NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 10

Richard looked around the room at the men on front of him. He knew all of them by name and reputation, but he had never before laid eyes upon any of them apart from his commanding officer, Colonel Chambers, the man who had been speaking and was now staring at him intently, clearly awaiting some kind of response.
“Colonel, I am in absolutely no doubt that I made at least two fatal strikes on the subject and that my third strike was also a grievous wound at the very least. The first was a clean penetration of the throat, bisecting the entire vascular bundle, trachea, oesophagus, carotid artery and jugular vein. That wound alone should have killed the subject in forty to ninety seconds at the absolute outside. The second wound was, at least as far as I could tell, an on-target strike to the heart and the blade easily penetrated that organ based on the power and angle of attack. The third strike was to the abdomen, a deep, downward thrust designed to perforate the small intestine. I would have been striking for the liver, but the target made a sudden move despite his injuries that left me no clear angle. The entire attack lasted a little over two seconds and the subject fell immediately to the ground. I observed his inability to speak, due to the severed trachea, and an amount of bleeding in the following ten seconds that led me to be convinced that the subject would shortly be dead. I was about to deal with the witness when I was surprised by other civilians on the street and so I elected to flee, reasonably convinced that I could not be identified, but that I was unlikely to be able to make my escape if I did not move before the bystanders reached me. My last look at the subject confirmed my previous conclusions, the subject was unconscious and lying in a pool of blood consistent with the loss of two to three pints of blood in what amounted to around twenty seconds. As far as I was concerned he was a corpse.”
The various other men at the table were nodding and making notes; there was a low hum of comments made to one another at a volume designed to ensure that Richard could not hear what they were saying. The Colonel spoke once more;
“Major Redus, your account is compelling and consistent, to the point that it feels like the truth rather than a crafted account. I think that we can assume that there is more than meets the eye with Mr. Foster and while this may mean that we cancel or perhaps merely postpone the action that you were tasked with it does not mean that you are finished with it. I realise that your main area of operations is in wet work, but I assume that you are up to date on surveillance, legend and data gathering as well?”
“Yes Colonel, in fact my previous assignment was all dry work.”
“Very well, in that case I want you to pick up the trail wherever you can and start unravelling Mr. Caine Foster until we know who and what we are dealing with. I am afraid that central surveillance has been unable to keep up with the subject because he rented a car, presumably assuming that we would have lo-jacked his personal vehicle, and unfortunately he has used a rental firm that we have not, as yet, compromised. As such he might be anywhere. We do know where the girl, Andrea Richardson, has gone. She has been using public transport and her credit card, so either she and Foster have assumed that she is not a target or she is bait. I suggest that you report to Lieutenant Colonel Braythorne in Surveillance for a full briefing on our current level of coverage on Richardson and Foster and then see if you can’t get into her life. We know that she has a return flight to the US in seven days from now, so you don’t have long. Still if you can earn her trust you may be able to gain access to her phone and thereby email etc. and with any luck get some clues from Foster about his location, assuming that they are still in contact. Of course if she’s bait, well…”
The Colonel tailed off and cracked a rather wicked smile that Richard mirrored back to him, after all the unspoken thought was clear and while he was clear on his duty he was also clear that it needed to appear that he took pleasure in it. He did not take pleasure in killing, but despite the fact that the Praetorians were supposed to be the sin eaters of all the Soldiers of Christ, and as such should revel in their bloody ways, so as to draw all of the sin onto themselves he found it hard to glory in something that he simply saw as necessary.
“Anyway, if there is nothing further, you should be on your way Major, much to do!”
Richard was almost out of his chair when one of the other men around the table spoke;
“Major, may I offer you one word of warning?”
The voice was coming from Brigadier General Lawrence Cummings, perhaps the most famous Praetorian of all time, and something of a hero to Richard. He snapped to attention and replied,
“Yes, Sir, I would be honoured.”
The grizzled old man leaned into the light and fixed Richard with a stern look, cleared his throat and then prodding the table with his index finger in the cadence of his delivery;
“Next time you are bothered about being caught, try to remember that you can always kill yourself in custody, so finish the job at hand and embrace the fate that God has in store for you.”
As the words slammed into him, making him experience them as the verbal beating that he had no doubt they were intended to be, he felt a chill advancing down his spine, as if an icy, dead hand were lightly brushing down his back and it took every ounce of self-control to keep his eyes on the General and not turn and flee. He managed to stammer out,
“Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir.”
before the General burst into fits of laughter and waved him away. Colonel Chambers put his hand discretely on Richard’s forearm and said quietly;
“Off you go, I will see you before you leave, come to my office after Braythorne has brought you up to speed and you’ve drawn your kit for the op.”
Richard nodded, saluted the committee and left the room.
“Bloody Hell St. John, did you really need to do that to the poor boy?”
The voice was coming from the corner of the room, from a high-backed chair that was facing away from the table and as such the occupant had been hidden from Major Richard Redus. The chair moved slightly and a tall, thin man of indeterminate middle-age stepped out of the shadows and walked towards the committee table.
“I’m sorry, Hugh, I did not realise that we were molly coddling the Praetorians these days? Besides, I think that he took it rather well!”
At this they all fell into laughter once more, an easy, genuine laughter between comrades and equals that went on for quite some time. Eventually Hugh, General Hugh Petherbridge, head of the military wing of The Soldiers of Christ outside the United States, brought them all to order and sat down at the table;
“The real question here, gentlemen, is what are we dealing with in the shape of Caine Foster?”


The air was cold on Nicholas’s face when he stepped down out of the van. He loved to be out in the countryside at night; he particularly liked being out at the fishing lake. His father had bought the plot when he was a boy, and all of his good memories of his father were being there with him, building the cabin, learning how to fish, taking his first drink. His mother had not wanted Nicholas to go out there with him, but once the divorce had become final and his father was granted weekend custody there was little that she could do to stop it. All he had needed to do was report back that they had stayed in and watched videos at his father’s flat and she was none the wiser. The moon was high, and as he looked out over the water his eyes adjusted to the moonlight. A big full moon like that one was almost as good as daylight once his eyes had adjusted. He could see clear across the water to the other cabins, none of them had any lights on, but then even if there had been anyone else around they were not likely to be awake at three in the morning. The quiet was loud to him, not in an oppressive way, not in a way that was uncomfortable to him. Far from it he welcomed it, he felt as though it was wrapped around him like a blanket, protecting him from harm. Out there by the lake, in the cold and dark before the dawn he was closer to God than he was at any other time. He could feel his presence, like a steadying hand upon his shoulder, calming his soul and reassuring him that he was there by Nicholas’s side. The boat was in good shape. Even though he had not been up for a few weeks the cover had kept the rain off, so there was no need to bale out before loading Mrs Foster’s body in. It was easy to get her out of the van and into the boat, but that was mostly because there was no one here to worry about, he did not need to hide the fact the he was moving a body, but then that was why he brought them here, that and the feeling that he was bringing them to be with God.
It only took a few minutes to row out to the spot where he had given each of them to the lake for safe keeping. The sense of peace and wellbeing he felt only increased the closer he got to the place where his angels were waiting for him beneath the water. It was deep out in the middle, deep enough that no one could see them, but he knew that they were there, standing in the depths waiting for him to come and see them. When he got to the place, he could tell by the sight lines he had on one of the cabins and two distinctive trees, he eased the weighted end of the bag over the side of the boat, slipping her plastic encased body into the water feet first. He watched her disappear into the inky depths and then he sat down in the middle of the boat and prayed that God would take her soul, that he had made shiny and new and spirit her up to Heaven to be with his other angels.

