The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 35 – The Zone

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017Chapter 35 – The Zone

In the same way most of the mass of an iceberg lay unseen below the surface, so did the greater meaning of the front room of number 23. The mantle clock, condiment set, aspidistra and candles were eye-catching in their own ways but it was their relative positions that was the main business of the room.

Mrs Woosencraft gladly shared the rest of her home with the cats but no four-footed creatures ever entered her front room. They were curious all right, all cats are. Every now and then an inquisitive furry face peered through the door, one paw hesitantly poised above the threshold. The paw never descended, they never went in.

The room wasn’t a temple, nothing in it was sacrosanct or sacred, there was no mystic anti-feline radiance. It was just the place Mrs Woosencraft practiced the one thing that most exercised her intellect and to a significant extent defined her – the magic that allowed itself to be known quite wrongly as Deg Naw Wyth.

In that sense the room actually was Mrs Woosencraft. When the cats looked in, she looked back. Like young children at the threshold of an adult’s private room they hung at the doorway, lost their nerve and quietly slipped away.

When Mrs Woosencraft first came to Brighton the glass animals in the display case felt more important. Rulers, set-square, protractor, and significant amounts of time had all been used to place them exactly as she felt they needed to be – their relative positions, the alignments of their gaze.

She came to realise that all that careful arrangement was prevarication, a delay that could be better spent actually getting on with what needed to be done.

Also, the one that was supposed to be a duck but looked like nothing that had ever quacked kept falling over.

‘It’s just a lot of fiddling about,’ Ethel Godwinsson once said. ‘The only good it can do is help you focus. You may as well bake a cake or have a poo.’

The clock needed winding once a week, the aspidistra liked having its leaves wiped with a damp rag. They and the candlesticks drew down focus, centred and balanced the room. The angles between them were exactly right. It was all she needed and she knew it. Today, however, with sunlight slanting through the windows, she prevaricated with her glass animals. She turned the red octopus and the deer, adjusted the stance of the giraffe and balanced the almost but not quite a duck.

The dachshund came from Bangor, the pelican from Solva. The glass fly, perhaps the strangest beast in her glass menagerie, come from Prague, a present from one of Ethel’s nephews.

Ethel Godwinsson had passed on. Her bungalow was sold to developers and that was that. Mrs Woosencraft might be the last practitioner of the craft but she hadn’t given up hope. With the wisdom of luminaries such as Keith, Heegner and Cataldi to draw upon and the affinity of her cats for a certain type of oceanic person there was still every chance she would find what she had come to Brighton to look for. More to the point – who.

Losing her cat, had been a major set-back. Cats did disappear every now and then. They were nosey and they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. Surprise led to panic, panic to flight, and flight to – well, unfortunate encounters. Wherever Un Deg Naw had ended up she hoped the silly thing was happy.

Its absence had forced Mrs Woosencraft to ‘borrow’ a replacement so she had nineteen cats again.

That ‘borrowing’ brought a pang of guilt whenever she saw the original owner.

A disappearing cat was one thing, the bumblebee quite another. Some person with power had stepped in, rattled her cage and literally buzzed off again. She’d paid them back tit-for-tat, but still didn’t know the who or the why. It was high time she took a deeper look into what was going on.

Pen and paper, slide rule, compass, log tables, pencil sharpener and rubber lay ready. Mrs Woosencraft took her place at the black oak table and became the final component in the alignments of angle and distance in the room. She sat quietly, listened to the steady tick of the clock and harmonised herself with the symmetry of the room. Focus arrived, she was in the moment that had no name, where consequence could be seen before action, an answer known before the question, the effect before the cause. It was the place Ethel Godwinsson called ‘The Zone’. She set to work on the calculations for her spell.

It was late afternoon by the time she had finished. When she’d considered the results they felt like some kind of melodramatic joke:

Two groups of four travel together.

A journey across water.

Monsters in the deep.

Danger.

Death.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 34 – A Bad Idea

Chapter 34 – A Bad IdeaThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

‘Good morning, gentlemen, ladies.’ The man’s voice had a lilting accent and was quietly authoritative. Drowsing in the air conditioning vent, Persistent Smith came awake instantly. He listened to the soft bumps and thuds of furniture as people seated themselves around the big table in the top-floor room.

‘I apologise for the partial facilities,’ the man continued. ‘The new boardroom will not be complete for a few more days but we do have power, networks and, ah yes, environmental control.’

A gentle breeze stirred Smith’s hair as a cool, steady wind blew through the ducts. Smith lay still, the events of the previous day thronged in his mind: sneaking in, Ralf and the builders, Heidi, the mission itself. Excitement coiled within him, the Hand emerged and looked Smith in the eye. ‘Let’s take a look.’

Smith packed his toothbrush, torch, notebook and water bottle into the correct pockets then elbowed his way towards the nearest vent. When he arrived all he could see were legs: black wooden table legs, metal chair legs, and the legs of the humans sitting on them.

‘Item one, mining operations, progress in the past twenty-four hours,’ the man said.

‘No change in status, Mr Koponen,’ a woman replied. Her tone was authoritative, definite. ‘We dispatched another of the new drones at dawn. Once again we lost contact at a depth of approximately one point eight miles.’

Smith gasped and bit his lip. Markus Koponen! The man who owned all the Chrysler Imperials in Finland.

‘Surface weather?’

‘Continuing fair for at least another thirty-six hours. The Iron Herring remains at anchor above the mid-Atlantic ridge.’

‘An endless waste of time, money, and resources.’ Koponen sighed heavily. ‘We will cease operations and resume only if– No, when we find her. We have to find her, we must.’

Smith wanted to see Koponen. He wormed his way along to the next vent but could still only see legs. He remembered the suspended ducting in the ceiling void. ‘Let’s go,’ he whispered to the Hand.

At the far end of the room the ducting sloped steeply upwards. Smith started up, but as soon as his feet left the flat he slid back. The angle was too steep, the metal too smooth. Wriggling and twisting, he rolled onto his back. His knee knocked one wall, his elbow banged on the other. The thin metal bonged and wabbled like a mutant gong. Smith damped the noise with his hands and the noise subsided. He and the Hand exchanged a worried.

Koponen’s voice came from the room. ‘The environmental system has some teething problems. Let’s move on to better news ‑ the harvest is in and transhipment to the docks will be complete tomorrow.’

