In other news, writing has begun on the third Charlie Stone book and the final one in this trilogy.
For now here is some more free writing, my novella, Blood Betrayal.
‘Just grab the nappy bag would you, Troy?’ Linda said as she wrestled the baby to the changing mat.
‘Sure, sweet,’ he said diligently, still in his work clothes. It was now 6.30pm and he had been home for two hours. He had enjoyed the walk with the family as soon as he got back. However, there wasn’t time to get changed according to Linda as she wanted Bobby to fall asleep and he was on his way, so they had to get moving. As such, Troy was still wearing his work clothes and feeling rather resentful.
‘He’s been like this all day, wriggly and restless,’ she added.
‘I guess it’s his age now and maybe his teeth coming through?’ Troy offered, not really knowing what the right thing to say was.
‘Yeah, I think he’s just being a pest, aren’t you, Bubby-boy?’ Linda descended into a garbled sentence of baby talk, so Troy checked his phone.
Rocksalt at seven?
Sure, see you there. He sent back.
‘I need to go and get ready, Lin. I am meeting the boy’s tonight.’ Troy said, getting up from the sofa.
‘Sure, just so you know I am out with the girl’s tomorrow and Monday, yeah? It’s Sarah’s birthday,’ she continued, placing Bobby back in his highchair.
‘Sure thing, sweetheart.’ Troy really didn’t mind when Lin went out. He enjoyed the time in with the kids and having the house to himself if he was honest.
Troy went upstairs, showered and put his best shirt and jeans combo on.
He took a deep breath, said his goodbyes and headed for the front door.
The sound of dance music echoed along Mina’s road, and there was a warm, orange glow from the bedroom.
Amy paid the cab driver and jumped out as Mina appeared at her bedroom window, with a glass of non-descript alcohol in her hand.
‘Oi, oi! I’ll let you in,’ Mina said. Amy could hear the voices of at least two other girls in the bedroom. Amy’s heart dropped slightly.
Mina thrust the door open and ushered Amy inside.
She suddenly felt very self-conscious, in a hoody and jeans. Mina had a glittery black top on and skin-tight black trousers. She was made up, and looked like a supermodel as far as Amy was concerned.
She swallowed. This was something she was struggling with. The transition between being a teenage girl and a woman.
Amy felt very much the former. She wanted to be a woman, but every time she tried, every time she pushed against that door, it seemed to resist her. Each time a crack formed that seemed larger, but the door was definitely not open.
Mina was talking incessantly about ‘the plan’ for the evening, whilst pouring crushed ice into a glass and mixing an eye-wateringly large vodka and diet lemonade for Amy.
Amy nodded her thanks and took a large gulp of the liquid. The first one was worst, but she swallowed it down and began to feel more relaxed immediately. The dopamine rush of leaving behind her life, her insecurities, her mum. Not to mention, exam stress.
Would she even pass English?
She shook herself back to the room.
‘So?’ Mina stood in front of her, arms folded, awaiting an answer.
‘Sorry, what?’ Mina laughed, and took Amy by the hand.
‘I knew you weren’t bloody listening! Canterbury? That’s where the boys are going?’
‘Oh, sure. Whatever,’ Amy replied.
‘Correct answer! Let’s get you ready.’ Amy said, dragging her friend towards the endless, throbbing bass that came from upstairs.
Troy looked around the upmarket bar and felt uncomfortable.
Couples in designer clothes, cocktail waiters flipping shakers and talking too loudly; it wasn’t for him at all.
He found a seat near the toilet and sat down with his pint of lager. The sea looked beautiful at night, raging against the shore. The Folkestone sign coloured the Harbour arm, a symbol of Folkestone’s new, diluted regeneration.
He missed the rotunda, he missed the rides. Perhaps it was his working-class background, but places like this felt alien to him. £5.50 for a cherry cider? He would be happy with a bag of chips and a go on the dodgems.
‘Troy, hello.’ A low purr came from behind him. Troy turned to see Jennifer Green, in a black, figure-hugging business suit. She looked glamorous. He had only seen her online before this moment.
‘Hello, Jennifer.’ He got up and waited for the cue to shake hands or kiss. It was kiss and twice, one for each cheek, continental-style.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ he asked.
‘I’ll get these,’ Jenny said flatly, walking towards the bar.
Troy watched her go. She had an air of supreme confidence, something untouchable about her, something he had never experienced before. That is really the only reason he came, he was completely bowled over by her attitude and approach.
There was nothing sexual about this approach, mind you. She just contacted him through LinkedIn and said she knew he worked at the Grammar School. She had a proposal and an offer he may want to hear.
