Words from my Stories: The Wait
I just published my first novella. 70+ pages of action, emotion and drama set during a 20 hour period in London. It's called The Wait and is available now to download on Kobo and Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads shelves.
If you'd told me six months ago that I'd be publishing a short novel that would fall under the genres "crime" or "suspense" or "action", I would have laughed at you. But I'm so glad that today's that's exactly what I'm doing.
It all began in the shower. My shower, yes, but not me in my shower. It was my partner in the shower (alone as far as I know) and he walked out with an idea for a story. "What if you had a guy sat in an A&E waiting room with some nasty injury and you don't know what's happened to him? The rest of the story is putting the pieces of that puzzle together." I should come clean and say that most of NewMan's story ideas for me involve robots and/or quantum physics so I sat they're waiting for the "....and then a blackhole swallowed them up and spat them out in an alternate universe..." but that never came. He just wanted to know what happened to that guy waiting to be seen in an A&E ward somewhere in the world.
Of course, I made that place London and I made the injury, the main character and his story something NewMan wasn't expecting to read about, and hopefully there will be enough twists and turns to keep you entertained too.
Download The Wait now!
Below is an extract from the story (NB It's a bit NSFW!!) and here are your links for downloading the rest of the story:
Remember you don't need a Kindle or a Kobo device to read books, just a Smartphone with the free-to-download Kindle app or Kobo reader app. (There's more information on all this here.) If you're looking for the epub file, go to Kobo, or if you'd prefer the pdf version, well, get in touch with me and I'll sort you out!
Now read and enjoy...
Two female nurses are giggling behind the counter. Looking over the shoulders of the fat receptionist who checked me in, they’re pointing at something on her computer screen. I don’t want to know what they’re all laughing at. I want to know why my name hasn’t been called yet.
I’ve been here nearly an hour and the handful of tissues I’m holding up to the right side of my face is almost completely soaked through with blood. I give all three of them a narrow stare with my left eye and the fat receptionist raises her gaze long enough for it to lock in with me. She wrinkles her nose and I can see the faint, blue-black hair on her upper lip twitch. Then she turns her head and looks up at the double doors I walked through earlier.
Three young men are walking in, the one in the middle hopping on one leg, his arms hooked around the neck of his companions. I can tell from the way his right foot hangs, pointing slightly outwards, that his ankle is broken. As they get closer, I can smell beer, cigarette smoke and too much cologne. By the time they’ve reached the reception desk the nurses have shuffled away. The fat receptionist takes a long sip from her can of Coke as she listens to them tell their story.
“He better not go in before me,” I mumble.
“Sorry?” The man beside me says.
“Nothing,” I say. A drop of blood zig-zagging its way down my nose.
He goes back to reading the news headlines on his phone. Re-crossing his legs, I hear another bored sigh push its way through his lips.
Why hasn’t he left yet? I ask myself as I go back to giving the fat receptionist a dirty look. She is telling the three young men to take a seat, even though there aren’t any spare. After they move away, I hear the chime of her empty Coke can hit the rubbish bin behind her desk. It bounces off the side once, twice before settling in a tinny rumble at the bottom.
It all began at 7 o’clock that morning.
I was asleep in someone else’s bed dreaming about blowing up a warehouse that was used to store illegally imported weapons, the two crooks responsible locked inside. The bang I thought was the explosion turned out to be the front door closing downstairs.
“Shit!” Kim said.
I’d barely opened my eyes when they were cloaked in darkness again, my head covered by my jeans.
“It’s him! He’s home. You’ve got to go!”
“He must have got an earlier flight. He does that sometimes. Oh crap! I should have known. He was going on about being more romantic on the phone last night but I didn’t think anything of it.”
I was half-dressed by the time Kim stopped talking.
“How am I going to get out?” I pulled my T-shirt over my head smelling the sour stink of yesterday on it.
“You’ll have to take the window.”
I tutted but walked to the wall. The wood of the window frame squeaked as I pushed it up. A rush of cold air reminded me to look for my jumper and jacket, and I grabbed them off the floor. We looked at each other as we heard him calling from the hallway downstairs.