Flat on his back, with his feet pushing against the floor and palms pulling against the roof, Smith worked his way up the slope slowly and quietly.

The ducting ran across the roof in three parallel arms. Smith crawled into the first one. Immediately the ducting began to sway in its suspension rods. He waited for the motion to cease then moved cautiously forwards. The view from the first vent was poor, he continued to the next and could look down on the table. On the far side a paunchy middle-aged man sprawled in his chair, a black-haired woman in a low-cut red dress sat beside him.

Directly below Smith was a man wearing a white Stetson, his face concealed by the brim. Two more women sat on his left, the hair of one nearest to him was as white as the hat.

The man in the hat passed round sheets of paper. ‘This summarises projected mean yield per hectare, non-crop biomass above and below the soil level, petal cover as a percentage of area, total field albedo, nitrogen and CO2 capture, and so on.’

Now Smith could match the voice to the hat. He was right above Markus Koponen, if only he could see his face. Smith took out his pencil and pad ready to take notes.

The woman with black hair began to smoke an electric cigarette.

The paunchy man beside her scowled. ‘Do you mind?’

‘Not in the slightest.’ She tipped her head back and blew smoke into the air. ‘Markus, those yields are remarkable.’

‘Thank you. I am very pleased.’

Smith gazed down the front of her low-cut top transfixed by the sight of her breathing.

‘It’s a trap.’ Valiantly the Hand covered his eyes.

Smith jerked back, banged his head against the ducting and dropped his pencil. Metallic booms, pops, and creaks filled the air. Panicked, Smith scuttled backward. The swaying increased. With a bang like a gunshot one of the support rods sheared. Directly in front of Smith a joint in the ducting split open. Helplessly he watched the pencil roll through the gap and drop onto the suspended ceiling.

This was not safe! He hurriedly retreated.

Down below, the paunchy man laughed humourlessly. ‘That sounds like more than a teething problem. It’s not the only one you’ve got, believe me.’

Koponen spoke tersely into the desk phone. ‘I don’t care if it’s your day off, the system sounds like a dustbin full of spanners. Perkele! You’re the building manager, get out here and manage.’

He banged down the receiver. ‘Apparently he’s sending somebody called Ralf. Time presses, what is next?’

The white-blonde woman beside Koponen said, ‘Wassiter’s still looking for the cat.’

Koponen shrugged. ‘It always was a long shot.’

Wassiter? Smith’s heart raced. They were talking about Tim. Had he misheard? Were they really talking about a cat and not a car? He needed to write things down but the pencil was Missing In Action. He would have to remember.

‘I can help,’ the Hand said. ‘I’ll remember for you.’

‘Be quiet,’ Smith hissed.

‘But I can do Good Re–’

Smith forced his fingers open. The Hand vanished, its voice faded to an echo. Smith listened to the conversation below.

‘Wassiter’s keen,’ Electra said. ‘He’s put missing cat posters on half the lampposts in Brighton.’

‘Mr Jarglebaum, what about the car?’

A cat and a car. Smith had heard correctly. He paid close attention.

‘He’s doing better with that.’ Jarglebaum tipped a lady’s green jacket out of a black plastic bag. ‘I found this in the car park.’

‘That’s not his.’

‘Obviously. He’s got some help. I’ve met her and she’s as ditzy as he is. In her case it doesn’t matter, she’s a real looker.’

‘Do you know how they found it?’

Jarglebaum grimaced. ‘They’ll tell you it was magic, divination with a map and a pen. Wassiter’s a dreamer, she’s filled the part of his head that isn’t already stuffed with nonsense with her own rubbish.’

Koponen put his hat on the table, revealing thinning blond hair. ‘You underestimate Tim Wassiter. He’s an unusual man‑’

‘You’ve got that right.’

‘‑and this proves what I suspected. He has real talent and we were right to choose him.’

Jarglebaum folded his arms behind his head. ‘It’s your money. I think they got lucky. You’ll be surprised how much detective work comes down to getting the breaks.’

‘I’m sure you know.’

Jarglebaum pushed the green jacket across the table. ‘Any of you ladies want this?’

‘Not my colour,’ Electra said.

The body-language of the black-haired woman made it clear something about the jacket intrigued her. Smith was not surprised when she said, ‘I’ll take it.’

Jarglebaum stuffed the jacket back into the bag and pushed it across the table.

‘Thank you, Mr Jarglebaum,’ Koponen said. ‘That is all for today.’

Jarglebaum took a breath. ‘Mr Koponen, I need a word.’

‘What about?’

Jarglebaum looked at the three women. ‘It’s private.’

‘Don’t mind us,’ Imelda said.

‘Sorry to disappoint, but I do.’

Koponen studied his watch. ‘All right. Ten minutes once we’re finished. What else do we know?’

‘She’s definitely here,’ Electra said.

Koponen spread his hands. ‘Of course she is. The missing cat proves it.’

‘I mean she’s been seen. In a pet shop. I talked to the shopkeeper.’

Now who were they talking about, Smith wondered. And why had the fat man Jarglebaum gone so still?

‘You’re sure it was her?’ Koponen said.

‘We had a very thorough conversation.’

‘Did you get her credit card receipt?’

‘She paid cash.’

Koponen slapped the table. ‘So close! You must find her. Everything depends on this. Everything. Forget about the car, it’s served its purpose. Use your electronic equipment. Do what you must.’

‘Our pleasure, Markus.’

The three women departed and Koponen and Jarglebaum were alone.

#

Now he had his moment Jarglebaum found himself reluctant to start. This wasn’t going to be easy. He braced himself. ‘Electra and Imelda are doing things you need to know about.’

‘What things?’

‘The sort that could get you a lot of very bad publicity.’

Koponen doodled geometric shapes on his notepad. ‘My girls have been through a lot and it has changed them. They’re no longer carefree, I know that. Post-traumatic stress is a well-known phenomenon. I make allowances, so must you.’

Koponen looked up. Jarglebaum saw a degree of vulnerability he never suspected was there. ‘I don’t like it, Mr Jarglebaum. I accept it and do my best to help them. I don’t like it because their problems are a direct result of something I once asked them to do.’

