Time Shards by Dana Fredsti and David Fitzgerald – Review

The book:

Time shatters into shards of the past, present, and future. A group of survivors dodges threats from across history to locate the source and repair the damage before it’s too late.
IT’S CALLED “THE EVENT,” AN UNIMAGINABLE CATACLYSM THAT SHATTERS 600 MILLION YEARS OF THE EARTH’S TIMELINE.

Our world is gone, instantly replaced by a new one made of scattered remnants of the past, present, and future, dropped alongside one another in a patchwork of “shards”. Monsters from Jurassic prehistory, ancient armies, and high-tech robots all coexist in this deadly post-apocalyptic landscape.
A desperate group of survivors sets out to locate the source of the disaster. They include 21st century Californian Amber Richardson, Cam, a young Celtic warrior from Roman Britannia, Alex Brice, a policewoman from 1985, and Blake, a British soldier from World War II. With other refugees from across time, they must learn the truth behind the Event, if they are to survive.

TimeShards

My review:

Time shards is  technically accomplished, smart, visceral and is by far the most creative novel I’ve had the pleasure to read this year. This book had me tearing through the pages in the daytime and dreaming about being in Fitzgerald and Fredsti’s kaleidoscopic world during my sleeping hours. 

Forget what you think this book will be about, these are writers who defy all convention; displaying a reverence for pop-culture, tight plotting, excellent characterisation and throwing cross-genre elements around like confetti. 

Written 3rd person, past tense throughout, the novel benefits from two writers who play to their strengths and compliment each other perfectly. 

In the early stages of the novel, the division of labour is clear. Each of the main characters has their distinctive voice and ‘feel’. 

 As the main characters, and plotlines, converge Fitzgerald and Fredsti seamlessly blend their narratives whilst losing none of the distinctiveness, guiding the reader skilfully to the climax. This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish and demonstrates each writers’ skill and ingenuity.  

By the novel’s close, the reader is given an unexpected and thrilling conclusion, and one hell of a hook into book 2.  
An absolute monster of a novel by two accomplished writers who are as comfortable demonstrating their considerable skill, as they are trampling across genre and fucking with your expectations. 

Time Shards is available now at Amazon UK and US

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Standstill by J.A. Marley – Review

 

J.A. Marley - Standstill_cover_high res

Book Description:

Even the deadliest criminals leave a trail…

When a psychotic policeman drags the young, ambitious thief, Danny Felix out of bed, he could not imagine he was about to be plunged into the robbery of a lifetime. 

Corruption and coercion follow the corrupt Detective Inspector Harkness everywhere he goes and now he has Danny just where he wants him. 

But Harkness isn’t the only officer with Danny in his sights. Christine Chance is getting closer to him while doing her best to be a mother to her seriously ill daughter. 

Can Danny escape Harkness with his life intact? Can he avoid detection by Chance?  And does he have what it takes to use the streets of modern day London to pull off the theft of the 21st Century? 

Danny thinks he can…but there will be bloodshed?

 

Review:

Standstill is an invigorating read that feels like it is adding something quite fresh, modern and fun into an often tired and clichéd genre.

J.A. Marley writes with all the technical skill and self- assurance of a seasoned writer whilst managing to make his characters, plot and dialogue feel vital, realistic and utterly connected to the plot which unfolds at pace throughout this novel. For a debut author Marley’s ability to tell a story, which he fires relentlessly at the reader, is notable.

Written in third-person, past-tense throughout, Standstill is one of the paciest and most engaging novels I’ve read in recent times. The reader follows a number of characters through several weeks in which they are brought together on the road to what is essentially an audacious heist at the finale of the book.

What sets Marley’s characters, and his story, apart from the usual heist romp is his ability to convey the very best and the very worst of each of his characters; exposing their intentions, motivations and desires without judgment.

Marley lays his characters bare before the reader, utilising some lovely flashback techniques that in less able hands could’ve been unengaging exposition dumps. Marley takes these moments and expertly crafts tender, or brutal or, heart-wrenching insights into his main players. This is not an easy technique, that a debut writer is assured enough to utilise, and in such fine manner, is impressive.

My favourite example of this was a scene in which Danny replays sections of his childhood whilst picking locks. This scene was heavy with metaphors and symbolism and was a completely perfect little section of writing.

Marley’s characters are the lifeblood of this wonderfully invigorating read. Each of them pulses into vivid life displaying psychological damage, realistic motivations, flaws, virtues. Each are genuinely lost while still remaining intent on their goals. Complex stuff, from some truly terrific characters, none of whom are minor or act as bit-players.

Dialogue is also a major strength throughout. Always believable, and never wasted, Marley’s dialogue serves to move the plot or the character development forward. Not a ‘spoken’ word is wasted as filler.

Marley writes in an episodic manner. Short, sharp scenes, no nonsense, no fluff; each crafted to accelerate the plot or expose characters’ intentions. I could easily see these characters used in an ongoing TV series. A personal highlight for me, was Marley’s use of Mr Bright Sky to serve as a beat for the heist. Loved this.

The main flaw for me in this novel (and it’s a minor one) was with the main character, Danny. Whilst we saw excellent development with CC, and to a lesser extent, Harkins, I felt that Danny did not change significantly throughout the novel. He remained, for me, largely unaffected by the events unfolding around him, and at moments, a little too in control at all times. His past gave him a lot of doubts and flaws, I’d have liked to have seen more of these exposed in the latter art of his story. Really though, it’s a minor quibble, and one I’m sure there will be adequate time to work with on the follow-up.

A hugely impressive debut novel from a talent to watch.

 

Standstill is available now from Bloodhound Books and at Amazon worldwide.

 


 

ABOUT J.A. MARLEY

 John A. Marley’s writing career started with a poem about two brothers who both liked sausages…their names were Butch and Dutch and his Primary School teacher Mr. Murray liked it so much it made the main noticeboard at the entrance to Holy Child Primary School in West Belfast.  A little older but none the wiser, he ended up as a film journalist in his native Northern Ireland, contributing to local newspapers, BBC Radio Ulster and latterly writing as the main film critic for the glossy magazine, Northern Woman.