“Shit, shit, shit. Get out!” said Kim, still sitting in bed.
I threw my jacket and jumper out and in the limited morning light I saw them land on the roof of the extension nine feet below. Bloody Victorian houses and their tall ceilings. I didn’t think about telling Kim to shut the window after me or to punch the dip out of the pillow my head had laid on all night. That wasn’t my problem.
“Call me,” I heard Kim say as I lowered myself out, forced to drop the last few feet. I felt the pain as soon as I landed, tipping forwards onto all-fours. My left ankle had collapsed to the side, sending a shooting pain up my leg. Ignoring it, I tried to get up. When I pushed up with my hands I felt a heat in my palms where they’d grated along the flat roof’s gravel finish.
“Fuck!” I shouted out the pain. I heard Kim slam the window shut in response. When I looked up, I saw the curtains were already closed.
I stood, wiped the gravel off my hands on my jeans and grabbed my clothes, pulling my jumper over my head and poking my arms into the jacket sleeves. The pain in my ankle was starting to diminish and I tried walking on it, my way of confirming it wasn’t broken. I hobbled to the right side of the roof and looked for the tops of the rubbish bins. I slid myself down and felt the green one wobble as I tested it with a little, half and then all of my weight. A few seconds later, I was on the pavement and limping down the side of the house and out of the side gate.
That was when I looked at the clock on my phone for the first time. 07.07. Seven never was my lucky number.
I had plenty of time to walk to work. There was even enough time to go home, get showered and changed, but I couldn’t be bothered to catch the trains and tubes or buses this would involve. I was already awake and my logic was that if I went in early I could at least try and get away early. I laughed out loud at my naivety in thinking this. On the other side of the road a teenage girl in school uniform, carrying a bag that was broader than her, gave me a wide-eyed look.
I walked on and turned off the road I was on to then crisscross down a few more streets. After a few minutes I was away from those leafy suburban avenues and walking down a road that looked very different. It was a road I knew well from a past life. Lined with a row of garages on one side and a tall brick wall along the other, the wall separated me from a tired Sixties’ high-rise that, unless you lived there, most people avoided thanks to a reputation for gangs, drug deals, muggings and worse. Last year a man had been killed with the broken neck of a beer bottle, twisted and turned right into the centre of his heart. That wasn’t the shocking thing. The victim was a local drug lord and someone had picked up the chair he was sat in and put him on the balcony of his fourth floor apartment so passers-by could see him. Such was the fear of him, the police and the potential consequences, he was sat out there for nine hours before someone called 999.
Daylight was starting to win its fight against darkness so I would have to be quick. I picked a ten-year old black Ford Focus and I was inside in seconds. It took longer to get it started and if it hadn’t been for a newspaper from yesterday folded on the dashboard and the dank smell of fast food only fractionally masked by an air freshener in the shape of a cannabis leaf, I would have started to think that the car had been left there because it no longer ran. But instead I persevered. Bent under the steering wheel, as my fingers worked the wires and a lonely bead of sweat travelled down my forehead diagonally, I heard a voice.
“Oi! What the… get out of my fucking car!”
I sat up and looked around but couldn’t see anyone. I pressed my head to the window and looked up at the high-rise. A man in a yellow vest and white Y-fronts was leaning over a balcony some floors up and pointing at me. He had long black dreadlocked hair which reached below his waist and his arms were covered in tattoos I doubted he’d spent a lot, if any, money on. He rushed back into the flat only to appear a second later. He yelled something else at me, but was now waving a crowbar around to emphasise his point. Then he disappeared inside again. I smiled at how convenient it was for him to have such a weapon so easily to hand, but I wasn’t about to wait around for him to join me so I could tell him that.
I was in half a mind to walk away, or run away truth be told, but the buzz of the risk and the danger had kicked in. Because the odds looked good, I started to enjoy myself. I assumed he was still a good five or six minutes away thanks to all those stairs - the lift no doubt out of order - and I knew he’d have to run around the full length of the wall to get to me. After a few more minutes of battling away, I heard the Ford’s engine shuffle into a rhythm. I shifted my feet, one forwards and one back, and I pushed the gear stick into place. I was in third gear by the time the dreadlocked man had reached street level and was running after me, the crowbar shaking as he pointed it at the back of his car.
