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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Christmas with the Crooked Cats - 'Leroy and the camel'

Today, the Crooked Cat author is Vanessa Couchman, with a non-PC short story about a store's put-upon 'Father Christmas'...

http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/leroy-and-the-camel-a-short-story-for-christmas/

Vanessa's latest book from Crooked Cat is The House at Zaronza:

Blurb. The past uncovered. Rachel Swift travels to Corsica to discover more about her forebears. She comes across a series of passionate love letters and delves into their history. The story unfolds of a secret romance at the start of the 20th century between a village schoolteacher and Maria, the daughter of a bourgeois family. Maria's parents have other plans for her future, though, and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the 'island of beauty', and the turmoil of World War I. This is a story about love, loss and reconciliation in a strict patriarchal society, whose values are challenged as the world changes. Love gained and lost.

Published in July this year, the book has already picked up 17 very good reviews.


http://www.amazon.co.uk/House-at-Zaronza-Vanessa-Couchman/dp/190984182X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418920768&sr=1-1&keywords=vanessa+couchman

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Writing – market - Silver Screen novelettes

If you yearn to write action-packed short novelettes of a pulpish nature and don’t want to commit to a full-length novel work, this outlet might be what you’re looking for!

New Zealand based Silver Screen Books is looking to publish 2-4 novelettes each month, in kindle and paperback. The theme of Silver Screen is B Movies from the 50s and onward.  They are looking for ‘zany, fun adventures in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Action-Adventure’.  Think dime store pulp mixed with B-movie plots. 

Silver Screen Imprint will pay the following for submissions:

7,500-8,000 words:  $20.00

8,001-10,000 words: $25.00 Plus

1 Electronic Copy Kindle or PDF
 
1 Paperback Copy
 
Plus a contract for two more novelettes to be published within the year
 
Details on the contract, the payment method, submission, and the manuscript requirements can be found at silverscreenbooks.blogspot.co.nz

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas with the Crooked Cats - 'The Night before Christmas'

I know, there are (thankfully!) a few days yet to go before Christmas Day!  Anyway, that's the title of a short story by another Crooked Cat author offered for the festive season:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/permalink/752166138165710/

http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/#!blog/c1pz

Tim Taylor is the author of Zeus of Ithome (published by Crooked Cat).

Blurb: Greece, 373 BC. For three centuries, the Messenian people have been brutally subjugated by their Spartan neighbours and forced to work the land as helot slaves. Diocles, a seventeen-year-old helot, has known no other life but servitude. After an encounter with Spartan assassins, he is forced to flee, leaving behind his family and his sweetheart, Elpis. On Mount Ithome, the ancient sanctuary of the Messenians, he meets Aristomenes, an old rebel who still remembers the proud history of their people and clings to a prophecy that they will one day win back their freedom. A forlorn hope, perhaps. But elsewhere in Greece, there are others too who believe it is time that the power of Sparta was broken.
 
Sample reviews: "very engaging narrative interspersed with superbly detailed narrative backdrop."
 
"a superbly well-crafted historical novel, which shows the struggle of the individual against the tide of history but which, at the same time, through what it leaves out, reveals to us the ultimate powerlessness of the individual in a way that the ancient Greeks would well have understood"

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Blog guest - B.A. Morton - horror, crime and historical author

Continuing my infrequent blog guests of my namesake writers, today I’m pleased to welcome Babs Morton.  Babs lives in UK’s Northumberland National Park, an inspirational place indeed. She writes a crime series (Mrs Jones, Molly Brown), a historical series (Wildewood Chronicles), and standalone horror, Bedlam.

NM - Welcome, Babs. Glad you could drop by. I’ve just finished your thriller Mrs Jones and enjoyed it. I found the characters very engaging. The pace you set forced me to keep turning the pages.

I believe that a sense of place is important in fiction. To date, you have two detective books featuring Connolly, both set in New York; the characterisation, and the setting seem believable. Yet you’re British and live in the north-east of England. How did you achieve that semblance of reality?

B - Gosh, a vivid imagination, I guess. I’ve never been to the US, but I do watch a lot of movies ;)

NM - Are you drawn equally to crime, horror and historical novels, or do you have a preference?

B - I enjoy all genres. It really depends on where my head is when I’m in the mood for writing. I suppose if I was forced to choose, I’d say crime, psychological crime. I do love a twisted plot and a twisted character doesn’t go amiss either.

NM - As you’ve got two ongoing series at present, you’re obviously drawn to find out what happens next to your characters. Who is your favourite character from one of your books and why?

B - That’s difficult. I love them all for different reasons. Tommy Connell from Mrs Jones is a loveable rogue. He’s always going to do what’s right, but he’ll generally go about it the wrong way. If you met him, you’d likely want to knock some sense into him, but you’d like him and you’d trust him. He does have darker moments and things he’s not proud of, but by and large he’s a good guy. Probably my favourite character to create was Joe McNeil from Bedlam (which is also destined for a 3-book series). Joe has big issues, emotional and psychological, and the task was to get right in there with this totally messed up guy and create a situation where readers would root for a drunken, drug addled copper, and where they would care about what happened to him. Tommy Connell made me smile, Joe McNeil made me cry. Aw, bless them both.

NM - Where do you find inspiration?