John’s love of good stories came from the Irish predilection for telling a good yarn and the fact that there was nothing quite like sneaking away his Dad’s battered paperbacks to read even though he knew they were meant for adults and not kids. And so pulp fiction such as The Edge Westerns by George G. Gilman, the adventure novels of Alistair MacLean and the thrillers of Jack Higgins all served to whet his appetite for a good story told at pace.

These days, his reading tastes still focus on thrills, spills and good plot and he can’t walk by a James Lee Burke or an Elmore Leonard without pausing to read a few pages…even if it is in a busy bookshop. 

John runs his own production company Archie Productions which he launched in 2008. Prior to setting up his own indie, John enjoyed a wide and varied career in television with creative roles at Talent Television, Planet 24, Carlton Television and Walt Disney UK. 

John’s broadcast media career started in his native Northern Ireland as a radio host.

Links:

www.jamarley.com

@jamarleybooks

Bloodhound Books

J.A Marley at Amazon

That Difficult Fifth Novel

Having just passed the 30k mark on my work in progress, I thought I’d post an update and an excerpt. The Man Who Sold His Son is by far the most difficult book I’ve written so far. normally I sit down at my PC and just type about the movie I’m watching in my head. Aside from a little research and some plotting before hand, there’s hasn’t been a lot more to the writing process for me than that instinctive and spontaneous approach.

This book, though. It’s my difficult fifth child. The plot is more complicated and precarious than any I’ve written before, and I’m finding that for long periods I sit and take notes and make maps of plot points and events to join together and work through. getting t all straight is hard work. the actual writing comes as easily as ever, but the process of getting to the point where I’m ready to go is more complex. I’m unsure if that’s making the book a more rounded read, or just a bastard to write. time will tell.

The following excerpt comes from my upcoming fifth novel, The Man Who Sold His Son, a new addition to the Lanarkshire Strays series Due for publication by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing, Summer 2014:

MHSHS-Lanark-strays-feet copy

Interlude 

Some years ago…

 

Garth felt an impulse rack his little body, sending another spasm of intense pain through his neurones. He felt the pain travel along his chest and down his spine. Unable to respond to it, the ten-year old merely observed as it travelled to his toes and left as quickly as it had come. He felt a pang of regret as it left him. He experienced so little of anything physically these days; these spikes of intense pain were becoming old and welcome friends. They reminded him he still existed. The only other things that tied him to the world were the voices he heard. People moving around his bed, talking, discussing him. Wondering aloud if he could hear them. He certainly couldn’t respond.

Doctors, nurses, his father; they discussed his future, or lack of it. They argued over treatment, whether to continue or if the time had come to turn off the motors and pumps that kept his lings inflating and his blood circulating. Part of him wished they would. Part of him was ready to go somewhere else. Not yet, though. He had his voice to cling to. His father’s voice.

 

I think it’s time to consider the removal of the viral particles from his spinal fluid.”

“That’s a very risky option at this stage. He’s unlikely to live through the procedure.”

“He’s not living now. This isn’t life. He hasn’t breathed alone in months. There are no detectable traces of brain activity. It’s over; it’s time to switch these machines off… With a sample of the virus, directly from his spinal fluid, we could make huge progress in understanding this virus. Maybe prevent what’s happened to Garth from happening to anyone else.”

“I still think that if we can give him more time, we should.”

“He’s been this way for eighteen months. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but Garth’s condition is unlikely to change. This is a totally unique, totally new virus we’re dealing with. It has properties we’ve never seen before in a pathogen of this type.”

“I know. I just wish there’s more we could do, other than keep him comfortable.”

“This young man’s contribution will change the lives of millions, maybe billions. This is the right thing.”

 

Garth Listened to them, smiling to himself. It’ll be over soon. At least I’ll get to help other kids. Other people. He took his mind elsewhere, to happier times, years before, when Mum was still alive. Before her illness, before dad lost himself in his work and put Garth into a boarding school. Garth watched images of his mother and father flashing across his mind’s-eye. Happy smiles, hot chocolate, racing through long grass in meadows filled with summer flowers and love. His family.

Would mum be waiting for him? Would his dad be alright alone, or would his son’s passing make him even more detached, more fixated on his business. He couldn’t know.

 

He was being moved along a corridor. The lights overhead flashed through his eyelids. Suddenly the gurney stopped and the metallic sounds of surgery began. A mask was pressed to his mouth. He tasted rubber and unfamiliar gasses. Garth focused on the voices again.

 

“How long until he goes under?”

“Seconds. He’s probably under already. If you’ve anything to say, do it now. He won’t hear you, but if you don’t, you’ll regret saying nothing to him before he’s totally gone.”

 

Garth felt a warm fluid flow over him. All pain was gone. He could move again, he could think again. He was free of the dulling effect of the morphine. He was free, period. As he moved into his mother’s arms he heard his father’s voice whispering into the ear of what used to be his body.

 

“You’re going to make me a lot of money. Goodbye, Son.”

 

————————–

 

 

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr Ennis. He’s gone.”

“Right. Get me that sample, Doctor. I’ve got work to do.”

 

The veteran surgeon pushed back his dislike for the man beside him and made the incision into Garth Ennis’ spine. Ten minutes later he watched, sickened, as the businessman’s eyes brightened when he handed him the small vial of spinal fluid.

“He could’ve had another few months, you know.”

Ennis held the vial of his son’s fluid up to the light and stared into it.

“My son’s contributed more to medicine with this sample than you have in your entire little career, Doctor. This…” Ennis held the vial up for him. “This, will change the world.”