“Nice try, mate!” I shouted through the closed windows.
“Do you want a coffee or tea?” The man next to me stands up and runs a hand along the top of his head.
I shake my head, even though I do.
“If I go get a coffee, are you going to walk out?”
“What do you think?” I lift the bundle of tissues away from my face and turn to him. I hope both of my eyebrows are raised because I’m making my headache worse by trying to lift them up. As I put the tissues back I feel how soggy and sticky they are. I haven’t looked in a mirror since it happened. I wonder if I still look like me; pale, wrinkling skin pulled tight against boney features, a beard of black stubble dotted with grey, and a broad mouth capable of producing the kind of smile that redeems not only the rest of my face but also my tall, skinny frame, which has always been useless at holding on to either muscle or fat.
He turns and looks around. I point to the coffee machine a twenty-metre walk to the right. He nods and shoves his hands in his trousers’ pockets for change. I notice again how well tailored his clothes are. His shoes are polished to a mirror-like shine and for the last hour or so I’ve been trying to decipher what the name of his cologne is. The only conclusion I have come to is that it is expensive. But I already knew he had money.
“Can you grab me some more tissue?” I ask through clenched teeth.
With my good eye, I watch him walk to the coffee machine. He spends a few seconds looking at it before pressing a button, and then another one. It must be the first time he’s ever got coffee out of a machine, I think to myself. He probably gets someone to do it for him normally. I turn my head away, fed up of looking at his shiny shoes and his camel-coloured coat which must have cost more than most people’s monthly salary. I go back to staring at the fat receptionist who is now attacking a Snickers bar with the kind of vigour I’ve only ever seen on someone who hadn’t eaten solid food for three days.
The man came back holding two plastic cups and a small stack of napkins.
“It gave me a tea by accident. You might as well have it.”
I take the napkins and a cup from him, ignoring the grey-brown colour of the liquid and hoping there’s sugar in it.
I think about suggesting that he goes now he’s in a vaguely charitable mood, but his phone starts ringing and he stands up to answer it. He takes two steps to the side and then he turns to place a level gaze on me, his dark brows heavy and loaded.
“Yes, we’re still here… No… No, I’m not going anywhere.”
I look down and sip my tea. There’s no sugar in it and I can taste limescale more than anything else. Looking ahead of me again, I see the fat receptionist is staring at her computer screen and crumpling up the empty Snickers wrapper slowly in her hand, her fat tongue licking her lips like she doesn’t want to miss a scrap.
I pulled into Joe’s Garage at a quarter past eight. I tucked the Ford in a small slot between a mini bus and an old ice cream van Joe said he was going to convert one of these days. As I got out of the car, a train rattled along the line above the arches, three of which were occupied by the garage and workshop. Slowing as it approached the station ahead, I saw a full train, men and women in suits pushed up to the window. I thought about how my day had started and realised it could be worse.
“Conrad?” A deep voice emerged from inside the garage.
I stepped inside and saw Joe roll himself out from under a silver Audi. Not for the first time, I wondered how he got that belly of his under a car in the first place, or how he didn’t get stuck on his way out.
“You’re early,” he said and craned his neck up to watch me walk in. I could tell he was thinking about getting up but he couldn’t really be bothered.
“Got you a present outside. The black Focus,” I pointed out the front. “Not many miles on the clock.”
He sniffed. “Up to your old tricks again? Thought you were out of that game.”
“What can I say? I don’t like getting the tube in rush hour,” I said.
He tutted and rolled back under the car. I started walking to the back of the workshop, my ankle sending pains shooting up my leg that I tried to ignore. To the right there was a small office plastered in faded Page 3 girls ripped out of newspapers dating back over the last few decades. As I walked up to the door I held my breath, not wanting to inhale the stink that sneaked its way outside courtesy of Joe’s Finance Manager, a man I liked to call B.O. Bruce. He was sat at a desk smoking a cigarette that never left his mouth and looking like he was about to get swallowed by the heap of paperwork he always had in front of him.