Then Jarglebaum told Koponen about his interview with Gabrielle at the hospital. He didn’t mention her name, or the type of shop. As he talked Koponen embellished his doodles with overlapping squares and triangles, straight lines and spirals.

‘Electra and Imelda,’ Koponen said when Jarglebaum finished. ‘What about Dolores?’

‘She wasn’t involved.’

‘She’s a good friend.’

Jarglebaum shifted awkwardly. ‘Sure.’

‘We live in a litigious world, Mr Jarglebaum. Everyone has an eye on the main chance. How did that shop assistant first describe her accident?’

‘She said some boxes had fallen.’

‘Then she changed her mind.’

‘Yes.’

‘I don’t doubt Electra and Imelda asked her some questions, I don’t doubt they may have raised their voices. But do you not think that having realised her last customers were obviously wealthy, this low-paid shop girl might try a little  blackmail?’

Jarglebaum believed in keeping his powder dry. ‘She was the owner.’

Koponen stopped drawing. ‘Many people would rather pay up than see their names in the papers.’

‘I saw the x-rays and the doctor’s notes. She made the first story up because she was frightened.’

‘Can you prove any of this?’

Jarglebaum’s shoulders sagged. ‘No, I can’t. Look, Mr Koponen, Electra–’

‘Is with me, Mr Jarglebaum. So are Dolores and Imelda.’

‘I know that, sir, I–’

‘You don’t have a partner do you?’

‘Married twice, didn’t work out.’ Jarglebaum tried a disarming grin, ‘Look, boss, you took me on because I know the law. I know what you can bend and what you can’t break. And one thing you can’t do is go around breaking people. Keep that up and you risk a whole world of unwelcome attention.’

‘If that’s what happened.’

Koponen’s words hung in the air. Jarglebaum felt himself becoming angry. He had something else to say and he was going to say it. It might be a bad idea, it might even cost him this lucrative job. He couldn’t help it, he tried not to shout and didn’t quite succeed. ‘There’s another reason. You shouldn’t hurt people. You shouldn’t smash their hands to make them tell you what you want to know.’

The silence after his outburst was deafening. Koponen studied his doodles and nodded his head. Finally he said, ‘I hear you.’

Jarglebaum had said his piece. He stood up and walked to the door.

‘One more thing,’ Koponen said.

Jarglebaum stopped walking but did not turn.

‘None of this leaves the room.’

Jarglebaum walked on. It seemed he’d kept his job. He was no longer sure that he cared.

#

Dolores reached the lifts well before Electra and Imelda and was already inside one when they arrived. ‘I’m going shopping. See you later.’ She gave them a little wave as the doors closed.

An unpleasant popping sound came from Imelda’s hands as she cracked her knuckles.

Electra pressed the button to call the other lift. ‘Does that hurt?’

‘She’s such a bitch,’ Imelda said.

‘She thinks she’s so special.’

‘Just because she and Koponen–’ Imelda scowled. ‘It’s not fair.’

Electra tossed her head. ‘I don’t care.’

‘Nor do I.’

‘We have Tuoni.’

‘And he has us.’

At night Tuoni, lord of the drowned underworld, called to them as they slept. When he fully woke they would join him in an embrace far more intimate than any they had ever shared with Koponen.

Imelda met Electra’s pale-eyed gaze and smiled. ‘He has Dolores too. She needs reminding.’

To be continued…

Imposter Experience? Embrace It.

Writers all over the world talk about Imposter Syndrome*, that feeling your success is undeserved and that one day the world will collectively blink, take a good long look at you and realise you are some kind of fraud.

It’s something that affects people in many walks of life, creative or not. You would think it should be a simple thing to look at your own achievements and accept the success that years of experience, hard work, and learning, have brought. For many people it’s not always so. I’ll admit to being one of them. I don’t think my writing is good enough, I try with every piece I write to be a better writer. It’s the same with my leather-craft and, even though I can see the results and know I’m getting better, on some days I still feel like I’m an amateur.

I love our garden and creating the right conditions for helping things grow – to eat or for the pure pleasure of seeing them there. Gardening is also great for letting the mind wander where it will.  This morning I was sweeping up leaves, cutting dead fronds off the Dicksonias, and getting the grass out around the bulbs that are just starting to show. As I was working it occurred to me that maybe this Imposter Experience* is not such a bad thing.

One thing I find useful during my ruminations is to turn things around: What if up was down, black was white, happy was sad? How does that make me feel about things? What, I wondered, if there was no such thing as Imposter Experience?

If I was content with everything I’d achieved wouldn’t I run the risk of becoming complacent, sit on my laurels, and stop trying to get better? Nobody knows everything. The experience of writing each story is different, long form or short. I’d be a real fool if I thought there was nothing left for me to learn, and that would be far worse.

I think this feeling of being some kind of imposter, while not being a very nice experience, is actually one of the things we should take strength from. That doubt shows that, while we might not be as good as we want to be, we acknowledge that fact and are trying to be better. And so we will be.

~

* We shouldn’t think of it as an illness or a syndrome. Pauline Clance, one of the clinical Psychologists who first wrote about it now believes it should be called Imposter Experience,

(This article was first posted in January 2018 on the Milford SF blog)

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 33 – Some Evil Force

Chapter 33 – Some Evil ForceCopyright David Bezzina, 2017

This was not home. Aghast, Asklepios looked about him. Filling the sky, a titanic stepped ziggurat of stone and brick rose three hundred feet into the air. Between it and himself a massive brick archway spanned a paved street wide enough to march an army. Enormous statues of five-legged lions with eagle wings and bearded human heads flanked the archway.

Trumpets blared, a squad of spear-men emerged from the archway. Bare-chested, in knee length pleated linen kilts and leather sandals, each carried a bronze tipped spear. Behind them a man with plaited black beard and dressed in a robe of quilted gold rode a gilded chariot pulled by two asses. He wielded a golden staff, a heavy scimitar hung at his hip, a dozen javelins stood in a rack beside him.

A young woman with a babe in arms looked Asklepios up and down and moved away. His blue jeans and t-shirt attracted unwelcome attention. A man carrying a rush basket full of dates confronted him, questioning and suspicious in a language Asklepios had never heard before.

Terrified, smiling blandly, Asklepios backed away on quaking knees. The man repeated his question and raised his voice.