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 9

“I don’t expect you to to take it all in right away. I have to be honest, the only reason that I am telling you is that you saw me survive an attack that I should in no way have survived and I felt that I was left with no options other than tell you or disappear. If I trusted you any less I would have put my plans for leaving Caine Foster behind into motion ahead of schedule and disappeared, but I do trust you, not that I can explain precisely why, so here I am doing something that I almost never do, telling someone my truth.”
“Well, I appreciate the trust, Caine, I just hope that I can live up to it. So what’s the plan, I mean you must have some idea who attacked you and why. Does it have anything to do with your, er, status?”
“I’ve been thinking about it, and I did rather expect you to ask that. There are other people like me, I know because I have met some of them, and they in turn told me of others, but there is no great contest going on where we secretly fight one another with swords and try to decapitate each other. That really is just the movies, well and TV too, but frankly they never should have done that TV series. I digress. My point is that I don’t think my ‘status’, as you put it, has anything to do with the attack. In fact I think that it may have been as mundane and pathetic as my having upset a group of religious nutcases with my last book. I don’t know if you read it, but the main character was a vocal and rather disrespectful atheist?”
“Of course I read it, everyone did after all the attention that Transom got. The first genre novel ever to make it onto the Booker shortlist and then It didn’t win! Everyone wanted to see what you would do next. Of course now I know that you didn’t do it next, but at the time we were all eager to read the next Caine Foster novel. I remember the character, Guy Forrester, right? He was a bit of a prick about the religion thing, but I don’t remember him being particularly extreme.”
“Well, I didn’t think that he was either, but about a week after “Ride the Moon” came out I started getting death threats, through my agent not directly at first anyway. They were all from a group calling themselves The Soldiers of Christ, and basically they were repeated admonishments over my Godless ways and notifications of my imminent demise at the hands of their faithful warriors. We told the Police, but none of us took any of it very seriously. For one thing no one had heard of the group and even if they had, there were strong indications from the threats that they were in the US and seeing as I was not it became even less likely that I was going to worry about these people. Of course when Bradshaw was caught and the Police got that confession out of him it did cross my mind that maybe he had targeted Fran as a punishment for “Ride the Moon”, after all his spouting about God and cleansing the souls of his victims and all of that was enough to make me wonder. It turned out he had the reading age of a nine year old and the Police found no indication that he had ever read one of my books, so I stopped worrying about that connection as well. Anyway, the threats stopped coming after about six months and I thought no more of it until last night in the hospital. The person that attacked us, and I am assuming that they were male but I can’t be sure, was not a petty criminal, they knew how to use that knife and they were not interested in robbing us. The only thing that person was trying to do was kill me, and perhaps you too Andrea, and so I started to wonder about the threats again. I began to wonder if they had simply been biding their time, or worse still if they were not very clever and it had taken them this long to find me, but either way it seems that someone is serious enough about doing me harm that they are prepared to get someone capable involved.”
“What do you mean capable?”
“Whoever that was, they knew how to fight, properly. That was an assassin, plain and simple. What I don’t know yet is whether or not they were simply a hired gun, so to speak, or if they were actually invested in the attempt beyond a paycheque. If they were, then I expect that I am still in danger, and my concern is that I am unlikely to get the local Police to take it all that seriously and then there is the issue that if you are around me then you are probably either a target as well by this point, or at least at risk of being considered an acceptable collateral loss. I think that we might as well assume that getting out of town and lying low somewhere might be a good idea. If the assassin is motivated to try again I would rather make it hard for them to find me, find us.”
“Where do you want to go? More to the point if it’s going to be safer maybe we should go to different places and meet up in a few days or weeks? I’ve found you now and we’ve definitely gotten past the hard part of the whole ‘hi I’m your dead wife’s half-sister that you never met’ conversation, so perhaps we should be as cautious as we can be. I have a flight back to the States in eight days time anyway…”
It occurred to me for the first time that Andrea probably had a job to go back to, a life, her own future. Sure she had traveled to the UK to find out about her sister, but she had not been planning on staying; she had probably not been planning on meeting an immortal and having her entire understanding of the world stood on its head. I had formulated this entire thought about her and I hitting the road together to lay low, when in reality she was going to have to leave me and my world and go back to her own. It certainly changed my outlook on the whole idea of laying low, and now I was starting to think about other alternatives, choices which I could not make with Andrea in tow.
“Well, Andrea, I’ve been thinking about taking a trip to the States for a while, and there are a few people I might try to see here before I do, so I guess it would make sense for us to take separate roads for a while and then meet up again in a couple of weeks. I had not really considered that you would need to go home at some point, Hell I haven’t even asked you where home is.”
She chuckled, not at my oversight, but more at the absurdity of the situation, I believe.
“Caine, it never occurred to me, but there’s a lot of things that by now a normal friendship would have covered long ago. I live in Maine, I work at a small municipal airport in a place called Greenville, as an administrator. I’m planning to go back there, in fact I’ll fly all the way home thanks to the discounts and so forth that I can get as an insider. If you want to come and find me there in a few days, even a couple of weeks then that would be great, but I don’t want you to think that I expect you to come. I mean it’s in the middle of nowhere, in the heart of rural Maine, so if it was not on your list of places to visit then I would understand.”
“Andrea, I would love to see where you live. I guess that I will be in touch before I get too close, see if you can’t help me out with flying in as well. I mean, I like to drive, but the idea of flying in is oddly exciting.”
We swapped cellphone numbers and email addresses and made plans to leave the next morning, then Andrea turned in for the night. I sat up for a while, nursing a large dram of single malt and trying to decide whether I would head to Scotland or Berlin the next morning after I’d dropped Andrea at the train. I wondered if the reason I could not sleep was that I was starting to fear that the assassin would be back, but I knew in my heart that it was nothing to do with that. If he came I would be as ready as I could be and that would either save me or end me. No the real issue was that I had a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that this was the beginning of something that was going to end up being bigger than me, bigger than I imagined, and I was not looking forward to that.


“You were not successful, you do realise that don’t you?”
Richard nodded
“We have confirmation that Caine Foster is still alive, despite your claim that you had dealt him a series of fatal wounds. The question that we need to answer is whether or not you were mistaken, because if you were not then something much more interesting is going on here.”

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 8

Apologies for not posting until today (day 9), but we had guests over yesterday and then I just forgot… I didn’t manage the daily target, but seeing as I am ahead… Today I hope to make up the deficit regardless.


