#Writer’s Wednesday… #Simple by Anita Dawes #Mystery #PsychologicalSuspense

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Chapter One

Gran stormed across the clearing, bending to pick up a stick from the ground without breaking her stride.  Simple, sitting against the woodpile, was in for another of her beatings.  I yelled for him to run, but he didn’t hear me.  Lost in one of his daydreams I guessed.

I watched in silence as Gran repeatedly swung the stick hard against the side of her son’s head.  There were no words to describe Simple’s pain or the pain of watching.  He probably didn’t even know what it was for and I hated her for making me feel all the things he couldn’t say. He didn’t move or look her in the face, not until she let the stick drop from her bony fingers did he feel safe enough to close his eyes.  He slowly put his hands to his battered head, blood pushing its way through the gaps in his dirty fingers.

 

Jack was Gran’s firstborn, a mean son of a bitch.  Then came Simple who was soft in the head and lived in a dream world.  Tommy, my favourite, was the youngest and nowhere near as bad as Jack.  They were supposed to make sure Simple stayed away from town.  Gran never could bear the thought of Simple going anywhere near there, but never let on why.  The beatings came when he forgot, and somehow Gran always found out.  I figured she should give up on the beatings; it wasn’t helping him to remember to stay away.

I knew why the others went to town so often.  The girls there let them do whatever they had a mind to.  I couldn’t figure why Simple sneaked off; not for girls, I knew that much.  Tommy and Jack had teased him enough about Lizzie, the day they caught him spying on her as she washed in the river.

Watching Gran beat Simple made me think back to the day I lay by the river. I was trying to catch hold of the whispers in my head while looking at the reflection of the clouds in the water.  It was something I liked to do and usually had the place to myself.

That particular day, I had company.  Lizzie was taking a bath and Simple was watching from the bushes.  Without warning, the boys appeared and dragged Simple out of the bushes he thought hid him from sight.  Jack grabbed Simple viciously between the legs, saying it was time he knew how to use it.  They called for Lizzie to come out of the water.

I hid behind a rock, too scared to run back to the cabins.  It wouldn’t matter if I told Gran anyway, she’d say they needed their fun and to let them be.

Tommy helped Lizzie up onto the bank.  She stood there naked, her dark hair dripping.  The water running down her skinny legs made muddy pools at her feet.  Jack stopped her from picking up her clothes.  ‘You won’t be needin’ them just yet, Lizzie.  We’re goin’ to have us a little fun.  It’s Simple’s birthday.’

‘No it ain’t, and I ain’t doing what you have a mind to.  Not with Simple.’

Jack took hold of her arms and roughly pulled her close to him.  ‘You’re mine and you’ll do like I say, missy.  You’re his birthday present.’

Simple tried to move away but Jack held him back; telling him he didn’t want to miss out on such a fine gift.  He threw Lizzie to the ground like a rag doll.  I watched, too afraid to move.  Jack had ears like a bat if I moved an inch he would hear me.  Fear and fascination swam together in my head; knitting an invisible chain that held me fast behind the rock.

Jack stood between her legs and unfastened his belt.  He undid his belt, pushed his pants down and fell on Lizzie, pumping his body up and down.  Tommy pulled Simple down on the ground beside them, slapping Jack’s bare behind.  ‘See, Simple, this is how you please the girls.’

There was much grunting and groaning before Jack let out an even bigger groan and rolled away from Lizzie, his thing still dripping as he pulled up his pants. Tommy pushed Simple down on top of Lizzie and he lay there like a big lump.  As Jack pulled him to his knees, a clump of Simple’s dark brown hair came away in his hand.

‘You see how I did it, now set to, before I tell Gran what we saw you tryin’ to do in town again.’

I wish I knew what Simple did that got Gran so mad, so fired up about him being in town.  He was crying like a baby, tears and snot sliding down his face.  Jack kicked him viciously and he fell forward, stopping himself from flattening Lizzie by putting his hands out, hitting the ground so hard the dry dirt sprung up between his fingers.

I wished there was something I could do to help Simple, but Tommy and Jack had been at Gran’s grog again and I knew if I showed my face, they would do the same to me.  Lizzie seemed to have gotten over the idea of Simple getting at her, giggling as Tommy pulled Simple’s pants off.  I couldn’t bear to watch anymore and turned my face away, but I heard every sound that escaped from Simple’s lips.  I wondered what thoughts were running through his head if any.

For days after, I couldn’t bear to look at Simple or talk to him and knew how much he missed that.  I was the only one who spent the time of day with him.  The others always teased him, saying words over and over before moving on to the next the way Simple did.  I spent hours getting him to speak slowly, and with me, his stammer wasn’t so bad. When Simple got worked up his words stuck, stretched out like an echo rebounding around the woods before finding the end of it.  Most times he gave up trying to say what was in his head.

The back of Gran’s cabin was the only place to find any shade unless you took off into the woods, which wasn’t always a good idea.  Folk around here tend to look out for their own and looking out for the neighbours wasn’t their way of doing things, especially the Spiers.  We’d been having trouble with them for as long as I could remember.

I sat with my back against rough, weathered timber that had been cut from the woods, grateful to be alone to hear the wind rush through the trees, whispering my name.  Emily, the name my heart recognised. Not Leanne, the one they called me.  I got to thinking that Gran would have renamed me, not wanting anything to do with town folk or the names they called their children.  Seeing as how Uncle Jimmy had let slip that my folks had come from the town, I got to thinking how on earth Gran could be mine.  I figured the only way was one of my parents must have been kin to my grandpa.  That could account for the way she looked at me sometimes as if I didn’t really belong.  Part outsider; which is how I felt most of the time.

This got me looking closer at Gran’s boys.  They didn’t look like they come from the same seed either.  Jack, mean and dark, had the best looks. Tommy was the just the opposite.  Fair and plain, as if they forgot to give him character.  I’d been told that Simple was soft in the head because Gran had been too old for birthing. That couldn’t be the true reason, for Tommy was all right. Didn’t matter to me though, I liked him the way he was; all soft and gentle, yet big enough to make me feel safe.  Big enough to squash the rest of them flat should he take a mind to.  Reckon that’s why Uncle Jimmy keeps clear of Simple.  I heard him tell Jack one day that Simple would snap soon enough with all the teasing he gets.

I told Gran once that sometimes I thought I could hear my Ma calling me by another name, could feel her reaching for me and almost make out her face.  Gran said I must be getting soft in the head like Simple and warned me not to talk rubbish again.  I knew better than try.  She would whop me like she always did when something didn’t please her.  It didn’t pay to have an opinion or argue with Gran about anything.

Lizzie said it was just my imagination playing tricks on me, but I didn’t believe any of it.  I felt it in my heart, not my head, and it wasn’t the summer heat frying my brains as Tommy suggested.

Gran said she would be making one of her rare trips to town soon.  I would be twelve next month and according to her, a young woman needs new clothes.  This meant material for Gran to make a new dress, two if I was lucky.  Gran hated going to town, but she knew you couldn’t trust men folk to choose anything.  I knew how hard this would be for her and my heart reached out to hug her, my body slow to follow.

Gran waved the air in front of her to keep me away.  ‘No need to thank me, girl.’

I wished what I felt inside didn’t always show so quick on my face.  My life would be a mite happier if it didn’t.

Lizzie had told Gran about the young’un she was expecting and Gran wasn’t best pleased.  Didn’t matter who the pa was, she didn’t ask.  All she said was, it had better be stronger than the last one. ‘You ain’t made for young’uns, Lizzie. Age has taken your best chances. This has to be the last one, that’s if you can keep it from falling away before its time.’

In the past, Lizzie had managed to keep one until it was three months old.  It was sick from the start, Gran said.  And Lizzie too foolish to give it the right kind of care.  No milk to speak of and she forgot about it for days on end.  Took off with Jack and left it crying.  I asked Gran why she didn’t take care of it, seeing as how she knew better.  It was a stupid question and I almost felt the heat from her eyes singe the hair on my arms.

‘The brat’s Lizzie’s, not mine,’ she snapped.