Down the street came a great shout. As one the spear-men slammed the buts of their spears on the ground. The warrior in the chariot pointed his gilded staff directly at Asklepios.

The thronged street fell silent.

Moaning with fear Asklepios tottered backwards. The date seller reached for him. Terror gave Asklepios strength. He knocked the man’s hand away, turned, and ran for his life.

Shouts came behind him, the sound of many running feet. Asklepios took a side turn to the left, another to the right. He burst out into a broad way lined with stalls of date and oil merchants, basket-weavers, cloth-sellers, bakers and jewellers. Another alley beckoned across the way. Asklepios dodged into it.

Washing hung on lines above his head. Asklepios snatched down a white linen sheet, hurried around a corner and found himself in a dead end with a solid wooden door set into the wall

His left hand hurt abominably. He still had the stolen measuring instruments and clutched them so ferociously tight the bevelled edges had cut his palm. He relaxed his grip, a little blood flowed and he fought down a mad giggle of hysterical laughter.

A tumult of excited voices swelled in the market. Asklepios froze, paralyzed with fear. The voices died away, Asklepios carefully put the instruments aside and rubbed his face with trembling hands He had a moment to himself, he must not waste it.

Hastily he kicked off his trainers, rolled up his trouser legs and stripped off the t-shirt. Then he folded the linen sheet he had stolen into rough pleats and tied it around his waist, a simple version of the garment many of the local men wore. None of the men he had seen were bare-headed. He bit through the seams of the t-shirt with his teeth, tore it into strips and folded and tied a rough turban.

His skin was as dark as the city folk. His crude disguise would have to do. He picked up the instruments and took a shuddering lonely breath. He would learn, he would survive. He calmed his breath and returned down the alley barefoot into the marketplace.

He found a place to sit, far enough away from the stalls that the owners would not think him a thief, close enough to watch and learn. Everything about this city was deeply strange, from the gigantic stepped temples and mud-brick walls, where each brick was stamped with identical insignia, to the mannered way people walked and the warrior in the golden chariot. Only the earthy human aromas of the market were familiar.

He had been so close! Master Tim had found him with his dream-magic and carried him home. He had smelled the orange blossom and almost been able to touch the pink plaster walls. Almost. Then some evil force had cast them aside, perhaps the work of some great djinn he had crossed. If only he had never tried summoning them. He was cursed and would never find his way home. Despondency filled him and he wept.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 32 – The Ziggurat

Chapter 32 – The ZigguratCopyright David Bezzina, 2017

Where the hell was Asklepios? It was dark and late and he had not come back from his walk. Tim chided himself, he should never have let that irritating yet likeable man go out on his own.

His leather jacket was still damp, he put it on anyway and walked to the end of the street and stood at the corner. Amber street lights illuminated a road with sparse traffic, fewer pedestrians and a lone cyclist.

There was little more he could do unless he wanted to spend the entire night walking the streets. Brighton was a reasonably safe town. Little harm was likely to come to Asklepios unless he was very unlucky. He would have a far better chance of finding him in daylight.

Tim returned home. Worried, he stayed up for another hour in the hope of hearing a knock on the door. He read a book, his eyes drooped, he dropped the book and jerked awake. This was achieving nothing. He took himself to bed, briefly lay in the dark making plans to locate Asklepios before he fell asleep…

 

…And found himself alone in a broad and deserted avenue of black-leaved trees. A blustery wind surged in the high branches. He looked up at the clouds billowing in the night sky and instinctively knew he could fly.

Tim took three steps and sprang into the air. Strong winds shoved him steadily out to sea. Far over the heaving water enormous clouds piled up in a roiling black mass. Lightning flashed soundlessly inside the clouds. Frightened by the sea-storm, he fought his way back to land against the relentless winds.

Brighton lay quiet and dark, a monochrome city of elaborate empty houses and windswept streets lit by a sparse scatter of streetlights.

Out at sea the storm clouds flattened into a titanic anvil-shaped thunderhead and spread towards the coast.

He looked for landmarks, there was nothing he recognised. Dream Brighton architecture was grand and uniform, every building a Palladian mansion. He rose higher, battling the wind, hanging close to the coast. The royal pavilion must be here, that white onion-domed folly was its own dream even in the waking world.

Irresistible gusts flung him towards some enormous trees. He caught hold and clambered into the swaying branches. The trees were stupendously high. Far below and far away he saw the white domes of the pavilion among the black buildings of the dark city. A glimmering silver thread ran from the building. He pushed out into the air and the sea-gale flung him down towards the needle-sharp tips of the white domes. Tim kicked and struggled, he dropped into calm air in the lee of the pavilion. The silver thread shimmered through the night, he followed it past palatial beachfront hotels into an alley that narrowed and narrowed so the beetling walls of rough black stone scraped against his body. Then he was free again and soared high over the shingle beach.

Monstrous waves crashed on the shore, pebbles sucked and roared in the surf. The silver thread ran on. Far down the beach a light flared. Tim swept towards it. A windswept figure stood among the tangled ruins of the west pier: Asklepios, lost and alone in the dream lands. He saw Tim and raised his arms.

This is my dream. Tim swept down, gathered Asklepios in his arms and rose into the sky. I can take him home.

The mist brightened then cleared. Tim hung over a narrow, dusty street flanked by whitewashed walls set with high, tapering archways. The air was warm and dry, spiced with heat, mint, and orange blossom.

Yes. Asklepios reached out happily. Thank you.

The mists rolled back, cloying, smothering. Blinded and disoriented, Tim felt a hostile third presence. It buffeted them, dragged and shoved them this way and that. Dislocation followed, Tim fought to hold his position. Then, once again there was bright sunshine and balmy air, a magnificent walled city in a plain, towering ziggurats. A throng of olive-skinned men and women in pleated white robes strolled along a broad paved way.

Tim had brought Asklepios home. He released him. Goodbye. Farewell.

No! Wait, Master! Asklepios cried, but he was falling, the scene fading into the mist.

Tim floated peacefully, the dream diminished. He stirred, awoke briefly in his own bed, and slept again.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 31 – It’s Not Stealing

Chapter 31 – It’s Not StealingThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

‘No, madam, I’m a detective. We don’t always use marked police cars. Sometimes we need to blend in.’