In my long life I have only revealed my secret to a handful of people, and generally this stage of the proceedings comes with a great deal of disbelief followed by a progression of fear, then anger and then finally a mixture of wonder and sadness, but I had never been in this position before, of having to clarify what someone had actually witnessed. If it sounds a little far fetched that I had never had to take someone aside and explain after they saw something I would rather they had not, then I would have to agree with you, but a mixture of extreme caution, an amount of cunning and a lot of luck had brought me this far nonetheless. If you are wondering why I trusted Andrea with my secret so easily, so soon after meeting her, well at the time I did not believe that I had any other choice. Based on what she had seen I did not believe I was going to be able to explain things away, and anyway she was family. Fran had known my truth, why not share it with her sister?
“I had a normal childhood and early life, normal at least for an affluent child of Roman citizens. I learned to read and write, to perform what we now call mathematics, I learned about the law, the political structures of the Republic and the Empire, our history and beyond all of that I learned to be a soldier. At the age of seventeen I became what we would now see as a junior officer in the Roman army, and I started to live the life of a career soldier. I was a reasonable leader and tactician and I became better, learning in the service of great men. Eventually, by the time I was nearly forty years old and with many campaigns behind me I had risen to the level of being a general, a leader of several legions of Roman soldiers. I was a powerful man and while that definitely had its positives, it also brought with it the politics and the enemies that all people who wield power must deal with. It was on the eve of my fortieth birthday that the assassin broke into my family villa and slew my two sisters, their husbands and all of their children and attempted to kill me. He was a skilled warrior and he caught me unprepared, unprotected and armed only with a wooden club that I had taken from a Germanic tribesman, that was mounted on the wall over my bed. I hurt him, it is fair to say, before he plunged the gladius he brought with him into my stomach. I do not know which of us was the more surprised when I simply grabbed his hand, the one on the hilt, and pulled him closer, pushing the sword deeper into my gut and out through my back, so that I could head butt him. His eyes filled with tears, his nose streamed with blood, and as he reflexively stumbled backwards, releasing the sword that was now lodged firmly in my body, I caved in his skull with the club and then fell to my knees. I was sure that my life was at an end, and that the end would come in the form of hours of pain and suffering as with most grave gut wounds before the invention of surgery and antibiotics. I supposed that if I could bring myself to pull out the blade my wound would bleed freely and at least I would be released from that mortal coil as painlessly as possible. I gritted my teeth, grasped the blade just in front of the hilt with both hands and pulled. If you have not been stabbed it is hard to describe the feeling, the strange mixture of sliding and dragging as the blade is pulled back out through the wound, but hard as it may be to describe it is neither pleasant nor easy to forget, and even now my memory of that moment sends a chill through me. I dropped the gladius on the floor and sank down next to it, welcoming death as an inescapable final journey. You may imagine that I was very surprised to be awoken by one of my retainers at around dawn. He had risen early, as was his habit, and begun to make preparations for breakfast, putting the kitchen slaves to work and rousing the cook from his slumber. He was walking across the portico when he discovered the body of my elder sister Aurelia. Her body was posed in a rather sordid manner, a spear protruding from her chest, facing the main doors of the villa. Presumably the assassin, whose identity I never learned, had been given specific instructions on how to engineer as much shock as possible with his handiwork. After laying her body down and covering her with his own toga my, I suppose the current term would be butler, ran to my chamber to check on me and found me asleep next to the body of our assailant, a strange man that he had never seen before. As I said, I was surprised to be alive, even more surprised to find that there was no evidence of my being hurt, my wound having completely healed, and on reflection I was lucky that he was shaken enough to believe that I had caught myself with the kosh, after dealing with the assassin, knocking myself out.”
Andrea laughed quietly at this and I was relieved that despite the seriousness of what I was telling her she was able to see the funny side of anything at all.
“Anyway, from that day I have not aged one single day nor have I been laid low even for a moment by any illness, and despite suffering many potentially fatal hurts over the years I have always recovered and healed in the way that you saw the night before last. Clearly I have had to learn how to hide my condition from others, if only to be able to do anything remotely normal with this immense tract of time I have available to me.”
“You know Caine, that’s an amazing story, but I can see why you wouldn’t want everyone to know, as they would be on you all the time to reveal how you became like this. I mean it’s the ultimate dream of humanity, right? Death is the great leveller, it comes to us all. Just imagine what people would pay for your blood.”
I threw her a look;
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to be bleeding you while you sleep or anything, I was just thinking out loud. I mean there is a part of me that has to believe you because I’ve seen you not die when you should have done, but I’ll be honest I am still reeling.”

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 7 (Warning potential trigger content)

When the end came it was a blessed relief. The countless offences that he had committed against her body had long since mounted to a crescendo of suffering and pain that had broken the very last part of her spirit. Her whole being was numb and all that she could really do was hope for death. She could feel his foetid breath on her cheek, the weight of his body along her back and legs; dimly she was aware that he was inside her again. It barely registered any more, so thoroughly had he beaten, cut and abused her already that it was almost unimportant; she pushed that awareness away and tried to call in the blackness that she was starting to see around the periphery of her vision. And it came to her. It was only for the tiniest moment that she felt the knife and then everything became easier, simpler in fact, and she drifted away.


He slept with her corpse after that last moment of ecstasy, as he had with all of his girls, and as ever he slept deeply and peacefully slumped over his kill.
When he awoke, in the dawn light, he felt rested and powerful, as though he had stepped out of Hell and into the sight of God; at least that was what he would tell anyone if they asked. He sat up, stretched and looked across at her inert body. Her eyes were wide open, seeming to stare intently at a bloodied chisel that happened to be on the bench, but even he could see that there was no light behind those eyes. That was the start of his melancholy on that occasion. Like a drug user, Nicholas Bradshaw had become used to a come-down after his particular brand of high. It began with a realisation that the journey was over, that there were no more games to play or experiences to explore with his victim, not that he saw them as victims you understand, but we can see the truth of that, can we not? Then slowly as the glow of refreshment and fulfilment faded he would fall into the routine of cleaning up, and therein lay the real disappointment, he had to give up his kill. He knew that he could not keep their bodies, that the smell alone was more than likely to rouse suspicion against him, and so he had been hiding their bodies far away from his workshop since the beginning, but this separation was hard for him and the creeping realisation that it had to happen and he would have to knuckle down and sort out the situation always tarnished the perfection of the time before.
He hopped off the bench and set about cleaning the floor of any visible trace of blood. As he went he retrieved discarded tools and collected them together in a wire basket, ready to move on to the next part of the process which would be to wash, dry and return each one to its proper place.
Once the floor was clean he laid out the body bag next to the bench and then rolled the corpse off onto the open bag. He dotted half-bricks around the body and laid a large length of old chain at the feet. Satisfied than the bag would be weighed down enough he zipped the bag up and slid it over to the van, loading it in and closing the side door in the same matter of fact way as if it were a bag of reclaimed pipes or cable. He washed the floor again around the bench and then cleaned all of the blood from the bench as well. Finally he went to the shower cubicle at the back of the workshop and washed himself, taking particular care with his hair and his nails.
When it was all done there was nothing to suggest that the space was anything but a workshop, and while he knew that exhaustive forensic examination would find evidence of blood and hair skin that there might be little or no reasonable explanation for, the important aspect was to ensure than no one became suspicious enough to even suggest such an inspection.
He checked the time, it was too late to head out to the lake as he would need the cover of darkness to properly hide her away. He decided that the day could definitely be a rest day, so he locked the van, locked away the camcorder and his computer and then locked up the workshop and wandered down the road to the café; it was time for a fry-up and then later he would watch some of the film he had shot the night before while he waited for night to come so that he could take Mrs. Foster to her final resting place.


It was only a day later that I was discharged from the hospital, with a course of antibiotics to keep the wound from becoming infected and strict instructions to visit my local GPs surgery to have my dressing changed every couple of days, not that I was actually going to bother with either. Andrea had come back over to Norwich to meet me and pottered about the City for a little while before the moment in which we both knew that it was time to head back to my place and have a conversation about what had really happened.
We did not even try and make small talk on the train ride back to Cromer. Andrea stared out of the window, seemingly greedy for yet more views of the British countryside, not matter what the weather was doing. I busied myself with that day’s edition of the Guardian, in particular a biting editorial into the revelations surrounding a Labour minister who had not only been caught with a couple of prostitutes, but they had turned out to be under age and he had been giving them cocaine as well. Now all of this seems rather sordidly familiar, but the real irony came from the fact that he was not only a lay preacher, but that he was a lay preacher who railed against carnal vices and the loose sexual mores of society, and who had famously led a Parliamentary commission on child sex trafficking only a couple of years before. It is true that it was a shocking tale, and it is also true that there was an effort to limit the sensationalist, lurid tone of the coverage – presumably because of the Guardian’s political bias more than any sense of propriety as I am certain that they would have offered a great-sized serving of glee had the individual in question been a Tory. As I read the article I realised that I was nodding, in agreement, and at a certain point I realised that I was unsurprised by any of it. I don’t have a moral judgement about using prostitutes per se, but I am opposed to frequenting prostitutes that one is aware are under age. Like most people I do not agree with anyone being forced into working as a prostitute and there is almost no chance that the two girls he was found with were willing participants in the transaction, so at least on that level there was absolutely nothing to do but condemn his activities, and yet I was not filled with outrage or surprise. I realised that I was utterly used to the horrors men do, and finally I was sickened.
I put the paper down on the seat next to me and sighed. Andrea noted my demeanour and gave me that look, the one that says “huh?”.
“Oh, nothing, just a depressing article. I am troubled by how little surprises me any longer. I mean I am offended by the bad things that people do, sometimes even disgusted, but it’s never a surprise any more.”
Andrea nodded and shook her head in a delightful moment of her body expressing the cognitive dissonance of her reaction so completely;
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s sad that we take if for granted that people are evil and disgusting.”
We sat in silence for the rest of the journey, which did not last all that long anyway, and then we walked back to my loft on Firkin Street.