I couldn’t understand Gran’s way of thinking or feeling.  All hard and shrivelled, weren’t any softness about her, not even around the eyes.  Something bad must have happened to make her so hard.  There wasn’t anything I could do, no way for me to change her.  The child Lizzie lost had been buried just outside the clearing by a big old redwood.  I would sit there sometimes and lay a few wildflowers on the makeshift grave.  All Lizzie said was I was too soft to live in the woods. She didn’t seem to care about the loss.

‘Gran should’ve taken you to town years ago, left you outside the church.’  She often said that when feeling particularly mean.

When Gran didn’t ask who the pa might be, I wondered if she might have something to say if she knew it might be Simple.  I found myself hoping this one would be strong.  Having a baby around would be real nice.  I could help Lizzie take care of it.

Just then, Jack stormed into the cabin behind me, yelling about the Spiers’ messing with his traps again, taking his kills.  That I knew to be one mistake they would pay for.  Gran told him to hush up and let Jimmy take care of it when he got home.  Jack went on and on about the Spiers, he had a thing about them. Every time anything went wrong or the still broke, he would say they had been at it.

Gran told him he was too thick to take care of any one of them.

‘It’s no wonder you lost your kill, shouting your mouth off in town. Makin’ out like a big man, letting’ on where you left the traps.’

I heard Tommy ask how she knew.

‘It ain’t hard to figure, when she knows you couldn’t keep your mouth shut if she was to stitch it.’

Jack must have lost his temper and thrown a chair across the cabin, because something hit the side where I sat, listening.  The thought of Uncle Jimmy coming made the cool spot behind the cabin too cold and I moved off into the sun.

I wondered what he wanted, what brought him down from the mountains.  Jimmy was a mean one, even meaner than Jack was.  Tall and quiet, he liked killing, hunting things.  Animals, men, even bugs weren’t safe.  He would flatten anything that crossed his path, his hands quick as lightning, grabbing winged creatures from the air.  Didn’t seem to matter some of them might sting.

I saw him swallow a wasp once after teasing Simple with it.  Mostly he liked pulling the heads off his kills.  Said even a man ain’t nothing without it, get rid of the head, you get rid of trouble.  That’s what he believed.

His visits were always too long.  Tommy hated him and swore he would take off one day and never come back.  Gran laughed.  She’d heard him say it so often; she didn’t believe he had a mind to do it.  I could see in his eyes that one day he would, he was tired of living in fear of Jimmy and being in Jack’s shadow.

I thought about taking off some days.  Thing was, where to?  I guess Tommy had the same trouble.  Town was good for letting off steam, but the woods were home.  Clarksville was growing speedily, too fast for Gran’s liking. She said it was getting closer to the woods each year.  Full of outsiders thinking they can wander where they please and look down their noses at the way we live.  The sheriff was up here just last week, telling Gran I should be attending school.  She sent him off, saying I knew all I needed to.  School didn’t have anything she couldn’t put in my head.

There were times when I wondered if she was right.  Maybe I would have liked school, made friends of my own age.  Throwing the idea at Gran did no good at all; she had a thing about town folk.  Strange, when I’d heard Jimmy say that grandpa had been from Clarksville.

‘Your Gran liked town folk fine back then.  Never did say what changed her mind.’

Jimmy said grandpa died one winter, caught by one of his own traps. Wolves ate most of his body.  I could understand how this would make Gran sad, but I couldn’t make sense of the way she spoke about town and the folk that lived there. Outsiders, she called them.  There had to be a reason for the way she hated them.  I knew better than to ask, but by keeping my ears open, I would hear most things soon enough.

Jimmy had brought down two headless deer for Gran’s larder.  I wondered what he did with the heads.  Tommy said he ate them, but I figured he buried them, although I half wondered if Tommy was right.

Uncle Jimmy hadn’t been with us for more than a week, when the sheriff turned up again, warning Gran to have a word with her boys.

‘Ned Harrison’s been shooting’ his mouth off about Tommy, if he sets eyes on him again he’s gonna kill him. Says he’s been messing’ around with his wife.’

Jimmy stood there the whole time, his rifle cracked open across his arm.  The sun lighting up the fact the barrel weren’t empty.  It didn’t seem to worry the sheriff, he had his hand on the butt of his own gun, looking Gran in the eyes.  I could see Tommy hiding behind the water barrels while the sheriff tried explaining to Gran that he couldn’t keep an eye on Ned all the time.

‘Wouldn’t want your boy to lose his head over a piece of pussy.  Have a word with him, Ma’am.’  Touching the rim of his hat, he bid Gran good day.

I reckon he saw Tommy because he doffed his hat again as he passed the water barrels.

Tommy tried to get out of a beating by telling Gran the sheriff wanted to get it on with Ned’s wife himself.

‘Jealousy is all, Gran.  Ned ain’t gonna shoot no one, too full of grog mostly. When he ain’t drinking’ he’s sleeping’. ‘Lizabeth’s real nice Gran, I like her and old Ned ain’t gonna last forever the way he’s carrying’ on. I figured on movin’ in when he passes.’

‘Is that so?’  Gran said.  ‘Got a mind to help him on his way, bring more trouble that ain’t my doing’?’

‘No Ma.’  Tommy said, his eyes and voice pleading for her not to reach for the stick by her feet.  I could see in her eyes it was no good, she needed to whop him for reasons of her own…

Simple is just 99p this week… just saying!

Tallis Steelyard Book Tour… Something of the Night by Jim Webster @JimWebster6

Today, it is our turn to host the next instalment of Tallis Steelyards incredible story.

We hope everyone is enjoying it as much as we are!

 

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Something of the night?

I suppose I ought to just call her Lotti, if only because that was the name she ‘worked’ under and inadvertently ended up with. I’m trying to be tactful here because I always liked Lotti, but it has to be admitted that her occupation was perhaps not the one her mother would have hoped she’d have gone into. There again as Lotti never knew her mother, we cannot be sure of that.

Lotti was a foundling and was raised in one of the foundling hospitals. No need to mention which one. They were good with her, taught her to read and write and trained her to be a lady’s maid.

Hence at the age of fourteen she went out into the world set on a new career. But alas it did not go well. There are houses to which you would send a fourteen year old girl, and there are houses you wouldn’t. And frankly there are houses where you would only burn them down when you could

guarantee you’d got the entire family and all the staff trapped inside. I will say no more.

Lotti left that house and desperately tried to make a living. Eventually, after trying any number of things, most of which didn’t last long, with employers who were more or less sordid but none who were what you might call decent, she decided she would have to take charge of her destiny.

Feeling that fate seemed to demand that she provide what we might call ‘erotic services’, she’d make damned sure she was properly paid for them.

Her knowledge of the houses of the apparently respectable had given her an insight into a market which she felt she could fulfil. Thus she set out her stall as ‘the naughty maid.’

Men of a certain age would hire her and send her as a birthday present to a friend, ensuring that his wife and family were out. ‘Gentlemen’ would even hire her themselves. She demanded payment in advance, cash only, and it was tucked away in an account with her usurer before she would ever cross her client’s threshold. Some looked down on her for it, but as she pointed out, how many innocent maids were left alone because she was there to provide the service?

The reason I knew her was that the foundling hospital had somehow instilled in her a genuine love of poetry. In her late teens she had many of the poems of the masters off by heart and she would occasionally come to the barge bringing a bottle of wine, a ham, or the makings of a meal. She’d dine with Shena and I and we’d talk poetry and the art of versifying.

Who knows how long she would have lived this existence, but then she made an error. She would get the client’s address and the money and she’d just knock on the door and be shown inside. Except on this occasion the address was slightly wrong. Obviously I’m not going to tell you what the address was, but they’d got the numbers the wrong way round. So Lotti knocked on the door of the wrong house, if memory serves it was number fourteen rather than forty-one.

