Of course, my problem was then that the only work in progress I had was a spreadsheet with around 68 scene titles forming the plot structure for the sequel to River of Judgement. And Microsoft Excel spreadsheets do not make riveting reads.
Well, the challenge was then to write the first scene or two! So that's what I did yesterday afternoon, in between business meetings. I sat at a cafe in London's Covent Garden market place, amongst heaving crowds of tourists, all wondering what this stange guy in a suit was doing, head bent over the table, scribbling madly into a note book!
So, in the words of C.J. "I know it needs some work..." but here you are (without pictures this time) the first 2000 words of the sequel, hot of my brand new notebook! It's uncut, unedited... and at the time of posting, less than 24 hours old! Remember folks: you read it here first!
It was not a good day to be hauled out of his hotel bed. The Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli had all the comforts he could wish for. But the day had not been good. In fact, there really had been no good days recently.
The Corinthia suffered from the fact that it had little real competition in terms of International-standard accommodation. He’d seen better service and, while his room was clearly modelled on five star luxury, the price he had been paying since his exit from London was proving outrageous. But, strangely, if it had not been for his circumstances, he might actually have enjoyed the sojourn.
Exile was a good descriptor for where he found himself. Oh! He could roam about if he wished. There were no bars on his windows. He was free to come and go… but to go where? For what reason? He was fed up of the restaurant food, but there was little alternative but to eat in. Of course he could get to the Green Square area of the city, but the walk through the old town rarely seemed worth the effort. At the height of a North African summer, movement was a game of jumping from air conditioned environment to air conditioned environment.
No! For Aaron Philips, fugitive from British justice, today was a bad day, and it was going rapidly down hill.
‘Mr Philips?’ said the man in front of him now. ‘I do have your full and undivided attention, do I not? …Mr Philips?’
His contemplation abruptly terminated, Aaron sat forward on a low, white leather stool. His concentration returned to the man opposite. Despite the air conditioning humming in the background, he felt the beads of sweat gather at the nape of his neck, an run, uncontrolled, onto his shirt collar. The man looked at ease as he sat wearing his traditional Berber cloak of thick white wool. Two other men stood, patiently, either side and to the rear of the large sprawling white leather sofa the man occupied. They stood motionless in clichéd black suits, with black open-necked shirts. The dark, Arabic features of the three men made a stark contrast with the clean white contemporary lines of the furniture.
‘Yes,’ Aaron said finally.
A white cat would have been too much. But, surreally, the thought amused Aaron. A white cat would have been welcome; it would have brought with it an air of Hollywood ambivalence – the chance that this encounter was merely some staged joke over which he could conjure his own outcome, if he wished. Take it or leave it. But he could not leave it. This was no joke – just the menacing presentation of a single option for his continued presence on earth.
The day was not going at all well, thought Aaron. He was, for the first time in his life, scared. He had no idea where all this was going.
‘Mr Philips, you…’ began the man, speaking quietly and deliberately. ‘You have created a problem for me and for my clients.’
Aaron was all ears now, intent, listening.
‘We came to you,’ the man continued, ‘…because friends recommended you.’
Friends, Aaron thought. More people with a grudge against me now.
The use of the past tense struck Aaron hard. Unseen, his body reeled from the metaphoric blow. His career was shot, but that seemed the least of his problems.
‘…highly recommended,’ continued the man, who clearly had no interest in what Aaron might be feeling at this moment. ‘We wanted a legal, financial vehicle to move a great deal of our cash through London. You “were”…’
Again the past tense, again the sudden blow to Aaron’s psyche.
‘We are very disappointed. You have cost us a lot of money. It is time, Mr Phillips.’
‘Time?’ echoed Aaron.
‘Yes, time. Time for you to take action.
‘Time? said Aaron, pathetically. He tried his best not to comprehend what was happening.
‘Time for you to clean up some loose ends.’
‘But…’ began Aaron.
‘No buts, Mr Philips. This is embarrassing for us all. We will, of course, provide you with some assistance. However,…’
‘Yes?’ said Aaron.
‘Make no mistake, it will be sorted.
Had there been a white cat then it would have been purring under the attention of its Master.
‘It will begin without you, Mr Philips.
Aaron felt a chill rake his spine. ‘What will begin?’ he asked. His question was ignored.
The man quickly brought his hands together with a clap, and held his left hand up and out, reaching behind. The aide to his left deftly produced a mobile phone and placed it in the outstretched hand. The man dialled a number. He spoke again, while waiting for his call to connect. ‘Friends, Mr Philips. We will put you in touch. They will make sure that you do no get, shall we say, arrested? Yes, arrested! They will make sure that you are not arrested.’ The man smiled at his own choice of words. ‘At least until the work is done.’
‘What work? asked Aaron.
‘Come now, Mr Philips. Such naivety in one so cunning as yourself…’ he raised his other hand, signalling a halt to the conversation. He turned his attention to the phone. The other party had replied. The man spoke briefly in Arabic. He returned his gaze to Aaron, and continued in his perfect Oxford English, as if he had not been interrupted by the call. ‘I would find the situation charming if it was not so potentially disastrous to us. But now the work has begun.’ He smiled at Aaron.