Violet studied the beefy detective seated on one of their dining room chairs. A cup of her instant coffee cooled on the table beside him. He’d refused the offer of something stronger. Violet had offered in the hope he would say “Not while I’m on duty” and had not been disappointed. His refusal left the distinct impression it was not what he would have preferred.

In all other respects the officer conformed to her preconceptions: he was overweight, his collar was tight and his tie was loose, his black shoes were well polished and at least size twelve. These signs, plus the way he scribbled in his small notebook, convinced her that he was a genuine officer and not one of those ‘bogus constables’ she had read about in the local paper.

‘I’ve never seen a badge before,’ Violet said, handing it back to the detective. ‘I wouldn’t know if it’s real or not.’

‘I can ask for uniformed officers to attend if you prefer, madam.’

‘I’m sure it will be all right,’ Albert said.

The detective sat forwards, his paunch rested on his knees. He licked his pencil again. ‘Has Derek done this before?’

‘Oh no, never. He’s a good boy really.’

‘How old is he, Mrs Smith?’

‘Thirty-two, Inspector.’

‘Detective Sergeant, ma’am.’ The officer looked up from his notebook. ‘He still lives with you?’

‘Yes.’ Violet felt her voice grow tight, she gave a short high-pitched cough. ‘You see, Derek is a teeny bit special. He can’t look after himself very well. The doctors say he’s got–’

Albert broke in loudly. ‘Derek’s brain is wired up a little differently from you and I, Detective Sergeant. The doctors have lots of clever-sounding theories but they don’t know why he’s like he is or what to do. He’s an intelligent lad and given the right encouragement he’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself.’

‘I understand, sir. Has he been in trouble before?’

‘Never. He’s not delinquent, he just sees the world differently.’

The policeman wrote again in his notepad.

The conversation turned to what Derek had been wearing – his blue fleece, he always wore his blue fleece, that he liked buses and trains but he didn’t like travelling on them, and the money he’d taken from Violet’s purse.

‘Do you have a photograph?’

Violet stood up smartly. ‘Yes, I have one ready for you.’

The officer put it in his pocket without looking and pushed himself to his feet. ‘Derek will go on the missing persons register. Because of his – differences I’ll flag him as a vulnerable person. Try not to worry too much. People disappear all the time, often they do it on purpose and most of them come home. Forty eight thousand people were reporting missing last year. Forty seven thousand nine hundred and seventy two of them turned up safe and sound within a week. Here’s my card. If he returns, or you think of anything, call me.’

‘Thank you,’ Albert said.

‘Thank you very much indeed.’ Violet felt very reassured.

Albert showed the officer out. Violet put the kettle on. Albert was by the window when she brought the tray through. They sat down together.

‘I didn’t know he took money from your bag,’ Albert said.

‘He’s been doing it for ages. It’s not stealing.’

‘Well, I didn’t know.’

Violet took Albert’s hand. ‘He never takes much.’

Albert sat in his chair, the one best lined up for watching the television. ‘Forty eight thousand is a big number. Do you think he made it up?’

Violet blew gently on her tea. ‘I expect some people disappear more than once. It’s a habit.’

‘Did he mean country-wide or just this county?’

‘I don’t know, dear.’

Albert gave a non-committal grunt. ‘I didn’t think much of that policeman at first. Bit of a slob, but he seemed to know his business.’

Violet picked up the card. ‘D.S. Troy Jarglebaum’, she read. ‘I wonder where his parents came from.’

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 30 – Complicity

Chapter 30 – ComplicityThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

Dolores was changing. Her dreams told her so, her thoughts, her desires. All three frightened and excited her in equal measure. As time went by it became harder and harder for her to tell the difference.

Of the three of them Dolores was the most prone to such conflicts of emotion. Imelda relished confrontation, met aggression with aggression and walked open-armed and smiling towards a fight. Electra was too rational, too cerebral to let fear touch her. ‘The physical responses to fear and excitement are the same,’ she once told Dolores. ‘So choose to be excited.’

Ever since they met at college in New England the three women had done everything together. Each acknowledged the other’s differences and different needs, a trio without conflict, without jealousy. They never lied. If one of them wanted something – or someone – they just said. Koponen had been perfect – a man whose ego and appetites were large enough for them all, whose wealth, ambition, and generosity gave them the freedom to indulge their own dreams of exploring the world’s oceans, of seeing it all. To know it and understand.

But Koponen was not like them. Over time the flattery to his masculinity of having three beautiful, intellectual and passionate mistresses gave way to a deeper attachment to Dolores.

The three women remained content. Imelda and Electra occasionally joined with Koponen in erotic experiment while Dolores used her greater influence to get them all directorships in Koponen’s company. It was a tax efficient way for Koponen to give them money.

Then something else changed, something that had never happened before. After all, three may be indivisible but four can be divided in several ways. Typically Dolores was the last to realise. It took Electra to tell her why.

#

Koponen had been raging at the loss of another deep-sea drone. He thumped the table with his fist and fulminated at the incompetence of his marine engineers.

‘It’s not their fault,’ Electra said.

‘I know.’ Koponen slumped back in his chair and petulantly flicked his pen spinning across the desk. ‘They are good people, skilful and experienced, and I am being unfair. Once more there is delay and expense and I am frustrated. Perkele! We are getting nowhere. There is no mining, no revenues, and still we do not know why.’

‘Send someone down to take a look.’

Koponen waved the suggestion away. ‘It is too deep. The bathyscaphe would be near the limit of safety.’

‘There are better models.’

‘Yes, yes,’ Koponen clenched his fist. ‘More delay, more cost. These vessels cost millions, what choice do I have?’

Without understanding why Dolores felt words rise up in her mouth. ‘We’ll go.’

Koponen shook his head. ‘No, my dear, it is far too dangerous.’

‘Markus, listen. We’re qualified and we’re experienced. We can find out what’s wrong and restart the mining operation. Let us go and save all that time and money.’

We? Electra and Imelda were speechless with astonishment. We?

‘What the fuck did you say that for?’ Imelda said when the three were alone.

Dolores couldn’t see the problem. ‘Markus is in trouble, we can help him. After all he’s done for us, how can we do nothing?’

‘Easily. It’s fucking dangerous.’

Dolores shook her head. ‘This is what we’ve been trained to do.’

