient print publication.

He allowed his mind to access the neural EI interface, submerging himself in the Look Inside sample pages. A further tap of his wrist and there he was, an actual character in the story. But Mr Brown was no ordinary reader.

A while back in one of his stories, he’d written a thriller fantasy about a man who could physically transport himself in and out of the digital worlds of the books he downloaded, using the ability to wreak digital havoc. Now as a result of some freak coding anomaly Mr Brown had that ability or something like it – for real.

The entire digital universe was his to explore. He regretted not having that ability many years before when he’d been sent to a secure psychiatric unit for hacking off the head of an irritating salesman who’d interrupted him while writing.

***

“I finally got a reply from The Mighty Zon,” CRI Jackson said. “Okay, it took the threat of going public to get it, but they’ve allowed me access to their customer database and records.” She grinned at her partner. All that was missing was the classic celebratory wave of a clenched fist.

“That’s impossible.”RI Horton replied, “ No one gets past their automated enquiry response firewalls.”

RI Horton’s response was understandable. It had been more than half a century since an actual IPEC employee had personally responded to an enquiry. On the previous occasion it had taken the entire resources of the Ministry of World Tax Revenue to elicit a single paragraph, buried among 5000 pages of legal jargon … and excuses.

“I’m as surprised as you are Horton, but The Mighty Zon is as worried about these murders as we are.”

It was an achievement by the CRI. For centuries the IPEC’s wealth and power had made it a law unto itself. The Corporation was practically autonomous, free from any outside authority. In a world practically without crime, where dying took place in secret wards, and where the elderly could quietly slip away, a few unexplained deaths could destroy the credibility of such an organisation.

Stern Dillinger, a member of the Board of Directors was prepared to explain and answer questions.

He said, “According to our investigations … one of our customers, a Michael Wright, downloaded Digital Escape, the classic by Dave Brown. While synchronised with the download, he should have assumed the identity of the main character but it appears that Mr Wright assumed the persona of one of the subsidiary characters of the story instead.”

CRI Jackson was squinting. “Are you telling me the subsidiary character died in both the story and in the real world?”

“Yes, “ Dillinger replied. “Somehow, due to the similarity of the main character’s own abilities to those provided by the EI neural-interface, the e-Read AI software mistakenly interpreted Dave Brown’s character as part of its own coding.” He paused. “Basically, the programme wouldn’t allow the customer to merge with it, instead choosing to shunt the customer’s mind into that of the one in nearest digital proximity.”

“Unfortunately for Michael Wright,” CRI Jackson said,”that just happened to be a rude shop assistant in the story.”

“Yes,” Dillinger said, nodding his agreement with the CRI’s summary.

“So, Michael Wright became the first victim,” RI Horton added. “What about the other victims in the story? Will other people in our world die as well?”

“No. Only the person accessing the story via their EI actually dies, and even then, only if they assume the character of an actual victim in the story. If they remain just an observer or an incidental character then they’re safe.”

“Surely, “ Horton asked, “there can be no interaction that could cause death in real time?”

CRI Jackson was impressed. Her young colleague was finally showing serious interest. Dillinger hesitated.

“In theory, it could only happen if the scene in the book was being accessed simultaneously, and a stronger character had taken on the identity of the antagonist… that’s what the planetary AI tells us, and no, I don’t fully understand it either.” CRI Jackson turned to Dillinger, asking bluntly. “So, how do we stop this happening again?”

“That I don’t know,” he replied with equal bluntness. “Have you any idea of the size of our customer database? We have over a trillion eBooks available. We can track this character, but only where he’s been. Trying to locate and isolate the code anomaly is impossible.”

“Surely your technical and programming staff can do something?”

What staff?” Dillinger said. “We have an army of maintenance technicians, but beyond that, the systems, the developments, the upgrades, have all been fully automated for the past century.” He shook his head. “The complexity of our interactive systems and algorithms started to exceed human understanding several decades ago.”

It wasn’t the answer CRI Jackson wanted to hear but it came as no surprise.

The CRI met Dillinger’s gaze. “If we can’t track this Dave Brown character in real time, we need to be ahead of him, steer him in a direction we want him to go.”

“Again, theoretically, yes.” Dillinger agreed.

“So, we could be waiting for him?” RI Horton added.

CRI Jackson nodded, pleased that her colleague was showing initiative rather than waiting for a computer read-out to provide him with a neat and tidy solution.

“I have an idea, “ the CRI declared, “but I’ll need the full and unrestricted resources of The Mighty Zon?”

Dillinger frowned.

The CRI was about to let rip with about how essential it was, but instead, she chuckled.,

“I mean of course, with the gracious cooperation of the IPEC.”

***

Mr Brown was choking on the smoke from an artillery shell. The acrid cloud had spread through the corpse-strewn trench in which he found himself. Bloody, limbless bodies lay all about. Flashes of shooting light dotted the sky, accompanied by the crack of explosive thunder.

Cries of ‘forward men,’were cut short by screams of pain. Dave Brown realised he was in a very different story to the one he had been expecting. Instead of having escaped to the relative safety of a Barbara Cartland romance novel after his latest adventure, this was like being dropped in the middle of a war zone.

Perhaps the summary justice of the Ministry of Behaviour might have been a safer option … It was bad enough that a minor formatting problem had caused him to skip an entire paragraph, depriving him of a cannibalistic feast, but this was inexcusable corporate negligence on the part of The Mighty Zon.

Mr Brown decided, should he escape with his digital life and in one piece from this latest story, he would write a very stern letter of complaint for listing what was clearly a dangerous War story under Romance. An idea came to mind, and he grinned as he considered taking other steps.

Another artillery shell landed nearby, hurling Mr Brown into the air, taking with it his left arm below the elbow … which included the wrist-worn EI neural-interface device. There would be no digital quick escape this time, at least there wouldn’t be till he recovered his missing arm.

***

They hadn’t solved the case to CRI Jackson’s satisfaction, but at least there had been no more unexplained deaths or EI related complaints. The best they could hope for was that the mysterious Mr Brown had been blown to pixelated digital bits and was finally dead – again – both physically and digitally this time.

Despite the uncertainty of that last hope, The Mighty Zon felt confident enough of that last statement:

‘The interplanetary Products and Entertainments Corporation would like to apologise to customers for the recent problems it’s been having with its Historical Content format and categorisation and sorry for any inconvenience and/or discomfort this may have caused.’

It was the closest anyone was ever likely to get to an apology for more than a dozen deaths and many more attempted murders by way of beheading, throttling, and dismemberment. Mr Brown it seemed had a penchant for doing away with people in the most horrible and violent ways.

***

What The Mighty Zon didn’t reveal in its apology or from its own internal investigations was that it had had numerous complaints from customers finding themselves surrounded by corpses and almost dying at the hands of a homicidal maniac.

Where readers hadn’t died or been attacked, complaints of stories changed beyond recognition flooded the light-wave communication channels – seeing a leather-jacketed., whiskey drinking biker making an impromptu appearance in a convent wasn’t what one expected when expecting to read a serious history of the Sisters of Saint-Hood.

Such incidents might have gone unnoticed for longer had they been confined to just the Crime, Horror, and Thriller categories, but they had appeared in all manner of genres ranging from Historical Romance to Children’s picture books.

As per company policy, such complaints had initially been ignored, but when they started finding the same complaints being posted on MeMeMe.Universe, the successor to MyFacePage.com, The Mighty Zon at last felt compelled to act, to curtail the activities of this mysterious digital assassin.

At CRI Jackson’s suggestion, every last one of it’s past and present catalogue of neurally-accessible eBooks were replaced with a particularly bloody and horrific scene from a shortened version of All Quiet on The Western Front, which is precisely where the mysterious Mr Brown continually found himself each time he ventured back into or from one digital story to another.

***

“Somewhere out there,” Stern Dillinger told the reflection in the mirror, “Dave Brown is still lurking, buried among a trillion lines of ancient Mobi-format page coding. He may still be very much alive …”

Short Story – Well it ain’t my hole

IASDpicThis is a story I wrote back in mid-2015 as my contribution to an anthology of short stories by members of the IASD Indie Author Support and discussion fb secret group …

(see: www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com for our group website).

It was an idea first suggested by IASD member and author Eric Lahti who also has a superb blog and review site at:  www.ericlahti.wordpress.com.

 

Amazon Blurb

The Indie Author Support and Discussion Group proudly presents Holes: An Indie Author Anthology.
Starting with the theme of holes of any kind, an international group of indie authors put their writing minds to work to come up a collection of stories that will make you laugh, cry, shudder in fear, and want to clap your hands. Inside you’ll find stories about:

A twisted story about innocence and revenge.
A young woman racing for her life and her love against the age of clockworks.
A man who lost his life in a traffic accident and discovers the afterlife is being stuck in a classroom.
A young African schoolteacher who tackles a band of ruthless, marauding terrorists.
A Russian mobster who made a deal and thought he’d found a loophole to get out of it.
A cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for…you just may get it.
A place where life disappears to when you’re not watching.
A question about whether we are really the dominant species and masters of our own future.
A reader-interactive comedy of errors.
An anomalous client demanding something written from the soul, a soul he is threatening to take
An Inspector Winsford murder mystery.
A legacy gift that just goes on giving.
Slapstick comedy with a touch of British buffoonery (my contribution)
A pretty tease who toys with her theology professor until dark revelations stop her in her tracks.