The surgeon bored holes into Ennis with his eyes. He’d made allowances for Ennis, these last few months. He’d ignored the man’s clinical manner, his coldness towards the comatose boy. At times it had felt like he’d been protecting the boy from his own father. Since succumbing to the virus, this new virus, and slipping into his vegetative state, Garth had lain in the same bed, in the same room, in his care. Garth’s father visited every day, but said nothing to the boy. He didn’t kiss or hold him. He barely looked at the boy’s face. Gavin Ennis would just sit there for hours, tapping away at his handheld computer; working. Making plans for the genome of the virus that was killing his son.

The surgeon made excuses for Ennis’ demeanour. He knew the family history well. Ennis’ wife had died from meningitis three years back. His small business was in trouble. Having created synthetic gametes that nobody wanted, Ennis Company looked to be going into liquidation. Simply, no-one wanted to have children conceived using synthetic sperm. Ennis had expected single, career women who’d left it too late or couldn’t find a partner to jump at the chance. Or married gay couples, but there just wasn’t the interest. People had chosen to use the DNA of a stranger or relative rather than Ennis’, lab creations.

The man was on his knees. Dead wife so young, his son dying so very young. The surgeon had found plenty of reasons to excuse Ennis’ behaviour, until now. The callousness of Ennis’ actions today clawed at the surgeon’s conscience. He felt a fool for having made allowances for this man, who had effectively used his dead son for profit.

Injecting all the venom he could muster into his voice, the surgeon spat out,

“You sold out your son to get it. I hope it was worth it.”

Ennis had already turned and begun to walk towards the exit.

The surgeon headed in the opposite direction, his next task, the disposal of little Garth Ennis’ remains.

 

End of Excerpt

You can find Mark and his books (including the Lanarkshire Strays series) at Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ronnie the Rooster

Ronnie the Rooster is the first short-story I wrote. I’ve no idea who Ronnie is based on or where his story came from. I couldn’t find another place to use it so I crowbarred it into my debut novel, Bobby’s Boy.

 Since It’s my birthday, I’m indulging myself. This is one of my favourite stories to have written. Enjoy.

Over 18s only (or those who enjoy tales of bionic fuckery at least).

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Never trust an OAP from Caldercruix with a glint in his eye and a bulge in his trousers.

Ronnie the Rooster

 

Ronnie was a chicken farmer from Caldercruix  who had grafted for decades, rearing chickens and supplying excellent quality eggs and meat to the local farmers’ markets on weekends. Ronnie loved his life. In his mid-fifties, he had been happily married for nearly thirty years to his beloved Agnes. Together, they’d worked hard, built a profitable business and raised three kids, sending each in turn out into the world to make their way.

Their eldest, Ronald Jnr, had moved to Surrey and was running a successful legal practice. He specialised in family law, mainly divorces, which Ronnie Senior found a little sad. The old man often wondered if Ronnie Junior was really happy in what could be such a demanding and sometimes heartbreaking role. Young Ronnie still called his dad three or four times a week to talk about the football, the horses, or just to catch up. Old Ronnie appreciated that as he knew how tight the lad’s time was.

Senga, their daughter, was an experienced emergency room doctor and was well through her training to become a general surgeon. She worked in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which was a forty-minute drive east along the M8 motorway, and she’d found a home nearby the hospital in the city centre. Ronnie and Agnes saw her often thanks to her living within commutable distance. Senga had that rare gift of being hugely intelligent, but utterly inclusive and sweet to everyone around her, whilst still being no one’s fool. Ronnie Senior honestly couldn’t remember the girl getting upset about anything or saying a bad word about anyone. Everyone loved Senga. She was a born “fixer” and a natural doctor as a result of her accepting and caring attitude.

Their youngest boy, Steven, named after his grandfather on his mother’s side, was a different breed. Steven was sugar and shite in that you could see Steven on one occasion and he would be everyone’s pal, lighting up the room and bringing a carnival of fun with him. The next time you saw him he’d be a moody, angry wee fanny. He was an artist and while old Ronnie loved his unpredictable, tornado of a personality, young Ronnie had little time for him when his younger sibling was in shite mode, asserting on more than one occasion that his brother was “A lazy wee bastard, sorry Dad.”

Young Ronnie just didn’t understand his brother. Steven wasn’t interested in the academic or career-driven path to what others perceived as success. Rather, he just wanted to create things that excited him and was happy with the basics in life. So long as he could empty the many ideas and projects that cluttered his brain onto a canvas or image, the boy was content.

Steven had recently produced photographs of places and people bathed in “light graffiti”. The process of producing these images involved young Steven preparing a location at night, pitch black, opening his camera lens and “painting” the empty air with lights which were captured in the camera lens like the trail of a sparkler moved in the air by a child. These scenes amazed old Ronnie but left him baffled as to where the originality of the “paintings” had sprung from in Steven’s mind.

Ronnie took some stick regularly from the lads in the pub for Steven’s choice of vocation, but laughed it off easily. He was in awe of Steven’s talent and could never have dreamed he’d have such a creative child. Ronnie had no doubt that Steven was by far the happiest and most content of his children but he still shared with his siblings the energy and drive to add something of worth to the world.

Ronnie never compared his children to each other, or to anyone else’s for that matter, but enjoyed each of their achievements equally with pride. “We’ve done not bad for a couple of auld chicken farmers,” he repeated to Agnes often, in reference to their happy and successful children, during a cuddle on the sofa on many an evening. Life had rewarded his hard-working family and Ronnie was looking forward to retiring later that year, having negotiated a very good sale of the farm and surrounding land to a young businessman. The deal would give him and Agnes the financial security to travel for most of their remaining years.

That had been the plan anyway, until Ronnie started having health problems.

It happened infrequently at first. One time, written off as tiredness. Weeks would then pass and again the problem would come. It soon became that more often than not that he would be compelled to leave their bedroom and go downstairs to sit smoking in his armchair until the sting of embarrassment from the latest humiliating episode had subsided and he could face her again. Ronnie had very suddenly and unfortunately become impotent.