“Tell me why you are not dead, Caine.”
We had barely closed the door on the outside world when this questyearsion came skittering across the space between us, and I was not really ready for it, even though I knew it had been clamouring to escape Andrea’s lips for a little under forty-eight hours.
“Can I make some tea and can we sit down first, please?”
Andrea laughed, nodded and motioned toward the kitchen as if to suggest I should hurry. I certainly did get on with it and a few moments later we were back in our respective seats in the living room, each armed with tea and a cigarette, and I no longer had any reason to delay.
“I want you to know that I am sorry you had to see what you saw, it must have been very frightening. I have become accustomed to violence over the years, though to be honest I have been lucky enough to stay away from it since the War, but still most people are not even remotely able to cope with real violence when they are confronted with it unless they have been desensitised by repeated exposure, and from the reaction I remember I don’t believe you fall into that category, so for what it may be worth I am sorry.”
I paused and she nodded, but clearly had nothing to add, so I carried on,
“I understand that your question comes from an understanding on your part that by any reasonable standard, people who are stabbed through the neck with large knives rarely survive the experience and yet you saw that happen to me and I am not only still alive but there is no visible evidence on my neck of the wound I received there. There is no easy way to say this, nor can I offer much in the way of explanation, but the simple truth is that I cannot die. I was born in what modern historians would call 36 B.C., to an affluent and well respected family in what is now Italy but was then a part of the Roman Empire, and my name then was Marcus Gallicus.”
I looked up to try and gauge her reaction, but her face was impassive and I had no sense of what she was thinking.

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 6

Once we were both certain that enough time had elapsed for the two Police officers to actually be gone, we turned to each other, Andrea poised to speak as I gave her a look that while warm and kind, I hoped, conveyed in no uncertain terms that this was not the time and place for her questions. Thankfully she read my face correctly and we fell into easy conversation about how we never got that drink and where I would take her for dinner once I was liberated from my incarceration. A few hours later a different nurse came bustling through and amongst other things reminded Andrea politely but firmly that she would not be able to stay past the end of visiting hours. I gave her my house keys and some cash – after some investigation we had found my wallet, keys and phone in the bedside cabinet, as if they had been transferred there by some unseen valet – and encouraged her to head back to Cromer and make herself at home in my loft. We said our goodbyes and I was left alone to wonder if there was anything remotely predictable about my having been attacked, and if so who had I angered that much, or if indeed I had been the victim of a genuinely random act of violence.


It was cold in the dark, she could feel what she assumed was a metal floor under her legs where they protruded from under her skirt. It took a few more moments, but fear was the next thing that she experienced. As her awareness grew she realised that she was gagged and restrained, her hands tied behind her back and her ankles tied together, and she also knew that she was not where she was supposed to be. She reached back for her last memory; she was walking down the street, on the well-lit side, away from her mother’s house and towards Hampstead Tube, and then, nothing. She tried to calm herself, to control the urge to scream and thrash around; something in the back of her mind was telling her that it would do no good and that she would need her strength.
She closed her eyes, not that it made much difference as it was already completely dark, and started to use her senses more precisely in order to try and understand her situation. The metal floor was a good place to start, what sort of places had a metal floor? Was she in a shipping container, or on a boat of some kind, or in a tractor trailer? She was mulling over the options one by one when this first question was answered for her. She heard the sound of a car door being pulled open and then a couple of moments later the same door being slammed shut. Finally after a few more seconds she heard the van being started and then the engine idling and the metal floor that she was resting on began vibrating gently. She was in the back of a van. Suddenly light streamed into her field of view as what looked like an inspection hatch opened and she saw the outline of a face. Her sense of smell was suddenly assaulted by the pungent odour of a takeaway kebab and she was suddenly experiencing pangs of hunger. She waited, expecting the outline of a face to either become easier to see, or for whoever it was to speak to her, but as quickly and unexpectedly as the hatch had been opened, it snapped shut again. She felt the van pull away and they were on the road.
She tried to count, to have some idea of how long they had driven for, but it was too difficult to focus on the counting with all of the questions and fears roiling in her mind. She tried to listen out for any kind of audible cues that would give her some sense of where she was or where she was being taken, but again she found it hard to concentrate and equally hard to hear anything at all beyond the dull hum of the engine and the sound of the road under the tyres. By the time the van came to a complete stop and the engine was turned off she had lost all track of time and had given up all hope of knowing where she was.
She had expected to be removed from the back of the van pretty much immediately, but even after she was certain that the vehicle was parked somewhere time dragged on as she was left lying there alone. Her mind wandered. She wondered what time it was, whether or not Caine had realised that she was not going to be at home on time, or even that anything was wrong. She started to wonder what this person, who had clearly abducted her, wanted, but she backed away from that line of speculation pretty quickly and tried to focus on what she would do when she finally got home. She was thirsty and tired and increasingly she was aware that if much more time passed she was going to need to use the bathroom; she had not “been” before she left her mother’s place. Her mother! Caine would definitely have realised that she was not home and his first course of action would have been to call her mother to confirm that she had left as usual. Her mother was going to be descending into the madness of worry that can only be experienced by a parent. She felt guilty that her husband and mother would be suffering with the concern and worry of her absence, but that guilt was quickly replaced with anger against her abducter and sadness of her own that she was not with Caine.
It was at this point that the fear crept back in. She started to be unable to prevent her mind from wandering down terrifying avenues of possibility as she started to imagine the horror that might await her. Every woman has their own personal, private fear about being at the mercy of a man who wishes to hurt them and take advantage of them and now all of the horrifying scenarios that she had banished to the darker recesses of her mind were rushing to the surface and spilling over into her thoughts, like a saucepan boiling over. As she wrestled with her own mind, trying to put certain things from her mind and recover control, she realised that she had involuntarily adopted a foetal position despite the discomfort of having her hands tied behind her. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes and trickling down her face completely unbidden and uncontrollable and as the weight of all that fear and anticipation broke her she started to convulse with muffled sobs, which had the gag been removed would have been loud and plaintive, like the keening of the bereaved.
She did not know how long she had been crying there, in the dark when the side door of the van was opened and once more light streamed into the van and over her face.
“Hello Mrs. Foster. I see you are under no illusions about what is happening to you. That’s good, it is far harder to deal with women who have not accepted that I am in control and that I control their destiny.”
His voice was like treacle, soft and rich and dark, but there was an unmistakeable edge of menace that set her off into another fit of sobs and her body shook, inflicting new and terrible pain on her wrists as the cable-tie cuffs started to bite and actually cut into her flesh as her body was contorted by the hand of fear. She could feel the blood dripping down over her fingers and she started to feel sick.
He reached into the van and towards her body; every fibre of her being was screaming inside her head to resist, to kick or head butt him as soon as he came close, but already the fight was gone out of her. Her body went limp, quite against her will and he easily dragged her towards him and then lifted her onto his shoulder. Her vision swam and she passed out.
When she came to she was no longer gagged, but she was duct-taped to a bentwood chair, wearing only her underwear in a cold and dimly lit space that looked like a workshop. There was small table about five feet directly in front of her with a computer monitor standing on it, the picture was a freeze frame of another woman taped to the very same chair in nothing but her underwear. Off to her right there was a tripod atop which, staring at her with its unblinking cyclopean eye, was a camcorder. She could hear the man moving around behind her, but she could not crane her neck far enough around to see what he was doing.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Foster, you will see what I am doing soon enough, please don’t put yourself to any further discomfort by trying to turn around in the chair. I promise you that I have made certain that you are quite secure. Why don’t you watch a film I made a couple of weeks ago while you wait.”
With that the screen in front of her burst into life, the image breaking from its frozen state and the film ran. A frightened looking woman in her mid to late thirties with a healthy figure and long wavy red hair was tied to chair. She was looking around in dismay and Fran could hear the sounds of someone moving around out of shot. The woman was frantically trying to move her arms which her secured like her own with duct-tape, and trying to crane her neck around to see the person making the noises off camera.
“Who’s there?”
Fran was surprised by the sound; for some reason she had not expected dialogue.
“Please! Please, just let me go? I won’t tell, I promise, just please let me go?”
The woman was breathless and, like Fran, had obviously been crying.
“PLEASE! Look, please don’t hurt me. I have kids, you know? Two little boys and they are going to be so scared, they won’t know where their mummy is… PLEASE!”
Fran wanted to turn away, wanted to close her eyes but she could not. She was watching her own fate unfold and despite the tide of fear that was riding once more within her she could not look away.
A man entered the frame from the shadows, behind the woman on the chair. In what looked to be a deliberate choice his head was cropped out of the frame, but the rest of his body was visible in all its naked horror. Flabby and pale, and sporting a hard but unimpressive erection he sidled up behind the woman and placed his left hand on her right shoulder. Then the voice that Fran had heard before, soft and almost sweet yet dark and intangibly unpleasant;
“Quiet now.”