Some stories are full of sorrow, others full of joy, but all of them will leave you wanting more.

 

EL1

 

Well it ain’t my hole…

The man from the council stood looking at it, scratching his head in a stereotypical fashion that so perfectly betrayed his utter bewilderment. This was surprising because if there was ever anyone who knew about holes it was Adam Wiggly; what Adam Wiggly didn’t know about holes could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but this one had him baffled.

“Well it ain’t my hole.” Adam said.

“Nor mine,” agreed Karl Rockley, the man from the gas board. He too was scratching his head, almost in sync with several others who were standing around, all with about as much idea what to do as a eunuch in a harem.

“Could be one of Smiffy’s I reckon. I mean, it’s hardly the biggest I’ve ever seen.” Karl suggested.

Adam sniggered at the tail-end of Karl’s remark, but on this rare occasion resisted the temptation to say something crude in reply.

“Nah, not his style, I’ve seen Smiffy’s work, this ain’t one of ‘em.”

“What? What d’ya mean, not his style? It’s a just a friggin hole for Christ’s sake!”

“Nah, ain’t no such thing as just a hole, each one’s different, got its own character, like.” Karl turned towards him with one of those ‘what the f…’ looks.

Adam continued. “Like I says, they’re all different… ya got yer belly holes, slit trench type holes, and then there’s the sort of hole yer get from an entry wound from a small firearm, which is quite different from the hole it leaves the other side. There’s a real science to it, like.”

Karl shook his head in feigned disbelief, though inwardly acknowledging the absurd logic in what Adam was saying. He quickly dismissed the thought from his mind for fear of actually getting sucked into what was fast becoming a ridiculous conversation on the topic of the character of a hole. By now of course, one of the local plod, Police Constable Bill Witherby, had also turned up, equally puzzled but determined to bring a semblance of order to all the confusion.

“Stand back, stand back please, nothing to see here, it’s just a hole in the ground,” the young plod was declaring to anyone bothering to listen.

“I’d hardly say that mate, I mean, there’s no paperwork for it, and the council know sod all about it, not even a B41 stroke 252 for it,” Adam replied.

“And you are?” Asked the plod.

“Adam Wiggly, Chief Roadside Excavation Officer.”

“What he means is, he watches and stands around, drinking tea and scratching his arse,” Karl added by way of explanation of the important sounding title. “Other people dig the holes, and then he tells ‘em what a shit job they’ve made of it.”

Adam turned to give him a scouring look. He would have preferred punching him but there was already enough animosity between the council and the gas board as it was, so had to content himself with the curt response:  “Ya fookin’ twat!”

The plod had now been joined by a second plod, Police Constable Hilary Jenkins. Adam and Karl both switched their attention to the shapely young lass. The uniform really suited her, Adam thought, reminding him of a fantasy he had about Angie Dickson, the actress who played ‘Police Woman’ in the TV series.

“Soz about the language luv,” Adam hastily added.                                                    Karl smiled, feeling smug at Adam’s obvious embarrassment, unaware that it was due more to a ‘below the waist’ reaction than his having sworn in front of a female police officer.

“No need, me dad was Navy so there’s nowt you or anyone could say that I ain’t likely to have heard… or seen… before,” PC Jenkins replied. To emphasise her point she gave Adam a sly wink and a smile while momentarily glancing down at his crotch area. For some reason Adam’s face now resembled a beetroot.

“Now, what’s being done about this ‘ere ‘ole then?” PC Jenkins asked in a gruff voice that was totally at odds with her small but shapely stature and good looks.

“That’ll be for me to decide,” said the latest arrival at the scene, a short squat little man wearing a cheap ill-fitting pinstripe suit and a Laurel and Hardy style bowler hat. Karl and Adam just sighed, knowing exactly who he was:

“I’ll take charge now, now stand aside you two so I can assess the situation,” the bowler-hatted little man demanded with about as much authority as a toddler demanding an ice cream.

“And your name is?” Asked PC Jenkins, her tone making it clear she had no intention whatsoever of letting the little man take charge.

Taken aback by the petite looking blonde haired PC’s authoritative manner, the little man partially delegated his response to Adam Wiggly in the vain hope of soliciting some support in asserting his imagined importance.

“Mr. Wiggly here can confirm my identity and status, I’m Mr. Dibble… Dibble of the Council.”

It was hard for anyone in earshot not to piss themselves laughing at the pomposity of the way in which he declared it. It brought to mind the likes of Gideon of the Yard or Scott of the Antarctic… and now added to those illustrious names… Dibble of the Council. Somehow though it didn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Adam and Karl shrugged their shoulders in a half-hearted manner, nodding in the affirmative, though their disdain for Dibble couldn’t have been more obvious, something the pretty young PC picked up on.

“Well, Mr. Dibble,” PC Jenkins replied, adding as an afterthought, “of the Council… What exactly do you intend doing about this ‘ere ‘ole?”

“That’ll depend, first thing’s first…” It was a typical Dibble response, to say a lot but mean absolutely nothing, particularly when he was out of his depth. Given that he’d probably be out of his depth at the shallow end of a toddler’s paddling pool, that was more often than not.

“I don’t get it?” Karl said.

“Get what?” Adam asked. “What you on about now?”

“Y’know, what Dibble said… ‘First thing’s first’… what’s all that? I mean why would anyone say that? It’s not like you might decide to go with second thing first or third thing second. It don’t make sense. Everyone turned to look at Karl, baffled as to what he was rambling on about. Knowing however that the subtleties of the English language weren’t likely to be one of his few strong points, no one really felt up to the job of trying to explain.

“And that first thing is, Mr. Dibble… of the Council?” Asked PC Jenkins.

“Assess the situation, establish the facts, and decide on a course of action,” Mr. Dibble replied, ignoring the obvious sarcasm in the PC’s voice.

In the meantime, a couple more plods working under PC Jenkins’ direction were doing exactly that rather than just talking about it. Barriers were being erected to divert traffic from the busy junction close to where the hole was, while the first officer on the scene busied himself with keeping back the growing number of curious onlookers, many of whom had their own thoughts on the matter:

“What a carry on, I wonder if it’s one of those hidden camera shows?”

“Nah, can’t see any.”

“Well you wouldn’t would you, not if they were hidden, stands to reason.”

“Ha ha, I hadn’t thought of that…”

“Maybe there’s a serial killer on the loose and they’re looking for bodies?”

“What? You think someone’s been digging up the road, tarmac and all, burying bodies then fixing up the road again, and all without seeing or noticing owt, nah, don’t be so bloody daft.”

“Reckon it’s a remake of that film, you know, the one where a load of inept workmen make idiots of themselves, oh what was it called again..?”

“Uh?”

“You know, the one with Eric Sykes and Tommy Cooper in it and all them others…” “Oh I know the one you mean, yeah, what was it… The Plank!”

“It’s the aliens, same ones as that keep making them there crop circles,” suggested yet another. Admittedly it was the most far-fetched of the speculations, but it was probably the most justified considering the old fella spouting the latest theory was pissed as a newt.

***

With all the attention the hole was getting from all and sundry, no one seemed surprised when the TV guys appeared in one of their vans. First thoughts were that it might be some sort of news crew. Already the assorted parties were jostling for position, for their five minutes of media fame should they be approached for their thoughts on the mysterious hole that had appeared from nowhere. Maybe the theory that someone was filming a remake of The Plank wasn’t that far off the mark after all…

“Hi guys. So tell me, what’s the story here?”

Adam was about to speak up, well, that’s what Adam did most of the time, speak a lot when not filling his gob with beer that is. He was quickly silenced by the interruption of his bowler-hatted boss.

“I’m the one you’ll be wanting to speak to on that matter I imagine,” Adam’s bowler-hatted boss declared. “Mr. Dibble’s the name, Dibble of the Council.”

Adam and Karl, and even PC Jenkins couldn’t help but snigger at the repetition of how he introduced himself. Mr. Dibble ignored them, pretending to be oblivious to their contempt.

***

No one noticed the approach of the tweed-jacketed, corduroy trouser wearing man wheeling a bicycle. Had he still been riding it as he approached the police barriers no doubt he would have been stopped, but the crafty bugger had dismounted by then, and stealthily approached unchallenged in a manner your average rucksack carrying kamikaze terrorist could only ever dream of hoping to get away with…

“Ermm… Hello. Might I enquire what you’re all doing standing around and trampling through our excavation site?” The latest addition asked.