B - Almost everywhere. An image, a snatch of conversation, anything really. I listen to music a lot when I’m writing. Mrs Jones popped into my head after listening to the song of the same name. Wildewood is more personal as the story is loosely based on the history of the valley where I live. My home was built on the foundations of a medieval chapel, and I have a great interest in medieval history. The theme music to that series would be Sting’s A Winter’s Tale.
 
Bedlam grew from a short story competition entry. I wrote it the night before my daughter left for Australia. I was very emotional and I think it flavoured the writing in a unique way. Soundtrack – Stereophonics, Graffiti on a train, the whole album is Bedlam to a tee.

NM - How long have you been writing? 

B - Probably since childhood in some shape or form, but seriously since 2010.

NM - What influenced you to start?

B - When we ‘escaped to the country’ I had more time. The family bought me a laptop and that was it. I posted some work on the Harper Collins site Authonomy and was introduced to some fellow writers who have become very good friends. Through them, I was persuaded to enter Mrs Jones in the Yeovil Literary Prize, and was flabbergasted to come second in the novel category. That led to publication.

NM - How do your family/friends feel about your writing?
B - They’re very supportive. Friends in the village particularly like the Wildewood series. Some of them maybe wonder where all the dark stuff, like Bedlam comes from, but they’re very polite and don’t cross the street when they see me coming.

NM - What are you working on now?

B - Currently I’m having fun with some Wildewood novellas. They’re prequels to the main series and detail the hero Miles’ adventures in The Holy Land, prior to returning to Northumberland. I then have the second book in the main series to finish. Once that’s done I’ll be donning my psychological crime hat for a while.

NM - What is your biggest distraction when it comes to writing?

B - Thinking about the plot rather than just getting it written.
 
NM - A tall order, I know, but what is your favourite book? And why?

B - I have so many books that I love, but if I had to pick one I guess it would be Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I told you I’m a medieval history nerd and that is such a wonderful story. By contrast my favourite writer is crime writer John Connolly, I love his Charlie Parker character and the subtle blend of supernatural in his psychological crime series.

NM - I’d agree with you regarding Follett’s work; his follow-up World Without End is superb too; in fact there’s a life-sized statue of him in Vittoria, Spain, outside the cathedral that inspired the latter book. Yes, when it first came out, I was hooked on Connolly’s first book, Every Dead Thing. Is it possible for a writer to be an objective reader?
 

B - I find I’m a critical reader and also an impatient reader. Time is very important to me, so I tend to make up my mind about a book within the first few pages. It’s hard to switch off that little editing light in my head and put away my virtual red pen. But when I pick up something truly wonderful it doesn’t matter whether I’m a writer or simply a reader, I recognise it immediately.

NM - That goes for me too, Babs. If I’ve sucked into the writer’s invented world, then the occasional glitch is barely noticed. How much research goes into each book?

B - It depends on the book. I spend a tremendous amount of time researching my historical series and ultimately might only use a notion here and there to add authenticity. I do get carried away, because it’s interesting, and I have to remember why I’m there, digging about in medieval weaponry or thirteenth century curse words. With the crime fiction, I research technical details, i.e. scene of crime information, weapons and procedures, but I don’t get bogged down in it.

NM - If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

B - Where I am now. My little cottage in Northumberland is just perfect for me.

NM - How useful or important are social media for you as a writer?

B - It connects me to the wider world, fellow writers and readers. This is particularly important as I live in a rural location. It’s good to network, to share experience and work. I wouldn’t say I was particularly adept at it though. Technology is not one of my strengths.

NM - Congratulations on getting a contract with the publisher Caffeine Nights, who will be releasing Twisted. Can you tell us more about that book?

B - Thanks. I’m really pleased to be working with Caffeine. They’re also re-releasing Bedlam in 2015, which I’m excited about. You probably guessed by now - I have a soft spot for Bedlam. Twisted is a dark and tangled crime thriller set in Newcastle. We have a dangerous, escaped bank robber, a kooky hostage who turns out to be a bit of a psycho, good cops, bad cops, gangsters, a one eyed dog, and a good measure of black humour thrown in. It was fun to set some scenes in and around my old stomping ground of Jesmond Dene and Paddy Freemans.

NM - Fascinating mix, Babs, and I’m familiar with Jesmond Dene. I used to work in Newcastle, in the 1960s! Okay, where do you hope to be in 5 years?

B - I would love to be writing full time. I currently work part time in the village GP surgery. I do love my job, but I’d rather be writing.

NM - Now please tell us about one of your books.

B - I’d like to tell you a little about my new series of novellas that introduce the story of Miles of Wildewood prior to his return to Northumberland. Tasters for the main Wildewood Chronicles series, they begin in The Holy Land in 1272 A.D. and follow Miles and his cohorts through various adventures. There are four planned. Bad Blood and Assassin’s Curse are available now, I’m currently working on A Fallen Man and Winter’s Child will follow shortly.


Bad Blood – Blurb
Miles of Wildewood discovers the boy Edmund at the mercy of his sworn enemy, Guy de Marchant. The feud between the two men has dark roots in an incident shrouded in secrecy and protected by a Templar oath. The boy’s plight provides the catalyst for an escalation of hostilities. As a trial by combat is hastily arranged to settle the dispute, Miles’ benefactor Hugh de Reynard seeks a favour from the future king and the Templars prepare for the inevitable backlash.