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 5

I awoke the next morning, tucked up in a very comfortable hospital bed, Andrea collapsed asleep in the large, high-backed chair next to my bed. I felt far better than I ought to, not that this gave me any real comfort as I knew I was going to have to either construct a sugar-spun creation of half-truth and deception or tell Andrea the truth and neither option filled me with glee. I was able to guess that I was in NNUH, for one thing the private room that I had been given was far nicer than anything at the Cromer hospital, but more than that it did seem as though I had experienced some emergency care for my stomach wound and Cromer hospital’s minor injury unit would not likely have been the ambulance crew’s first instinct when presented with the victim of an abdominal stabbing.
I pushed myself up in bed, enjoying the fact that I could feel my injury healing, while at the same time not being laid as low by it as a normal person would be. Overall it was a relief that the talisman I had been wearing for nearly sixty years actually worked as planned; it had allowed my body to heal the wounds which I would not be able to explain surviving and allowed the one that remained to be explanation of my unconsciousness and generally give a believable story to tell.
A few moments later a nurse bustled into the room sporting a gigantic smile and a disposable apron and latex gloves.
“Mr. Foster, you’re awake.”
I nodded gently, reflecting back her smile and trying very hard to have a mostly neutral demeanour with a dash of good humour.
“Let me get this out of the way, I’m not a fan. Too much sex and violence in your books for me, to be honest, but it’s nice to have someone a bit famous on the ward nonetheless. Anyway, lets have a look at yer dressin’ an’ that wound. I see yer friend is dead to the World.”
I looked over at Andrea and then back at the nurse
“I imagine that the whole experience has taken its toll on her. She’s the half-sister of my late wife and we had only just met for the first time.”
The nurse raised an eyebrow, but resisted the urge to say whatever it was that was knocking on the back of her teeth. Wound care was uncomplicated, the nurse clucking about how it would probably not even leave a scar and how lucky that Doctor Frederickson had been on duty in A&E, the best of all of the doctors when it came to suturing, apparently. She flicked me another smile as she tucked the sheets back in around me and then she was gone from the room as quickly as she had come. Andrea slept on.
It was the simultaneous arrival of the lunch cart, a pair of Police officers and the Registrar that finally roused her. I had been daydreaming, looking out of the window and watching the wind play with the branches of the trees that were set back a few metres from the building, and so the commotion as these three competing emissaries arrived at my door was a jolt back to the there and then. Initially there was an amount of jockeying for position, but it was clear that the lunch cart was actually going to win, and then that the Police would have to wait until after I had been seen by the Doctor. The chap running the lunch cart did not ask me what I wanted beyond the terse question of “Vegetarian?”, which I politely declined, and so a little order was restored once my tray was on the side table and the Doctor had been able to close the door and actually start talking. Roughly speaking in his early thirties, tired and stressed looking but very much alert nonetheless, he was every inch an NHS registrar, even down to the visible outline of a cigarette packet in the left-hand pocket of his trousers.
“Good morning, Mr. Foster, I am Doctor Reese, I’ll be looking after you until you are discharged. How are you feeling?”
He made very deliberate eye contact as he finished his question and seeing no need to evade his gaze I returned the focus before answering;
“Well, to be honest Doctor I don’t have much of a field of reference for comparison, but considering I was stabbed I feel pretty good.”
He chuckled at that, and picked up the chart at the end of the bed, quickly glancing at portions of if before looking back at me.
“Well I am glad that you’ve not lost your sense of humour, Mr. Foster, and there’s really nothing to be concerned about on here, but you should know that it was nearly a very different story. A couple of inches to the left and a lower angle of attack and you’d have been looking at a ruptured bowel at least, which is not pleasant let me tell you. Still, there’s no need to dwell on might-have-beens. We’ll want to keep you in for the rest of today and overnight, just to be sure that there is no infection and that your wound is healing properly, but with any luck we’ll have you out of here before lunchtime tomorrow. Do you have any questions for me?”
I shook my head, thanked him, and he headed out of the door, effectively tagging the Police officers to come on in. Andrea stirred with the opening and closing of the door and was straightening herself in the chair and brushing her hair out of her face when one of the two Police officers poked his head around the door to ask if he could come in. I waved him in and he disappeared for a split second and then was back with his partner in tow.
The younger, presumably more junior, officer was a little starry eyed as he followed his counterpart into the room, but I could not tell whether he was simply very green or if he knew who I was. The more senior officer cleared his throat and began to speak;
“Mr. Foster, thank you for agreeing to speak with us so soon after your ordeal. I am Constable Trent and this is my associate Constable Regus.”
He flashed a look at Andrea, who was now almost completely awake and composed;
“Good morning, madam”, looking back at me “Are you comfortable for us to ask you some questions with Ms. Richardson present, or would you prefer that my colleague escort her outside while you and I speak?”
Richardson? It dawned on me that Andrea had not told me her surname, but that Constable Trent was referring to her.
“Oh that’s fine Constable, I would rather Ms. Richardson stay unless she wishes to leave, to be honest with you.”
I nodded at Andrea and she nodded right back.
“Very well then, Sir. I need to ask you a few questions about the events of last night, is that ok?”
I nodded.
“You and Ms. Richardson had met for the first time at the Goblin Coffee House in Cromer, yesterday afternoon, is that right?”
“Well, yes, except that it’s The Goblin King’s Coffee Company, but yes we met there yesterday afternoon for the first time.”
“Goblin King’s Coffee Company”, Constable Trent repeated it out loud as he corrected his notes, ”And having made one another’s acquaintance and Ms. Richardson revealing her relationship to your late wife, you went on to offer her hospitality and you both returned to your home on Firkin Street to talk and share a takeaway meal of the Chinese persuasion?”
“Yes, that’s quite correct, Constable.”
“Excellent, so after dining and an extended period of conversation you decided between the two of you to pop out to the Red Lion for a drink before closing time, I have from Ms. Richardson that this was her suggestion but that you were not in need of convincing?”
“Yes, that’s quite right. We had been discussing the events surrounding my wife’s death and the idea of being around people and noise and merriment and so forth was appealing as a contrast. I thought that it was an excellent idea.”
Constable Trent nodded, making more notes. I noticed that Constable Regus was eye-balling Andrea quite intently throughout and wondered if he had been briefed by Trent to try and ascertain if there was any reaction from her at any point that might suggest any kind of disparity between her version of events, which they had presumably received last night while I was still out, and mine.
“So you were walking to the Red Lion, down Wheeler Street at approximately twenty-two hundred hours when an unknown assailant appeared from Spinner’s Yard and immediately attacked you, with a knife?”
“Is that the name of the alley, I had no idea.”
“Er, yes, Sir. The alley about ninety feet from the Red Lion on Wheeler Street is indeed called Spinner’s Yard.”
“Right, well yes, in that case you have described events precisely to my recollection.”
Constable Trent nodded and scribbled in his notebook.
“I apologise, Sir, this may be a difficult question, but do you recall how many times you were stabbed?”
I made a conscious effort not to look at Andrea before I answered, there was definitely an agenda in this line of questioning and I needed to start confounding that, or this was very quickly going to become much more complicated than I wanted it to.
“I have to be honest, Constable, I don’t really remember anything to do with the attack with any real clarity, but I can only assume that I was stabbed once as I appear to have only one stab wound.”
Trent flashed a look at Regus and at Andrea, then turned his attention back to me and his notebook and made a note.
“I completely understand, Sir, and do you have any other recollection at all before you came to here?”
I paused, hoping to give the impression of consideration and an attempt to recall events;
“I have a dim recollection of falling to the ground, and of reaching out towards Ms. Richardson, but they are flashes, nothing more. I am sorry, Constable.”
He nodded once again.
“Just one more thing, Mr. Foster, did you manage to see anything of your attacker’s face or did anything specific catch your eye at all? Really almost any detail might be crucial in assisting us in identifying the assailant.”
Bradshaw’s green van popped up in my mind’s eye, that tiny little detail that had been the key to finding him, and I wanted to smile with the satisfaction of the memory, but I realised that a smile would not work well in the current situation, so I pushed it back down and tried to focus on the genuinely blurry memories that I did have of my attacker. I let my mind go back to the moment the knife first plunged into my chest, but all I could remember was the pain and a hooded head, face wrapped in shadow. The sickening, loosening feeling as the blade was pulled out and back away from me and my eyes were drawn to it rather than the person wielding it, and I watched as it flew back down towards me and then the pain once more as it punctured my neck and slid through my windpipe until the tip was actually poking out into the air on the other side. I pushed my mind to tighten the focus, to try and remember something as the knife was pulled back again before the final strike at my stomach; did I see the face? I reached for the memory, pushing through the noise of pain and fear and the metallic smell of blood but I could not quite rest on the moment. I let the recollection continue, the knife in my belly and out and the weakness that followed and my uncontrollable fall to the floor. I could see the fear on Andrea’s face. I could feel the attacker’s presence over me and I could feel their intent, that they were going to do to her what they had done to me, and then nothing, just darkness. I had wanted to be able to give Trent something, but there was nothing there to give.
“I’m sorry, Constable, but I am afraid it’s all just a blur.”
Trent nodded and put away his notebook.
“Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Foster, we will be in touch and I hope with news that we have a suspect, but I must be honest it’s not a given. Can we reach you at your Cromer address for the foreseeable future?”
I nodded, then added;
“And Ms. Richardson will be staying with me there for a few days at least as well.”
“Very good, Sir and thank you again.”
He flicked his head to Regus and they were on their way.