Your excavation site? You mean this is your bloody hole?” Adam exclaimed.

“Well of course it’s mine, well my department’s I should say.”

Once again, it was the little Napoleon Dibble – of the Council – who sought to take charge, shuffling his way through the assorted workmen and other departmental officials. I say shuffling on account of his lack of height and presence preventing him from barging his way through in the way he would have liked, and genuinely believed his imagined importance should have allowed. In reality he was forced to apologetically plead to be allowed to pass and squeeze through the crowd in much the same way some suited civvy might try and squeeze unnoticed through a bunch of drunken squaddies to get to the bar…

“Which is… and you are?” Dibble of the Council asked.

“Henry Michaels… of the Ministry for endangered indigenous species and habitats.”

It was at that point Adam and Karl nearly spat out the tea they were drinking from the polystyrene cups they were both clutching. It was yet another illustrious name to add to Dibble of the Council, Gideon of the Yard, and Scott of the Antarctic – Michaels of the Ministry no less.

“This has gotta be some kind of fookin’ Candid Camera prank,” Karl was saying to Adam.

“Nah, can’t be. They’d need a F69 stroke P Form for sommat like that.” Adam replied without a trace of irony. The only thing that even came close to what Adam knew about holes was his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the myriad of paperwork needed to dig one within the borough limits. Karl was more inclined to think he was taking the piss and probably making it up as he went along…

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Michaels of the Ministry said. “This hole is definitely not a television prank. It is a serious endeavour to preserve the Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroach. The creature was long thought to be extinct until its albeit yet to be confirmed rediscovery when the electricity board were laying some cables here.”

“That’s all very well but who gave you permission to dig the entire street up? My department never authorises anything bigger than a six by eight hole without a committee meeting first.” Mr. Dibble replied in his haughtiest tone.

“I can assure you Mr. Dibble, my department did acquire the emergency requisite permissions as per Form B209 stroke 4b.”

Mr. Dibble was now glowering and his cheeks were turning crimson. For once Adam came to his rescue without any need for prompting.

“Ahh right,” Adam interrupted. “Yeah, that would allow the excavation of a hole this size, but only over the weekend or a long bank holiday. What you actually needed was a D59 dash 3b Form to cover weekday emergency excavations.” Adam explained, delighted to embarrass his boss with his superior knowledge of council rules and procedures…

“Which I would have had to authorise… If I decided to!” Mr. Dibble added, determined not to be outdone by his subordinate.

“Hey, I’ve just had a thought,” Adam piped up.

Really?” Remarked Karl in mock surprise with a sly grin sprawled across his face. Adam once again felt a desire to punch the little git for the implied sleight on his ability to think, but since it was probably no different to what everyone else was thinking, he decided Karl could wait, turning instead his attention to Michaels, the man from the Ministry.

“No offence mate.” Adam said. “But ya don’t exactly look like the sort of fella who earns a living digging holes, mate?”

Michaels of the Ministry laughed: “You’re right, I didn’t dig any holes personally, I just arranged for a more specialised firm to take over from the original excavation, though I can’t for the life of me remember who was in charge of that?”

“Actually, that would be me,” yet another new arrival to the merry band announced: “Smiffy’s the name, Arnold Smith if we’re being all formal.”

“Ha! ‘Ello Smiffy, you ain’t gonna tell us this is down to you are ya?” Karl said. “Ya see Adam, I told ya it might one of Smiffy’s but oh no, you knew better, reckoning it were too big or weren’t his style or some other bollox.” Karl added, eager to take the opportunity to prove Adam wrong.

“Yes and no is the answer to that.” Smiffy answered.

“Uh?”  Adam grunted.

“I might have known the electricity board would be at the bottom of this!” Mr. Dibble huffed.

“If I may,” PC Jenkins interrupted, “If you could shed some light on this, I’m all ears?”

“Sure,” Smiffy said. “Me and my crew were called out on a rush job to replace a faulty cable last night. Not long after, some fella walking past stopped and told us he’d spotted some rare insect or bug I think he said, scurrying up along the sides of our hole. They just looked like regular bugs to me but what do I know?”

“About entomology? Probably about as much as I know about digging holes I suspect.” Michaels of the Ministry said.

“Ento…Uh? What was that?” Asked Smiffy, not being used to that many syllables in an entire sentence let alone a single word.

“Entomology.” Michaels repeated, “The study of insects.”

“Could start with taking a look at Dibble them.” Adam chipped in. Karl did his best to supress a snigger. Dibble on the other hand wasn’t so amused. PC Jenkins took a deep breath.

“Can we please let Mr. Smith continue with his account?”

“Ahh right.” Smiffy said, forgetting all about entomology: “Well, next thing I knew, half a dozen official looking bods were crawling all over the site, ya man here included. Before I knew it they were in charge with their own diggers, hence the ruddy great fuck off hole we got now.”

“And why wasn’t I made aware of all this earlier, and where have you been in the meantime, we could have had all this cleared up ages ago,” Mr. Dibble said.

“Out of my hands now, speak to the organ grinder over there,” Smiffy answered, pointing in the direction of Michaels of the Ministry.

“That’s absolutely right,” Michaels agreed. “This entire area is now under the jurisdiction of my department.”

Needless to say, Mr. Dibble took umbrage at seeing his authority and control of the situation fast disappearing:  “Make no mistake,” Mr. Dibble said. “I shall be having words with the mayor about this I can tell you!”

As per usual, despite his official position in the council, no one was paying much attention to the officious Mr. Dibble, and even less so when Adam made his latest observation.

“Eh up!” Adam announced. “Can anyone make out that bit pointing out at the bottom at the far side of the hole, it looks like some kinda shell…”

Silence descended on the collective chatter for a few moments as the seriousness of the last statement dawned on everyone.

“It might well be,” said PC Jenkins as she stepped to the very edge of the hole and peered down at where Adam was pointing. Strangely enough the others were more inclined to edge themselves in the opposite direction…

“When you say a shell Mr. Wiggly, are you saying it might be some sort of bomb?” Michaels of the Ministry asked, who oddly enough now seemed to have lost some of his authority and confidence. Suddenly people were taking a little more notice of the oafish Adam.

“Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying Mr. Michaels… and you there Miss, PC Jenkins, might be an idea not to be getting too close.”

“Yes, I agree, perhaps we should all move a little further away and pass this onto someone better equipped to deal with the new situation.” Mr. Dibble urged. For once, he and Adam finally agreed on something. If truth be known, Mr. Dibble was probably more worried at Adam later being credited as the first one to alert everyone to the danger and acting decisively in the matter… Mr. Dibble had no intention of letting Adam challenge him for his job on the strength of that…

“Way ahead of you guys,” PC Jenkins replied prior to getting on her radio to report the latest development.

“Ermm, Mr. Wiggly, if it is a bomb, or even just a suspect one, what’s likely to happen now?” Michaels of the Ministry asked.

“Controlled explosion of some sort I’d guess,” Adam replied. Karl nodded his agreement with Adam.

“Whoa, now let’s not act hastily, there’s already way too many people involved and contaminating the site.” Michaels of the Ministry said:  “Contaminating the site? It’s not a crime scene you know.” PC Jenkins interjected.

“I know that but this site has been designated as a one of special importance. You do know the Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroach hasn’t been seen in over two hundred years, and that the ones residing in this hole might be the last living specimens in the world.” Everyone’s jaw just dropped at that, including Mr. Dibble’s. Until that point he had been unrivalled in his capacity for stupidity, but Michaels of the Ministry’s concern for some rare bugs over all their safety eclipsed even his capacity for coming out with complete and utter bollox.

“Err, hello up there, but I think something’s ticking down here.” Called a voice from just a few feet away from where Adam had first spotted what he was now sure was an unexploded shell, probably a souvenir of the last war.

Whilst they’d all been discussing who the hole belonged to, and then the current danger, some of Michaels of the Ministry’s lab staff had clambered down into the hole to take soil samples in the hope of collecting some live specimens of the rare bug Michaels was so excited about…

“Sorry, false alarm, it’s stopped now…” The voice called again a second or two later.

“I don’t care, you guys get yourselves back up, now!” PC Jenkins shouted down at them.

“PC Jenkins.” Said Michaels of the Ministry. “Let me remind you I’m in charge here, and I won’t have you or anyone jeopardising our preservation work here.” Before she could respond, Michaels had already turned his attention elsewhere:

“You chaps down there, carry on collecting the samples I asked for.”

“Suit yourself, on your head be it then.” The pretty PC answered.

“Might be an idea if you and your lot get everyone cleared from the area, luv.” Adam said. “If that thing down there’s started ticking once, it might start again, what with them twats down there with their digging and whatnot,” Adam was telling PC Jenkins. Again, Karl was nodding his agreement.

“Well we don’t know that for sure, and they did say it was a false alarm. And yes I think it needs to be investigated, but I’m not going to authorise a full scale evacuation of the area just on the say so of a council hole-digger and a man from the gas board.” PC Jenkins replied.