‘What work? Aaron found himself repeating the question.
‘The clean up, Mr Philips. Your clean up.
The man passed the phone back to his aide and reached his right hand out and behind. This time the aide on his right passed the man a ticket wallet. The man reached forward and held it out to Aaron.
‘Your flight to Paris leaves in one hour, Mr Philips. My aides will escort you. Your case has been packed; it is in the car. And…’ the man paused. ‘Do not fail us this time.
Aaron sat in stunned silence. The ticket wallet seemed to hover but a foot away from his face. He slowly reached up and took it. The aide on the man's left moved round to the front of the sofa and stood next to Aaron, placing a hand gently on his arm.
‘It’s time, Mr Philips,’ said the aide in a thick Arabic accent.
Finn Jackson sat at the small, unstable table; its surface, like the others at the Covent Garden café, was covered in a lime-green plastic-like cloth. He ordered a wrap from the plastic-like menu – chorizo and buffalo mozzarella with sun dried tomatoes. He needed something in his stomach.
He checked his watch. Four in the afternoon. It had been a long, hot day so far. Lunch had been liquid. A bottle of chilled rose wine shared with pleasant female company. Business, totally business, he reminded himself. The young lady was a city analyst in oil and gas. She’d been doing a research piece for a client and wanted an update on the ecological impact of the tar sands exploration.
Finn looked around. The crowds in Covent Garden market were heaving as always. The cacophony of sound that reached his ears was a welcome friend. It was a typical London summer’s day: overcast, oppressive, damp heat. Reassuringly unpleasant in a suit. His tie had been discarded the moment he left the comfort of his office with its air conditioning. He moved uncomfortably in his chair, the wooden slats in the seat were leaving impressions on his backside. He looked at the coffee and water that had been placed before him and smiled at no one. He did like his life.
His short repast dispensed with, Finn turned his mind to Alexa. She would meet him there, at five, she had said. Alexa, that vision of loveliness; he had still not worked out in his mind how easily all the pieces had come together for him recently. Things had been so different before.
There was a brief commotion a few tables away from him. He wasn’t sure what had happened. There was a flurry of activity. The waitress, who had just moments ago removed his plate and napkin, now seemed to be on the end of a very polite, but firm dressing down.
Finn looked on.
A women, blonde, her hair in an immaculate off-the-shoulder bob, sat two tables down to his left, midway between him and the piazza with its constant caravan of moving tourists. She looked, to him, to be in her early forties. But he’d never been good at the age game. She was attractive. Classically so. A little thinner than Rueben would have preferred, but all the right curves were there, and in all the right places. His attention had obviously been arrested one moment too long. The waitress and her transgression became history as the women glanced to her right and saw him looking at her. Her almost-stern expression dropped.
There was no one at the tables between Finn’s and her own. She smiled directly at him. Confidence was clearly a virtue the women held in spades. ‘Damned hairdresser,’ she exclaimed.
Finn caught himself smiling back. He reached for his glass of water, as if embarrassed for being caught out – a naughty school boy, caught peeking at his attractive teacher’s shapely legs.
‘I’ve just spent two hours there. Every six weeks – I ask you! You’d think they’d remember…’
Finn chanced his perception. ‘...how you like your hair?’
‘No, damn it! How I like my coffee!’ she smiled. They always do my hair perfectly. I say half an inch and they do half an inch. What more can a girl ask for…’
‘Perfect coffee?’ he ventured. ‘And I suppose the waitress here didn’t help then?’
‘Perceptive for a northerner, aren’t you.’
‘Is my accent that much of a give away?’
‘You could say that,’ she said.
‘Well your hair looks great to me.’
‘Don’t overdo it, you were doing fine just then.
‘And don’t say sorry. I pay a fortune to keep it looking just like this. I like to come out looking just the same as I go in.’
‘I wouldn’t know.’
‘I wouldn’t have expected you to…’
Finn’s phone, resting on the table by his now cooling cup of coffee, burst into chime. He didn’t move to pick it up.
‘Wife?’ the blonde asked, smiling at him.
Finn reached out and slid the Blackberry from its case and looked at the caller ID. He was reassured to see Alexa’s name appear. He looked back to the woman. ‘Partner, I’m not married,’ he said. He had no idea why he felt he’d had to add that qualification.
The blonde woman continued to smile at him. ‘You’d better answer it,’ she said.
Finn put the handset to his ear.
‘Finn Jackson? Mr Finn Jackson? repeated the strange and male voice.
‘Yes,’ said Finn, unsure what was going on, but sensing something wrong. He saw the look of concern on the woman’s face as she reacted to his own expression.
‘This is Detective Inspector Clarke.’
Finn felt the colour drain from his face. ‘Pardon,’ he said.
‘DI Dan Clarke. I’m with the British Transport Police down at Holborn station. I’m afraid there’s been an incident.’
Well, I hope you like this. I would certainly appreciate any feed back. :)