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 4

They sat there for a moment, avoiding one another’s gaze, neither man possessed of the slightest idea of how to move the conversation onwards. Caine poured another belt of whisky into the tumbler and nailed about half of it as soon as he put down the bottle. He picked up the bottle again and waved it in Grayling’s line of sight;
“Drink?”
Grayling thought about it for longer than was probably wise,
“No, Caine, thanks. I realise that it’s a cliché, but I am on duty. Are you ok to carry on?”
Caine nodded.
“Right, well for what it’s worth I believe you about your lack of involvement, and to be honest though spouses rarely admit that their partner may have been suicidal or self-destructive, at least not immediately, if it is going to be an issue in the end they are almost never as vehement as you were just then. So, can you think of anyone that would want to harm your wife, Caine?”
“Honestly the idea is almost enough to make me laugh, even considering the circumstances. She is a primary school teacher for crying out loud! I mean are you asking if a conspiracy of disgruntled seven year olds have abducted my wife?”
Grayling put the notebook away and started to stand.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant, I’ve been drinking, well I am still drinking as you can see, and I am frightened that my worst fears are not lucid enough to adequately describe what my wife is being put through, and I realise that you are just trying to do your job, but it’s hard to understand how this is helpful. Please can we start over?”
Caine reached up towards Grayling, but he could not bring himself to make eye contact. Grayling relented and sat down again.
“Mr. Foster…”
“Please, call me Caine.”
“Ok, Caine, look I realise that there are probably things that seem unimportant in amongst these questions, but I promise you that all of my experience in CID tells me that the most mundane details, and one can never know in advance which ones, can often be the difference between solving a case and not so. Let’s move on, yeah? Have you noticed anything unusual in the street or anyone hanging around over the last few weeks?”
Caine, who was now cradling the whisky tumbler, stared into the amber liquid, like a mystic staring into a divining bowl seeking the answers to unknowable questions. Grayling realised that Caine was not stalling, but genuinely thinking about the question, so he relaxed back into the chair and used the time to light another cigarette. He tried to not stare at Caine while he waited, worried that he would pressure him into answering too quickly, so he looked around the room, not so much looking for clues as trying to read the space and understand a little more about both Caine and his missing wife. The clutter around the laptop on the dining table seemed to be the accumulation of a few days, at least, so clearly that was Caine’s writing spot. The rest of the room was neither cluttered nor pristine, as though the people who lived there were the kind of people that put things away but were not sticklers either. The decor was broadly vanilla, but the framed nude photographs were an uncommon choice. Grayling let his gaze settle on one in particular that was a three-quarter length profile of a slim and well defined, well endowed man holding his erect penis with one hand and a handgun in the other. It was a shocking image in many ways, but more importantly it was one that he found particularly arousing so he decided not to spend too long looking at it. He tried to muster up enough interest in some of the other works to muddy the waters, if Caine was even looking, but none of the others were of men, so that was a hiding to nothing. He was running out of things to look at casually when Caine finally spoke.
“I’ve thought about it and there was something, Sergeant. Every day last week when I went out running there was a green van parked in the same spot about a hundred yards up the road. I don’t know of anyone on the street that owns a vehicle like it and there was no livery on the side identifying it as belonging to a tradesman or anything. It was a Volkswagen, I don’t know the name of the model, but roughly the same size, though not as tall, as a Transit. The green was a deep and dark forest green.”
“That’s good, Caine, very good. Can you remember the registration by any chance?”
He concentrated, staring once more into his drink for a long moment.
“No, I don’t have it, I’m sorry.”
They talked for a short while longer, but there was nothing else that Caine could remember, so Sergeant Grayling thanked him, promised to call the next day, in person, not on the phone, and then he showed himself out. Caine poured the rest of the bottle of Auchentoshan into the glass and went back to cradling it.
Grayling had no idea when he left that day that Caine Foster had handed him the key fact that would help him solve the case, but then at that moment he was not completely certain that Mrs. Foster had not simply gone over the side, or out on a bender. He climbed into the beaten up Mondeo that despite his moaning to the DI he actually loved and set off back to the nick, calling in at McDonalds on the way to re-fuel.