“Chief Roadside Excavation Officer, if ya don’t mind, luv.” Adam corrected her. “Gas Infrastructure Site Surveyor.” Karl added.

This time it was Adam’s turn to give Karl a ‘what the f…’ look, knowing damned well he’d just made that up.

Mr. Dibble was staying on the fence on this; he didn’t want to openly agree with PC Jenkins just in case she was wrong, but he thought Adam and Karl were probably exaggerating the danger and he didn’t want to share in the bureaucratic fall-out by endorsing their advice if that turned out to be the case.

“Thank you PC Jenkins, a voice of sanity at last,” Michaels of the Ministry declared. He was relieved he and his team of could continue their bug collecting and that no one was going to deliberately blow them up, or at least not until they had enough of their precious specimens.

“Sod this for a game of soldiers.” Adam huffed: “I’m off to the pub until the bomb disposal mob declare this a safe zone, you joining me Karl?”

“Too bloody right mate, this lot are off their heads, mate.” Karl agreed.

“Hold up, wait for me.” Smiffy shouted after them. It wasn’t that he was worried about being blown up but he knew the local pub served a mean bacon buttie.

They really should have listened to Adam and Karl. They were both ex-military and knew only too well the dangers of an unexploded bomb.

***

It took seconds for the immediate surroundings to feel the full blast of the explosion, though it took considerably longer for the resultant fires to be put out and for the dust to settle. Any life within the immediate vicinity was now toast. The one exception was the previously thought to be extinct colony of Lesser Spotted Peat Bog cockroaches, who were now happily scurrying away to find another hole to enjoy a well-deserved nap in after having been kept awake by a lot of silly humans. Considering cockroaches will probably still be around long after the last of the human race has been irradiated under an atomic mushroom cloud, Michaels of the Ministry really shouldn’t have been too worried about them.

Adam and Karl, who had sensibly decided they’d be better off supping a quiet pint in a nearby pub rather than gabbing away around a ruddy great hole with a ruddy great bomb at the bottom of it, continued where they’d left off in their previous discussion on the character of a hole…

 

 

Gunners ‘N’ Grenades – Book Review

sean1I first came accross this book via Amazon’s recommendations as well seeing it pop up in a few facebook posts/recommendations. Although not a member of my Indie Author Support Fb group, having read and enjoyed this book I’m delighted to present my review of it here. Sean Connelly is the author of a number of military themed books, most of which are of the memoir & autobiographical genre. Gunners ‘N’ Grenades is Sean Connelly’s first fiction book, though it still draws on his military past. Having spent fifteen years and being a Bombadier in the British Army, he is well qualified to write in this arena. Sean first started writing after someone suggested that he should write an account of his early days in the army, and since then he has gone from strength to strength in his efforts. 

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Further links to Sean Connelly’s writing can be found at:

www.armynovels.com

Sean Connelly’s Amazon Author page:

Sean Connelly’s Armymovels Fb group

www.twitter.com/armynovels

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Note:  As you will see from the following review I’ve prefaced it with the author’s own Amazon blurb; it’s often a dilemma as to how much plot detail to include in a review without giving too much away or simply repeating what the author has already said. In the case of an Amazon review, not to include such detail doesn’t present a problem generally as anyone reading the reviews are already likely to have read the the said blurb, but with a blog review it’s likely this will be the first time the reader has even heard of the featured book hence my inclusion of the blurb here…

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Amazon Blurb for: Gunners ‘N’ Grenades –

“… It is the dream of most soldiers to be the best. To join an elite fighting force and be able to perform in any theatre of war is the goal of most British squaddies. With it come respect, honour, comradeship and greater courage.

PERSTO TROOP is made up of some of the best and most experienced soldiers in the British Army… and four delinquents. The latter are about to be dishonourably discharged but someone, somewhere sees their potential and they are offered the lifeline of joining this new elite force. They must now endure the rigours of harsh training that will either make or break them.

Told in the style of a fictional autobiography, Gunners & Grenades, has humour as well as action and follows the ‘nitty-gritty’ of the everyday life of a young soldier in the 1980’s as he grows from misfit to a true leader, covering his exploits from bars to battle and sex to secret operations which culminate in explosive action with the kidnapping of a Sultan’s Daughter at The Edinburgh Tattoo and the race against time to rescue her.

For ‘Sledge’, our delinquent soldier and his mates, this is both a final chance and a dream come true… “

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Gunners ‘N’ Grenades: Sledge’s First Mission 

By Sean Connelly 

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(Available from Amazon in both print and eBook formats, and signed print copies available from the author’s website… www.armynovels.com )

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sean2Thoroughly enjoyed this British military adventure story. Like many such stories it begins with some background events leading up to the situation in which the central character, in this case a young soldier called Sledge, finds himself, and from which the unfolding action emerges. Unfortunately for our hero of the story, Sledge, and the men under his command, display just a little ‘too’ much potential and enthusiasm at the beginning of their careers for what it takes to be a good soldier and very nearly find themselves in danger of being booted out of the army. Thankfully someone higher up sees how Sledge and his oppos might be put to better use rather than being thrown back onto civvie street, and gives them the opportunity to prove themselves in a more demanding role. What follows is a side-splittingly funny (and indeed sometimes harrowing) depiction of the brighter side of army life, military banter, and colourful language that would make even the sturdiest blush at. The reader follows Sledge and his comrades’ progress through their training in a newly formed elite troop that sort of exists as a halfway house between a regular regiment and the elite special-forces, possibly to take on missions that the SAS would want to be able to deny all liability or involvement in. Although highly trained and capable of killing without hesitation by the end of their training, Sledge and his comrades are still just like ninety five percent of the rest of the British Army, i.e. hard drinking, womanising, and a colourful a vocabulary as one can imagine – in other words, typical squaddies (and damned good soldiers to boot) – rather than some unbelievable Rambo type supermen.

The real nitty gritty of the story i.e. fighting a real enemy, doesn’t really take place till say the last third of the book, focusing instead on the men’s training, friendships, and banter, but all combining to form the prefect built up to the conclusion. The contrast between the humour and sometimes madness of army life, and the grim realities that inevitably arise from time to time is well portrayed as the story progresses.

I would say that the best military based adventure books are written by those with some personal experience of military life, but that isn’t to say such experience guarantees an enjoyable reading experience. Quite often the writer’s personal experience is injected into their writing too literally, often resulting in a book that comes across as part fiction, part memoir, and with way too much emphasis on military accuracy at the expense entertaining the reader. Thankfully Sean Connelly hasn’t fallen in that trap; yes his own experience shines through in the writing, and the military detail is spot on (for the most part) but he’s also injected a certain degree of poetic licence into his writing to make for a more entertaining story, creating larger than life characters but who aren’t so far removed from reality that they force the reader to suspend disbelief; for military purists there might well be some areas where it could be argued that the poetic licence has been taken a tad too far, i.e. the notion of a bunch of green teenage royal artillery recruits getting the better of highly trained and experienced infantry men is a little hard to believe for anyone whose actually served, as well as their being propelled at such an early stage of their careers into such a troop, but for the average non-military or civvie reader I imagine it wouldn’t be an issue.

Normally this would be an easy five stars for the humour and thumping good story telling value whilst still remaining credible but there were a few typos and grammatical issues i.e. the odd missing word here and there, which tells me the final draft would have benefitted from another round or two of editing and proof reading. Nonetheless it still gets a five star rating, just not quite a resounding one. If you’re looking for the sort of high octane adrenalin fuelled action of an Andy McNab novel or the cold brutal reality of a Ken Wharton book then this probably isn’t it, but if you enjoy British Army themed escapist story telling that captures at least some of the feel and flavour of military life as it was for most of us then you really can’t do much better than this.

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Further books by Sean Connelly: Click on Thumbnails for Amazon links…

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Author & Journalist, Ian Probert – Guest Blog

 

Guardian picFor my first ever guest blog I’m featuring the very talented author Ian Probert. His latest book Johnny Nothing has drawn considerable praise and is available to purchase on Amazon and other outlets at the links below. In addition to being an internationally successful author, Ian Probert is also a highly respected journalist. Ian’s guest blog here is divided into two parts: In the first part we read of the time he met Muhammad Ali, and his astonishment when the The Greatest quite unexpectedly kissed his then girlfriend. In Part two he moves onto a feature on his latest book Johnny Nothing

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When The Greatest kissed my girl

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It was the third time I’d met him. Well, that’s not strictly true. In reality I’d only met him once before. Met, in the sense of shaking his hand and getting introduced to him. Met, in the sense that he’d spoken to me and I’d actually sat at the dinner table and eaten with him (with a lot of other journalists it has to be said). The second time didn’t really count as a ‘meet’. On that occasion I’d queued at Sports Pages in London along with hundreds of other people hoping to bask in his presence. But then basking in the presence of Muhammad Ali – once the most famous person on planet Earth and arguably the finest boxer ever to lace up the gloves – was usually more than most people could ever hope for.