Miles must save the boy, but at what cost?



Assassin’s Curse – Blurb
Royal birthday celebrations fill Acre’s crowded streets. The enchanter Maleficius and his bizarre cavalcade distract those sworn to protect the prince and the rivalry between Templar and Hospitaller knights reaches boiling point. Amidst the jesters, jugglers and fantastical beasts a lone assassin threatens the heir to the throne. It falls to Miles of Wildewood and Jesmina, the sultry daughter of Saladin the snake trader, to save the day and the life of the future king. But can Jesmina be trusted?


Thank you, Babs. I certainly like those covers for Bad Blood and Assassin’s Curse. Here's hoping they pull in more fans!

B.A. Morton - Bio
Born in the North East of England, B.A. Morton writes across a number of genres including crime, romance, horror and historical fiction. After a twenty year civil service career, she and her family escaped the rat race and relocated to the remote beauty of the Northumberland National Park. She now lives in a cottage built on the remains of a medieval chapel.

A member of the Crime Writer’s Association, she is a self confessed crime fiction addict. In 2011, her debut novel Mrs Jones a crime thriller set in New York, took second place in the international literary competition, The Yeovil Prize, and launched her writing career.



Nik, thank you so much for inviting me along to talk about my favourite subject...books! Best wishes and good luck in all you do. Babs x

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Saturday Story - 'Christmas stocking'

Quite a number of my published short stories began life as entries in a competition. Often the constraints of word-count meant that the story would require additional text, scenes and even a sub-plot, but the germs were planted by the competition.  Competitions are useful for getting the creative juices running.

Way back in the 1970s, I regularly entered the 250-word competitions set in The Writer magazine, and won a number of times. For one December competition, entrants were asked to choose one of the following: 1. Write a description of a snow scene. 2. Scrooge is not impressed by Marley’s ghost and does not change. Rewrite the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’. 3. Write a Christmas song. Some 90% of entrants chose the snow scene.

The following (220 words, using my penname Platen Syder) won the first prize and the princely sum of £3, with the judge’s comment ‘… and also made me feel really cold’:

An exquisite miracle, the birth of snow. It began just after darkfall, drifting lightly, snowflake crystals forming unique geometric patterns, brightening the barren colourless land.

But the serenity didn’t last.

Above and far beyond, more snow-clouds were building up, deep grey and massive, overshadowing the spruce trees and gently sloping snowdrifts.

A wind whispered round the solitary log-cabin, dissipated the thin ribbon of chimney-smoke. Distant cries of wolves floated on the air. The moon shone wanly.

Then it started. The blizzard!

Unmeasurable gale-forces swooped out of nowhere. The ponderous snow-clouds unzipped themselves and poured out their innards. It fell like the fleece from pillows until the winds snatched the flakes and the sudden mortifying frost covered them.

Transformed into a savage wall of darting ice-spicules, the snowstorm lashed and hacked at the old man’s log-cabin. The winds howled hauntingly, battering at the warped wood.

Inside, the oil-lamp on the rough-hewn table cast an unsteady yellow glow.
 
The wolves bayed again, nearer now.
 
Reindeer-bells clanged discordantly outside as the poor creatures panicked in their stalls. The chimney whistled harshly. Sparks flew bright red onto the bear-rug in the hearth and a choking cloud of smoke and freezing wind gusted into the room.
 
“I’m not going out in that tonight – there’ll just have to be two Christmases next year!” growled Santa Claus.

* * *

Miss Eleonor Clayforth was second (whose entry ‘not only befitted Scrooge, but struck at the tarnished image of commercial Christmas’), and Miss S.B. Wilson was third with her ‘poem rather than a song… a very fine piece indeed’).

* * *
 
 
 
 
 
If you enjoyed this short story, you might like my collection Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, featuring Leon Cazador, private eye in 22 cases; poignant, humorous, even.
 
 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Film of the book: The Constant Gardener

As yesterday’s book release Catalyst is about a fictional pharmaceutical company, Cerberus, and Catherine Vibrissae’s vendetta against its head, it seems appropriate to look at another work about pharmas: The Constant Gardener.

This is a faithful adaptation of John Le Carré’s novel and, even with the constant flash-backs, it delivers.  The 2001 book was an angry indictment of certain pharmas – big pharmaceutical companies - and their dubious practices in getting drugs tested and approved.  Since then, certain controls have been put in place yet somewhere we can be sure that poor people are still being used without their consent as drug-testing guinea-pigs.  Not all pharmas are wicked.  But the one in The Constant Gardener definitely is.

The music matches the haunting and ravishing views of Africa and was composed by the Spaniard Alberto Iglesias.

The film starts in Kenya with the off-screen murder of Tess (Oscar winning Rachel Weisz), the campaigning wife of diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes).  Normally, I don’t like stories that begin with a major character’s murder and then persist in giving us flash-backs, but it worked well in the book and it does in the film too. 

Tess was an activist-humanitarian working with African physician Arnold Bluhm (Herbert Kounde). She upset the tightly-knit diplomatic community with her passion for speaking out, particularly against Three Bees Pharmaceutical which ostensibly provides jobs, aid and money. 