He just couldn’t understand it. Ronnie had never had any problems in that department before. Old age, he supposed, absent-mindedly flicking through a men’s magazine to see if he could get his member stirring at the women in its pages. Alas, no response. Far from feeling lust towards the naked and posing girls quite literally spread across the magazine’s pages, Ronnie found himself worrying.

-That lassie could dae wi’ a jumper on. She’s freezin’ judging by thon nipples… Och well. At my time in life it doesn’t matter so much. I’ve got my health, my children and my Agnes. She’s always been the understanding type, and we hardly bother in that department these days anyway. It might have been a big loss ten years ago, but I can live with it now.-

As Ronnie thought it, he relaxed into his seat, relieved that he had found it so easy to accept the newly-dormant nature of his penis. Unfortunately for him, Agnes found it much more difficult to accept his condition. His wife of thirty years left him within three months of his member retiring, and exactly two days before he himself retired.

In the weeks and months that followed, the newly retired Ronnie found himself rattling round the once-family home. Too much time on his hands and too quiet a house. It seemed that the house and Ronnie both missed its former occupants and previously busy rooms. He sold up within a few weeks of Agnes moving out. She had moved into a flat down in Durham with a younger man, forty years old, he’d heard.

Ronnie too, found himself a small flat in nearby Hamilton, and started slowly rebuilding his social life. Snooker with old friends, book clubs, swimming, visiting his kids, his days began to fill and happiness re-entered his newly expanding world again. One thing kept nagging at Ronnie though. He missed having a female companion. It wasn’t the sexual side of the relationship especially, but the intimacy that came with hand-holding and cuddling was a great absence in his life. Climbing into an empty bed also left him empty inside. He couldn’t envisage being able to offer any of his female friends a proper relationship due to his impotence and began cursing the condition he’d once been ambivalent about.

After a great deal of research, visits to a London cosmetic clinic and some soul-searching, Ronnie decided upon a course of action. He used a significant portion of his retirement money and shared profits from the sale of the family home to finance a new, innovative and incredibly effective treatment for impotence.

A penile shaft graft.

The operation sounded brutal. The penis was first lengthened by effectively pulling the internal part through to the outside world, as would happen during the normal erection. It was then sliced lengthways, like a hot-dog bun, and a three-part steel rod inserted. Then it would be stitched back up. The three sections of the rod were joined by a locking hinge at each section, giving the owner the option of click-twisting the hinges in place, straightening and hardening the penis. The operation offered the safety of an instant and unfailing, steel-hard erection. After sex, the wearer would simply twist-pop the steel rod into the at-rest position.

In this rest position it would hang like a normal penis, admittedly a slightly longer and heavier penis than he’d previously possessed, but hey ho. It could be snapped up and out into the ready position with a few quick twists. Easy; even with the wee bit of arthritis in Ronnie’s hands earned from years of handling chicken eggs.

It took four long months to fully heal but Ronnie couldn’t have been happier with the results. The newly-equipped Ronnie wasted no time inviting a lady friend round to his to try out his new boaby. He found it a joy to be able to satisfy a woman again, if a bit strange to be having sex with someone other than Agnes after so many decades. Still, it didn’t bother him for long. Within a month word of Ronnie’s cyborghood had spread and a steady stream of over-fifties widows, divorcees and bored wives began calling on him daily. He’d only ever wanted one lady’s hand but as she’d fucked off and left him, well, he thought that he deserved to indulge himself a wee bit. Never with the married ones though.

Within a year Ronnie and his ever-ready steel penis had become famous from Lanarkshire to the Highlands, and even as far south as Carlisle. Women from all over were contacting him with invitations to come “visit” them at their homes, all expenses paid.

“What can you do?” he’d ask mates in the pub when relaying his stories.

“Snap the auld cock into place and get going Ronnie,” was the standard reply. And so he did.

All in all Ronnie spent ten years, his final ten years as it turned out, travelling the length and breadth of the UK. He spent these trips forming friendships, enjoying food, wine, long walks in the countryside, and many, many women. His exploits earned him the nickname “Ronnie the Rooster”, which paid tribute to his chicken-farming past, and sexually hyper-active present.

No one knows if he visited Agnes in Durham.

Bobby’s Boy and Mark’s other books, Naebody’s Hero, Head Boy and dEaDINBURGH are available now on Amazon

………………………………….

dEaDINBURGH Preview – Chapter 11

With dEaDINBURGH, book 1 now complete, feedback from the Beta-readers returned and re-writes finished, the book is with the editor. I’m unsure at this time as to whether dEaDINBURGH will be published through Paddy’s Daddy Publishing or another publisher as I’m currently speaking to some interested agents. Hopefully I can get the book out soon. This is the final excerpt I can preview before the books release. I’m hard at work on dEaDINBURGH Book 2 and a screenplay for Head Boy.

Hope you enjoy.

Mark Wilson

All text copyright Mark Wilson 2014

Chapter 11

Alys’ mother threw a flurry of sharp punches, alternating between head and gut, gut and chest. Blocking each of them, he used her slight forward momentum against her, rolling her punch, extending the reach of it further than she’d intended. It caused her front foot to slide forward an inch bringing her in to elbow strike range. It was a good move, she’d taught it to him and she grunted her approval as she slid the foot forward as he’d predicted, but continued further than he had expected to sweep him off his feet and onto his rear-end with a crash as he lunged to make the elbow connect.

“Up, Boy.” She’d already assumed her ready stance.

Joey gave her a lop-sided grin, mostly to annoy her.

“Nice move, Mrs Shep….” He almost saw the kick that connected with his chest that time. There was no doubt about it, he was getting faster. The training, her training, was paying off. He really had to stop antagonising her by referring to her as Mrs though.

“Up…Boy.” She said once again.

She’d never once called him by his name in the three months he’d been allowed to stay in The Gardens. She spat out the word Boy like an insult. It was an insult in this place.