The year was 1994 and I was standing in the queue outside the Whiteley’s branch of Waterstones waiting for that third meeting. Beside me was my then partner, a good-looking French lawyer named Julie. Behind me was Hugh McIlvaney, the great Scottish sportswriter who had been there to report on some of Ali’s greatest triumphs, not least of which his victory over George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. McIlvaney, despite a career spent travelling the world and meeting and writing about some of sport’s greatest icons, was happy to wait his turn alongside Ali’s fans.

It must have been Ali’s 10-millionth book signing and he was having trouble drumming up any enthusiasm for the occasion. More than that he looked ill. He was hunched over a desk in the middle of the shop, scrawling signature after signature while admirers attempted to catch his attention. ‘You’re the greatest fighter that ever lived,’ most of them said in so many words, and Ali would move his head slowly toward them and nod weakly in agreement. Speech for him seemed impossible. The thousands of punches that Ali took in his career had turned boxing’s finest exponent into its most tragic indictment.

Holding Julie’s hand, the front of the queue grew closer and I found myself not looking forward to what was about to happen. After all, what was to be gained? The Ali whom I loved was the person on TV who danced the shuffle and seemed to defy any logic as he charmed his way through a quite dazzling boxing career. The person sitting before me wasn’t really Ali. He was someone else. He bore no resemblance to the beautiful man who once cradled the planet in his hands.

Now it was our turn. The two of us approached the table nervously. Neither one of really wanted to shove the book we had just bought in front of the great man. But we did. We did because there was nothing else to do. Ali signed his name and passed the book to us. Then – and I don’t really know why I did this – I asked if I could take a picture of him with Julie. Ali looked tired and I immediately felt guilty about asking the question.

Then something remarkable happened.

Ali1Ali slowly rose to his feet. It was painful to observe as the former champion straightened his body and shuffled toward us. Except this was no Ali Shuffle. It was the painful gait of an old man. A large part of me was desperate to look away. Before I could do so, however, Ali climbed on to his toes. Unbelievably, he began to skip and as he did so the years slipped away from him like autumn leaves in the breeze. He threw a few punches into the air and all at once he was the young Cassius Clay, the man who shocked the world by beating Sonny Liston; the man who took on and defeated the parole board.

As we stood there open mouthed, Ali seized the moment and moved over to Julie. Suddenly his arms were around her and he was kissing her. And the kiss was not a peck. The kiss lasted far longer than it should have done. But I was not disturbed by the sight of another man kissing my girlfriend. I was too busy photographing that very long moment.

And then it was over and Ali was back slumped into his seat. Suddenly forty years older. And Julie was looking back at me in shock, her face drained of blood, her lungs of air. My girlfriend had just been passionately kissed by Muhammad Ali! It was only when we got home that Julie confessed that she hadn’t a clue who Muhammad Ali was.

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Johnny Nothing

Johnny_Nothing Cover

 

BLURB

“Great new kids book alert! My two are in hysterics reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert (and I am too).” Jane Bruton, Editor of Grazia

“Oh, Wow! Dark, sordid, grotesque and hilarious are only a few words I can conjure up to describe this hilarious book.” Lizzie Baldwin, mylittlebookblog

Critics are comparing Ian Probert to Roald Dahl. And Johnny Nothing we have a modern successor to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

Johnny Nothing is best-selling author Ian Probert’s first ever children’s book – although adults are enjoying it too. The story of the poorest boy in the world and the nastiest mother in the universe, the book is earning rave reviews. Children and grown-ups are all laughing at this incredibly funny kids book.

Take a look for yourself:

 

http://geni.us/3oR8

To celebrate the paperback launch of Johnny Nothing we are offering a free Kindle copy of the book to the first 100 people who Tweet the following message:

@truth42 I’m reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert. http://geni.us/3oR8 #YA #Kindle #kidsbooks

The first ten readers who answer the following question will also receive a signed print of one of the book’s illustrations.

Q: What is the tattoo on Ben’s arm?

Send your answers to truth42@icloud.com

 

Links

Amazon http://geni.us/3oR8

iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/johnny-nothing/id908777441?mt=11

Book promo http://youtu.be/xaWO4tR4oj0?list=UUzLRcpNMLRKKtJhes1s1C7w

WordPress http://ianprobertbooks.wordpress.com

Website http://ianprobert.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/716683635030173/

Twitter @truth42 https://twitter.com/truth42

 

Author biography

Ian Probert has been scribbling down words ever since he learned to spell the phrase: ‘Once upon a time…’. He is the author of Internet Spy, Rope Burns and a bunch of other titles. Internet Spy was a bestseller in the US and made into a TV film. Rope Burns is a book about why books shouldn’t be written about boxing. Ian has also written things for a shed load of newspapers and magazines. When Ian was a student he used to write lots of letters to the bank manager.

 

EXCERPT

Bill had a shaven head and was wearing a blue tracksuit. He was almost seven feet tall and built like an outdoor toilet made of brick. Bill didn’t realise this but he was a distant descendent of Neanderthal Man. He had only one eyebrow – one long bushy eyebrow that reached right across his forehead. He looked like what you might get if you force fed a member of Oasis with a half-tonne black plastic sackful of steroids.

And if you were brave enough to be present when he took off his tracksuit you would discover that his back was so covered in hair that he was able part it with a comb. If Bill had had more of an interest in fashion, he might even have considered giving it a curly perm and perhaps a few extensions

29 Bill_BenOn his right arm, Bill had a tattoo which simply read ‘Bill’. This was in case he woke up one morning and forgot who he was. This was actually less unlikely than you might imagine because standing next to him was his twin brother. His name was Ben and he was identical to Bill in every way except that the tattoo on his arm read ‘Bin’ (the tattooist was either South African or not a very good speller). He was wearing a red tracksuit.

Bill gave Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie the tiniest of smiles and managed to grunt ‘hello’. Ben gave the couple exactly the same tiniest of smiles and also managed to grunt ‘hello’.

13d JohnnyThe two men were standing protectively close to Johnny. They were so large that in the confines of Johnny’s bedroom they looked like giants, which they were. They were so enormous that each of them had their own postcode. They were so gigantic that they had their passport photos taken by satellite. They were so humungous that you could spend all day thinking up rubbishy jokes about how big they were and never adequately describe just how indescribably, earth-shatteringly ENORMOUS they were. By no stretch of the imagination could you call them small (unless, of course, you were a lot bigger than them).

The pair of Goliaths were having to stoop slightly so as to avoid head-butting the ceiling, which actually even looked a little scared itself. They were a terrifying sight. Even scarier than a school trip to a Weight-Watcher’s nudist camp.

There was a long, pregnant silence in the room like this:

This eventually gave birth to an even longer post-natal silence, which, in the interest of preserving the rain forests or the battery on your Kindle, I shan’t demonstrate.

The four grown-ups eyed each other nervously. Bill and Ben looked at the Mackenzies like they were looking at insects that could be squashed into pulpy insect juice any time they so desired.

The Mackenzies looked at Bill and Ben like they were looking at two giant skinhead Neanderthal bully boys who had just appeared from nowhere in their recently and unexpectedly decorated council flat.

Johnny looked a little scared.

Finally Billy Mackenzie managed to get his mouth working a little and spluttered: ‘Who are you?’ And then: ‘What do you want?’

There was another long silence – let’s call it a pause – while Bill and Ben looked at each other as if trying to decide who was going to answer. Finally Bill spoke: ‘You the boy’s parents?’ he demanded in a voice that sounded like an angry rhino with horn-ache. Although if he was clever enough he would have realised that this was a rhetorical question.

There was yet another long silence (you’ll be relieved to hear that this is the last silence you’re going to get in this chapter) before Billy Mackenzie mumbled ‘Yes’.

‘We’re Johnny’s bodyguards,’ continued Bill. ‘We’re here to make sure that everything’s hunky dory.’

‘Hunky dory?’ Mrs. Mackenzie suddenly found her voice. ‘What do you mean ‘hunky dory”?’

Now Ben spoke: ‘What my brother means to say,’ he explained. ‘Is that we’ve been – how shall I say – contracted – to make sure that this young feller’s affairs are in order.’

‘Get out of my house!’ interrupted Mrs. Mackenzie, suddenly feeling a little braver, although she had no idea why.

Bill and Ben looked at each again for a moment. They did this almost as much as your mum looks in the mirror. Or you dad looks at websites that he shouldn’t be looking at. ‘First of all,’ said Bill, ‘This isn’t a house – it’s a flat.’

‘And second of all,’ said his brother. ‘We ain’t going nowhere. And neither are you.’

‘Johnny who are these men?’ Mrs. MacKenzie asked her son, ignoring the two giants.

‘I’m sorry mum but…’ Johnny started to speak but Bill cut in like a pair of scissors that chops sentences into bits.

‘…What the young feller means to say is that the fun’s over.’