What made things more interesting was that in this house they’d just hired a new maid from an agency and were expecting her. When Lotti turned up wearing a perfectly respectable maid’s outfit (we shall not mention the somewhat ‘unusual’ underwear), they just assumed she was the new girl. As an aside I’ve often wondered what happened to the girl who was supposed to turn up, did she make the opposite mistake and arrive by accident in the house where they were expecting Lotti? Frankly I don’t know and I long ago decided not to find out.

So when Lotti arrived, she was welcomed by the housekeeper, which was unusual, introduced to other staff, which came as something of a surprise to her, and was then introduced to the Mistress herself. This had never happened before. Lotti inquired, cautiously, about the master of the house, but the Mistress informed her, somewhat sadly, that she was a widow. She welcomed Lotti to her household, hoped she’d be very happy, and the housekeeper then showed Lotti her room and instructed her in her duties.

That night, in her solitary bed in a small room she had to herself, Lotti lay there and pondered the situation. She had been trained to be a lady’s maid, so she could do the job. She pondered her previous employment but eventually decided that she would try this new life.

Over the next few weeks she got to know the others in the household and they got to know her. Both the Mistress and her housekeeper were impressed; Lotti threw herself into the job. Yes there were areas where she was rusty, but when a maid moves from one household to another, there is always a period of transition when she learns the new way of doing things.

On top of that Lotti is, in reality, a nice person with a captivating smile and a genuine willingness to help. Her past had made her wary, but it had not yet made her bitter. As they got to know her, they made use of her strengths. Her ability to be absolutely formally correct in the presence of gentlemen (originally a necessary part of the game she was paid for) meant that her employer let her pay off tradesmen.

Time passed, Lotti became an accepted part of the household, and one morning she woke to the realisation that she was happy.

It was about then that Julatine Sypent, a recognised artist, was invited into the house to paint the Mistress. Apparently her various offspring wanted a portrait of her, and so, under protest, she’d agreed. During the course of the process, which consisted of a number of sittings over a period of weeks, Lotti, as lady’s maid, was the one who fetched Julatine his cup of infusion, offered round the sweet biscuits and generally was on hand should her Mistress need her.

Julatine was utterly smitten with her. One afternoon when she was out of the room he begged Mistress to be allowed to paint Lotti as well. Mistress agreed, even though she was wise enough to realise she might be about to lose a good lady’s maid. So with one portrait done, Julatine started on the second. Now it has to be realised that Lotti wasn’t going to be an easy victim of a painter’s charm. But Julatine was lucky. He’d long realised that a painter has to entertain the person he is painting. The last thing you want is somebody sitting there listless and bored. So he quoted poetry as he painted. Once he realised she loved poetry, he brought in books of it, he ransacked the libraries of friends for books to lend her. Eventually, the painting finished, he leaned back and looked at it thoughtfully.

A little nervously Lotti asked, “Is it all right?”

“Yes, I think it’s about finished.”

“Can I look at it now?”

As she stood up to see it Julatine said sternly, “There’s just one thing that has to be done before it’s fit for viewing.”

A little concerned Lotti asked, “What’s that?”

“You have to agree to marry me.”

She always said she wasn’t likely to get a better offer.

 

And the hard sell!

So welcome back to Port Naain. This blog tour is to celebrate the genius of Tallis Steelyard, and to promote two novella length collections of his tales.

 

So meet Tallis Steelyard, the jobbing poet from the city of Port Naain. This great city is situated on the fringes of the Land of the Three Seas. Tallis makes his living as a poet, living with his wife, Shena, on a barge tied to a wharf in the Paraeba estuary. Tallis scrapes a meagre living giving poetry readings, acting as a master of ceremonies, and helping his patrons run their soirees.

These are his stories, the anecdotes of somebody who knows Port Naain and

its denizens like nobody else. With Tallis as a guide you’ll meet petty

criminals and criminals so wealthy they’ve become respectable. You’ll meet musicians, dark mages, condottieri and street children. All human life is here, and perhaps even a little more.

 

Firstly;-

Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories.

 

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard.

Discover the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, ladywriters, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks the great question, who are the innocent anyway?

 

And then there is;-

Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard.

Marvel at the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red.

 

Tomorrow, the next episode is at https://rivrvlogr.wordpress.com…

See you there!

#Wednesday Writers ~ Serialisation of Nine Lives by Jaye Marie #mysteryThriller

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Death has been visiting Kate all of her life, leading her to imagine she has nine lives, like a cat.
With nothing to live for, no family, just a brother she hates, she waits for death to take her away when her lives run out.
Death continues to speak to her, teasing her, yet will not come for her.  When people around her begin to die at the hands of a serial killer, she hopes to be next.
Has she finally run out of lives? Will she find a reason to live before it is too late?

 

Chapter Twenty-six

The next morning, Kate tried to telephone the hospital, and because she was not related to Janet, all they would say was she was as comfortable as could be expected; which could mean just about anything.

She grabbed her coat and headed for the High Street. If she was lucky, she could grab a taxi to save herself a long walk.

Half an hour later, she was trying to find out what happened to Janet Goldman in the emergency department of the local hospital.

Eventually, she managed to discover where she was and approached the hospital bed with a great deal of trepidation.

The old woman was propped up on a pile of pillows, and her eyes were closed. The sides of the bed were raised and Kate assumed it was to stop Janet from falling out. Did that mean she was unconscious?

Unsure of hospital protocol, Kate went looking for whoever was in charge. It should be someone in a dark blue uniform if her memory served her right.

She found just such a person, a diminutive woman who didn’t look strong enough to blow her own nose, let alone reason with the old man in pyjamas who was desperately trying to pour the contents of his water jug all over his bed.

Kate waited until the Ward Sister had the situation under control and piled in with her questions.

The woman might not look strong, but the scrutiny Kate was subjected to would definitely sort out the men from the boys. When she had ascertained Kate was indeed harmless she proceeded to answer the only question she thought mattered.  ‘Mrs Goldman is barely stable and unconscious. A bump on the head is quite serious in one of her years.’

Not to be put off, Kate asked one of her questions again. ‘Will she be all right?’  Knowing as she asked, it was probably in God’s hands.

The ward sister smiled, and Kate had the distinct impression she had just passed a test of some kind.

‘All we can do is hope for the best, dear, does she have any family?’

‘No, I’m afraid not. It’s just me. Can I give you my telephone number, in case she needs anything when she wakes up?’

The Ward sister nodded and her lack of words said more than Kate could bear at that moment. Was she about to lose another friend, so soon after Dylan?

 

Sam arrived promptly at 1 o’clock, looking rather smart in a French navy trouser suit, her dark hair immaculate as always. Kate was putting the final touches to the lunch, so Sam went to inspect the canvases in the studio. She was so long in there Kate was getting worried. What if she didn’t like them?

Hearing a noise, Kate turned around to find Sam watching her as she assembled the food on the plates. Sam’s face gave no clue as to her reaction to the art and Kate felt awkward about asking.

Sam took one look at her face and laughed. ‘Oh Kate, you don’t have to look so worried. I love them all, they are absolutely brilliant. There is just one problem though.’

Kate stomach clenched and she suddenly had trouble breathing. She must have gone pale, for Sam rushed to her side and put her arm around her shoulders. ‘No, it’s nothing bad, you silly. It’s just that I’m going to need a lot more than I initially thought. The new gallery is huge.’

Relief flooded through Kate, then doubled back on itself.  ‘How much more, Sam?’

‘As many as you can get done in three weeks. We open at the end of September.  Is that a problem, Kate?’

Kate carried the plates to the table and offered Sam the corkscrew to open the wine.

‘Not a problem as such; and I’ll do the best I can of course. It’s just I am thinking of moving, that’s all.’

Sam stared at her. ‘Where did that idea come from? I thought you were happy here?’

Kate took a deep breath, knowing what would happen next.  ‘Michael turned up here last night,’ she said, waiting for the fireworks. She looked up at Sam and was dismayed to see her good friend was clearly upset.

‘It’s all right, I got rid of him. No harm was done.’

Sam put down her fork and blew her nose on a tissue.  Then she took a small sip of wine. Finally, she looked at Kate. ‘What’s going on, Kate?’