‘Not at ninety-eight percent of operational limits. Why couldn’t you keep your mouth shut?’

‘Because she’s in love with him,’ Electra said.

‘What?’ Imelda laughed in disbelief. ‘Is that really true?’

To her immense surprise Dolores discovered she couldn’t deny it.

For a while they tried acting as though nothing had changed. That was why, in the end, they agreed to the dive. By the time they returned to the surface everything was different.

#

Now Dolores lay beside Koponen in his bed, naked under the covers. Even here, safe and secure in Markus’s arms her belly trembled with nerves at what would soon happen to her, Imelda, and Electra. In the past there had always been the thrill of complicity, of watching Electra and Imelda and wondering what they were going to do next. She was the passive one but it was her who had set them on this wildest of paths.

Am I mad? Dolores thought. I yearn for Tuoni, I love Markus yet conspire against him.

In one sense it didn’t matter because it was too late. Tuoni waited in her dreams, more than dreams for Electra and Imelda were there too. Yet whatever that creature really was he was no more lord of the underworld than she was his daughter, Kivutar. Not yet. They were just stories plucked out of her mind from the myths and legends Koponen loved to tell. Stories that would, over time, become true.

Koponen stirred beside her and woke. Dolores rolled against him and kissed his mouth. She ran her hand down across his chest and stomach and took hold of his sex.

‘Tell me about Loviatar,’ Dolores breathed into his mouth.

Koponen lay still for a moment then said:

‘Old Lowyatar, that wicked witch,

Eyeless daughter of Lord Tuoni.

The ugliest of her father’s children.

Of all hell’s women, the very worst.’

His recitation faltered as Dolores caressed him, ceasing entirely when she pulled him onto her.

Koponen’s presence, his certainty, their sex, had always been reassuring. She needed that now more than ever. Tuoni’s kingdom under the Atlantic was not the dreary hell Tuonela, Electra could never be Loviatar, she was too beautiful for that fate. Whatever happened none of them could truly become those monstrous myth-women.

Yet a worm of doubt still gnawed.

Markus looked down at her. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing.’ She moved her hips and felt him move deliciously inside her. ‘I love you.’

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapters 28 & 29 – Tension, and Worry

Dear readers, as these two chapters are quite short so I thought I would bundle them up into one post. You lucky things.

In other news I’ve decided to publish print and e-book versions of the story, and have just commissioned new cover art. More on this later. Until then, read on…

Chapter 28 – TensionCopyright David Bezzina, 2017

Violet and Albert Smith looked up and down the street through the bay window of their front room. The sun had set and the street lights were on. A few stars twinkled in the gaps between the rain clouds. It was well past their normal bed time.

‘I don’t know where he’s gone.’ Violet defensively folded her arms.

Albert jingled the keys in his pockets. ‘You should have made him tell you.’

‘Oh, Albert, you know I can’t do that. If Derek doesn’t want to tell you something he just won’t. It’s always been difficult. Now he’s grown up half the time I don’t know what to do.’

Keys jingling, Albert stared silently out the window.

‘If you were around a bit more…?’

‘It’s not my fault the boy’s the way he is. I do have to work.’

A gap grew in the conversation, a distance that had grown familiar over time and reluctantly been accepted by them both. They had all the advice and help anyone could want while Derek grew up. People said they were being too protective, too smothering, but he was their son. Now he was grown, now that it was too late and they all lay in a bed of their own making, all they had left was doubt, and guilt, and wordless blame. It was easier to pretend everything was fine. Except that now it wasn’t.

Violet tentatively took her husband’s hand. ‘That’s not what I meant, Albert.’

Albert stood stiffly for a moment, then unfroze. His arm went around her shoulder. ‘I know, my love. And I didn’t mean to snap.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘So am I.’

Holding each other was like a balm. The tension between them faded, and was gone. For a while.

‘What do you think we should we do?’

Albert considered. ‘I think we should call the police.’

Chapter 29 – WorryCopyright David Bezzina, 2017

Mrs Woosencraft was not as young as she used to be but when it came to wrestling cats she was still up there with the greats. Her technique combined soothing words, dexterity, strong wrists, and callow deception.

It’s not easy to fool cats. They might not be as smart as you[1] but they’re not daft either.

Over the years Mrs Woosencraft had come to believe the insouciant élan cats so effortlessly projected was little more than a cover for paranoia, suspicion, and anxiety. That said, the average cat also possessed distinctly unaverage levels of self-esteem and would try to maintain a worldly indifference to potential unpleasantness for as long as felinely possible. Especially if it thought another cat was watching.

Her standard opening move was a big hug, soothing words, ear-scritches and slow movements. All these encouraged even the most wary cat to believe the sink full of warm soapy water it was being carried towards had absolutely nothing to do with its own immediate future. Part of the wrestler’s art was allowing cats to deceive themselves. That, a firm and gentle grip, a stout coat and a pair of canvas gardening gloves.

The Way of Wrestling Cats[2] can be summarised in two maxims:

  • Win the match before it begins.
  • Win the match before it begins.

Once you were locked into a tussle not only had you lost, but so had your jumper.

Mrs Woosencraft demonstrated her mastery with Pedwar. A balletic turn towards the sink resulted in Pedwar’s expected lunge for freedom. A reverse turn used the power of the animal’s own leap and she simply steered the cat through the air into the suds. Presented with total defeat and the weight of her hand on its neck it sulked.

Another thing about cats is that they look a lot smaller when they are wet. Considering the risks Mrs Woosencraft never felt any need to be magnanimous in victory. Laughing at soggy cats was one of life’s guilty pleasures. Right now she would take anything positive out of this disaster.

‘Out you come.’ Mrs Woosencraft lifted Pedwar out of the water and wrapped him in a towel warmed on the oven rail.

Pedwar yowled plaintively. Even his little stub of tail managed to appear forlorn. He gave Mrs Woosencraft a look that said ‘I trusted you,’ and sneezed. Three or four cats peered round the door from the safety of the sitting room, curious, worried, relieved it wasn’t them.

‘Poor little poppet,’ Mrs Woosencraft chuckled. ‘You shouldn’t chase bees round my glue pot.’

Regaining a little poise, Pedwar suffered himself to be patted dry. Especially under the chin.