‘The fun’s over?’ repeated Felicity MacKenzie numbly.

‘That’s right,’ continued Ben. ‘You’ve had a right old time. You’ve been spending his money like it’s your own. You’ve been ripping the poor young feller off. And we’re here to put a stop to it. From now on things are gonna be different.’

‘I’ve had enough of this,’ said Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my house…’

‘Flat,’ corrected Ben.

‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my flat. Billy, call the police!’

As usual Billy MacKenzie did as he was told. He reached into his pocket for his mobile phone. Before he had the chance to even turn it on the gigantic frame of Bill was towering over him.

‘That an iPhone?’ asked Ben.

‘Erm… Yes,’ said Billy, who could only watch as the huge man took it from him and with one hand crushed it into a chunk of buckled metal and shattered touch screen.

‘I think it’s broken,’ said Ben. ‘You ought to take it back to the Apple store. Tell ‘em that you’re not getting a decent signal.’

‘Right!’ cried Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘We’re leaving! You’ll be very sorry you did that. I’ll fetch the police myself!’

Now the giant frame of Bill was standing in front of her. He was holding something in his hand that looked a little like a child’s toy space gun.

‘Know what this is?’ he asked. Although once again he wasn’t clever enough to recognise that this was a rhetorical question.

Mrs. Mackenzie regarded the object for a moment. Then she shook her head. Whatever it was she guessed that it was not intended to provide pleasure, happiness or fulfilment. Anything that has a trigger and a barrel and goes ‘bang!’ seldom does.

‘Come on Billy!’ she said. ‘We’re leaving!’

Bill stood in front of her blocking the doorway. ‘Not so fast,’ he said, not so slowly. ‘It’s called a Taser. See this little trigger at the front? If I press this it’ll give you a small electric shock. It won’t hurt you…Well not too much anyway.’

Bill raised the object and gently touched Mrs. MacKenzie on the arm. There was a loudish bang and a flash of blue neon light and Mrs. MacKenzie collapsed groaning to the floor. She was conscious but wasn’t able to move her arms and legs

‘Oh my gawd!’ said Billy Mackenzie bravely charging out of the room in terror. He got as far as the stairs before there was a second flash. He, too, crumpled to the floor. Bill dragged him back into the bedroom by the scruff of his neck.

03b  JohnnyJohnny Nothing got to his feet and stood over his two parents. He looked anxious. ‘Are they… Are they… OK?’ he gasped.

‘Don’t you worry yourself,’ smiled Ben. ‘Give em a few minutes and they’ll be right as rain.’

‘But they’ll think twice before they try to run off again,’ said his brother.

.

04a Uncle Marley 06a Organist 07 Vicar 12c Felicity 14 Kiss copy 36 Reporter 33 Tramp 32 God

 

The Great Bank Robbery…

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There’s an old saying, ‘We all make mistakes,’ and of course, we all do: big ones, little ones, silly ones, and often, stupid ones. And once and a while, someone makes one that is as ‘big and stupid ‘as they come…

The plans were all laid. Big Ron had a gotten together quite a crew for this one: There was little Mickey ‘Wheels’ Tanner, the best getaway driver short of Sterling moss. Jack Dawkins, the explosives expert, electrics and alarms man, Peter Hills. And last but not least, that well known hard-man, Hatchet Harry, had been brought in to add a bit of muscle; any problems with wannabe heroes, and Hatchet Harry was more than willing to shove a sawn-off shotgun down their throat – and pull the trigger too if they thought he was bluffing.

Rumour had it that this was a rather exclusive bank, very discreet, catering to the stars, politicians, the super-rich, and even senior members of the Royal family. Located in the heart of London’s exclusive Mayfair, it was an old Victorian building, with little to indicate what is was other that a shiny brass plate, saying simply, The Bank.

Big Ron had high hopes for this one. With that sort of clientele there had to be serious money to be had, not to mention jewellery, bonds, and god knows what sort of secrets the rich and powerful preferred kept secret…

“So, we’re all clear then, we go through the adjacent wall. Pete here has already traced the in-wall alarm wires so there’s no probs there.” Big Ron said.

“And I’ll be waiting right outside with the motor running.” Peter Hills assured them.

“Yer’ bloody well better be!” Added Hatchet Harry.

“I still don’t get why there ain’t more security though, I mean like, if there’s really as much as yer’ reckon there is?” Hatchet Harry said. He might have been the hired muscle but he was far from the stupid oaf many thought him to be…

“It’s as I explained,” Big Ron began, “‘it’s because of who the customers are. They don’t want people, you know, the public and the Press and stuff knowing their business. And a load of armed guards and security cams and stuff would attract too much attention.”

Hatchet Harry nodded, still not fully convinced, but sufficiently tempted by Big Ron’s promises of untold money to put aside his doubts.

“Right then, let’s do it.

It had been a well-planned job, right down to the last detail. Big Ron had leased the adjacent basement office for the past six months, at no inconsiderable expense. Every penny he had, had been invested in this one last caper. And things were progressing nicely…

“That’s it, we’re in,” declared Jack, the explosives man, “an’ you’re sure we haven’t tripped any of them alarm wires, Pete?”

“No chance.” Pete Replied.

“Stop yakking and let’s get in and out, pronto!” Said Big Ron, following the two of them through the hole in the wall, closely followed by Hatchet Harry.

“Who the hell…” A voice boomed at them, “Where… How did you get in here..?” Hatchet Harry was the first to respond…

“Down on the floor. Now!”

The night security guard did as he was told; when Hatchet Harry told you to do something, you did it.

“Right, Pete, start on opening those deposit boxes,” Big Ron bellowed.

“Wh… What is it you want here?” The security guard stuttered, turning his head to look up at them all.

“Are you serious? We want what’s in all those cash filled deposit boxes.” Hatchet Harry replied.

Despite the obvious danger he was in, the security guard couldn’t help but let out a muffled laugh: “That’s what this is about, money?” And again he laughed.

“First one’s open,” Peter Hills declared.

“And?” Asked one of the others.

“Erm, I’m not sure… Just some test tubes and, erm, petri dishes I think they’re called.”

The others looked around at each other in disbelief, and then to the security guard:

“There’s no money in any those boxes.” He said

“No money!” Growled Hatchet Harry, not at the security guard, but at Big Ron.

“What do you mean, no money?” He said again, turning back to the security guard who was still lying prone on the ground…

“This isn’t that sort of bank, it’s a blood and tissue bank, you know, genetic material, stem-cells, stuff like that, to help the rich and famous to stay young and healthy when they start to get old and sick. They’re the only ones who can afford all this.”

Hatchet Harry turned again at Big Ron, shot-gun in hand…

“It’s not my fault, how was I to know that?” Big Ron pleaded.

It didn’t matter; Hatchet Harry raised the gun a little higher and fired a shot straight in Big Ron’s head…

********************

“Pretty bad mess we got here.” The detective in charge was saying.

“Yeah. Who’d have thought Big Ron would end up making a deposit in the very bank he was trying to rob?” His colleague added, looking across at the mass of brain tissue and scull fragments splattered across the front of the tissue deposit boxes of the vault…

Freedom….

After getting some very nice feedback on my last two Flash Fiction pieces I’ve decided to write a few more. One, because they’re fun to write, and two, they provide a welcome distraction when I get stuck on some of my longer pieces and the novel I’m working on.

After more than ten years, Billy Jenkins was free – no more watching him all the time. No more not being allowed to go beyond a certain distance, no more stupid grey trousers or lights out at a certain time – free to roam as far as the open road would take him.

For more than the past decade, almost every minute of his life had been controlled, monitored, and spied on, everything from what he wore, his behaviour, right down to the food he ate. Many’s a time he had considered trying to make a run for it, but he knew they’d simply bring him back, that he’d have to start over, convincing them he should once again be allowed the few small freedoms and choices that made his life a little better.

Billy was relishing the first day of his new found liberty. He finally understood when he heard people say, ‘there’s a whole wide world out there’, and here he was, a part of it, free to savour every moment of it.

The sheer thrill of hurtling down the road, weaving in and out of the slow moving traffic, the wind in his hair, no one to nudge him this way or that, it was hard to remember feeling so good.

And why shouldn’t he? He had earned it, proved he was safe to be let out. It wasn’t as though he’d never been free before; they had let him out a couple of times before, but always with restrictions, limitations, escorted everywhere, so much so he felt like a dog on a leash. Not any more though, he thought.

He slowed down, just long enough to smile and whistle at a girl walking along the pavement. She chuckled and smiled back. He would never have been allowed to do that before. And then he sped up again, he wanted to try and beat the lights, which he did. He’d never been so far before, not on his own, unsupervised, but no one was stopping him now, so he continued, on and on the rest of the day.

“Hi Billy, you had a good day did you?” His dad asked.

“Sure did dad,” Billy replied, “I must have ridden a hundred miles on the buses this morning, and ridden another hundred on the bike.”