What was the matter with her, Michael wasn’t that much of a problem; was he?’

‘I ran into him in town, he’s been seconded to the local estate agents. I never expected him to turn up here. Turns out he knows his way around the electoral roll and thought he would come and visit. I chucked him out, of course.’

‘You did?’

‘Don’t look so surprised, I am well over him these days. What with everything else that has been going on, I need him turning up like a hole in my head.’

Sam’s face quickly changed from upset to worry. ‘What else has been going on, Kate?’

Suddenly, Kate didn’t want to be reminded about Dylan, not in the middle of lunch. ‘Should we eat first?’

‘That good, is it?’

Kate shrugged, and they ate the rest of the meal in silence.

 

Sam pushed her plate away from her and concern was written all over her face. ‘It’s no good, Kate. You have to tell me what’s been going on.’

Kate secretly agreed but was having trouble putting it into words. It would be as if her hands were covered in Dylan’s blood all over again.  Sam was insisting, so she would have to grit her teeth and get it over with.

Once she started, it became easier and before she knew it, she had told Sam all about the crying child, the dumped car, Janet’s accident, the death of Dylan and the meeting with Michael. How he seemed to know practically everything about her, despite not having seen her for years.

Sam listened in silence, glancing at her every few minutes, almost as though she was checking up on her.

When it looked as though Kate had finally spilt all the beans, Sam stood up and went to fill the kettle. ‘This calls for coffee, and a great deal of thinking,’ she said.

 

Kate wasn’t sure she agreed with her. Talking was not going to make any of it go away.  It did feel good to have company though; she didn’t feel so completely alone for once.

Sam plonked two mugs of strong coffee on the table and said, ‘Right. First things first. Are you sure Michael got the message?’

Kate nodded. ‘I think so. I tried to make it clear…’

‘That’s the reason you want to leave here, is it?’

‘Partly, but it’s everything really. The intruder started it and the rest… This place is just not mine anymore, it feels dirty, spoiled somehow.’

Sam looked sympathetic.  ‘I know what you mean. I don’t think I would want to stay here anymore either. We have to sort all this out and get organised.  What have you done so far?’

Kate had to admit she had done nothing. The visit to the estate agent didn’t count.

‘I wonder…’  Sam said slowly. Would you like to live with me for a while we sort everything out? You could catch up on the artwork and look for a special place without having to rush. You need to take things slowly Kate, you look tired. How are you feeling, by the way?’

Kate had to admit she felt dreadful and wasn’t looking forward to the hospital appointment the following day.

She thought about Sam’s proposal. Would that work, temporarily?  She wasn’t used to anyone making plans for her or trying to take care of her. It felt a bit odd, to say the least.

Kate desperately wanted to be somewhere safe, somewhere Michael didn’t know about, and she worried about her neighbour. Janet would need someone for a while until she recovered properly.

Was she being completely honest about Michael? She knew that a small part of her had responded to his presence, she still wasn’t sure if it was real or just loneliness that triggered it. She had loved him for so long, despite what he had done, making every excuse in the book for him but she knew she had been fooling herself all these years.

The voice was quick to agree with her and proceeded to pass the opinion that moving in with Sam couldn’t possibly be a good idea either.

What was that? What did he mean? Kate suddenly felt nauseous and the room began to spin, slowly at first, then faster. The pain was back in her chest and she was having trouble breathing. Oh no, not again.

‘Kate, what is it, what’s the matter?’

Sam’s voice seemed to be coming from a long way off as Kate felt herself slide of the chair to the floor.

Then someone turned all the lights off…


#WednesdayWriters ~ Nine Lives by Jaye Marie ~ Chapter 25 #MysteryThriller #Serialisation

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Chapter Twenty-five

 

Michael Barratt was having trouble believing just how stupid he had been. After all this time, after all his searching, what had possessed him to come on so strong and ruin whatever slim chance he had with Kate. He might have known time and distance would not mellow her in the slightest, that she would be as stubborn as ever.

It was always the way he was with her, never thinking before he spoke, always rushing headlong into stupidity. And the worst of it was he couldn’t think of a single way to improve matters between them. She was right to be angry after the way he had behaved. Again.

To this day, he still didn’t know why he had run away the minute he knew about the baby. Enough time had passed for him to try and figure out what he had obviously thought was wrong, and he was no smarter now than he was then, as only an idiot would have risked his one chance by behaving so stupidly.

Why did he think time might have changed things? It had probably made it more of a mess if anything.

There was a moment when the Kate he knew so well had surfaced. Not for long though, she had pulled back into her shell in a flash, but not before he glimpsed how she felt about him.

That tiny spark, that glimpse of what could be, gave him hope. More hope than I deserve, he thought wryly. He thought he had lost Kate forever when she had suddenly vanished from his father’s house all those years ago. He had the gall to ask him where she had gone, that’s how desperate he was. His father must have sensed it too, for he was uncharacteristically civil towards him, although he didn’t know where she had gone either.

The old boy had looked so lonely and sad, Michael almost felt sorry for him, but something kept the normal father and son relationship at bay, and he walked away without once looking back.

When he found out she had married Jack Holland he became badly depressed, feeling all hope was gone. He had hidden away believing there was no point in anything anymore. He couldn’t remember how long that state of mind had lasted and it seemed like a long lonely time, where all he could think of was losing the one good thing he had ever found.

Gradually, he remembered starting to worry about Kate. Was she happy? Did this Jack Holland treat her right? This made Michael feel worse, for if this man was hurting her there was nothing he could do about any of it, as he didn’t have a clue where she was.

Eventually, he managed to pull himself out of his depression and started to look for her. He had no other clue than the surname and this turned out to be no help at all. It was almost as though this Jack Holland didn’t exist and the fact he obviously did, meant he must have changed his name and at that realisation, the alarm bells started clanging.

His job as an estate agent came in handy, as he could move around to different areas quite easily. It also gave him access to property records, although they turned out to be no help either. He started systematically travelling around the south of England, giving himself six months in each location to check out every living soul in the neighbourhood.

He thought he caught glimpses of Kate as he made his rounds, but it was never her. He found himself looking at children, wondering if one of them was his son.

Sometimes women would mistake his interest for something more, and no matter how attractive they were, or how accommodating, he always politely declined their offers. Kate had become an obsession, one he would live with in the absence of the real thing.  The thought of what he had thrown away still cut deep like a knife.

The day she walked into the estate office in Guildford, his heart seemed to stop beating. It was all he could do to breathe and appear normal when he felt like shouting the place down with all the joy he felt at the sight of her. He never doubted it was she; it couldn’t possibly be anyone else. The proud way she held herself, the uncontrollable hair still wild although now streaked with silver. The way she looked at him, daring him to speak to her.

She gave herself away with all the hesitations and awkward pauses, could it be she had missed him? Against all hope, he wondered if she could possibly still love him?

Their meeting was short-lived and Kate ran away from him again. She said she would come back the next day but he had no intention of waiting that long. He found her address easily enough when he realised she was probably using her maiden name and when he later turned up at her flat, flowers in hand, he knew his suspicions were right. She was nervous, trying desperately to keep him at arm’s length, but the chemistry was still there. He could feel it crackling in the air like electricity between them…

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#WednesdayWriters ~ Nine Lives ~ Chapter 24 #MysteryThriller #Fiction

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Kate has welcomed death from an early age. With no family to speak of and a brother she hates, she waits for death to take her away.

It speaks to her. Teases her, yet will not come for her.

Death takes those around her, making her desire for it greater than ever.

She wonders how much longer it will take for her time to run out…

Chapter Twenty-four

On the way home, Kate picked up some lamb chops and some white wine for her lunch with Sam, inwardly still trying not to be angry with Michael. Who did he think he was? Regardless of the fact him turning up was something she had dreamed of for years, he still had the cheek of the devil.

There was an ambulance outside Janet’s house and Kate’s heartbeat accelerated as she walked towards it, wondering who it was for. As she drew closer, she saw Janet’s door was open and as she watched, a paramedic in a reflective yellow striped jacket was wheeling Janet out of her house in a wheelchair. She appeared to be asleep, her face pale and peaceful. What had happened?

