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;
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 3

Nicholas Bradshaw killed women. There is no more refinement to it than that, though he would have tried to talk about saving them, cleaning their souls, ushering them into the presence of God. After he was caught he had a detailed and utterly psychotic rationale for the things that he did, but for anyone else it is important to see it as nothing more than he kidnapped, tortured, abused and then killed women.
The night that Fran Foster died, Nicholas Bradshaw had been following her, stalking her, for over six weeks, not that anyone had the slightest idea that he had. He knew that she would be stepping out onto the pavement in front of her mother’s Highgate home somewhere between eleven and eleven-thirty, and that she would be heading to Highgate Tube, a five minute walk, in order to catch the Northern Line back to Totteridge and Whetstone to get back to her home on Athaneum Road, that she shared with her novelist husband. He knew with an undeniable certainty that if he did not manage to abduct her before she reached the Tube he would not easily achieve her abduction, and so despite the fact that he was torn by doing so he broke of his surveillance of the mother’s home at 2245h in order to set up his abduction gag on the side of the street between the mother’s home and Highgate Tube Station.
Bradshaw took great pride in his skill as a hunter, and there was good reason to do so, as he actually did know exactly where Fran Foster would choose to cross the street on her way from her mother’s door to the Tube, in fact by following her day after day, week after week, he knew where she liked to buy her coffee and how she took it, what she generally had for breakfast, and what newspaper she bought when she bought one. As such he knew exactly where to park his van and wait for her to wander by.
The Police report and Bradshaw’s subsequent testimony both told a tale of an abduction that was precise and fast; one moment Fran was walking down the street, then she was stopping to look around because there was a van with its side door open and unattended and then she was unconscious in the back of the van. Fran Foster was the eighth woman that Bradshaw took, so he had put in a great deal of time and effort getting good at taking women by that point. Even if there had been anyone else on that quiet, affluent street that night there is a good chance that they would have had no idea that she was in trouble, or even that anything untoward was happening.
From Highgate Bradshaw took her to his lockup, under the arches in Bermondsey and there she spent an agonising thirty-six hours during which he raped her repeatedly, with implements and himself, he removed her left forearm and her right foot without any pain medication or anaesthetic and eventually he killed her by bleeding and beating her to death. He returned her body to the van, and as he had done seven times before he drove out into the Kent countryside and dropped the weighted bag containing her corpse into a small, private fishing lake.
It was a little over twelve hours from Fran Foster’s disappearance before the Metropolitan Police started to take notice. Her husband had already gone right over the edge, having spent the night calling and calling every hospital and walk-in clinic in the Greater London area, trying to find out what had happened to his wife. Four years of abstinence from smoking and drinking had already become a distant memory and Caine Foster was half-drunk and hoarse of voice when a CID detective sergeant from Barnet Police Station knocked on his door to respond in person to Mr. Foster’s six phone calls to the station in the previous twenty-four hours.
“Mr. Foster? Mr. Caine Foster?”
Detective Grayling was staring, trying to disguise his disgust at the appearance and smell of this distraught member of the public that he had been sent to follow up with.
“Yeah, yeah… Who are you?”
Grayling held up his warrant card and announced himself;
“Detective Sergeant Grayling, Barnet CID, Sir.”
Caine Foster straightened up and took his cigarette out of his mouth and tried to look a little more respectable.
“Oh, great, yeah please come in. Would you like a cuppa? Sorry about the mess, but I’ve been going out of my mind and I got to the point where I started drinking and, look I’m not proud of that, but my wife is definitely missing.”
“Tea would be great, Sir, thank you and don’t worry about the rest, I am sure that I would be in a worse state.”
Caine disappeared into the kitchen and Grayling heard the kettle being flicked on and the sounds of someone moving around the kitchen organising the bits and pieces needed to make tea. He let his eyes flick around the living room and noted the pile of papers and the laptop on the dining table and the legal pad with a list of hospitals and there respective numbers, each one scored with multiple crossings out. The Guv had briefed Grayling that Caine Foster had called the station six times throughout the night, increasingly frantic and inebriated between the hours of roughly one a.m. and nine a.m. It was now nearly noon of the following day and it seemed that Foster had maybe slept a little, after he had been assured, during his final call, that a detective would come out to take his statement that day. The ashtray was not overflowing by any stretch of the imagination, but there was clear evidence of some pretty heavy smoking and the overall impression that he was able to divine was that Foster at least believed that something bad had indeed happened.
Moments later the slightly less dishevelled Caine Foster reappeared carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of tea, a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar which he placed on the coffee table and motioned for Grayling to sit.
“Thanks for coming, Sergeant. I’ve called around, my wife is not in any of the hospitals, but she should have been home last night before midnight, but I have had no word from her, I can’t reach her mobile and her mother has no idea what happened to Fran after she left there at around eleven last evening.”
Grayling reached into an inside pocket and pulled out his notebook and a pencil.
“Sergeant, do you mind if I smoke? I mean it’s my house and everything, but I don’t want to…”
“Please, Mr. Foster, go right ahead. Frankly it’s a relief because I expect you are not going to care one way or the other if I have one?”
Caine laughed and a brief smile stole across his face, then he nodded and set about lighting his smoke.
Grayling paused and retrieved a Marlboro from his other jacket pocket, lit it and then picked up his notebook and thumbed through it until he found the notes that he had made when speaking with his DI before he had left the station.
“So, Mr. Foster…”
“Please call me Caine, Mr. Foster was my Dad, I just can’t get used to it.”
“Sure, Caine, my notes tell me that you first called the station at around one a.m. and that you reported to the duty sergeant that you had already called a large number of hospitals but that you could find no trace of your wife, one Francesca Foster, who had never returned from her mother’s home in Highgate, having left there at around eleven p.m. Is that correct?”
Caine nodded, and then took a long deep drag on his cigarette without looking up.
“From that point on you called a further five times, despite the duty Sergeant informing you that your wife would need to be unaccounted for for a period of no longer than twenty-four hours before a formal missing person’s report could be made?”
Caine nodded again.
“I gather from the content of those calls that you were also in regular contact with your mother-in-law, a one Mrs. Geraldine Hunstead of Highgate, and that she and yourself were making repeated calls to local and Greater London hospitals to attempt to trace your wife, on the assumption that her failure to arrive home was most likely explained by some unfortunate accident befalling her en route?”
Caine nodded, looking up to make eye contact with Grayling at that point. He dimped out his cigarette and immediately fished another out of the pack not he table, lit it and went back to looking at his tea.
“So, Caine, your wife was in the habit of visiting her mother on Tuesday evenings and traveling home alone on foot and on the Tube?”
“Yes, she had done it since I knew her, since before we moved in here together before we were married. She had never had any problems with the journey. I knew that even if things were really bad on the Tube, she would be home by midnight. When she didn’t come home by midnight I texted, then texted again, then phoned. I could not reach her, so I called Gerry. She was not immediately worried, but while we were on the line she checked and when she realised that there were no reported issues on the Tube her voice started to falter. She kept repeating that Fran had left just after eleven, that she ought to be home by now. It was shortly after that, that I called the first few hospitals. I was on my mobile so I wandered out to the high road and then down to our Tube station, but I could not find any sign of her. I popped into the 24 hour place and bought some cigarettes; you know something deep down knew that something was very wrong because I bought two packs straight away. My unconscious mind knew that I was going to need them…”
Caine broke off coughing like a TB sufferer, and as he recovered and looked up at Grayling once more the detective could see tears in the corners of his eyes.
“Mr. Foster, sorry, Caine. There is every chance that your wife is completely fine, she has not been gone for a full twenty-four hours, Hell I am only here because you are a persistent caller and someone recognised your name. I mean I probably should not be saying this, but you are a writer, you have a Twitter following, you know? If you were not a known person, with something of your own voice that people pay attention to we would be waiting for more time to pass. I have to ask you some tougher questions, are you ok with that?”
Caine nodded, a look of resignation starting to settle on his brow.
“OK, so Caine, there is no way to ask this delicately, but would you describe your marriage as happy?”
Caine sighed, lit yet another cigarette and this time took a belt of whisky that had been sitting there in a glass on tiger coffee table since Grayling had come in before he answered.
“What is a happy marriage, Sergeant? Do you mean were we content with one another, were we faithful, were we still fucking each other?”
Grayling shifted in his seat, suddenly aware of how badly he had ripped open this can of worms.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant, none of this is your fault, but honestly, look at me. Do I strike you as a man who is anything other than lost without his wife for a paltry twelve hours? Were we happy? Well honestly that has to do with far more than our feelings for one another and the fundamentals of marriage. I mean I have been struggling with writer’s block since Transom didn’t win the Booker, the book I published after was actually written before and frankly my publisher was pushing me for something and I lied and said it was new, so I’ve been unhappy on some level for a while, and that leads to stresses and strains in any marriage. Are you asking me if I did something to my wife, the answer is no. If you are asking me if there is a chance that my wife hurt herself I would have to say no. Were we happy? The jury is out on that one Sergeant.”