Rising to his full height, which was still a few inches short of Jennifer’s, he gave her the smile again. To hell with it, he thought.

“Ready, Mrs Shephard.” This time he managed to block and deflect twelve of her blows before he was knocked on his ass once again. He could swear that Jennifer broke a smile that time.

“We’re done today, Boy. Go back to your quarters.” She swished around and took off towards another training session with one of the younger children. Good luck to them. He thought.

“Thank you.” He called after her. Normally she ignored his ritual thank you at the end of their sessions. This time, she paused, turned slightly and gave him the sharpest of nods before resuming her walk.

High praise indeed.

Joey plonked himself onto the frost-covered grass, sitting with his wrists resting on bent knees and scanned The Gardens as his breath fogged the evening air. The greenhouses on the flat sections were busy with girls, collecting tomatoes, peppers and other produce. He could see women working metal in the Smith’s tent, prepping meals in the kitchen tent, doing drills in the training rings and scribbling away in the school enclosure. The few boys who lived there, seven of them, each younger than he and sons of women who’d been pregnant or new mothers when the men left, the boys were dragging hand-ploughs through a large section of field. None of them had spoken to him. They’d leave if he approached them. When he’d arrived, Joey had expected the boys to be pleased to see another male; if anything they seemed frightened of him in a way that not even the youngest of the girls were. They simply went about their duties and acted as though he didn’t exist.

Everyone in The Gardens had a role, a place in the structure. Everyone was important and equal; more or less. The women of The Gardens were a truly self-sufficient society, dependant on no-one and nothing but their own hard work.

Joey climbed the slope up to the fence-line that divided The Gardens from Princes Street and scanned along the long, once-busy centre of the city. Jock had described to him the city before the plague hit many times using words like, beautiful, striking and cosmopolitan. When asked about the people, he’d often used the phrase, streets full of busy fools. The streets were still full, but instead of teeming with workers, residents, tourists and shoppers rushing around, they were filled with an endless myriad of walking corpses in various states of decomposition.

It was a quiet evening, relatively speaking. The ever-present groan that vibrated dryly with the bottomless hunger that these creatures suffered with, was a little more muted today. None of them bothered to take a swipe at him through the fence as he walked the perimeter, checking the fence’s integrity. Those who noticed him at all merely followed him along with their dusty, frost-covered eyes as he moved. It wasn’t apathy, they always got a little slower in the cold weather. As he made his way along the fence shaking rails, pulling on posts, Joey reflected on his time in The Gardens.

 

After Jennifer’s initial refusal to allow him entry, not when he was conscious at any rate, Alys had been able to convince her mother to grant him access because of his help in treating and saving Stephanie. They’d had to agree that they would not spend any of their time together and that Joey must participate in their way of life fully. He’d spoken to Alys only a handful of times since, the pair of them sneaking out into the surrounding streets to swap stories and share survival skills. Whilst Joey had the advantage in survival strategies due to his years in the north, Alys was by far the more superior combatant. In the short spells they’d spent together they’d made good use of every moment, each absorbing knowledge and skills from the other.

He thought that she was currently out of The Gardens on a supply run in Stockbridge. Combat training, farming and security now filled his days. In addition to this, Alys had sold her mother on the benefits of having access to Joey’s Intel on the world outside The Gardens and the immediate area that the Rangers patrolled inside the inner-fence.

Jennifer had sat with him for hours at a time, fascinated at what had happened to and was happening in areas of the city she’d known as a child or in the days before The Gardens was founded. Forefront in her questions was security. She wanted to know as much as he would relay about the people beyond The Garden’s inner-fence. That was easy; most of them, whilst damaged, were good people, trying to survive another day. There were exceptions of course, the most notable being Bracha.

Jennifer had found it hard to believe that he and Jock hadn’t had any prior encounters with the man. His actions in tracking them and killing Jock seemed entirely too motivated by personal reasons. Joey had just about convinced her that he was just another wandering madman, albeit a hugely dangerous one.

Whenever they’d spoken about Bracha, an odd look had crossed her face. She’d asked many questions about the way he fought, how he’d conducted himself. The language he used. Jennifer never really explained what she had on her mind where Bracha was concerned, but had told Joey that from his descriptions, she could tell that Bracha had been a soldier. I was married to a soldier. It had slipped in conversation but she’d noticed Joey’s eyes light up at the prospect of information on Alys father and immediately shut down, resuming questioning him on the city.

Jennifer didn’t seem worried about Bracha turning up at the Gates to The Gardens. He had to admit, why should she be? No one person, no matter how clever, skilled or deranged was a serious threat to the women of The Gardens. As for his assertion that a cure existed in the Royal Infirmary grounds, Jennifer treated the notion with the same ridicule that Jock had. Joey omitted Jock’s warning of Somna and The Exalted. He didn’t doubt Jock’s account for a second, but how did you sell that tale to a stranger?

Joey, of course, had shown her the flash-drive that Jock had kept for him. She’d described to him exactly what it did and explained that without a working computer there was simply no way to determine what its contents were. As she’s handed it back, an uncharacteristic softness entered her features and tone, clearly sensing how disappointed he was in his inability to access the link to his mother.

“I’m sure you’ll see what’s on it one day, Boy.” Her face hardened again as she handed him the device.

“On your travels.”

It had been a clear and none too subtle hint that it was time for him to move on. He couldn’t help but agree. Having roamed the city for three years, he’d enjoyed his time in The Gardens, had picked up and passed on many useful skills and rested well. It was, however, time to go.

After completing his duties and chores under the ever-watchful eye of Jennifer’s people, he slipped into the small tent they’d allowed him to claim during his stay. Only once in the three months he’d been here had he left the tent between lights-out and sun-up. As he’d become predictable, the night time guards had been removed weeks before. Tonight would be the second time.

Slipping silently over the rails onto Princes Street, he looked over his shoulder, down at The Gardens to check that no-one had seen him go. All clear.