Andrea was visibly shaken when I stopped talking; I assumed that she had not expected me to be so free with details about Fran’s death, or with the tale of my first interaction with Detective Sergeant Grayling. She reached into her bag and retrieved a pack of cigarettes, menthols, and made a gesture as if to ask permission. I nodded to her and she proceeded to light up. After a couple of deep drags she met my gaze;
“You’re not ok, are you? I mean you can tell the tale, but you are not even begun with getting over losing her, or dealing with how she died. I’m right, aren’t I?”
I nodded and picked up her cigarettes, taking one for myself and lighting it before I answered.
“You are not wrong, let’s put it like that. Day to day I experience an amount of happiness and I am broadly content. I am writing again and I am pleased with what I am writing, rather than simply doing it to fill the time. It’s true that I still miss her every day and if I do dwell on her I sink a back a little into the mire of self-loathing and melancholy that I laboured through for the first nine months or so after she died. In my stronger moments I remember that she would want me to live my life, to find love again even and I do my best to stay positive. I don’t think that I will ever get over her, I don’t think it would be possible for me to ever have another partner fully in my life ever again, but I am able to enjoy my life, so it’s not as bad as you might think.”
Andrea nodded, her eyes filled with sadness but at the same time she was smiling at him; it was clearly a mixed experience being able to meet him and hear the tragic tale of her half-sister.
“I know it’s late, but can we get out of here, just for one drink? I need some air and to be around noise and people; do you know what I am talking about?”
I knew exactly what she was talking about and so within five minutes we were wandering down the street to the Red Lion, the nearest of Cromer’s pubs to my loft, and already the sounds of merriment and the lights of the pub were lifting both our moods. Neither of us saw it coming.
Out of the darkness of an alleyway, all of a hundred feet from the pub’s saloon door, just out of the corner of my eye, a dark shape flitted out and closed the distance to me. Before I had the slightest idea what was happening I felt the unmistakeable sensation of being stabbed, there were three penetrations, and then as I fell to the floor with surprise I saw the shape wheel on Andrea. I tried to call out, but the second strike had severed my windpipe and I could not make a noise. I imagine that I was a terrifying sight for Andrea, lying in the street, looking up at her, blood pouring out of my neck and chest and forming bubbles around my mouth as I tried to speak. There was that, and then there was the greater horror that she was now facing, an unknown and completely unexpected attacker armed with what I could now see was a large and unpleasant looking blade. Her mouth formed a noiseless “O” as she opened her mouth to scream but nothing came. I could see her eyes darting between my bleeding form and the attacker and the knife and the tears welling up in them, and I could see that she was shaking uncontrollably. I saw a stream of urine appear between her legs as her body took over and made ready to run and then I passed out from the pain and the shock.
You are wondering how it is that I am writing this account.
You are probably also wondering whether or nor Andrea was ok.
Well, Andrea was alright. Moments after I passed out, just as the attacker was moving towards her, a gaggle of people fell out of the saloon door we had been heading towards and the attacker melted in the shadows and Andrea’s screams finally became audible.
I did not die. I should have done, there is no real doubt about that, but by the time the ambulance arrived – one of the revellers was not so drunk as the rest and had immediately dialled 999 on his mobile – I was struggling back into consciousness and the wound in my throat and chest were gone. There was blood all over me, nonetheless, and I was bruised from the fall and the less serious, though serious looking, wound in my abdomen was still an issue, but the actual state of my injuries was nowhere near as serious as it should have been.
I know, this does not make sense. It certainly did not make sense to Andrea either, and in the end I needed to explain everything to her, but in the heat of the moment I managed to persuade her that she must have been imagining what she thought that she had seen.
It all comes back to how I was and had been dealing with Fran’s loss. It was raw and painful and hard and yet I was prepared to do my damnedest to find happiness, to live my life; was this not a clue? Much as I had loved her dearly and still loved the memory of her then and now, Fran was not the first woman that I had tried to share my life with and subsequently lost. Most of the Wanderering Ones that I have met over the years shied away from emotional entanglements, but I love to love and so I had tried many times in my long life, always knowing that this weakness would one day lead me to a greater store of pain and regret and that there was nothing that I could do about it. If you cannot die, you watch anyone that you love die in front of you, whether it happens quickly or because they do age.

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 2

There is no doubt that I was in a place in my life at that point where my close friends had been encouraging me to reach out to Fran’s family and re-forge the connections that had been there during her life, so that I had a place for both my grief and my happier memories about her, but I had been hiding up here in Norfolk, nodding when people said such things and steadfastly not doing anything about it once they had gone home or hung up the phone. As Andrea spoke I could feel myself wanting to know her, not in any kind of yearning way, and certainly not as a surrogate for my dead wife, but simply as a way of making the connection I still felt to her somehow more real and present, rather than allowing it to continue to languish in the dark, ignored and denied.
“I’m glad you came; sorry Jareth gave you a hard time.”
She laughed, and suddenly I was looking at a younger version of my dead wife, and despite my expectation that if Andrea reminded me of her I would be plunged into an ice-cold lake of pain, the pain did not come. Instead I felt an immediate wave of affection for her;
“Do you have somewhere to stay? I mean I don’t want to be inappropriate or anything, but I have a spare room and I don’t imagine that we are going to feel as though spending one afternoon in a coffee shop is enough time.”
She smiled and nodded before answering;
“I have a room at the hotel on the promenade, what’s it called? The Cliftonville, that’s it, but I could only afford one night. I suppose I didn’t really think that far ahead, I just took a guess based on your Twitter feed that you were here and then made for this place.”
“Well, if nothing else you are turning out to be a pretty good detective, I’ll give you that! The Cliftonville is lovely, but I’m not surprised you could only afford one night, it’s the priciest place in town. Will you let me settle your bill and we’ll move you into my spare room for a few days?”
“That would be great, but I don’t want to get in the way of your writing or anything and I can pay my own bill, I mean I didn’t come to find you for that, yeah?”
I took a breath, and studied her face, keen to divine whether or not I had offended her, but it seemed to me that she was simply making it clear that she was not gold digging and that pleased me no end.
“We can argue about the money later, if you like you can take me out to dinner or something, but you came to find me, to connect with some kind of family and now you’re here I think that you deserve the same level of hospitality as I would offer anyone in my family, heck even most of the people I call friends. If not, then what’s the point of being a slightly successful author?”
She laughed boisterously at the last part of that, which did my ego no end of good and then relaxed completely into her sofa, no longer worried that she was going to have to pitch me any more. She picked up her Latté and wrapped both her hands around it to warm them, taking sips and allowing herself to look around the place and take it all in. After a few moments she spoke again;
“So is it true, do you write here all the time now?”
“I suppose it’s a as true as anything else. I tend to come here most days for most of the morning or afternoon. I do write every day, and I suppose to the extent that I do it here I have a routine and habits that I have found useful, but the media perception of me camped out in the window from opening to closing, wearing out my laptop keyboard are a caricature at best. I suppose I write for about three or four hours a day, and if I am here in Cromer I will tend to do it here in Goblin King’s, but I do write at home sometimes, particularly on the weekends as it gets ridiculously busy in here on the weekends in the summer. Then of course if I am on the road for a book or a speaking tour I write on trains and planes and in hotel rooms and strange coffee shops and the homes of friends, so I cannot really say that I do all my writing here, but I do write here a lot.”
More laughing ensued. I was not offended, but I was surprised;
“What?”
“You just gave me an answer that could have been dialogue from one of your characters, I mean that was vintage Geraint, from Transom. You really are a writer, I guess. I mean I knew that you were and I have read your books, but here I am talking to you and I can see your work actually in you.”
No one had ever said something so simultaneously wonderful and damning to me, ever before, and yet even though there was a kind of judgement in her comments, it was clear to me that she was trying to say something nice and something that she meant.
We finished our coffees and I packed up my stuff so that we could head back to the flat that I tend to refer to as my loft. My loft is a top floor conversion with a reasonable living space, two bedrooms, a kitchen and its own bathroom I had considered myself lucky to find it on the market when I had made my first trip up to Cromer after doing little more considered than the twenty-first century equivalent of throwing darts at a map with Google Maps.
Andrea made all of the right kind of low-key, polite noises about how it was a nice place that confirmed to me what I already knew; it was clean and cosy with nothing whatsoever about it that could make it seem special or ostentatious. In fact it could reasonably said that I live year round in a holiday let style apartment in the top floor of a Victorian three storey townhouse above the Cromer promenade, and so seeing it offered Andrea almost no insight into me, unless it was to leap to the conclusion that this was where I lived, rather than in any way being my home.
I settled her into the spare room and then gave her some privacy while I went to find a bottle of wine in the kitchen. I was sitting at my desk a few minutes later, making slow work of my first glass of Shiraz and checking Twitter when Andrea came into the room, fresh from the shower, and picked up the glass I had poured for her;
“Is this for me?”
I nodded and gestured with mine towards the sofa.
“How do you feel about some takeaway food this evening, I’m not in the mood for the rest of society?”
“That sounds great, as long as it’s Chinese”
The sly grin on her face was enough to sell it and I called the Jade Dragon.
We made small talk before and during dinner, I learned that there is still nothing fun about flying trans Atlantic if you do not have the money for business class, and that growing up in the north of New York State is not as much fun as sitcoms from the seventies and eighties might have suggested. I also learned that Andrea’s father had actually passed away, and that was why she had been clearing out her room at her parents’ home. Under the same banner of smalltalk I had admitted that I was living the life of a monk since Fran had passed – well apart from occasional visits to what I want to refer to as call girls rather than mere prostitutes, not that I told Andrea about them – and that I was having some fairly serious problems with writing in the last few weeks, but was putting it down to the usual block I would tend to suffer as the days grew shorter. In short we spent the time becoming comfortable with one another.
After we had demolished the ‘Emperor’s Banquet’ and Andrea had helped me clear away the debris I put the coffee machine on and broke out my rolling box. Andrea had already copped to being an occasional toker as we chatted over dinner so I was not worried about tipping my own hand, and it was nice to have someone to smoke with; day to day I rarely indulged finding pot a much more pleasant experience in company. I skinned up a classic, two-skin cone, poured us each a coffee and made up a tray with an ashtray and the spliff, the coffees a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar, and a plate of chunks of CDM, in readiness for the munchies. I carried it out into the living room and set up camp on the coffee table between the sofa where Andrea was curled up and the armchair that she had intuited was my spot.
I tapped the spliff a few times on my lighter and then lit it, enjoying the ceremony of it all, a kind of western and slightly boho alternative to Chinese tea ceremonies and the like. I held the first drag for as long as I could without falling into a spluttering heap, and then hung onto it for a couple more drags until I started to feel the beginnings of my high and then I offered it to Andrea, who took it from me with gleeful abandon.
She did not ask me the question until we had almost seen the whole joint off, passing it between us with yet more lightweight conversation, that was admittedly becoming more and more off the wall as the skunk did the trick and peeled away our inhibitions.
“Caine, can you tell me what happened to my sister?”