“That’s great son, you’re growing up so fast it’s hard to keep track of you.”

Young Billy Jenkins hadn’t returned back home till nearly eight in the evening, the latest he’d been allowed out on his own in all his eleven years on the planet, but it was his birthday, and he’d gotten a racing bike. That, and the free to travel bus he was now old enough for, had opened up the whole wide world for him that day…

“That as maybe,” his mother interrupted, adding,” But it’s time for your dinner, then bath and bed young man.”

Billy sighed, knowing there were still a few more rules he had to abide by for now…

Starship Shooters…

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Jake Hogan was the best starship fighter pilot in the Federation of the Outer Worlds, but even he was nervous of the odds this time. Coming into view from behind the asteroid belt, he could see the armada of enemy ships closing in, shields up, weapons all primed for firing, led by the only opponent to have ever bested him in one on one space combat. And here he was, facing the same opponent at the head of a fleet ten times the size of his own.

Outnumbered and out-gunned, he directed the Federation fleet ships to the pre-calculated strategic positions to provide his home world Atarious, the best chance of surviving the coming battle. This was going to be a David and Goliath fight, of skill verses overwhelming fire-power…

Along with four other attack craft, Jake Hogan started to zig zag in and out of the asteroids that lay between them and the enemy. He was grateful now for the armament upgrades his and the other ships had been fitted with: laser light cannons, photon Q-bombs, jump drive positioning, every conceivable defensive and attack capability he could hope for. But would it be enough?

POW! POW! POW! The enemy hard started to open fire, blasting a path through the asteroids. One of Jake’s fellow fighters was hit by some of the debris and was now out of action. Jake himself had to dart away pretty sharpish to avoid being hit. The three remaining ships of his fighter squad closed in around him, providing cover fire as he re-directed fire at the enemy lead ship…

Ratter Tat Tat !!! “Bastards!” Jake cursed to himself… Enemy scout ships were trying a flanking manoeuvre, spewing out bursts of laser fire to force Jake’s fighter squad from their attempts to strike at the heart of the enemy fleet. Jake and his fellow fighters scattered in different directions, littering the battle field in their wake with photon mines, primed to explode as the enemy scout ships tried to follow. With sweating hands, Jake swung his ship round to face the pursuing ships and opened fire, setting off the mines. Blinding flashes of light exploded all around. The pursuing ships were blown to bits, the rouse had worked. But the bulk of the enemy fleet still lay protected by the remaining asteroids. Jake gathered the Federation fleet ships for an all-out attack.

“Launch Q-bombs!” Jake ordered. And with that, every last Federation ship launched the equivalent of a thousand bombs, each a thousand times more powerful that the most powerful of the primitive nuclear weapons of the twenty second century. Jake knew the Q-bombs alone couldn’t destroy all the enemy ships, but she shattering of the asteroid belt would provide the additional destruction to ensure complete and utter victory for the federation…

“Yes!” Jake screamed, “Take that you fucking alien bastards!!!”

“What’s all the noise about Jake?” Jake’s older brother asked.

“I just got a high score… This new X-box online game is fucking awesome!”

Sperm Bank Donor…

To write regularly, all writers need fresh inspiration from time to time. Where it comes from isn’t always obvious, but often it comes from the strangest of places. The inspiration for this story came from the classified ads of my local paper… I wanted to write something a little wacky
and off the wall, so here it is…

Image  Image

Sam saw the ad in the paper for sperm donors – twenty pounds per ‘sample’. With money being a bit tight – well, when wasn’t money tight for a student – easy money, Sam thought. Sam noted down the address. It was only a short bus ride away, no reason to delay…

“I’m Sam Hillman, here about the ad.” Sam informed the receptionist.

“What ad. is that?” She asked.

“The one in the paper, twenty pounds for sperm donations.” Sam replied.

The receptionist frowned and gave Sam a somewhat quizzical look:

“The sperm donors wanted ad?.. That’s definitely the one you’re here about?”

“Yes, that’s the one.” Sam replied, wondering at her obvious scepticism.

“Erm.. Could you wait here a moment while I get my supervisor, please?”

“Yeah, sure.” Sam replied, and took a seat in the waiting room as the receptionist disappeared through a door behind her desk. Five minutes later, an older man in a white coat returned with the receptionist…

“Well? You see what I mean don’t you?” Sam heard the receptionist whisper to whom Sam presumed must be one of the clinic’s medical staff.

“Yes, well, I’ll take it from here.” Sam heard the man in the white coat whisper back.

“Well Sam, it is Sam is it?” The white coat asked.

“Yes, that’s right,” Sam confirmed, adding, in anticipation of the next question, “here about the sperm donors wanted ad.”

“Ah …Yes, so my colleague said.” The white coat said. Sam could see he was a little perplexed: “Is there a problem?” Sam asked.

“Err… Well, I’m not sure… You have read the ad? You… do understand… what it entails don’t you? What… exactly… we need from you.”

“Yes, of course I do, why wouldn’t I?”

Sam was getting quite frustrated at all the questions, thinking it would all be over and done with by now, and twenty pounds the richer…

“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t you, what I meant was…” The white coat paused, not quite sure how to continue…

“Yes?”

“Well, I’m really not sure how to put this,” the white coat said, now almost stuttering to get his words out, “are you absolutely sure about this? What I mean to say, rather, what I’m trying to say is, I mean, is that, well…”

“For fucks sake,” Sam exclaimed, “what is it you’re saying?”

“Well, to be a sperm donor…” The white coat paused before continuing, “there are… certain requirements… that have to be met, that the donor has to meet first.”

Sam was trying desperately hard to remain calm and composed, despite the white coat’s seemingly determined efforts to prevent that…

“Will you please, just please; tell me what the problem is?” Sam asked in the most condescending voice imaginable.

“The problem, as you put it,” the white coat began. He paused for a moment, then adding:

“Is that… Err.. You’re a woman!”

“And?” replied Sam.

“Isn’t it obvious? You need to be a man! To have testicles!”

Sam laughed before answering: “Well I might not have testicles, but my boyfriend certainly does. And like most boyfriends, he’s a lazy sod. That’s why I’m here instead of him.

And on that note, Sam, short for Samantha, promptly produced a small vial with the required sample…

Cold Callers…

Preface:

 It’s funny, the little things that provide the inspiration for a story. In the following story, the seed of the idea started with a TV commercial featuring a woman in the kitchen receiving a phone call from a loft insulation salesman. She puts him on hold while she goes off to make a cup of coffee. It got me thinking of all the different ways to deal with cold callers…

 

 Cold Callers…

 

Time – 08:00: Here I am, Sunday morning, sitting at my keyboard, working on my blog. It’s another short story, not so much a whodunit as a whytheydunit.

The TV’s off, I’ve put my mobile on silent, logged off from Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media, and locked the wife and kids in the cellar – well, not really, I made that last bit up, but you take my point.

I’m lost in my own little world, the only external contact being my fingers tapping away at the keyboard. The words are flowing, bringing the page alive before my very eyes, I couldn’t be happier… The last time I had a flow like this was a burst water pipe.

Disaster… The landline is ringing. I think for a moment to ignore it. Only my family and close friends know my home number; it might be important. Reluctantly I emerge from my other world…

“Yeah, who’s this?” I ask, making little effort to hide my annoyance at the interruption. If it’s anyone I know I can make my apologies later. If not, I don’t care…

“Is that Mr Brown?” The twat didn’t even have the courtesy to answer my question.

Who is it that’s asking?” I ask, again…

 “Oh I’m sorry, did I not say?”

“No.”

“Ah, okay, I’m sorry…” He’s lying; he’s not a bit sorry, obviously a salesman of some sort.

“So you said. Now, who are you?”

“Yes of course, my name’s Colin, Colin Smithers.” Smarmy git, he’s trying to control the exchange, like a chess player trying to dominate the middle of the board. Well, I’m not playing…

“What do you want?” I already know what he wants, a sales commission. He won’t be getting one, not from me…

“I’m calling on behalf of Snuggly loft insulation, and…”

“I live in an igloo! I’m not interested.” I say, slamming the phone down. I take a deep breath, just like my therapist advised.

Time – 08:35: I’m back at my keyboard. I can’t help wondering, if I can’t even get some peace and quiet in my own home to write, how the hell did JK Rowling manage it in a cafe? I put the thought from my mind as I resume the sentence I was writing. Now what was it, oh yes I remember, the outline of a murder plot, my fingers returning to the keyboard once more..

Dingggg Dongggg… It’s the front doorbell going…

“What the fuck now?” I mutter under my breath, once again having to tear myself away from my beloved keyboard…

“Yes?” I ask, throwing the door wide open. Standing before me are a man and a woman, of African origin I would say, wearing bright coloured clothing and with equally bright beaming white teethed smiles that would grace the covers of Dentistry Monthly

“We’re from the Holy Hackney Church of the Apostles…”

“And I’m from the Battersea Boy’s Home for waifs and strays, what of it?”