She approached the ambulance. ‘Hello, how is Mrs Goldman? I’m her neighbour.’

The paramedic stopped for a second and looked at her. ‘The old dear took a tumble and we’re just taking her in to be checked over.’

‘How did she tumble, she has no stairs?’ Kate asked.

‘She must have been up on a chair, there was one overturned when we turned up.’  He grinned at her and climbed into the back of the ambulance. ‘She’ll be fine, see if she’s not.’

Kate had the strangest feeling Janet wouldn’t be ‘fine’.  She was far too old to be taking a tumble.

She decided to spend the rest of the day in her studio after she had something to eat and if Janet wasn’t home by tomorrow morning, she would go and see how she was.

The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing the next canvas. This one was going to be a night scene, with the moonlight like a pathway across the water. That was the plan anyway, and that sometimes changed as her paintbrush often had a mind of its own.

As the afternoon faded into early evening, Kate found herself thinking about Michael a little more fondly than she had that morning. She had almost seemed rude, hadn’t she?  God knows what he made of it.

She was in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil when there was a knock at the front door. Who could have that be, she thought, wondering if it was something to do with Janet.

Kate’s heart was in her mouth as she opened the door to find Michael standing there with a small bunch of carnations clutched to his chest. She almost choked, and her first instinct was to slam the door, but for some strange reason, she couldn’t.

‘I’ve come to apologise, Kate. I shouldn’t have carried on as though nothing was wrong between us. No wonder you had nothing to say. Please let me in, so we can start again and talk properly.’

She glared at him. ‘How do you know where I live?’

‘I felt so bad after you left, I had to find you so I could apologise in person. I had no way of knowing if you would turn up tomorrow.’

‘But how did you know where I live?’

He had the grace to look sheepish. ‘I looked you up on the electoral roll. Lucky you still use your old name, or I would never have found you.’

Kate still hesitated, unsure whether to let him in or not. This was her private space; did she want him touching everything?

She already knew she would let him in, the effect he had on her was the same as ever, regardless of the history between them. ‘You had better come in then,’ she said, standing aside so he could pass. ‘And don’t think I have forgiven you because I haven’t.’

He turned and offered her the flowers. ‘They’re not a peace offering Kate; I just thought you would like them.’

She tried to accept them gracefully, knowing she would prefer to wrap them around his neck, and made her way to the kitchen to put them in water.

He stood in the doorway watching her, and it all seemed the most natural thing in the world as if he had done exactly that dozens of times before.

It suddenly occurred to her just how much she resented him showing up on her doorstep.

‘Nice place you have here, Kate. Been here long?’

Why did she automatically think he already knew the answer to that?

‘Not long ‘, she said, non-committedly. ‘And I will soon be moving on, anyway’.

He smiled, and there was just a hint of nervousness in his smile. Was it possible he was a little unsure of his reception?

He nodded at the back door. ‘What happened to the cat?’

The hair on the back of her neck twitched and it was all she could do not to march up to him and slap his face hard. ‘Why assume something happened to my cat? He could be sleeping in another room.’

His smile vanished, and she could see he was trying to think of a suitable answer. Whatever he said, she wouldn’t believe a word.  It was as if he knew what had happened to Dylan, and how could he, unless… The possibilities that presented themselves didn’t bear thinking about, and she knew something was wrong. Nobody would say a thing like that by chance.

‘Come on Michael, say something to convince me you meant nothing sinister.’

‘I don’t know why I said that, Kate. The way you’re carrying on, something did happen to the cat. What was it?

The cheek of the man took her breath away, which was just as well for she had no intention of telling him anything.

‘It doesn’t matter, come and sit down and tell me the real reason you showed up here tonight.’

He followed her out of the kitchen and paused outside her studio. ‘Can I have a look?’

The door was open, so he already had a good look in her opinion. She leaned past him and closed the door. ‘I would rather you didn’t if you don’t mind,’ she said, not caring she came across as more than a little angry.

He looked surprised, but what did he expect? Had he forgotten how badly he had let her down, not to mention walking out on the child they had made together?

Her temper finally snapped and she turned on him angrily. ‘Don’t bother getting comfortable, Michael. I want you to leave, now.’

‘And…’

‘No buts, did you think I would fall into your arms again? You must be more stupid than I thought.  Please, just go.’

For a moment, he managed to look sad, but if that was supposed to mean anything to her, he was badly mistaken. Although a small part of her still loved him, a bigger part resented him for turning up like this, assuming she would forgive and forget.  She hadn’t been able to do it then and certainly wasn’t about to do it now.

Kate went to open the front door, desperate to get him out of her flat.  Just as well I’m leaving, she thought, as knowing he knew where to find her was annoying her a lot more than she thought it would.

‘Can’t we just talk about this, Kate,’ he said, trying to look sheepish.

She came up to him and shoved him not too gently towards the door. ‘Go away Michael, I don’t want you here.’

As he walked away, she waited for him to turn around, to appeal to her one more time. He didn’t, he kept on walking and for a split second it was all so sad she felt like crying.

He didn’t appear to have come by car. If he had, it must be parked somewhere else. Why would he do that?

As Kate stood on the doorstep, she noticed there were no lights showing at Janet’s house. Did that mean she was still in the hospital?  She would have to ring them in the morning and find out what was going on.

She didn’t feel in the least like painting, and went to the studio and stared at the canvas. She should work on it a bit more, after all, Sam was coming for lunch tomorrow and the more progress she could see, the better. It might help to get all thoughts of Michael out of her head, so she would have no trouble sleeping tonight.

She tried to empty her mind of him as she spent the next few hours pushing paint onto the canvas, and one question kept rattling around in her head. Why had he assumed something happened to her cat?  It might have just been a coincidence; after all, there was a cat flap in the back door. It could have been for the previous tenant’s cat. It was almost as if he knew something bad had happened, but how could he have done?

She decided to call it a night when her arm was so stiff she could hardly hold the paintbrush. Canvas number three was almost finished and Kate liked the way this one was turning out. Probably because it was such a peaceful, serene scene, it had gone a long way to soothing the savage beast Michael had awakened with his impromptu visit…

What does Michael want?

Did he kill her cat?

 

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Tallis Steelyard: Six Men in a Boat #ScienceFiction&Fantasy @JimWebster6

Joining us here today, is everyone’s favourite story teller, Jim Webster.

The famous Tallis Steelyard has a new adventure that we all want to read!

Over to you, Jim…

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Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure.

Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians?

Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger?

Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.

Amazing what you learn as you grow older.

Meirdre, the oldest daughter of Garrat and Taffetia Drane was, by common agreement, a precocious child. After all, at the age of six, she was a full partner in ‘Peepers and Narks’, investigators of choice to the leading Port Naain legal partnership of Thallawell, Thallawell, and Thallawell.

Now, this might have been regarded by most as something of a formality, and to be fair, for the first three or four months it probably was. But her parents didn’t want to see their child cheated by older partners, and so they looked for ways in which their daughter could become more ‘hands on.’ Inspiration came when Garrat was reading a report written by one of the many peepers who worked for the partnership on a casual basis. He commented to his lady wife that a child of six would be expected to have better grammar and spelling. Taffetia, who was in point of fact quite proud of the education she had been giving her children, agreed entirely with her husband’s sentiments.

(I will pause here to discuss in brief the fact that some cynics have intimated that this entire agreement on the behalf of a wife to her husband’s comments is surely exclusive enough on its own to make this story worthy of recording. I merely state that it is not a unique occasion, several times my own wife has agreed entirely with something I’ve said. Admittedly, a number of these occasions will be when I restricted myself to ‘Yes Dear’ but by no means all.)

Still, parental agreement within the Drane household meant that before the age of seven, Meirdre was reading every report made to ‘Peepers and Narks’ by their operatives, and was correcting grammar and spelling. A couple of years later she started to do the same to those reports that the partnership sent on to their clients. In the course of this, she discovered that because she had read and scrutinised every statement coming in, she often had a better grasp of the situation than the other two partners. Thus, she started writing the final reports rather than merely editing them for grammar and spelling.