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;
“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.”

Another image from Saturday…

Last Saturday (as per entries passim), I spent some time photographing a model from the US, who works under the name Floofie. We spent some of that time in a local studio in Sevenoaks, adding to my “Shadow Walkers” project.

The image above has been chosen for this post specifically because it is Facebook safe (or ought to be) so I can publish this post ‘everywhere’ without fear of repercussions, but if you would like to see the rest (NSFW), you can see them in either of the following locations (the Flickr link will require that you are signed in, to at least a free account, and that you have set your content filter accordingly, whereas the 500px link will just require you to toggle nudity):

Shadow Walkers – Floofie (on Flickr)

Shadow Walkers – Floofie (on 500px)

Comments / feedback always welcome 🙂

Shooting again…

Today I had a really great half a day shooting with a model from the States who contacted me in the run up to her visit to the UK. She was very complimentary about my work and wondered if I would be interested in working with her while she was in the UK, and having checked out her portfolio I decided that it was an opportunity I should not miss. There is no doubt I was right about this.

Home, home on the Range…

So I started playing Minecraft again, and I am enjoying it much, much more than I did last time and I think that this is both because I have embraced the way in which I can treat it as a casual game and still have fun and achieve things.

I am playing Multiplayer on DakkaDakka, courtesy of a “vouch” from a friend, and that’s a different experience again, but on my current Single Player game I have decided to do two things

  1. Build an incredible mountain fastness with exciting dungeons of adventure beneath
  2. Move the map as it currently is “up” to Minecraft Realms so that I can share it with select friends and essentially have my World backed up “in the cloud” without having to admin an MC server, which while I am sure I could manage represents time that I could spend branch mining or looking into how to get into the Nether. Yes I am that much of a n00b

Anyway, here are some pics from my soon-to-be Realm, let me know if you would be interested in logging on every now and again and helping me civilise the place 😉