The quiet widower, Quayle, slowly digs around the edges of his late wife’s past and unearths uncomfortable mysteries and a few home truths.  Fiennes’s performance is understated and is particularly moving when he finally breaks down in his garden to weep for his lost love.

If this had been a Hollywood film, doubtless Quayle would have gone out for vengeance with a gun or two. Instead, he simply pokes around, unsettling the hidden powers behind the shadowy pharmaceutical company, including Sir Bernard Pellegrin (Bill Nighy) who is in the Pharma’s pocket and just happens to be Quayle’s boss at the Foreign Office. 

It’s an unnerving film, because it tells us that, unless things change radically, the beautiful continent of Africa is doomed by commercial greed and despotism. Nothing new there, then. Worse, though, the incidence of tuberculosis is increasing and will spread into Europe as the mass migration of illegal immigrants continues; prophetic, it seems, since that is the case now in UK. Yes, there is hope, but it is slim. The ending, for me, was unsatisfying, which was the same emotional response I gleaned from the book.  See this powerful and at times emotional film, by all means, but it isn’t really entertainment as the message dominates too much.

Le Carré can get away with switching tense and POV because he’s such a good writer. Within a short space of time, the reader is immersed in his characters’ worlds. I haven’t yet read all his books, but I’ve read the majority, including all of the spy novels. For me, outside his spy fiction, The Night Manager is one of his suspenseful best. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad Le Carré book; it is soon to be filmed as a TV series.

***

Note: You can read about my fictional pharma, Cerberus Worldwide, in my ‘Avenging Cat’ thriller series, beginning with Catalyst.
 
Amazon UK e-book here
Amazon COM e-book here
Paperbacks are also available at a good price!
Or try getting the paperback from The Book Depository post-free worldwide!

 
 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

'Chemistry of Love'

Today sees the launch of the first book in the Avenging Cat series, Catalyst. Writers are often asked where their ideas for books stem from; this may partially answer that question for Catalyst, though the genesis of the storyline/back-story still needs an explanation!

The Avenging Cat series evolved from a theme set at the writers’ circle a few years ago. My take on the ‘love’ theme was ‘Chemistry of Love’. It is definitely tell rather than show, and ultimately is the motivation for Catherine Vibrissae’s vendetta against Cerberus. Dates and certain other incidents were altered when I wrote the book, Catalyst.



CHEMISTRY OF LOVE

They were inseparable, Deborah, Daniel and Loup.  The young constantly reinvent themselves and the world, rediscovering things their elders take for granted. They probably knew that Oxford had been an exciting place for students for centuries, but it just seemed that in the 1960s everything was different and new.  Out with the old, in with the new. Perhaps they took heart from Harold Wilson’s words when he was leading the Opposition. They were certainly keen to be part of ‘the white heat of the scientific and technical revolution’ he espoused and to prove it they found daily challenges in their respective chemistry courses.

Loup Malefice joined the university in 1961 to read chemistry and immediately excelled.  He was a good rugby player and swimmer and, despite buck teeth, he was both handsome and popular.  His fellow students were not averse to tell him that it was most unusual for him to link up with someone who joined the college two years after him, yet Daniel Vibrissae was precocious in the extreme, bordering on genius.  Within months of beginning his course, Daniel had the entire chemistry faculty buzzing; he was bold, innovative and not scared to trample on old theories.  Both young men found that they had much in common and enjoyed the other’s company.  Some friendships flicker and fade, like guttering candles, others tend to gain strength from adversity and last a lifetime.  In those heady days it seemed that Loup and Daniel would be friends forever. There was no rivalry between the two young men.  Loup accepted that he would never be as good a chemist as Daniel.  He knew he could still be good and carve out a future for himself in business. And there was no rivalry over girls, either, because there were plenty around only too willing to accompany them at the balls, dinners and sports events. 

Then Deborah Radley joined the university in 1964 and it seemed as if everything changed overnight.  Many heads were turned by the attractive young woman with long auburn hair and piercing blue eyes.  She was athletic and humorous and, like Daniel, she was capable of grasping the most complex theories about chemical structures and reactions.  Surprisingly, Deborah found few like minds in her own intake year and gravitated towards Daniel and Loup.  It seemed totally natural that they should form a threesome.  They spent many late nights discussing the latest discoveries. While Loup was good, Daniel was excellent, yet Deborah was simply brilliant.  Not one of them would fail. Failure wasn’t even considered. 

Inevitably, the chemistry of hormones and pheromones reacted on the threesome.  Loup was older and appeared more mature, almost a father figure to her even though he was only three years her senior.  He made the first move and she was surprised and flattered.  Deborah had not thought of either Daniel or Loup in that way before. But now it was exciting and since Daniel hadn’t shown any interest in her sexuality she didn’t feel she was disappointing him.

Yet when Daniel found out, he was furious, though not with Deborah.  He was annoyed with himself.  He couldn’t blame Loup, either.  They were friends, after all.  Everything was almost the same. But Daniel burned with jealousy. 
 