If this seems a lot for a girl of her age, remember that at this point she was also working as a wailer. This role she fulfilled entirely competently but was beginning to get in the way of her new profession. With little hesitation, she turned her back on it and concentrated entirely on office management. To be fair her partners were perfectly happy to leave the paperwork to her. They moved to supervising the fieldwork whilst Meirdre ran the office. This worked well; Dagly Ween had been considered one of the best peepers in the business. At the same time the other partner, Mirabelle Sobent, was the leading female ‘arm and a leg’ man in Port Naain. Whilst it’s unlikely that anybody actually boasted that they’d taken a punishment beating from Mirabelle Sobent, she was known for dispassionate efficiency. Word got round the business community, if you want somebody beaten up for asking difficult questions, poaching your staff, or stealing your ideas (or complaining when you steal theirs) then Thallawell, Thallawell, and Thallawell know the best people.

Yet a note Meirdre might get from a nark would often need action to be taken immediately. So inevitably, she drifted into management. By the time she was fourteen, she was regularly sending out instructions to peepers or arm and leg men, stating what action she wanted taken. Still, ever courteous, she made sure her partners would get a copy of the note to keep them in the picture. As her partners grew older, more and more of the work fell upon her shoulders until finally, she bought them out. Now in sole charge at last, she could run the business as she felt it ought to be run. She expanded the organisation’s operations into Partann searching for both economic and political information which could be sold to better paying markets than a lawyer’s practice. Closer to home, her long familiarity with the Port Naain criminal classes gave her a lot of information on the city’s politics and politicians. Slowly she began to gather more evidence and built up her files. By the time she was thirty-five she quietly dominated the city’s politics. Politicians relied upon her for information about what was happening both inside and outside the city.

Indeed she was being actively courted by four Sinecurists and it was widely expected that when she married she would become the richest and most influential lady in the city. Fate took a hand as her carriage, taking her to a ball, collided with a cart loaded with mott carcasses. She got out and fell into conversation with the driver of the cart. He was firm but courteous; her coachman had been too free with the whip which had left the horses jittery. Thus when they’d come round the corner and met his cart they’d panicked. She could see the correctness of his analysis and instructed her coachmen and postilion to load the contents of the cart into her coach. Meirdre and the driver of the cart, (now revealed to be the farmer who had fattened the mott whose carcasses were being transhipped,) then left the postilion to ensure that the cart and ponies were looked after whilst the coach made its way down the ropewalk to Bolidad and Offspring, butchers to the gentry. As the coach was unloaded, Meirdre and the mott farmer were in deep conversation, so deep that she dismissed the coach and the two of them sat drinking coffee in Slybooks. Two weeks later, to the surprise of the city in general, Meirdre married her mott farmer and went north to live with him on a pleasant enough holding perhaps thirty miles from the city. They live in a house with three books, and two of them are about mott husbandry. The height of their social calendar is the day they provide the young mott for the village fete’s ‘catch the greasy mott’ competition. And now the hard sell!

OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that this is part of a blog tour which is peering into the lives of Garrat Drane, and his lady wife Taffetia Drane. Now we are meeting their various offspring, delightful people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not. But still now is your chance to meet them and inadvertently you may discover their importance to our hero, Tallis Steelyard.

But actually, the purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the fact that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Six-men-boat-ebook/dp/B07JPKYJJN

Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain. Questions are asked that may even be answered, why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.

Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it…

#WednesdayWriter: Nine Lives ~ chapter 23 #MysteryFiction

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Death has been visiting Kate all of her life, leading her to imagine she has nine lives, like a cat.
With nothing to live for, no family, just a brother she hates, she waits for death to take her away when her lives run out.
Death continues to speak to her, teasing her, yet will not come for her. When people around her begin to die at the hands of a serial killer, she hopes to be next.
Has she finally run out of lives? Will she find a reason to live after all, before it is too late?

Chapter 23

Saturday morning arrived and Kate felt better than she had for quite a while. The pain in her chest had gone and she was more like her old self. A little optimism was creeping in which she found most welcome. She had never been a miserable person, despite her turbulent life and the thought she might have nothing else to look forward to was depressing in itself.

Today was more like it. She felt in control for the first time in ages. Her first cup of tea tasted wonderful and she enjoyed every drop as she ran through what options she could think of to take full advantage of the day.  Shopping was high on the list for the cupboards were empty. She should telephone Sam with a progress report and possibly make a start on canvas number three. She idly wondered if the library was open on a Saturday and mentally decided to check when she was in town.

After an invigorating shower, Kate started to make a shopping list and wrote down cat food without thinking. As she looked at the words, the sharp pain sliced through her chest and she had to sit down. ‘Oh Dylan, I miss you so much,’ she said, her eyes filling with tears. She sat, waiting until the pain had gone, leaving an ache behind. She blew her nose and went back to the shopping list.

It suddenly occurred to her that the voice had been quiet for days, hopefully, it was a good sign.

 

The weather was trying desperately to match her mood.  It was early in September, and the trees showed no sign of the approaching autumn. Gentle sunlight and a light breeze made the walk to town a pleasant one. The library wasn’t open, so it would have to wait until next week. As she went past the estate agent, one of the men inside looked up at her from his desk, and for a split second looked so familiar. He had dark curly hair, greying at the temples, but she couldn’t see his eyes properly as he was wearing glasses. She walked on, deep in thought to the supermarket.

Later that morning, after getting back home with several bags of shopping, the image of Michael slipped into her mind and she found herself imagining what he would look like now. She stopped, with a packet of frozen peas in her hand, and realised it might have been him. ‘Don’t be daft, why on earth would it be?’  She shook her head as if to dislodge the notion and carried on putting away the groceries.

Kate expected the voice would have something to say about it. It never usually missed an opportunity to snipe at her but it remained quiet.

She rang Sam and made arrangements for lunch on Sunday for a preview. She should get a bottle of wine, or something nice for lunch.

 

When Kate crossed the street on her way to see if Janet was in, she noticed that the old green car was still there. Was that one more thing to worry about, she thought?

Although she waited patiently at Janet’s door, the old woman did not appear. She must be out or having a nap. As Kate drew nearer to the estate agent, her stomach was churning and she desperately wanted to walk the other way. What was she thinking? It couldn’t possibly be Michael, not here in Guildford. She always imagined him happily married and living the high life in London. After all, he was a good-looking man; women should fall over themselves to grab him.

She suddenly realised she was standing outside the estate agents and the picture of a picturesque cottage was right in front of her.  It’s too expensive, she thought, buying anything like that was out of the question, she had never had that kind of money and wasn’t about to end up in debt at her time of life. She wondered if they had rental properties too.

Her eyes began to focus past the pictures in the window and she studied the staff, but Michael wasn’t one of them, at least she couldn’t see him.

Her feet moved to walk inside and she went with them, safe in the knowledge there would be no embarrassing moment. Not if she was quick. She walked near the empty desk, looking for a nameplate or other identifying piece of evidence, but there was nothing. Then a soft female voice behind her asked if there was something she could help with, and Kate turned around, fully intending to ask about rental properties.

The woman who had spoken was quite short so Kate had a clear view of the man who had come up behind her.

‘It’s okay, Juliet. This lady is here to see me. Hello Kate. Long time no see.’

Kate’s knees had turned to jelly, how was she still standing up? It was definitely Michael, older, a lot older, but still attractive. He wasn’t wearing his glasses today and the familiar blue eyes had the effect they always had. She instantly felt she was the most important part of his life. How could he still do that, after all this time?

He took her by the elbow and steered her towards a chair.

‘I’ve just been seconded down here as they were short staffed. Funny how fate intervenes, don’t you think? You must tell me all about yourself. How are you and what are you doing these days?’

She stared at him, her mind a complete blank. Think of something to say, she thought, or he will think you’re senile. What were you supposed to say to someone who had broken your heart so many years ago?

