Moorlands is now available – the paperback is out soon. Big thanks to Christopher Lucania for the cracking cover, top man Ryan Bracha, Mark Wilson, Ed James, Carmen Amato, Aidan Thorn (check out the fantastic Paladins), Sheetal Contractor, and my wife for her patience with my avoiding chores while writing the bugger.
Below is an excerpt. Hope you enjoy it.
London Road once smelled of chips, cheap beer, and piss. You could still smell it all when the wind tossed the aroma around. Now I sniffed my way past classy Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants. I wouldn’t mind eating in one at present, but I knew I’d foot Brendan’s bill. The tatty Peacock pub across the road had to do. I entered beneath the pub’s swinging sign, the animated bird’s feathers as dowdy as the establishment.
Dim wall lamps and a couple of bare bulbs hardly exposed the night’s shadows. Talk from every corner lifted and merged with an old ABC classic. It all mushed senseless in my ears. I arced my back, rested my belly into the bar. I didn’t see Brendan.
The barman crowbarred a smile. “Hi, can I help you?”
“Two John Smiths, please.”
I expected Brendan by my side the moment beer clacked the bar’s top. I glanced over my shoulder just to check the entrance – expected his nose in the air, helpless to resist the smell of generosity. Wish I hadn’t. I caught Stan – sat at the table in the bay window, surrounded by three burly fellas, one of them familiar. Stan’s nod as good as chinned me. I turned back to the bar, took a sip, pretended I’d not seen him. Stupid, because I’d held his stare. Got pulled into those tractor-beam blue eyes set in his dagger face. I might even have nodded back.
Stan didn’t drink at pubs like this. He ate at fancy restaurants, drank at their bars, socialised at members-only establishments. What brought him here? My eyelashes blinked a dozen times at the same tempo as my heart. I breathed deep, pepped up some surprise, and turned to scan the area again. He nodded a second time. This time my mouth popped an ‘oh’ shape. I turned my eyes into saucers, let my eyebrows reach for the dirty chandelier. I made half a move towards him, but hesitated. His demeanour had invited nothing. I grasped my beer. My hand shook. Hoped it didn’t cause spillage as I lifted and pointed at it, a gesture to see if he’d like me to buy him one.
He shook his head, light and barely perceptible. It signified more than rejection. He disapproved. He must ask why I spent money on booze – a diversion from his pocket. I sipped on the beer, held my position, defied his disapproval. The fat man by his side had the Hitchcock outline I’d seen outside the disused factory in Attercliffe, but the dim lights might have played with my eyes.
I realised I fondled the phone in my jeans. Couldn’t help but slide it from my pocket. The phone’s screen acted as balm to my eyes, an escape from the surrounds which scratched my vision.
A voicemail from Brendan relieved fear that it came from the man sat in the bay window, whose eyes tracked every shuffle I made. Brendan couldn’t make it. Something last-minute had turned up. I didn’t expect a woman had diverted him from our meeting. I couldn’t imagine he had a job interview to pull him from his free pint. The bastard had stood me up for TV.
I shook my head, angry at groups of friends who drank together, laughed together, talked bullshit together. I scoured Twitter and Facebook again, must have been the fiftieth time this day. I checked trends, Sheffield hashtags, Sheffield and crime hashtags … I found nothing, but I could have entered the wrong word combinations. Sometimes this shit comes under weird and obscure tags. Worried for George’s mind. I turned by degrees away from Stan’s glare. I needed a long gulp of beer to drown the cringe induced by how I imagined George’s lesson today. Had he gone through the motions, or ranted at the kids? I could imagine them, like all of us, resting chins on palms, wrists all limp from sleep-desire as he droned about the Tudors, or Hitler, or whatever mad tyrants they taught now.
I drank Brendan’s pint, and that turned to another. A shot arrived from nowhere. Stan raised his glass when I checked behind. He wasn’t so bad. He’d been good about the money I owed, about the job which went so wrong. I’m sure he’d extorted money from a few insurance scams, but look at him: a model of respectability. He stood in contrast to the berks I still call my friends. Tommy had gone missing for years and came back like his soul had swum in oil swamps. He’d emerged all Kurtz. I wondered if his blood would spout the black stuff if I cut him. Brendan, on the other hand, a man lost – always tired from the shit he lugged around the warehouse all day, and paid shit for the privilege. George taught a subject he loves to a bunch of kids who had no idea what the past meant or why they had to know about any of it. And now Bernie’s left him. Fool. Should have stopped worrying about those little fuckers and concentrated on his clever missis.
I downed the shot in Stan’s honour, winced at the burn and the bitter tang as it clawed at my tongue, and slammed it on the bar as if I had company in a drinking contest. I thought about getting out of there, but the place had livened up. Bodies nudged me. Hands raised to get the barman’s attention. Maybe George should do this job. Laughter peeled from all sides like glorious church bells. Made me smile. Made me hide that smile again as if I intruded into other people’s private jokes. I expected Charlotte had gone out with friends tonight, so I stayed, alone among people.
I downed another pint. My view became letter-box shaped. I thought it my third, but I could drink a Russian horizontal, and the buzz which vibrated through my skull made me think this one added up to the tenth. How time flies when others are having fun.
I think I smiled at a blonde who had shuffled by my side. She ordered wine and shots. Wore a tight white dress, which seemed an invitation for stains. Her first glance my way seemed the kind you reserve for a bum on the street, where you just want to walk past and pretend they’re not there, but you must look because he’s human after all. Then she unzipped her pursed lips, and her eyes screwed into sympathy.
Couldn’t stand it, so I stood straight and turned my whole being to face her, a social soldier awaiting inspection and approval.
“Hiya, love.” I had to shout above the white noise.
“Are you okay?” She lodged a hand on my arm, I think to keep me steady as the room spun.
What a shambles. I’m barely into my thirties and ten pints of John Smiths had got the room disco-balling.
“From your friend.” The barman planted another shot by my elbow.
“Sheers.” I turned back to the woman and laughed. “Wouldyer like to join me?” I reached for her arm, missed, embedded my face on her shoulder. My chin rested on a boob. I might have fallen asleep on it for a moment, but she pushed me upright. She seemed full of care. Dunno why – I’d just copped a feel.
Some bloke, an inch shorter than me, asked if she needed assistance. My snort asked what his problem entailed. He bristled, thought the little woman needed his muscle. I sneered at him for the gentle shake of her head. Told him to move along. Nothing to see here. The knobhead showed me the whites of his eyes from behind her, mad at the attention she gave me. I showed him the glories of my white teeth, forgetting I might have peanut bits in the gaps.
“You’re a nut, Larry.” She slapped my chest, all playful.
“You’re … a … nut.”
I screwed my eyes tight, focused hard through the tiny aperture, and nearly spat those peanut bits across her face in laughter. I grabbed the shot Stan had sent, held it tight thinking I could drop it any moment, and gulped it down. “Erin, babes.”
The bar seemed to rise above. The chandelier pulled away. Its dirty light sparkled like a thousand stars before my lids blacked everything out.
Moorlands is available from Amazon