As time passed, Deborah began noticing small things about Loup.  He rarely displayed anger or displeasure, but she realised that he was a bad loser.  He always wanted to excel.  And he took pleasure from winning.  When he was selected to spend his final year on a full-time project with a big pharmaceutical firm in Geneva, he actually crowed about it to Daniel: ‘They’ve virtually told me I can get a job with them when I graduate. They’re interested in my work on fragrances linked to pheromones.’  Daniel was pleased for his friend.  Deborah was uncomfortable as she had been seeing less and less of Loup lately yet he never seemed to notice, so fired-up with his career prospects.

They had a fight before he left. Loup wanted her to give up her studies and marry him and go with her to Switzerland.  She refused.  Loup then accused her of going behind his back with Daniel, which she obviously denied as it was totally untrue.  Before, she had glimpsed a dark side to Loup, but now he was very unsettling. When he stormed out, her first instinct was to go to see Daniel.
 
Over a bottle of Blue Nun she poured out her hurt and mixed-up feelings for Loup.  She still loved him, and yet...  Daniel was supportive, sitting away from her at the dining table while she slouched quite bereft in the settee.  He argued for Loup: ‘It’s a big opportunity for him, Debs.  He doesn’t quite know how to handle it yet, that’s all.’

But Loup’s advocate was fighting a losing battle and, besides, his heart wasn’t in it.  The pair went their separate ways at the holidays and simply expected to see each other again for the new term. They kept in touch but as the weeks passed and Loup didn’t get in touch with Debs, she despaired and telephoned Daniel.  They met on neutral ground in the town of Brighton.  Within a couple of hours, they were no longer neutral and made love on the beach, oblivious of the shingle and, later, the waves as the tide turned.
 
It was a whirlwind romance lasting two weeks, their studies forgotten.  Neither had previously experienced such raw and wonderful feelings for another person.  The chemistry was just right.  When they returned to Oxford, they managed to contain their passion sufficiently to proceed with their studies.  But there was still adequate spare time to indulge their new-found love. 

Loup tried contacting Deborah twice during his time in Switzerland.  It seemed as if he was no longer nursing any hurt pride at being turned down. When Loup returned to be awarded his degree, they met briefly and were polite, but that was all. She and Daniel congratulated him and they had a desultory drink afterwards. Loup caught the next plane out back to Berne.
 
The first signs of aching bones showed up in the Spring of 1967, but Debs simply shrugged it off as having indulged in too much alcohol.  When Daniel left in the summer of 1966 to complete his final year in Boston, Deborah wanted to throw in her studies and join him, but he convinced her that she had come so far, it was important to continue.  Even for his powerful intellect, the course proved very intense for Daniel. Yet they managed to find two weeks together to roam through the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.  Daniel obtained a job with a prestigious American company even before he had graduated.  Daniel excelled and was poached by a prestigious French pharmaceutical firm in Lyon.
 
The following year, Deborah went to Lyon, France to complete her final studies.  It was tantalising to be so near to Daniel yet she persisted with her studies and she too was a success and Daniel attended her Degree ceremony in Oxford in 1968.  That evening, their celebrations were cut short as she buckled up with pain.  But the pain went away and later they celebrated her job offer with the same firm Daniel worked for, whose headquarters were in Lyon.
 
From time to time Deborah suffered excruciating pain in her limbs but the doctors could find nothing wrong.  The pair excelled in their work and they even heard that Loup was doing well too. 

A freak accident claimed the lives of both of Daniel’s parents and he inherited a great deal of money and several businesses.  He immediately set up his own pharmaceutical firm and in the summer of 1972 Deborah and Daniel were married. Everything seemed wonderful but their honeymoon was spoiled by severe bouts of cramp in her legs.

It took several trips and a number of years to see an assortment of specialists before any firm diagnosis could be given. Finally, they learned that Deborah was suffering from a rare bone cancer, Schaffer-Neumann Syndrome.  There was no cure and the only consolation was that it was slow-acting.  The following day they learned that she was expecting a baby and against medical advice she decided to take it to term and prayed the child would not inherit her problem.
 
Catherine was born on 12 August 1978 and two years later her mother was confined to a wheel-chair.  Both Deborah and Daniel continued to work at their laboratories.  They were successful in bringing five new drugs onto the market but the all-important cure for Deborah’s ailment eluded them.
 
Then in 1983 they were contacted by Loup after several years of silence.  He had recently heard about Deborah’s condition and believed he had a viable cure, though the drug wasn’t fully tested or cleared yet.  Loup’s drug brought immediate relief to Deborah. But it was short-lived, as was she destined to be. Within eighteen months she was dead.  The autopsy determined that her chest bones had crumbled and she had suffocated.  Little Catherine was seven as she stood at her mother’s grave-side.

Over the years Loup Malefice built a prestigious empire, Cerberus which dealt in cosmetics, drugs and plastics.
 
The cure for Schaffer-Neumann Syndrome was found by the Vibrissae Pharma in 1994. Two years later, Catherine Vibrissae went to Oxford to study chemistry and after graduating had intended taking up a position in her father’s firm.  Unfortunately, on the eve of her graduation, her father’s firm was the subject of a hostile takeover by Cerberus. Someone had betrayed her father and he lost thousands of pounds. Worse, he seemed a broken man as he watched his company being asset-stripped. Sadly, her father died in a car crash in the south of France in 2002 at the age of 57.
 
Catherine vowed on her father’s coffin that one day she would get even with Loup Malefice and his company Cerberus.  It just might take a few years. But she would be patient.