Moving between the sluggish corpses on the main city thoroughfare proved simple enough with only a few of the more warmly-dressed ones reaching out to him or half-heartedly snapping their jaws shut when he passed. Taking Hanover Street, he headed downhill, along Dundas Street and down on to Brandon Terrace where he spotted the clock at the intersection Alys had told him to use as a marker. Turning onto Inverlieth Row, Joey spotted a faded maroon-coloured number 27 Bus parked, two wheels up on the pavement. Inside a warm glow flickered.

The area leading to the bus had been relatively free of Ringed but a few shambled towards the bus, driven by the slope downwards as much as they were by the glow of the firelight. Joey sighed, drew his knives, Jock’s knives, and silenced the pair before tapping gently on the bus’ door.

Alice smiled through the fogged glass and pulled a lever to open the doors for him. The heat hit his face as he stepped onto the stairs to board.

“Any problems getting out?” Alys asked, shoving the lever in the opposite direction as soon as he stepped through the doors.

“None.” He said.

Looking around the bus, Joey noted the fire in the space where disabled passengers once parked their wheelchairs. Jock had taught him what the little blue and white sign had meant in the old world. The disabled of course had been amongst the first to fall to the plague, for obvious reasons. In his entire life, Joey had met only one person in a wheelchair; a lady by the name of Suzanne Dalgliesh. At least that had been her name in the Old Edinburgh. Here in the dead city, she went by the name, Suzy Wheels.

Suzy Wheels occupied a bungalow on Groathill Avenue; she had since before the plague. With its modified ramps, access points and lack of stairs for shuffling feet at the ends of dead legs to climb, Suzy’s home should have been one of the first invaded. Anyone who’d ever met Suzy Wheels did not need to ask why that didn’t happen. A former Tai Kwando Olympian, Suzanne had been in a traumatic accident two years prior to the plague hitting and wrecked her spine as well as her car.

She’d fought her way through eighteen painful months of physiotherapy and another six months in the gym, sculpting her upper body, building the functional muscle she needed and perfecting the technique required to fight from her chair. That had been her goal, re-enter the next Olympics, Rio 2016; the Olympics, mind, not the Paralympics, she’d say, and kick asses from a seated position. Joey could fight, but he had no doubt at all that the sixty-year old invalid could kick his ass all day long from the comfort of her modified wheelchair.

Taking a seat across from Alys who had resumed her place at the other side of the little fire, Joey picked out a potato that had been baking in the fire and began picking at it.

END OF EXCERPT

You can find me and my books at Amazon, UK. Amazon, US and at Paddy’s Daddy Publishing.

dEaDINBURGH – On Location and Chapter 12 Preview

Having spent a day shooting locations from the book with Paul McGuigan of PMCG Photography, it felt like a good time for another update.

At this point in the book, Alys and Joey have reunited after a three year absence. Alys has convinced Joey to enter a no man’s land in the South of the dead city, beyond the inner fences in search of a cure and a madman.

Lyrics from Unified Zombie Republic used with  permission of Gavin Bain
of Hopeless Heroic and Silibil-N-Brains

The following excerpt is from dEaDINBURGH by Mark Wilson and is copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing:

Chapter 12

 

A sudden push against the bus sent it wobbling to one side. Alys and Joey both snatched their weapons up and stood to look through the misted windows.

“Didn’t you have a check around before you arrived?” she snapped at Joey more out of shock than genuine anger.

“Of course I did.” He said calmly.

Both turned their eyes back to the winnow, Alys stepping forward to rub some of the condensation away with the sleeve of her coat. She gasped as she looked out onto Canonmills. Joey pressed his cheek against hers to get a better look through the gap she’d made and let out a little sound of his own.

The bus was surrounded by Zoms. Every panel, front, sides and rear was being pushed upon by a herd of them, three deep in parts. Each of them was completely fixed on the bus, lips drawn back from snapping teeth.

“Where the hell did they come from?” Joey asked. “You ever see that many in one place?”

Alys shook her head.

“You?”

Not like that.” He replied. “They’re all pretty fresh.

By fresh he meant fast, vicious, dangerous, and of course, hungry.

There was little chance of them pushing the bus over; they simply didn’t have the strength or coordination for that, unless they got lucky. The greatest risk to them was that the hands that had begun to slap against the windows would eventually break the glass. Neither of them was particularly worried about a zom climbing through a broken window, the panels were too high for that, but the broken window would definitely mean exposure to the bitter winter wind howling louder than the Zoms groans outside.

“Upstairs.” Alys told him, leading the way to the top deck.

From the top they gained a better view of what they faced. Alys guessed maybe sixty Zoms, all fresh, had surrounded the bus. She rubbed her temples, thinking, what the hell brought so many of them here?

Canonmills was outside the inner fence, but only just; and generally was fairly clear of the dead. Those she had encountered recently in the area had been older ones, slow and part-frozen with the winter frost.

Glancing along the aisle of the bus towards Joey who had his face pressed against the rear window, she gave him a sharp whistle. When he turned, she pointed up at the ceiling, eliciting a conspirational grin from him, followed by a quick nod of approval.

Stepping on Joey’s interlocked hands, she boosted herself up towards the skylight, pushed it open and climbed through, out onto the snow-covered roof, before dangling her arm through to help Joey up.

“I’m cool.” He told her. As Alys withdrew her arm, Joey’s hands grabbed the skylight and his feet suddenly shot through followed by the rest of him, head last. He landed lightly on his feet in a crouch.

“Show off.” She shook her head at him. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

She said, heading towards the edge to lean over. Her sudden presence above brought a surge of hungry groans from below.

“You think you can shoot them off? Maybe just clear a section for us to break through?”

Joey had a quick peek over.

“Na. Too few arrows; too many Zoms. How about we go back to the lower deck and just start braining them through the windows after they’ve broken through?”

Alys scowled.