He was looking at her the way he always did, and the magic had not died. Not in the slightest. She knew she was lost, so why try to go through the motions of being offended, or hateful. What would be the point? He probably wasn’t free anyway, so there was no harm in talking to him, was there?

‘Somehow, you look the same, Michael. How are you ?’

‘Oh, I’m fine. Getting older but nothing I can’t handle. Was there something you need, or did you know I was here? His eyes twinkled, reducing her nether regions into a pile of jelly babies.

‘I was contemplating finding somewhere to rent. Is that something you do here? She said, trying to hold on to her sanity.

He glanced at his watch. ‘Look, why don’t we discuss things over lunch; less formal than sitting here like any other customer.’

She remembered nodding slowly, but nothing else, and before she knew it, they were sitting in a quiet public house and there was a glass of white wine in front of her. Michael was looking at her as if waiting for the answer to a question.

‘I’m sorry, did you say something?’

‘I asked if you were well Kate, you look amazing, so I suppose the answer is yes.’

Kate picked up the glass of wine and took a sip, contemplating what to tell him, if anything at all. Something was telling her not to say anything and surprisingly it was her own idea. As she sat there looking at him, a frisson of annoyance nagged at her. How could he calmly sit there, looking gorgeous, as if they had no traumatic history between them? Had he forgotten he hurt her so badly it took years to heal? Added to that, the trouble with her ex-husband had turned Kate off any romantic encounters for life and there had been no one in her life since.

He is being patient, she thought. He must think she was too old to think straight, and maybe she shouldn’t enlighten him.

She declined any food, intending to keep the meeting short. He kept studying her and asking questions, obviously hoping one of them would make her talk.

She had fantasised about meeting him again, how they would be as wonderful together as they had been before, but somehow it didn’t feel right. He had no right to think she was still his for the taking.

He was talking again. ‘… must be something you can tell me about your life, is Jack still in the picture?’

So, he knew about Jack, what else did he know about her? ‘No, I divorced him and there is no one else.’ Why had she said that?

He smiled at her, his whole face lighting up like a little boy on firework night. ‘So, what have you been doing with the rest of your life, Kate?’

How can he just sit there as if they were old friends? She should hate him, and part of her probably did. She suddenly realised this meeting was not a good idea, and it was time to go home. ‘I paint’, she said and went to stand up. ‘I have to go now, I have things to do.’

He stood up and moved behind her chair, his hands brushing gently over the back of her coat as she stood up. She had to use all of her willpower to keep moving.

‘I might pop in tomorrow, to look at some properties. It was nice to see you again, Michael. Goodbye.’

His face was a picture. So many thoughts and emotions were flitting across his features, but he said nothing, just smiled forlornly at her. ‘See you tomorrow, then Kate.’

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#Wednesday Writer: Nine Lives by Jaye Marie Chapter22 #MysteryThriller

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Chapter Twenty-two

Jack Holland couldn’t shake the image of the old woman from his mind. The way she had looked at him replayed repeatedly in his head, making him believe she knew what he was about and what he had done. Normally, he had the greatest respect for old age. If you made it that far, he thought, you must be worth something. She had looked at him knowingly and he didn’t like it.

What if she mentioned him to Kate? She might just assume some old women sometimes create suspicion in order to make their lonely lives more interesting, but the seeds of worry were growing.

Could she have seen anything else? One sighting might be dismissed, but had she seen him on other occasions too?

He prided himself on always being vigilant on his frequent visits to Kate’s flat, but the idea of a nosy old woman unable to sleep at night who might have been at her window had not occurred to him.

Now it ate at him. The woman’s face haunted him; sneered at his stupidity until he was convinced she would tell Kate everything and ruin his chances. He couldn’t have that. The thought of Kate finding out and running away from him again didn’t bear thinking about.

 

It took careful planning to keep both women under observation and not be seen by either of them and in a way, he was enjoying himself. He imagined he could be a secret agent on a mission of grave urgency. Down to him to do whatever was necessary to put the world straight.

His world, that is. Nothing would be allowed to get in the way of his quest to get Kate back to where she had always belonged.

The fact it had been so long now and Kate had shown no sign of missing him, had not entered his mind. It had tried to, and he had dismissed the thought as unworthy of a man in his position. He had to get her back, nothing else would do and he was so desperately tired of waiting. He was also tired of all these interferences and still fervently believed he would win in the end, once he had eliminated every distraction. He would make her need him again, one way or another.

He had invested in a small ex-electricians van, complete with a colourful logo on the side in which to conduct his surveillance. Nobody looked twice at a tradesman’s vehicle and he felt less conspicuous than he assumed Kate’s brother did, in his shabby old car. He could sleep in there if the need arose. It was a convenient arrangement and quite fitted his image of detective-hood.

She was a sweet old woman, he thought. She kept herself busy, popping up to the shops several times a week. Remarkably agile for one of her age, although he suspected she could be a nasty piece of work should the need arise. He had witnessed the way she treated the postman when he tried to post an armload of junk mail through her letterbox. He kept getting a mental picture of one of those small annoying Jack Russell dogs, busily tearing a rabbit to shreds, reminding him he had to be more than careful with this one.

Having to watch two people at the same time was a new experience for him and was proving to be exhausting, as he had no idea what either of them would do. The strain was becoming annoying and he knew he would have to take a risk soon, as he had visions of sitting in the van forever and that wouldn’t do at all.

The right time arrived just when he was prepared to risk everything by forcing the situation his way. It was Saturday morning and Kate had gone out. The old woman’s front door opened and she came out with a bucket in her hand and started to clean the windows.

It was the perfect scenario, he couldn’t have wished for better. He casually crossed the road, looking out for any nosy parkers and slipped inside the open door.

When the old woman came back inside and closed the door, she didn’t seem at all surprised to see him sitting in her living room. She just stood quietly in the doorway, waiting for him to speak.

He was in no hurry to tell her anything, in fact, he might not say anything at all. Pointless anyway, she couldn’t possibly understand just how important his mission was. He noticed she was nervously plucking at the handle of the bucket, trying not to look at him. It was almost as though she knew why he was there, and that was ridiculous.

After what seemed like an eternity, the old woman finally moved. She walked past him to the kitchen and he heard her rinse out the bucket and put it away.

He stood up and followed her, grabbing her by the elbows and throwing her to the floor. He had no real plan of action, no thought as to how to be rid of her, but he had no idea how strong an old woman could be. He had fantasied that the mere sight of him might have done it, but she was looking up at him, fiercely defiant blue eyes determined to see through whatever was coming. He took her head in his hands and contemplated crushing her skull. It didn’t feel strong. Her hair was soft against his fingers and he paused for a moment.

‘Shame about this, old girl, but no good ever came of being nosy, now did it…hmm?’

Then the sweet old woman with the soft hair and defiant eyes became an obstacle once more, something that had to be removed.

He closed his eyes and lifted her head away from the blue patterned lino. Her hands were clutching desperately at his sleeves, fluttering like birds wings. He thought of Kate, and how much he missed her, and the familiar mist seeped into his brain as he pounded the woman’s head against the floor repeatedly until her eyes closed and she stopped breathing. He left her lying there and went back to his van…

 

 

#WednesdayWriter: Nine Lives~chapter 20 #MysteryThriller

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Jack wished he could have been there to see the look on her face when she found what he had done. Imagination was a powerful thing but no substitute for being there.

It wasn’t planned either, he had originally intended to wreck a painting or two, just something to get her a bit rattled. When the blessed cat had started hissing at him the minute he opened the front door he just saw red, quite spoiling his appreciation at finding Kate had not changed the locks.

He managed to corner the animal in the kitchen and picked it up, stroking its head and ears until loud purring ensued. Such a pretty little thing, with its silver and black fur and green eyes. It was enjoying being petted.

‘Where has all your anger gone now?’ he asked, his voice soft and soothing. ‘Why aren’t you afraid of me anymore, hmm?

The animal looked up at him, green eyes gently opening and closing in some kind of feline ecstasy. When it stretched up and pushed its head against his hand, some secret switch flipped in Jack’s mind and he slowly tightened his grip around the animal’s neck. In no time at all the animal was a limp rag in his hands and he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop there.