I mean if Linda knew about this, she would spit feathers, but Linda’s mates wouldn’t be anywhere near Rocksalt. That said, Folkestone was a small town, so Troy didn’t plan on staying too long. He would be polite, hear her out and then head up to Harvey’s or The Bouverie Tap, where he felt a little more comfortable. Yes, he would see how he felt. Harvey’s if he didn’t really want to speak to anyone, The Bouverie Tap if he was feeling sociable.
‘There you are, Mr. Wood. Drink up!’ Jenny Green placed another pint in front of him.
‘Thanks,’ he replied.
‘So, Troy, thanks for meeting me. I suppose you are wondering what this is about?’ She looked at him and smiled confidently.
He nodded, as she moved her hand and placed it on his chest, pushing into it.
He looked perplexed and pulled away. Then he realised, she was checking for recording devices.
His heart beat a bit faster. He looked up, her eyes bore into him, and she smiled again.
‘Now, Mr. Wood. About my proposition.’
‘What are you going to do after the summer, Ame?’ Harry asked, leaning in and shouting over the music in Club Chemistry.
‘Uni, I guess. I have an unconditional offer for Brighton, but I’m holding out for something further away, perhaps Durham.’
‘Oh, really? You hate Folkestone that much!?’ Harry smiled at her.
‘I mean it’s not Folkestone as such… I just want to experience something new, you know?’
Yes. Yes, I do. Do you ever feel like that you’re watching your life through a glass pane, and it’s not yours? Like your life is yet to begin?’ Harry stopped himself, suddenly feeling a little vulnerable. His cool persona, lifted in a brief moment of vulnerability, of sweetness.
Amy smiled, attracted to this Harry. Her eyes widened and she looked at his face. He needed an answer.
‘Yes, Harry. I think we all do. I mean, I really hope there is more than this out there.’ She looked down at the dancefloor. The miscreants, the small-town playboys, the lost and the damned all searching for redemption; or just a connection.
Mina returned from the bathroom, flanked by her two new allies from the garden centre. They went to East Kent college, so Amy didn’t know them that well.
‘What are you two talking about?’ Mina said. She tried to sound flippant, but couldn’t mask her jealousy. She shot a warning glance at Amy.
Harry intercepted. ‘Come on, let’s dance,’ he said, taking Mina’s hands and walking her towards the dancefloor.
Amy watched the four of them go.
She didn’t feel like dancing and she could sense a distance growing between her and Mina. It scared her. Mina had been her best friend for years, but she was changing. Perhaps that was what she should be doing, and maybe Amy was the problem. Perhaps Amy wasn’t changing enough.
She went to the bar and ordered another drink.
She didn’t check the price, but she had to be careful, as she wasn’t entirely sure how much money was left on her card.
She drank quickly, the feeling of unease going temporarily. It was weird, the more she fell away from Mina, the closer she felt to Harry, Mina’s boyfriend. What was that? Karma? Life’s balance? One relationship strains, another grows. Why can’t I just get on well with everyone all of the time?
‘Let me get you another one, Ame,’ it was Mina. She seemed a bit drunk now as she leaned against the bar.
‘Oh, cheers,’ Amy replied, watching Mina through the back-bar mirrors. She stared into an imaginary distance, something was on her mind.
‘Hey, Mi, is everything OK? It’s not me talking to Harry is it?’ Amy asked tentatively.
Mina snapped out of her daze and looked down at her friend, from her six-inch heels.
Mina scoffed, ‘No, Ame, it’s not Harry, bless him. He’s just a boy…’
Mina ordered two double vodkas and two shots. When the barman returned with the drinks, Mina opened her purse and Amy saw a large wodge of twenty-pound notes. There were hundreds of pounds in there.
‘Jesus, Mi!’ Amy said.
‘Oh, yeah. Here,’ she said passing Amy the shot.
They clinked plastic glasses and drank the drink.
‘Where the hell did you get all of that cash? Do you get triple pay for doing the late shift at the garden centre or something?’ Amy laughed.
Mina looked at her with a sympathy, a pity that made Amy cross.
‘It’s funny you should say that,’ Mina said, looking away.
There was an awkward pause.
‘Well go on then? What’s going on?’ Amy asked.
‘You wouldn’t get it, Amy. It would…’
‘…What? Shock me? I’m not a baby, Mina. I’m supposed to be your best friend.’
‘OK… well, you can’t tell anyone. Not Harry, obviously…’
‘Of course not. What’s going on?’ Amy pleaded.
‘There’s a guy, well a couple of guys, I know who get me really well-paid work. It’s why I haven’t been around so much.’ Mina said tentatively.