“Alright Bruce?” I said and kept moving.
“Con’! You know what I’m going to say,” he pushed himself away from his desk and rolled towards the door. “I’m still waiting… Haven’t forgotten.”
“As if you would,” I said, walking to the left and squeezing down the side of an old MG MGB that I always thought Joe should prioritise sorting out because he might actually enjoy himself.
“I should charge you fucking interest!” I heard Bruce shout to my back.
“You have a good day too, Bruce!”
When I reached the door, I punched in the code and heard the lock slide open. As I walked in, I let myself breathe properly again and my nostrils quickly filled with the scent of coffee, trapped air and dust. Walking down the dark, narrow corridor I wondered who would be there already. It was a toss-up between The Geek and The Soldier, the former still awake from the night before and the latter already half way through his day, unable to shake off the four o’clock starts he’d been put through for years.
I walked into the largest of the four rooms we had. This one served as both a staff room and meeting room. Opposite, the smallest room was little more than a cupboard and it served as storage for us although only I had the key. Next door was a grotty but necessary bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet that no-one ever cleaned, and the final room at the end of the corridor was my office, though I rarely worked from there, finding the windowless walls too close together.
“Morning,” I said nodding at both The Geek and The Soldier, sitting at opposite ends of the large table that dominated the room. There was a laptop in front of The Geek and a hardback book in front of The Solider. I could have put money on them having not said more than a few words to each other in the last few hours.
“Morning Sir,” said The Soldier, closing his book and standing up. I couldn’t be bothered to tell him to sit down. It never made any difference.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Not a lot,” muttered The Geek. The laptop’s screen made his skin look even more grey and translucent than it really was. “I’ve got two Trojan attacks still active and a take-down about to go live.”
I felt my forehead crumple. “Which one is that? Actually, don’t tell me… I don’t need to know. Is this coffee fresh?”
“Brewed five minutes ago, Sir,” said The Soldier. He was twitching badly today. I wondered if he’d taken his meds yet.
With a cup of coffee in my hand I sat down in the chair nearest the door. It was an old office chair with a thinning seat cushion and squeaking wheels and as it wheezed under my weight I tried to recall where it had come from. I used to remember everything, like how long it had taken to convert these storage rooms into our offices and what the ridiculous name of the paint on the walls had been. It plagued me that I could only piece bits of memory together; the day I’d approached Joe with the proposition, who had been there at the beginning, and the way I’d emptied my loft of all my gear and dumped it in the cupboard down the corridor that only I had a key to.
This was before The Geek and The Solider. This was when I had to build a team almost from scratch, or rather from the thin threads of contacts I already had. There was The Madam, of course, and she had introduced me to The Doctor and The Hairdresser, though we didn’t talk about the latter anymore. He had been our first casualty so no-one mentioned his name, as if doing so would bring us the same fate. Nor did we discuss other former teammates, like The Snake Charmer and The Bouncer, as they wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon. The Waster had joined at the same time as them, in those early months, while The Soldier and The Geek were recent recruits, barely six months into their employment. So now we were a disjointed group of six, or four and two part-timers really, as The Doctor refused to step foot inside Joe’s and The Madam was always too busy with her own business to attend our weekly meetings. That left The Geek, The Soldier, The Waster and me trying to get some work done.
“Is there anything that needs doing?” The Solider stood up and stared down at me. His body became completely rigid, but he still couldn’t stop that wild side of his face from twitching. His eyes were bloodshot and dry. He was ageing faster than he should be. He looked nearly as old as me.
“Not really, we’ll wait for Waster to come in with a report on how his night shift went and then we’ll go from there.” I said. The Soldier’s shoulders sank and the fingers on his left hand started to quiver. “Actually, there is something. There’s a black Ford Focus outside. Grab a screwdriver and take the plates off for Joe. Also, empty the inside of the car. Take anything you can find in the front, back, in the boot, anywhere, and bring it all here. Rubbish and everything. Don’t put anything in the bin.”
I half expected a salute before he turned and left the room.