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 1

Jareth was engaged in yet another of his patronising seminars on the actual meaning of the various different variants of espresso based coffee; I almost felt sorry for the poor customer, a timid looking goth-girl with a laptop bag and maybe nineteen summers behind her, whose only crime had been trying to order the same kind of coffee that they would have normally ordered in a Starbucks.
“Macchiato means stained or spotted, so a café macchiato is a double espresso with a tiny amount of steamed milk. There is no such thing as a Half-Caff Skinny Caramel Macchiato, Starfucks made it up and we certainly don’t serve such an abomination in here, this is a COFFEE shop. Now, can I interest you in a Flat White, or perhaps a Latté, which in case you are interested is actually a shortening of Latté Macchiato, because the milk is ‘stained’ with the coffee?”
The somewhat stunned looking goth-girl just nodded quietly and handed over a tenner; Jareth snorted and assumed that it was a Latté that she wanted and set about its creation. The fact that he ground the beans and weighed the grounds to ensure the perfection of her coffee, that the espresso machine was stripped and cleaned every night, that the beans were roasted in the back of the shop, that the milk was locally sourced and organic, all of these facts were wasted on her. She just wanted a sweet, milky coffee and a place to get out her laptop and check Facebook, so not only was I a little sorry for her I was also confused as to why Jareth let her and other customers like her raise his blood pressure. Not everyone can be bothered to be a coffee fanatic, and no coffee shop can survive solely on the coin of the fanatics.
I turned my attention to the hideous weather outside. I was in my usual spot, nestled in the corner of the comfier sofa in the large bay window at the front of The Goblin King Coffee Company, my laptop and notebooks on the table in front of me along with the third Long Black of the morning. On the other side of the glass the rain was coming down sideways, reducing the visibility so much that I could not even see the beach, let alone the sea. I had come to make this spot my daily home when I had first arrived in Cromer two summers before, and the primary reason had been that I liked to look up from my writing and look out at the sea without having to move. Today’s weather was not really conducive to my getting my money’s worth. I squinted, hoping that screwing my face up would somehow reveal the waves and the sea, but in truth the visibility was so bad that nothing was going to make a difference.
“Can you believe that guy?”
I looked up to see the goth-girl that Jareth had been educating standing over me, Latté in hand and an injured look on her face.
“Oh yeah, I can absolutely believe him. Sorry I am a regular, and anyway Jareth owns the place so there’s no one to give him a dressing down over his preaching the gospel of coffee.”
She cracked a smile;
“Is it ok if I sit here?”
I nodded and she put her Latté down before settling into the less comfortable sofa opposite me. For a moment I watched as she arranged her skirt and then started to get out her laptop and then I realised that I was staring and turned back to the awesome if utterly depressing show being put on by Mother Nature.
I was snapped put of my reverie a few moments later by another question.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but you aren’t Caine Foster are you?”
Busted. Even since quitting London this did happen every four to six months; a keen fan or an up and coming journalist would work out where I was hiding, namely the North Norfolk Coast, and come and find me. I should never have put the thank you to The Goblin King Coffee Company in the last book’s acknowledgements. Ah well, time to plaster on a fake smile and play the game; these days no one but Gaiman sells enough genre books to be anything but gracious and charming to fans or the press.
“I am, it was the acknowledgement to the shop we both find ourselves in, right?”
She blushed a little, which with the whole goth aesthetic seemed a little jarring, and then there was that smile again.
“Yeah, I admit I was rather hoping that you would be here, I’m sorry to kinda corner you unannounced, but it’s just that I really need to talk to you and I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but it’s about Fran.”
It was at that moment that I really started to regret getting out of bed that morning. I had awoken early and immediately known it was one of those bitter November days that would drench and chill me to the bone just walking the three hundred yards from my loft to the coffee shop, but I had made myself do it anyway because writing every day is an important discipline. Now I was wishing that I had stayed in bed with some porn and pretended that it was a weekend. I steeled myself for a bit of a confrontation and made the supreme effort to maintain my more friendly demeanour as I answered.
“I don’t talk about my late wife, I’m sorry I don’t mean to be rude but I would appreciate it if you left me alone.”
The girl nodded, but she did not seem to be going anywhere, and then she started speaking again;
“I understand that, and from everything I have ever read I expected you to say that, but you see Fran was my sister, well half-sister actually and I really wanted to talk to you about a letter that I received from her just before she died.”
This was not the way these conversations usually went.
Fran had died about three years before, just after my second novel “Transom” had been short-listed for the Booker. She had been coming home from her mother’s house, just a normal Tuesday evening after her weekly Bridge game, when Bradshaw had picked her as his victim. Now I was being forced to re-live every horrid moment of that experience in a heartbeat before trying to formulate something to say to this young woman on front of me.
“Er, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really don’t want to talk about Fran or even have to think about her, and even more than that I never heard her mention you… I’m sorry what’s your name?”
“Andrea. My Mum married Fran’s Dad after he left, I’m sorry this hasn’t started well and it really has not gone anything like the way I wanted it to. I’ll leave you alone, I’m sorry.”
She started to get her stuff together and I was about to let her go, but the wound was already open again now and it had clearly been a big step to come and find me, there was no way I could let her just leave.
“No, please, stay. I need to be better at talking about what happened anyway, and you’re family, so please stay. I am sorry, you just caught me off guard. Tell me about this letter, please?”
Andrea settled back into the sofa and visibly relaxed. She took a big mouthful of her Latté and reached into her bag, retrieving a battered envelope upon which I could see Fran’s handwriting, so that was oddly comforting. I was less concerned that I was dealing with a nut-case, though I suppose Fran may have written to a nut-case without that person actually being her half-sister.”
“Would you like to read it?”
She held the envelope out towards me and I almost took it from her, but then I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that I will hear her voice in my head if I read her words and I can’t have that happen right now. I miss her so much and to be honest I’ve been managing by trying very hard to not think about her, and I am pretty certain that I will be unable to keep that up at all if I start hearing her voice again. What is the letter about?”
“Well, basically, we had only found one another about six months before she died and I was not in a position to come to England to meet her, I was under eighteen back then and I neither had a passport nor the money to get on a plane and our Dad did not want me to contact her so I could not exactly have asked him to pay for my travel. Anyway that meant that we wrote letters, roughly one a week for five months until I received this one from her about a week before she died. There’s nothing really remarkable about it, to be honest, apart from the fact that it’s the last letter that she wrote to me, well that and that she invited me to London in it, and offered to buy my flight. She said that she wanted to meet me properly and that she wanted to have you meet me too. Of course before any of that came to pass her death was on the news and I was pretty sure that you didn’t know that I even existed and I didn’t feel right about contacting you back then, but recently I was clearing out my room in my Dad’s house and I found this, her last letter again and I read it about ten times and finally decided to come and find you.”