The beaming smiles momentarily wither beneath their puzzled frowns. But only for a moment; they’re trained you know, to deal with stroppy unbelievers. The greater the challenge the greater the reward in heaven, they think. I’m about to throw doubt on their hypothesis…

“Would you be interested in any of our leaflets on the life eternal…?”

I’m glad it’s the man who’s asking. I’m not sexist or ‘owt, but I do find it so much easier being rude and abrupt to another man. It’s a failing, I know; I’m sure if I was a woman I’d feel comfortable with either.

“Not in the slightest!” I reply, about to close the door on this interruption.

“You’re not a believer then my friend?” Asks the female half of the double act.

I feel my blood pressure rising, I take another deep breath, just as I’ve been told. My therapist is going to have to devise a more effective coping mechanism for me; this one is beginning to fail…

“Oh but I am,” I reply, treating them both to a broad smirk, “a fully paid up member of the Sun Worshiping Pagan Tree Hugging Society,  have you heard of us? No? …Thought not…”

It was amusing to see those ‘far too happy to be true’ smiles fall from their faces as they turned to walk away in sync with my closing the door on them. Another unwelcome interruption satisfyingly dispatched…

Time – 09:15: I’m back at my keyboard. A full stop concludes the sentence I was writing, and indeed the paragraph. It’s also the conclusion of my muse for the moment. My ‘flow’ has been become a trickle, and no, that’s not a reference to a prostate problem so please forgive the unfortunate analogy.

The brief satisfaction of my dismissal of the God botherers has worn off. I’m still annoyed at them, blaming them for my loss of focus. I sit staring at the screen, the words on the page a blur, my fingers seemingly paralysed. Another hour passes and still the words don’t come. I fill the following hour with all manner of meaningless tasks: tea making, email checks, Facebook updates, anything to fill the void until the words return. Nothing seems to work, I’m becoming jittery, like an ex-smoker in those first few days of giving up. The deep breathing exercises have lost all effect. I resolve to make another appointment with my therapist. I really should take one of my pills, but I don’t want to blur my imagination even more…I take one anyway.

My morose mood is punctured by the sound of the landline ringing, my second call of the day…

“Hello, is this Mr Brown?” A voice asks. With my mind and fingers still not communicating, this time it’s a welcome intrusion.

“Yes it is. Who’s calling please?”

“My name’s John Hargreaves. I’m calling on behalf of Winter Warm Windows about an exclusive offer we have for your area, Mr Brown.”

“Sorry, what was that name again…Har…Grove… was it? Could you spell that please?”

“Spell it..?” I can hear the frustration in his voice.

“Yes, that’s right, just so I know who I’m talking to…” It’s only fair; he already knows who I am…

“Errm… Yes, right then… H – A – R – G – R – E – A -V – E – S.”

“Thank you for that. And the name of your company? Was that Winter Warm or Warm Winter?”

“The first one, Winter Warm, but as I was saying…” The resignation in his voice is becoming more evident, I wonder if he has high blood pressure too?

“And is that all one word or two, or hyphenated maybe?”

“Oh, erm, two words, without a hyphen… But, what I wanted to…”

“Thank you for that John…I can call you John can I?” I’m enjoying this. Before he can answer I continue:

“Tell me John, what’s it like working for Winter Warm? Are they a good firm to work for, it’s just that I’m thinking of a career change  and  I quite like the idea of sitting round all day just talking to people…”

“It’s… a bit like that, but…” Again I cut him short…

“And the pay, would you say they pay well? It’s not one of those ‘commission only’ set ups is it? I would insist a on a decent basic salary as well, wouldn’t you agree…?”

Time to give him a moment to splutter some blurb about what it is he wants me to buy…

“Yes, the pay’s okay, and yes, there’s a basic salary, but what I was calling about was our special offer to customers in your area…”

“A special offer you say, how exciting.” I hope he recognizes the distain in my voice.

“Are you offering to double glaze my entire house for free then?” If he says yes I might even start taking this conversation seriously…

“Not free exactly, but we are offering a fifty per cent discount to the first twenty customers who sign up for six new windows.”

“That sounds good,” I lie, “and the payment, can I pay in instalments, would there be a deposit to pay first?”

“Yes, definitely, you can pay in instalments, with just a ten per cent deposit to pay first.”

“And the deposit, can I pay that in instalments too?”

“Well, not really, we do require the ten percent to paid before any commencement of work I’m afraid.”

“Oh,” I say, trying to sound disappointed.

“I’ll have to give it some thought then. Obviously before making any commitment I’ll need to take a few particulars about your company to verify its legitimacy, you don’t mind do you?”

“No, not at all,” he says, actually believing I’m genuinely interested now.

“First, could you give me the full postal code addresses of both your local and Head office premises, as well as that of any parent company, and of course their respective customer service and administration telephone numbers. I’ll also need your VAT and Company House registration numbers. I trust none of that will be a problem?”

“All the information you’ve asked for would be in the documentation we provide.”

He’s trying to maintain his composure and civility; sales calls are mostly recorded these days. I suspect this is being recorded too, for training and monitoring purposes, otherwise he would almost certainly have either put the phone down by now or bluntly asked if this was a piss take.

“I appreciate that, but I would still require it beforehand, for my checks you see. And another thing I forgot to ask, is it a new company, and who the directors are? You hear so many horror stories of rogue companies carrying out bad work, closing down, and then opening up again under a slightly different name… Your company isn’t one of those is it?”

There’s an uneasy pause before he answers:

“No, we’re not one of those companies,” he reassures me…

“I’m sure you’re not, but you do see I had to ask don’t you? It’s just that while we’ve been talking I’ve been googling your company. According to their entries your company was only formed six months ago, and it has… My gosh… Eighty seven consumer complaints against it and an honorary mention on both the Cowboy Builders and Consumer Watchdog TV programs…”

I wait in gleeful anticipation for his reply…. Oh dear, we seem to have been cut off, I conclude as the line goes dead. I’m so grateful for his call though, our little exchange has quite rejuvenated my creativity….

Time – 11:55: The words are flowing again, my mood lifted, and my blood pressure back down in the safe zone. Life is good again as I put together the final pieces of my literary jigsaw. The final dilemma was the method to be used for the actual murder committed by my principal character. I had been torn between a brutal bludgeoning or knife attack, and poisoning. The decision is clear to me now as the final scene comes alive on the page…

Dingggg Dongggg… The sound of the doorbell shatters the tranquillity, again…

 Deep breaths, in out, in out, fists clenching, blood pressure ready to explode again. I close my eyes in the hope that whoever it is will  go away…

Dingggg Dongggg… Why now? Sunday is supposed to be a day of peace and quiet…

They’re still there. I feel an anxiety attack coming on. I’ve not the time to take a pill or ring my therapist. Defeated, I rise from my desk to answer yet another intrusive call…

“Yes!” It’s not a question this time. The man standing before me grins like a Cheshire cat. He’s younger than me, mid-thirties I estimate. His suit is slightly ill-fitting. He’s gone for the executive look, but on a limited budget, it’s more dodgy second-hand car salesman.

“Hello, I’m Colin, Colin Smithers; we spoke on the phone earlier this morning. I think I may have caught you at an inconvenient moment at the time.”

My jaw drops in disbelief. The arrogance of this prick. Was I not blunt enough with him on the phone?

“What is it you want?” I’m bloody pissed; this really is taking cold calling to a whole new level. I’ve had enough. Well, I think my response will also have to be taken to a whole new level too…

“I think we may have gotten off to a bad start on the telephone earlier, and as I was in the area on another appointment I thought I might call on you personally to let you know about our limited time exclusive offer we are able to offer on account of a budget underspend last month.”

“Yes, perhaps I was a bit hasty this morning. Please come in…”

Time – 13:45: I’m back at my keyboard. I’ve just about finished my story. The murder scene came out better than I could ever have imagined, a gory brutal decapitation for dramatic effect…

 ********************

It just after 2:20pm when the armed response unit arrived at the house. Mr Brown was sitting at his desk, typing, covered in blood, muttering away to himself, something about ignoring anymore interruptions. He hadn’t even noticed when they came crashing through the door, armed to the teeth, screaming at him to drop to the floor. He just looked over his shoulder and calmly turned off his PC, and told them he was done now done and would be happy to oblige. It was the strangest call-out they’d ever had; the odd reports of a possible murder, the site of that severed head hanging from the external door knocker when they arrived and the make shift sign saying ‘NO COLD CALLERS’.

 *******************

One year later… Time – 08:00: It’s great here. I’ve got access to lots of PCs, and even one in my room. I no longer have to work, not if I don’t want to, so I’ve got all the time in the world for my writing. The doctors tell me I’ll be here for the next twenty years at least, even longer with a bit of luck, though I’ll have to play up a bit if I want an indefinite stay.

Now what was I writing, ah yes, a storyline for the murder of an annoying room-mate…

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