“He’s getting worse,” said The Geek after we’d heard the main door click shut. “He sat there reading the same page of that book for seventeen minutes earlier. Probably longer because I got bored of keeping track.”
“He’s alright,” I said.
“He’s not reliable,” The Geek said with steady eyes.
“He’s trustworthy, which counts for a lot in this business.”
“But he’s unstable. He’s unwell.”
I wanted to say more, to stick up for The Soldier, to put The Geek down for being nothing but a brain, a computer and an inexhaustible collection of stripy T-shirts, but I wasn’t sure I could argue against the valid point he was trying to make.
The Geek shrugged and fixed his eyes back on the screen in front of him.
The caffeine from the coffee was starting to pump through my veins and awaken my senses. I took a moment to think about Kim and the fallout that was probably happening in that house right now. I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out my phone. It was dead and didn’t even have enough juice left in it to switch on again. I rolled my chair over to the wall where I kept my charger and plugged it in. I finished the rest of my coffee alternating between watching The Geek tap away and staring at the brick walls I’d painted black. What was the name of that paint? It had only been five years ago. It’s not like I had a series of hits to the head to blame like The Bouncer or a lifetime of brawls and battles to blur the brain cells like The Soldier. Maybe it was finally happening to me. I was ageing, my youth slip-sliding away forever. Now that was something I couldn’t steal back.
My thoughts were interrupted by the main door opening and closing. We smelt The Waster before we saw him.
“Morning chaps!” He said, a broad, slightly crazed grin on his face. He was dressed in a suit that looked like it might have once fit before he lost half his body weight, and his hair was slicked back, completely covered in something greasy.
“Good night?” I asked.
“Two out of two missions completed successfully. Any chatter on the radio?” He asked the Geek who shook his head without looking up.
“Good-oh!” The Waster said and kicked off his shoes, which were visibly two or three sizes too big. He looked down at them. “You know, I always forget to ask about shoe size. Quite ridiculous really, and terribly unprofessional of me. But how about this?” He did a little turn in front of us. “Armani. And not the off the rack version. Sadly not tailored to my slim hips but it will do. I suppose I better go have a shower before the meeting…”
“Thank God for that, you smell really bad this morning.” I said.
“As would you if you spent most of the night sleeping in other people’s urine and rummaging in supermarket bins.”
“You enjoy it really,”
“Indeed I do. Can’t get enough of it!” He grinned so hard his eyes squeezed shut. “Geekus Maximus - you’ll keep an eye on things for me if I go and have a shower, freshen up a bit?”
There was a quick nod from the far end of the table.
“Jolly good. No sign of Madame this morning?” He always said her name with a French accent. He thought it made him seem he was making light of her when we all knew he had the kind of feelings for her that can really weigh a man down.
“Not yet,” I said and topped up my coffee cup, wanting to get in there before The Waster was back from his shower. There wasn’t enough for both of us.
“Oh, I thought you might like this,” The Waster said standing in the doorway. He threw something at me, it was silver and as it flew towards me it caught what little light there was coming from the single light bulb hanging over the table. I caught it and rolled it over in my hand. It was a Rolex, a real one. And a good model too. I bobbed my hand up and down as if weighing it.
“I want half,” he called out from halfway down the corridor.
I placed the Rolex on the desk and stuck my hand in the inside pocket of my jacket to get the keys to my safe. The pocket was empty.
“Shit!” I said out loud. I thought about my jacket lying on Kim’s floor. I remembered how I’d tossed it out of the window myself. My imagination served me an image of the keys, spread-eagled on the roof of Kim’s extension. It wasn’t my house keys I was bothered about. It was the three other keys I always wanted on me; two of which opened safes - one in my house and the other in my office - and the third key was to the cupboard where I kept all our gear.
“What?” The Geek said and he almost sounded like he cared.
“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head. “I’ll make more coffee.”
I stood up and walked over to the single kitchen unit on the back wall of the room and realised that by this single, simple action I’d confirmed to The Geek that something really was up. I never made coffee for everyone.
As always, I'm very grateful for all your support and encouragement as I continue publishing books. It means a lot!
Featured image: Source
Frances M. Thompson
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