***

Catalyst, published by (appropriately) Crooked Cat Publishing.

Please purchase
the e-book from Amazon UK here
or the paperback from Amazon UK here
or the e-book from Amazon COM here
or post-free worldwide paperback from here
or other online and bricks-and-mortar outlets...
Thank you!

 
 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Christmas with Crooked Cats – ‘Inn Time’

Crooked Cat is a UK publisher who has produced many popular and best-selling books in a variety of genres – romance, thriller, crime, fantasy, young adult and horror – in e-book and paperback formats.

Christmas with Crooked Cats began on 29 November and runs through into 5 January 2015. On their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/

– you can access seasonal poetry, short stories and articles penned by a host of Crooked Cat authors.

So, to continue celebrating Christmas with Crooked Cats, here is a Christmas story.

 
INN TIME
 

Nik Morton

 
“...about time you got a new belief system.”

 
Wikipedia commons
 

Surveillance took longer than I’d hoped. By the time the criminals were arrested, I was two days late setting off for my cousin Ignacio’s home in Zaragoza. As I loaded my suitcase in the Seat’s boot, I rang him from my mobile phone to let him know I’d be there later. Just my luck, snow had started to fall in the north the day before I left and by the time I drove into the mountains it was lying quite thick, though at least the main road was clear, if treacherously wet and slippery. To make matters worse, fog descended, which further reduced my speed. Not the most auspicious start to the Christmas holidays, I thought, as the windscreen wipers beat a monotonous rhythm interspersed with squeaks of complaint at not being changed during the last service.

The road climbed and twisted and turned. Oncoming traffic headlights glared, shards of light reflecting from the wet windows, blinding. My heart lurched as I instinctively touched the brake, padded it gently, repeatedly slowing down. If I’d been driving a little faster or been inattentive, I’d have hit the rear end of the parked car, its blinking yellow hazard lights quite dim in the conditions.

I let the engine idle, the climate control wafting warm air over me. I was late and the weather was hell out there. Drive round and move on. Ignoring my better judgment, I fished in the glove compartment for a torch, turned off the engine, switched on the hazard lights, shoved the shift into gear and ratcheted the handbrake one notch more. As soon as I opened the door, I felt reluctant to brave the elements.

Still, I stepped out and, as if on cue, the snow stopped. Keen to take advantage of the respite, I hurried over to the car parked in front of my Seat. It was a Fiat Punto, and the interior light was on, the windows steamed up. I swore. Not the best place for courting couples, I thought, as I rapped my knuckles on the roof.

The driver’s electric window lowered, and a young man peered out. “Thank God, you stopped,” he said. “The car won’t go and my wife, she’s pregnant! I was taking her to the hospital!”

Leaning to my left, I shone the torch inside. Sure enough, she was half-lying, half-sitting on the rear seat. One hand rested on her bump, the other gripped the headrest post. She blinked and glanced away. “Sorry,” I said and lowered the torch.

“We need to push your car off the road or it’s going to cause an accident,” I told him. “Then we’ll see about getting your wife to the hospital.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” he said. “Thank you.”

“When I tell you, take off the handbrake, and I’ll push. Steer over to that piece of waste ground,” I indicated to the right about ten feet away. “Should be safe enough there until you can get the garage to send someone out.”

He nodded and I walked to the back of the car. I pocketed the torch and braced myself, ready to push. The road surface was firm enough, at least, to give me purchase. “Handbrake off!” I called.

Fortunately, this section of road was relatively level, not too steep. After a few seconds of intense effort and my shoulder muscles protesting, the car started to move forward, and gradually it turned off the road. The driver braked as the rear wheels ran onto the waste ground.

At that moment, a truck bore down on my Seat, its horn blaring, brakes squealing. It wasn’t going to stop in time. My heart pounded as I backed against the Fiat.

The massive crunch was deafening, my car jammed under its front bumper. Sparks flew as the heavy vehicle dragged mine with it and slewed across the road. It demolished the crash barrier. My car and the truck tumbled over the edge, leaving only a flurry of snow in their wake.

My mouth was dry, even though damp white fronds of my breath filled the air. My flesh ran cold, and I shuddered. I’d been close to death many times, but the body never gets used to it.

I glanced at the expectant father. He stared in shock at the gap in the road barrier.

I took out my mobile phone, but there was no signal, weather or the position affecting it, without doubt. I enquired but the husband’s phone was inoperative as well, so we couldn’t alert the emergency services.

There was no more traffic, it seemed. I ran across the empty road and peered down, but there were no headlight beams, just blackness. I pulled out my torch and directed its shaft of light down the snow-laden mountainside, but there was no sign of the unfortunate truck driver.     

Suddenly, there was an enormous explosion and flames briefly spouted up from where the vehicles had fallen off the mountain. I jerked back, turned my head away and in the fleeting flash of light, I thought I saw something that gave me hope.

Now, the snow started up again, but this time it came at us horizontally, driven by the cierzo, the cold dry wind from the northwest.

I moved to the other side of the Fiat and opened the door, slumped into the passenger seat. Grateful for the relative warmth, I slammed the door shut. I explained that we could sit in there and slowly freeze to death, or try to get to some shelter. “Not the greatest options, I know,” I said, “especially in your condition, Señora.”