Glue still matted Pedwar’s back and flanks. One ear appeared stuck down but he shook his head and it came free with a soft ‘plap’.

Pedwar trod the towel down and curled up. He watched Mrs Woosencraft with eyes filled with reproach.

‘What are we going to do with you? Brushing’s no good, so it’s either leave it or cut it.’

Pedwar gave a few tentative licks at his matted fur, then pulled at it with his teeth.

‘Right, then. I don’t want you swallowing that stuff, so scissors it is. I’ll be as careful as anything, don’t you worry.’

Mrs Woosencraft’s brow furrowed as she snipped away at the clumps of glue-ruined fur. It was a dratted inconvenience. Respect where it was due, however. Whoever had done this had known exactly what they were doing.

The thing about having nineteen cats, about using them to find the things and people nobody else could, was that they all needed to be in the right place at the right time. That in itself was only slightly less than impossible but the indivisible nineteen was a powerful tool. With Un Deg Naw missing and Pedwar thoroughly discombobulated it was sodding hopeless. Seventeen? There was no way she could do what she was trying with seventeen.

The glue had formed a layer on top of the fur. By cutting carefully Mrs Woosencraft found she could snip away just the ends of the hairs.

She thought about the bumblebee, stopped snipping fur and looked at the freesias Tim had brought her and counted nine aromatic, blossomy sprigs. Pedwar gave another plaintive yowl and she returned to her barbering until it was done.

‘A bit scruffy, but you’ll do. Off you go and try and be a bit more careful.’

Pedwar dropped off the table and trotted up the kitchen steps. The cats at the door trooped after him and although he did not acknowledge them his body language somehow became smug.

‘And you lot be careful too,’ Mrs Woosencraft scolded. ‘We’ve got a job to do and there can’t be any more distraction. Food on the plates, this is. We all need the work.’

She gave her attention back to the flowers. Nine pretty sprigs. Add herself, Tim, Pedwar, and the bee, and that made a very interesting number. Everything coming together in the right place at the right time wasn’t easy. Who could have done that? Who had the knowledge? And most importantly, why?

Ever since that slow Thursday afternoon when old Ethel Godwinsson said ‘Oh,’ like she had just remembered something nice, sat back in her armchair and died anything she had left to teach about the magic of Deg Naw Wyth was going to stay untaught. Ever since Mrs Woosencraft had taken up her quest to find others like herself and been drawn, first to the big smoke, then south and south again down to the sea and been recruited by her foreign employer, nothing like this had ever happened.

I didn’t bloody well think there was anyone left, she thought.

It was good to know, and a worry too. A worry and a challenge. And it had to have been deliberate because it was just too sodding inconvenient to be chance. Of all the things Mrs Woosencraft believed in, coincidence was not among them.

Someone was out there and they’d had a go. So be it, she was more than capable of having a pop back. They had come at her through the air, she would return the compliment with interest.

Mrs Woosencraft set to work. If she had her way somebody was going to go on a long and unexpected journey.

To be continued…

~

[1] Debateable.

[2] Moggy-Do

 

 

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 27 – That Word Again

Chapter 27 – That Word Again

Tim stripped off his saturated leather jacket and hung it over the back of his office chair, where it began to drip on the carpet.

Why does life never run in straight lines? Maybe if it did more people would be able live without frustration and anxiety. Hadn’t the evening been a success? Through the agency of something far beyond coincidence and luck he had found the car. In that light it was his dream come true – detection the way he wanted, using his own methods. And with the wonderful, the marvellous addition of an attractive and mysterious young woman as his accomplice. So why did he feel so low?

Whatever had made Foxy run off, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He needed to believe that. Something had happened and when she was ready she’d come back and tell him. He had to believe that too.

He fetched an old newspaper to catch the drips under the jacket then sat heavily in the chair. If he hadn’t done anything wrong, what had he done that was right? It didn’t feel like much. Jarglebaum had picked up the bottle, the pen had fallen on the map. Foxy had found the car.

Maybe it had all just been coincidence after all.

A defiant little light burned inside Tim’s head. What if these things were happening all the time? What if these clues were scattered all around and magic was no more than seeing what was hidden in plain sight? Ritual simply created moments that helped you see what was already there.

At least he’d have Dolores and Electra off his back. He’d found the car and earned their money. No more threats, no more rearrangement of the architrave.

The flaw in that line of reasoning was that Imelda probably didn’t need a reason.

The phone rang.

‘Hey. It’s me,’ Foxy said.

Relief flooded Tim, he forgot all about his doubts and worries. ‘Hey. What happened, Foxy? Why did you run?’

‘It was… Well, it wasn’t you, it was the rain. I was getting soaked.’

Tim heard seagulls faintly calling. ‘Where are you?’

‘Walking along the beach road. The sea is up, the waves wild and grey. I can taste the salt on the west wind.’

He wished he was there. ‘Thanks for helping me.’

He heard the catch in her breath. ‘I’d do it again.’

‘You mean that?’

‘Sure.’

‘I don’t know when. That was the only real case I had and now we’ve found the car, it’s over.’ Belatedly he realised how much that sounded like a brush off. ‘But there’s something else is going on and I want to discover what that is.’

‘That sounds mysterious.’

‘It’s odd. Dolores, the woman who employed me, never said the car was stolen, just missing. She also told me it was her husband’s car. The two things I do know about her are that she’s a liar, and she paid me a lot of money to find the car.’

‘Enough for you to not ask too many questions?’

‘I think that was the idea.’

‘That garage isn’t easy to get into with that automatic door.’

‘So the person who left it there works in the building. I can find out who the owner is.’

‘And there’s that sack of rocks in the boot. They bother me, there’s something about them, I’m sure I’ve seen them somewhere. We should find out what they are too.’

There was that word again: We. ‘What was on those papers you took?’ Tim said.

‘Advertising about farming and plants,’ Foxy said. ‘I’ll bring them round.’

‘Now?’

‘In the morning.’

He kept the disappointment from his voice. ‘See you then.’

It was only after he put the phone down that Tim remembered that Asklepios had been gone for hours.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 26 – Hardball

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017Chapter 26 – Hardball

Early that evening at the Princess Royal Hospital Troy Jarglebaum studied the mass of direction signs with a sullen heart.

Crap jobs, he thought unhappily. I’m still getting all the crap jobs.