“Too risky; too easy to get grabbed or bitten whilst reaching out.”

Joey’s face suddenly broke into a wide grin. Hooking his bow over his back, he went through his ritual of checking his weapons, tightening his laces and pulling his hood up, before cocking an eyebrow at her and flashing an even wider grin.

“Back in a minute, Alys.” He laughed and leaped from the bus’ roof onto the nearby bus shelter, from where he did a tight sideways somersault, landing on the roof of a phone box several feet away. With a final cartwheel-tuck, he span off the phone box, landing catlike two feet behind the row of Zoms who still faced the bus.

Launching into a song, he took off up the hill towards a burnt put Esso petrol station, Sixty-odd dead shuffling behind him like a grotesque parade.

“Searching for answers and finding more reasons, not to believe in the bullshit they feed us….” Joey sand loudly and out of tune, laughing as he ran, tumbled and span his way up the hill, away from the bus.

He’s entirely too full of himself, that boy, Alys thought, supressing a smile.

Returning a few minutes later, Joey had doubled back around the Zoms who were still headed up towards Rodney Street. Joey was walking towards her, arms wide in a what you think gesture. Alys shook her head, “Nice singing, Joey.”

He laughed loudly. “You like that? Jock taught me it.”

Joey launched into another verse, ducking as she threw a right-hander at him.

“Shut up, idiot. You’ll have them back down here.” She nodded up at the herd of Zoms. Some of the rear ones had lurched around and were looking in their direction, teeth bared.

“Okay. Let’s go tell your mother that we’re running away to find a cure at The Royal Infirmary, which is by the way, surrounded by murdering madmen who worship a Zommed-out footballer. That’ll be fun.”

Alys cocked an eyebrow at him. Deadpan she said. “Okay.”

End of Excerpt

On location in dEaDINBURGH

You can find Mark and his books at Amazon, US; Amazon, UK and at Paddy’s Daddy Publishing.

You can follow Mark’s progress on dEaDINBURGH on twitter at dEaDINBURGHbook

Head Boy Preview – Chapters 1 and 2

The following excerpt is from my upcoming 3rd novel, Head Boy and contains strong language.

Monday
Chapter 1
School

Strutting along Bellshill main street Davie Diller kicked a discarded Coke can under the wheels of a buggy causing one of the rear tyres to suffer a slash as it crushed the can underneath. It was unintended but Diller took satisfaction from the sound of the tyre bursting anyway. The young mum, fag in hand, black leggings-cum-tights straining to contain her blubbery legs, continued on without noticing the puncture.

As he neared Bellshill Academy, Diller took a hard drag on what remained of his cigarette and tossed it with a flick at the heels of a pensioner who faced away from him. Diller didn’t need the hassle being seen smoking near the school grounds brought from teachers today, he had enough on his plate. Dressed in denims, shirt and tie and wearing a new pair of Adidas Superstar 2 trainers, Diller shoved his way through the double doors of the formerly boys only entrance. He fully expected a few snide comments about his appearance from some of the staff, but his attitude unsurprisingly was fuck’em. Diller figured that the teachers would love to have the balls to turn up in school in decent attire instead of their ubiquitous, black shoes, troos, and ever so rebellious, patterned shirt and tie combo.
“Haw, Wee-man” Diller grabbed tightly on the arm of a third year he’d spotted hanging about at the door. “You better have something for me.”
Terror filling his eyes, the pupil stared nervously up at Diller. “Aye, I mean, yes. It’s here…”
“Right. Good.” Diller cut him off by snatching the small envelope the kid was offering out of his hand. Pushing the boy aside and pocketing the envelope, he painted a cheery smile on his face as Mr Oliphant passed. “Morning Mr Oliphant. Diller sing-songed at the passing Maths teacher.
Fumbling around in his briefcase, Oliphant, dressed in a tragic turquoise Asda shirt, tie and trouser combo didn’t manage to look up but grunted a distracted “Morning.”
Diller shook his head, wondering, not for the first time how a dozy old bastard like Olly managed to remember how to breathe in and out all day, never mind explain complex equations to his pupils. At least he had a nice way with him old Olly, unlike the majority of the arsehole teaching staff. Smiling to himself, Diller continued upstairs towards the English department and his first class.
“Morning Mr Diller.” Never far from the English department, Mr Bowie loomed at the end of the corridor. He had a gift for making a friendly morning greeting sound like an accusation. He made Mr Diller sound like arsehole.
Davie had been in Bowie’s class in fifth-year. It’d been one hell of a year. Bowie was never off his back, a total head-case. The simplest mistake, misspelling or breathing too loud some days, was enough to tip the man over the edge and into a rant about responsibility, carelessness etc. Obviously, this meant that Bowie was by far the best teacher in school to rip the pish out of, but Davie had learned to be circumspect in his efforts, no use giving him fuel for the fire of his outrage. Besides, in a school with seventy-odd teachers, Bowie was the only one who had seen past Davie’s outer-persona. He stared right through the intelligence, manners and faux-charm, straight into the devious and dangerous little shite who lived beneath the veneer of a dedicated pupil. Imagine Bowie’s joy when in Sixth year, as reward for all of his ‘consistently excellent contributions to the school’, Diller was made Head Boy.
Bowie seemed to have been a teacher at Bellshill academy forever. Having taught a lot of the kids in Diller’s Class parents, he was still here, having not evolved to the changing times one iota. How the hell can a teacher from the late seventies hope to understand what goes on in the mind of kids in the year 2013. With iPads, Kindle, internet, hell indoor toilets, it must be like the future to a guy like Bowie. Dressed in a brown suit, beige shirt, brown tie and tan-coloured shoes Bowie sported the only two things that marked him out even further as a man displaced from his own time. A great big, bushy, grey moustache and a Beatles-style bright ginger toupee. The fact that Bowie was onto him from first glance, combined with his appearance and the old man’s attempts to control him, quite simply made Bowie an irresistible target to Diller.