“Maria Delacruz,” she supplied. “My husband, he is Jacobo.”

I hunched round and nodded. “Leon Cazador.”

“But we don’t know of any shelter,” said Jacobo. “I don’t recall passing a building for many kilometres.”

“When the truck blew up, I think the flames highlighted a rooftop over there.” I pointed down a rough track on our right. Maybe somebody lives there.”

“They might have a phone!” Maria said.

“Very well, we’ll risk it,” Jacobo said. “But we must be careful, Maria.”

“I’m not an invalid,” she replied and opened the door.

 
***
The track sloped downwards. It led to a double gate with a chain and padlock, which opened to useful skills I’d learned some years ago.

Jacobo whispered, “How’d you—?”

“Don’t ask,” I said.

The slope continued for a further ten metres or so and curved towards a large two-storey building, its roof covered in snow. So, either they had good insulation or it was empty. The sign by the door read: Posado del Belén. Inviting enough, I reckoned and rang the doorbell.

While I waited for any response, I glanced around. The trees were already snow-laden, and the gardens were virgin white. I hoped there wasn’t a frustrated writer acting as a caretaker with a penchant for axing doors. In a way, I was relieved there was no answer. I paced to the left. A bay window revealed a large lounge, an empty hearth and a wall mounted full bookcase. On the right, another window showed a bar area, a small dance floor and tables with chairs stacked on them. “Closed for the season,” I said.

“What do we do now?” Jacobo wailed, one arm round Maria, shifting from foot to foot as if that would warm them.

In response, I picked the lock. Easy enough, in my business. “This way,” I said. I shut the door behind us and was immediately grateful for the relative warmth of the place. The lobby echoed to our footsteps as we stamped to be rid of the clinging snow. Then I shepherded them into the lounge on the left. There were plenty of logs stacked to one side. “Let’s get a fire going.”

It didn’t take long to warm the place. Maria removed her coat and lay on the leather sofa in front of the roaring log fire. Jacobo and I raided the kitchens and found in-date lamb in the fridge and made sandwiches. While Jacobo heated some vegetable soup, I checked out the rest of the building, in search of a couple of blankets for Maria.

The reception desk phone didn’t work, which was frustrating. I pored over the guest book. The last visitors departed two months ago. I wondered how long the place had been left empty. It didn’t have a musty or damp smell about it.

The inn seemed to serve as a hotel, too. It had eight double rooms, and the furniture in all of them was draped in dustsheets. In one wardrobe, I found a cache of weapons and explosives, but I decided to keep the discovery to myself for the time being. 

“The baby, it’s coming!” shouted Jacobo.

I raced downstairs and asked Maria about her contractions. She nodded and wheezed, taking great breaths, doubtless to fight the pain.

“There’s still time to eat something,” I told Jacobo. “But, sorry, Maria, you must abstain from any food.” She didn’t look particularly hungry, anyway. Her whole concentration seemed to be on the intermittent and quite crippling pain.

A couple of hours later, the signs were there. I told Jacobo, “Now it’s time. Hot water, towels.” He got up and obediently hurried towards the kitchens. I moved over to the drinks cabinet. Its lock was flimsy and I encouraged it to open. A small brandy seemed necessary. It was a few years since I’d delivered a baby, but I told myself it was like riding a bike. As long as no wheels came off, I thought.

 
***
In the event, some six hours later, Maria gave birth to a lovely boy, and the procedure was without any complications.

I left Jacobo with his wife and newborn while I cleaned up and took the washbasin, towels and cloths to the kitchen.

I was on my way back to the lounge when the front door was opened with a key. Most civilised, I thought. Two men and a woman stood in the doorway, all dressed in snow-covered leather jackets with fur collars and hoods, and jeans and boots with fur edges. I was surprised to see anybody. Their expressions reflected more shock than surprise. If they were the owners, I could understand that.

My sixth sense kicked in, though, and the hairs on the nape of my neck stood on end.

They exchanged glances with each other. The woman lowered her hood and demanded, “What the hell are you doing here?” Her voice echoed in the lobby. “Who are you?”

Hola,” I said, offering a smile. “We took shelter from the storm.” I gestured at the half-open lounge door that emitted a warm glow. “It was an emergency. I hope you don’t mind?” That last was probably from my English side, even if delivered in Spanish.

“Emergency?” she said.

“We’ve just delivered a baby. Come and see.”

With some reluctance, the three of them followed me inside.

“Hey, Maria, Jacobo, we’ve got visitors,” I said.

Jacobo stood up and Maria hugged her son to her.

I eyed the woman. “Are you the owners, then?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m Melita Reyes and this is my husband, Beltran, and my brother-in-law, Casimiro.” She looked at the empty plates and glasses.

“We’ll clear up and pay for what we’ve used, of course,” said Jacobo.

Melita removed her gloves, pocketed them and moved over to the fire. “No need. It can be our gift.” She warmed her hands with the flames.

“Thank you,” whispered Maria.

Melita’s husband strode over to her and tugged at her sleeve. He gruffly whispered something in her ear. She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. “You go with Casi,” she said, dismissing him.

He nodded, turned on his heel, and the two Reyes brothers turned and left the lounge.