He laid the limp body of the cat on the floor and stared down at it while he decided what he wanted to do. For some inexplicable reason, he decided he wanted to keep the fur so he undressed, removing all of his clothes and making a neat pile of them on the kitchen counter. He found the sharpest knife in the kitchen drawer and tried to teach himself to skin an animal. He had never done it before and didn’t manage to remove the skin cleanly or in one piece. There were lumps of fur and blood all over the floor; his hands, arms and legs were glistening red. Who knew a small animal would have so much blood?

It turned out to be quite invigorating, as it happened. The sight and smell of all the blood stimulated him to a frenzy and he thoroughly enjoyed making as much mess as possible.

He knew she thought a lot of the animal, always did have a soft spot for anything small and furry, so she should be suitably distraught. Might just cause another heart attack if he was lucky. He was still kicking himself for not having enough time to finish her off when she was in the hospital last time.

All things considered though, he didn’t want her dead. It was so much more fun to make her suffer and even more fun to watch. Pity he couldn’t rig up a camera in here, he thought, looking around the bloodied kitchen. Should be something, pity he wouldn’t get to see it. It did, however, give him plenty of new ideas for the future.

He stood up, the frenzy long gone now, replaced by the satisfaction of a job well done. He glanced at his clothes; quickly deciding a shower was in order and walked to the bathroom. He would have to be quick, as he had no idea how much time he had.

He didn’t want her to find him there, as he wanted this game to go on a lot longer. He was nowhere near finished with her yet.

As he left, he noticed an old woman in one of the houses opposite eyeing him suspiciously. That was all he needed, a nosy neighbour. He turned on the full extent of his favourite icy glare and she shot indoors like a frightened rabbit.

He smiled, slightly amused he still had the power to frighten old women, but he had a sneaking suspicion he might have to take care of this particular woman before she ruined all his plans…

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Jack is a really nasty piece of work, but I loved writing about him…

 

 

 

 

#WednesdayWriter: Nine Lives~ Chapter 19 #MysteryThriller

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Kate had welcomed death from an early age. With no family to speak of and a brother she hates, she waits for death to take her away.

It speaks to her. Teases her, yet will not come for her.

Death takes those around her, making her desire for it greater than ever.

She wonders how much longer it will take for her time to run out…

Chapter 19

On the way home from her walk around the park as she approached the bakers, she wondered idly if they had any doughnuts. The sight of her old friend and neighbour Janet standing at the counter made her walk inside the shop.

‘Hello Janet, I wondered if I would see you today. How are you?’

Janet was buying a small loaf of bread; she was so short she had to stretch to pay the woman. ‘I’m fine Kate, though I could do with a box to stand on in here. This counter is far too high for me.’

Kate held out her hand for Janet’s change and asked, ‘Have you heard a child crying near us lately?’

Putting the change in her purse, Janet shook her head. ‘No, can’t say I have. Someone might have visitors… has that silly cat come home yet?’

Kate shook her head and bought two doughnuts. As they walked to the door of the shop, she realised it was raining heavily. Janet fished an umbrella out of her shopping bag and with a quick wave; toddled up the road looking like a little pixie in her boots and raincoat.

Kate made her way home, looking in every doorway and behind all the bushes and bins. There was no sign of Dylan. Tears ran down her face as she willed the missing cat to appear. It was as though she knew he was gone for good, and she would never see him again.

Once back indoors, Kate had to change her clothes as she was soaked through and cold. She didn’t want to turn on the central heating, so she wrapped herself in her old fleece dressing gown and rubbed some of the water from her hair with a towel. She wandered into the kitchen, intending to put the kettle on for a cup of tea to go with the doughnuts when something about the cat flap made her stop short.

Something dark was smeared all over the plastic flap. It looked like blood, dripping down the door into a puddle on the floor.

‘What the..?’

She didn’t want to look, but knew she must and edged closer. The blood seemed to be all on the inside, she would have to open the back door.

She reached out her hand, but it refused to grasp the handle or the key that was in the lock. She stood, frozen, for what seemed like an age. Desperately wanting to run away and knowing she couldn’t, not yet.

It began to filter through to her brain that someone had been in her flat again. Her stomach dropped to her knees, what if whoever it was, was still there, hiding somewhere?

She couldn’t do this. Her knees had turned to jelly and there was a real risk of her falling to the floor right where she stood. The smell of the blood was making her feel sick and she knew if she didn’t open the door soon, there was a great possibility she never would.

‘Get a grip, girl, what’s the matter with you?’ she said angrily, reaching out for the handle once again. This time she managed to unlock the door and open it, stifling a scream with both hands as she saw what was on the other side of the door.

There was more blood and a lot of blood-soaked silver fur scattered over the doorstep. She knew what it was, but there was nothing she could identify. Just bits and pieces as if he had been hacked to pieces.

She stood there staring, not knowing what to do, so she shut the door, hoping her brain would come up with some plan of action all on its own. She should start by checking the flat; although if she found anyone, she knew she could quite easily kill whoever it was. The shock was wearing off, being replaced by an incredible sadness and anger. Who could do such a thing to a defenceless animal, and more to the point, why? What reason could they possibly have?

The voice sarcastically remarked that the cat had run out of lives too.

What was all this nonsense about lives?

She finished checking the flat but there was no intruder, just the faint smell of cigarette smoke in the living room. Danny! Why would he do this?

She was not looking forward to cleaning up what was left of her beloved old friend. As she willed herself to move and take charge of the situation, she knew her life had just changed dramatically. There was no way she could stay in the flat any longer than was necessary.

She filled the bucket with hot soapy water and walked towards the back door. The sight of the blood turned her stomach over and she just made it back to the sink, heaving up nothing but bile. She retched so many times her muscles began to cramp. With an extraordinary effort, she tried to pull herself together. Dylan deserved that much of her at least, she thought, splashing her face with cold water.

Clearing up took a long time because she had to stop so many times to wipe her face and blow her nose. There seemed to be far too much blood for one little cat. It was so unfair, he was her friend, probably her only friend, as Sam didn’t count, being work-related. She would have to tell her soon she would be leaving, and it was going to be awkward, as Kate didn’t want anyone knowing where she was going. She thought of just leaving and not telling anyone but that felt wrong somehow. Sam was relying on Kate to produce exceptional art for her new gallery.

Anyway, Kate thought she could trust Sam. She had proved herself a good friend in all kinds of circumstances. Depending on where Kate moved to, their relationship would be tested to the hilt. Sam wouldn’t want to work with someone who wasn’t conveniently located.

Kate tried to make a cup of tea, but her hands were shaking so much most of the tea and sugar went everywhere. She gave up and sat down on the kitchen stool, her head spinning. She did feel ill. The room was slowly revolving and she thought there was a chance she might faint. Everything she looked at seemed strange. What was that thing you supposed to do, she thought, put your head between your knees?

The thought of bending over or moving in any direction didn’t seem like a good idea at all, but she managed to pull herself together and walk to the bedroom. She slammed the door behind her, the loud noise triggering something inside her, and she collapsed on the bed and sobbed her heart out…

Amazon Review:

4.0 out of 5 stars
Suspenseful Story
Kate is an artist who’s had a very painful life and a few close calls with death. After a heart attack, Kate tries to go on with her life, however trouble lurks in the form of her vindictive ex-husband. One by one Kate’s friends and loved ones meet mysterious deaths and Kate, fearing she’s next runs for her life.
Adding to Kate’s dilemma is a the mysterious voice that’s been plaguing her her entire life, which at times proves to be more of a nuisance than of help.

At times Kate comes across as standoffish, but after reading about her history and the tragedies she suffered in the past, gives you a better understanding for her attitude. After reading about her past, I was wishing she’d find the peace that she wanted.

The story is very mysterious and suspenseful, and I was left wondering if Kate would escape the murderer. The mysterious voice plays a big part in the story and the ending does a wonderful job of explaining the voice and it’s purpose in Kate’s life.