Once upon a time it had been lack of experience. Now Jarglebaum knew it was his age and the fact he was still a Detective Sergeant.

He realised several years ago that he was never going to make Detective Inspector. At first, so he told himself, it was because he was a renegade. A free spirit and innovative thinker whose left-of-field methods rubbed the senior officers up the wrong way. Later he convinced himself being partnered with Tim was the reason.

Resentment knotted his guts as he trudged into the hospital. Jarglebaum was a good cop, clever and resourceful, tough and gifted with insight. The one thing he never understood was that it hadn’t been the lack of results that had been the problem, it was how he had dealt with them.

Over time Troy came to see himself as unlucky, a plodder, an old-time cop, the guy who always arrived a moment too late, the man who missed the vital clue. Slowly he had stopped believing in himself.

He’d lost his coppering mojo, but now he’d had a break, the one he’d always deserved. Now he was moonlighting for Koponen his luck was going to change. The Finn had a hard business nose, a real player. More importantly he valued Troy’s experience and police contacts. Jarglebaum was going to ride to a better life clinging to Koponen’s coat-tails.

Meanwhile there was still coppering to do.

There she was, in a bed in the middle of the ward. Some youngster, her hair like candyfloss, her eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot. Right hand and arm plastered to the elbow. Just another kid who thought they were God’s gift suddenly getting a nasty comeuppance and discovering that the whole world wasn’t there purely for their own convenience.

Jarglebaum pulled out his notebook. Once he’d got this out the way he could go home, get down the boozer and pour this evening’s quota of beer and cheap scotch down his neck.

‘D.S. Jarglebaum.’ Troy flashed his badge and sat down beside the bed. ‘I’m sincerely sorry for what you have been through. How are you feeling, madam?’

‘I’m OK.’ Gabby vaguely waved her good arm. ‘They gave me some stuff. It doesn’t hurt any more but my head’s on a go-slow.’

‘If you feel up to it I need to ask you some questions.’

‘Sure. Ask away, Mr Police-detective-man-person-son.’

Great. Troy flipped open his notebook and licked his pencil.

‘Hey, you guys still do that,’ Gabby said.

‘OK,’ Jarglebaum said, trying to appear interested, ‘Let’s start with your full name.’

‘Gabby. I mean Gabriella.’

‘Full name?’

‘Sorry, head full of cotton-wool…‘

Half an hour later Jarglebaum sat heavily on the wall at the bus stop. He tugged open his collar and groped for his hip flask.

Sometimes you needed a drink just to get your teeth unclenched.

Christ, that poor young woman had just been trying to earn a living and some freak sickos had fucked her up. So what that she had weird hair and probably a load of pointless modern affectations like vegetarianism and decaffeinated tree-hugging. She was just doing her best to get by. Cute too, in an unconventional way. Skinny, though skinny was OK, and also kind of beaky. Jarglebaum was old enough to acknowledge some of his own quirks. For reasons he’d never bothered to fathom a decent-sized schnozzle pressed several of his buttons.

The cheap whisky scorched Jarglebaum’s gums as he sluiced it between his teeth. He’d been wrong about Gabby. He’d taken one look and jumped to conclusions and it was the wrong thing to do. That was his bad, an old man’s habit, not the behaviour of a cop. He was meant to help people not dismiss them out of hand. It didn’t make him feel good about himself. Jarglebaum took another drink then firmly put the flask away.

Hell, he’d make it up, he promised himself. He’d come back and see how she was doing, bring her some grapes, that kind of thing.

‘Goddammit,’ he growled and ground his fist into his palm.

The three scruffy young men standing beside him at the bus stop looked at him askance and took a step away. Jarglebaum had been so lost in thought he hadn’t noticed them arrive.

‘Sorry guys.’ Jarglebaum held up his hands, taking in their unkempt but uniform appearance. Dressed in black drainpipe jeans, sleeveless vests, studded belts and torn jackets, the three looked back at him through the near-identical asymmetric haircuts.

They looked pretty disreputable, probably drug dealers. He didn’t want any trouble. ‘Just come from the hospital.’

‘Sorry to hear that, man,’ the tallest, gangliest one said. ‘You need a mobile you can borrow mine.’

Taken aback, Jarglebaum got to his feet. ‘Thanks, I’m OK, really. It’s not personal, I’ve been to see an assault victim, a young woman. She got messed up for no reason and it made me mad.’

‘There are some shitty people in this world, man.’

Jarglebaum couldn’t help but agree.

‘You a social worker?’

Jarglebaum gave a dry laugh. ‘I’m a cop.’

The three seemed unfazed by the revelation.

‘That’s cool job, man.’

‘Helping people, solving crimes.’

They seemed sincere.

Jarglebaum felt disassociated.

I don’t get this world any more, he thought, or it doesn’t get me. I look at people and I can’t work out who they are.

The thing was, it was worse than that. A lot of the whisky Jarglebaum swilled had been for himself. Despite the strong painkillers Gabby had given clear and accurate descriptions. Jarglebaum had a damned good idea who was responsible. Hell, no, he knew exactly who had crushed Gabby’s hand and killed those innocent little animals.

He knew.

When he started moonlighting for Koponen he’d known the Finn played hardball and that had been all right. What successful entrepreneur didn’t cut corners and pull the occasional fast move? That was the very reason he’d hired Jarglebaum. Unfamiliar with English law Koponen needed to know what he could bend and what he couldn’t break, just how finely those corners could be cut before the law got interested. Koponen was all right but those three women of his were something else. Koponen didn’t see it but he needed to be told. It wasn’t going to be easy, the Finn doted on his mistresses, especially Dolores.

Exactly what had he got himself mixed up in? Jarglebaum fought off a wave of futility and self-doubt. Back in the old days he always knew which side he was on.

‘You OK, man?’ The young men looked concerned.

‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. So tell me, what do you guys do?’

‘We’re a band, man. Modern jazz. Petersen and Brubeck up to Washington, those dudes.’

‘I love jazz,’ Jarglebaum exclaimed. ‘You know Esbjorn Svensson?’

‘Awesome.’

‘Could never do what he did.’

A surge of goodwill filled Jarglebaum. He stuck out his hand. ‘Pleasure to meet you guys.’

‘Likewise, man.’

To be continued…