“I’m just going to the kitchen,” I told Melita. “Do you want a drink?”

She unzipped her jacket and sat on the edge of a seat by the hearth. She seemed intent on the mother and child. “No, thank you,” she said, without looking up.

I eased the door back and was in time to observe the brothers climb the topmost stairs, two steps at a time. I sighed, because I knew where they were headed.

There was an alcove under the staircase. Here, I pulled out from my ankle holster the lightweight Colt Officer’s ACP LW automatic. The Astra A-100 automatic was still in its shoulder holster, packed away in my suitcase, amidst the burnt-out wreckage of my Seat. I had an uninterrupted view of the door to the lounge and the foot of the staircase. I waited.

After about ten minutes, Casi and Beltran descended the stairs. Their hands were full with canvas bags and machine-guns. When their feet landed on the bottom tread, I stepped out, my gun leveled on their chests. “Is this the new version, eh? Instead of frankincense, myrrh and gold, you bring the babe explosives, detonators and bullets.”

“What are you talking about?” Beltran snapped.

Melita emerged through the doorway. As she noticed my weapon, she reached inside her jacket.

“Don’t,” I warned. “I’m a good shot.”

“You cannot shoot all three of us.”

“I don’t want to shoot any of you, but I can’t let you leave here, either.”

“This is our property, Señor. You have no right to—”

“You’ve no right to blow up people, either.”

“It is what we believe in,” said Beltran gruffly.

“Then it’s about time you got a new belief system.”

“We want self-determination and territoriality,” said Casi, shaking the weapons he cradled. “This is how we will get it.”

“No, it isn’t,” I said, anger rising. I had to control it, otherwise, I was liable to make a fatal error.

“We fight injustice and tyranny,” said Beltran.

I swore. “Franco’s been dead over thirty years, and our country’s now a democracy. Open your eyes, and look around the world. If you and Melita ever decided to have children, no dictator is telling you to restrict yourselves to one child. You’re free to follow any religion or none, without persecution. If you’re law-abiding, you need not fear the knock on the door at three in the morning. You have drinking water on tap and shops filled with food. Cheap clothing is available for all. You can read any material you wish without censorship. Need I go on?”

“The government tramples on our aspirations!” snapped Casi.

“Your bombs kill innocent people,” I said.

“They’re not innocent,” said Casi. “They work for the government. They’re fair game!”

“Those murdered Guardia Civil men and women were fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. They were not government tyrants.” I gestured at the lounge doorway. “Inside there, is a mother and baby. Innocents.”

“What would you have us do?” Melita said, her tone quite sombre.

“Give yourselves up. Renounce violence. If your aims are just and legitimate, fight for them by peaceful means. Don’t create orphans and widows.”

Beltran laughed. “You’d have us surrender, for the sake of that one baby in there?”

“Yes,” I said, “and why not?”

“It’s absurd!” said Casi.

“Is it? Just over two thousand years ago, another baby boy came into the world to spread the word. Peace to mankind. His Word’s been diluted over the centuries, maybe, but it still holds true tonight, today. This is Christmas Day, after all.”

“It’s just a baby,” said Casi.

Beltran pursed his lips and looked at his wife. Her eyes were moist, and she nodded briefly. Then he lowered the weapons and bags to the floor.

“Your weapon, please.” I held out my hand to Melita.

Carefully, she pulled the revolver free and I took it from her, shoved it in my pocket.

Casi swore. “This is stupid! We’ve sworn to fight together until—”

“Until one or more of you are dead?” I said and shook my head. “Your so-called cause has killed over eight hundred people, including women and children and maimed hundreds more, ruining so many lives. Lives that are for living.” I could easily have been talking to godless killers, but I’d seen the look in Melita’s eyes when she sat with the mother and child, and I believed her maternal instinct had been deeply stirred. And, strangely, these two men looked to her for leadership.

Melita glanced at the lounge doorway again then moved over to her brother-in-law. “Bury the hate and love life,” she whispered. “It’s a good belief system, I think.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Please, Casi, let’s try it.”

Casi glared at me then flung his bundle to the floor. I flinched as the bag’s contents made a noise but they didn’t explode. Melita hugged him, her lips pecked his cheek, and then she went back to her husband’s side.

“What will you do with us now?” she asked.

“Leave your munitions here. And when the snow stops, go and send an ambulance.”

“Then we’re free to go?” Casi asked.

“Go, yes,” I said. “But on the way, bury the hate.”

Melita nodded and held Beltran’s hand. “Very well.”

At that moment, Jacobo stepped out of the lounge. He trembled as he stared at the discarded weapons and explosives. “Madre de Dios!”

            I nodded. It seemed an appropriate exclamation. “Maybe this time there won’t be any death of the innocents. Let’s go in and look at the Christmas child.”

 ***

Notes:
This is one of 22 short stories, all previously published, that can be read in the collection Spanish Eye published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

e-book from Amazon UK here
e-book from Amazon COM here
Also available as a paperback from these sites and post-free worldwide the book depository

‘Inn Time’ was originally commissioned by Costa TV Times for their Christmas 2009 edition, and was published as a double-page spread.

Leon Cazador has a guest appearance in Catalyst, which is released tomorrow:
 
e-book from Amazon UK here
e-book from Amazon COM here