‘What… men? Doing stuff with men?’ Amy said, a little disgusted.
‘See this is why I didn’t want to tell you… you don’t get it…’
Amy checked herself and remembered to try and hide her disappointment and be supportive.
‘Sorry, it’s just…not what I expected…’
‘It is linked through the garden centre. That’s why I know these two…’ Mina pointed at the two girls from the college, who were chatting to some of Harry’s friends.
‘Right… is that what the ‘late shifts’ are all about?’ Amy asked, the penny dropping, and why she was never asked to do them. Her father helps run the garden centre.
‘Does my Dad know about this?’
‘I don’t think so,’ Mina said a little too quickly. ‘Look, let’s not do this tonight. It’s good money. I get taken away in a car, spend some time with some guys, do what they ask and then come back. It’s just… it’s mind over matter. I don’t like it, but… well, I made £1200 two weekends ago,’ Mina said.
‘Yes, Ame. And the men are pretty nice too. It’s not as bad as people say. Once you’ve had sex with one guy, it’s just a case of lie back and think of England or Faliraki! I mean I prefer it to hanging out with these boys like Harry.’
Amy looked away not knowing what to think. She immediately felt woozy from the shot. She was hot, sticky and short of breath.
‘I’m going to be sick,’ Amy said, running to the front door of the club.
Troy was quiet, thinking about Jenny’s proposition. It was madness. It was insane. It would make him affluent and give Bobby the life Troy always wanted for him.
He could buy a bigger house. He could leave Folkestone, maybe back to London. He felt flames of excitement, which he then dampened with moralising and the fear of getting caught.
‘Just around the corner please, driver,’ Jenny said, the warmth of her voice soothed Troy’s troubled mind.
They were heading to Temeraire Heights, a beautiful, private road that overlooked the sea in Sandgate.
Troy didn’t want to come back with her, but Jenny insisted. She had something to show him and no-one would see them. Only a handful people, knew that this house was registered to her. Not even her husband, she told him.
It was strange, as soon as they pulled in, it felt like a different world to Troy. This was Rome, Constantinople, Arcadia; it was lawless.
Jenny paid the executive taxi driver and they got out.
She opened the front door quietly and as they walked
into the marble-effect front room, the lights of the house faded up. Smooth, Troy thought.
‘Take off your jacket, relax,’ she said to him, indicating the cream leather sofas, by the fire place. The building was heavily glass-fronted, but it didn’t matter, there was no-one around and the road was gated.
She brought back two crystal glasses and a bottle of Courvoisier XO. Jennifer poured two large measures and sat down opposite Troy.
‘What do you think?’ she asked.
He took a sip, ‘that’s very good.’
She laughed, ‘no, I meant the house.’
‘Oh, god. Yeah, it’s unbelievable. Doesn’t feel like Folkestone to me.’
‘It’s my Folkestone.’
Troy sniggered at the arrogance of the comment, but Jenny looked steely-eyed at him; she wasn’t joking.
He looked out at the moon shimmering on the waves. It looked so peaceful from up here. He took a large gulp of his drink. He could get used to this, he thought.
‘It can be yours too, Troy. You just have to trust me.’ She said, moving and coming to sit next to him.
He felt woozy, but the drink was so moreish, he finished it. He felt warm and gooey, like everything in reality was far away. His real life was in a box somewhere, and this was some untouchable, alternative reality.
‘Good,’ she said, helping put his crystal glass back on the coffee table.
She kissed him and he recoiled. She did it harder and he felt powerless to stop it.
What was in that drink?
He didn’t sign up to this. He had his issues with Linda, but he was no cheat. Then Troy remembered through the haze, some of the things that Jenny had told him. She was powerful. She knew people. She knew about Bobby and Linda and their small, terraced house on the east side of Folkestone.
Jenny pulled herself from Troy, she was smiling at him. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
Troy felt powerless to stop the train. He had no choice. He had to get on, or be thrown off. It was his ticket to ride. No-one infiltrated the elite. No-one made it to the top. Maybe, just maybe, he would.
‘I want to know on Monday what you think, Troy. OK?’ Jenn
y said, putting her clothes back on.
‘Sure.’ He lay on his back, looking at the expensive ceiling fan. He felt like he was drifting in and out of consciousness.
‘Oh, there was something else. My daughter, Amy, goes to your school.’ Jenny began. ‘She has one more English exam. Can you give her a couple of extra sessions this week, to get her ready?’
The feeling of sickness in Troy’s stomach left briefly as he thought of Amy.
‘Yes. Sure thing, Jen. I can do that.’
‘Good. Now get changed. Linda will be waiting.’ Jenny cackled to herself, before heading back into the living room.