As Diller wasn’t late today, for once, that meant that he was probably overdue with an assignment. Without stopping, Diller pushed his way into the classroom and disappeared through the door, pretending he hadn’t heard. Prick.
First one here Diller noted as he entered the ancient-looking and smelling classroom. The wood panelled walls bore the carvings of generations of Bellshill Academy pupils ‘BYT’, Linda gies gobbles’ and other such displays of wit adorned the panels. The painted sections above the wood had faded from bright white, to dark brown over the decades. The polystyrene ceiling tiles, dotted with precariously hanging pencils and spit-formed balls of paper towel fragments added no ambience.
Taking his customary chair at the rear of the room, Diller stretched his legs, lifting them up and onto his desk and pulled his phone out to check on his Facebook page as he waited for the classroom to fill up. There’s wee Stacey sent me a message. She’s a wee dirty, that yin. Probably after her hole. Jabbing on the envelope icon to open the message, Diller confirmed his suspicions as to the contents of Stacey’s message. ‘U up 4 it the night, Davie?’ and quickly closed it again without replying, preferring to keep his options open. Tonight was a long way off, anything could happen between now and then. It was a school night, sure but Angels in Uddingston had a three hour happy hour tonight and it was calling his name.
Stacey, twenty-one year old receptionist at Cardinal Newman High, across the other end of town, had been a fuck-buddy of his for around six-months. She was sound as fuck. Always around when he took the notion; never needy for a wee cuddle or a kind word afterwards. They had to keep their liaisons quiet at any rate, due to the age difference. Diller suspected that Stacey was as bad as he was when it came to her attitude towards sexual partners, seeing them as little more than sex-aids. That was fine by him. A wicked grin crossed Diller’s face as he enjoyed a quick mental flashback to their last encounter together at her modest flat on Glebe street. Christ! That was a good night. Enjoying the afterglow of the memory, he re-opened the message and replied ;-). Sometimes words got you into trouble so a non-committal winking emoticon would keep those gates open without promising anything.
Just as Diller moved to thumb the off button, a significantly less welcome message vibrated through. Moving his finger to open it Diller’s heart sank at the name that appeared. ‘Big Hondo’.

Big Hondo was actually James Crosbie of Babylon Road. Sixty-eight years old with the muscle mass of a man half his age, Big Hondo stood well over six feet in height. A former steelworker, In the 90s Hondo had used his substantial redundancy money to set himself up at the forefront of the only thriving business Thatcher had left in the area, the drug business. Hondo also had the foresight and intelligence to attend university using the re-training wage kindly offered to the redundant men of Ravenscraig by Mrs T, graduating with a 2:1 in Business management.
Hondo attacked his new venture with the same commitment he had his degree at Uni, with the single-minded, fastidiousness that only mature students bring he implemented his detailed business plan; making a vast number of contacts abroad, establishing a supply chain, examining the logistics of his new enterprise, building a network of mules and street-corner/club dealers, armed with bags of…whatever. Hondo quite literally carved himself a huge slice of the drug trade pie in North and South Lanarkshire. In the process he employed violence more often than he employed new dealers.
Most folk in the area believe he gained the nickname ‘Hondo’ due to his love of all things Western-related. Permanently dressed in double-denim, cowboy boots, belt and Stetson, Hondo wasn’t difficult to spot in The Orb, a local pub, of an evening. The truth was that Hondo acquired his nickname from his enthusiastic use of the Bowie-knife, a cowboy’s favourite blade, as his favoured deal-maker and deal-breaker. Taking all of five years, Hondo had slashed, stabbed, throttled, drowned, bought, shagged, bribed, murdered and dealt his way to a position of power that had ultimately made him untouchable in Lanarkshire. Rumour had it that he had a fair few cops on his payroll, which Diller’s Dad said was rubbish. Drug-dealer propaganda he’d called it. Whatever the truth was, when it came to scoring some top-notch Charlie, Hondo was the man in Lanarkshire and the man was not to be fucked with.
Working with Big Hondo, was Wee Hondo, or Lionel, his son. Wee Hondo was if anything, even bigger than his Dad, but had none of the old man’s fierce intelligence, the only ferocity he displayed was with his fists. Growing up with Hondo as his father, immersed in the old man’s business, had made the boy as hard as rock. He didn’t need to be clever, the old boy took care of that, Wee Hondo was best utilised in the more physical side of the business. He was good at it and enjoyed it’s challenges immensely. Over the years, Wee Hondo had developed a reputation as a skilled remover of body parts. He could remove pretty much anything from a person whilst avoiding his victim bleeding out; so they said. A true chip off the old, blade-wielding, gonad-smashing block that was Big Hondo. It was true that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, but in Hondo’s case it had fallen with a pair of size fourteen, steel toe-capped boots, a pre-disposition towards torture and an evil grin. Big Hondo’s Dad, a wheelchair-bound ninety year old who smoked all day, dispensed larger deals to more trusted clients who visited their home and never left the house; completed the trio.

The Crosbies weren’t the small former-mining town’s only drug-dealers but the three men who made up their ranks controlled a continuous flow of the highest quality cocaine in a twenty mile radius and oversaw the activities of the others. Generously, the Crosbies also offered ‘tic’, an arrangement where the purchaser could obtain the drug of their choice gratis for an arranged period, usually a week or two. After that it was pay up or lose body parts courtesy of Wee Hondo. Diller was normally the type who preferred the former payment plan, but had been short of funds and taking the piss recently taking him dangerously close to paying the latter price.

Looking back to his phone, Diller sat staring at the unopened icon for a few minutes. Shit. Whatever Hondo wanted wouldn’t be good news; that Diller was certain of. He thumbed the message and felt a shiver pass through his muscles as he read the words ‘Hundred Grand by Friday or UR dead.’

Chapter 2

On a School Night

“Give me those fags.” Diller had scraggy-looking fourth year boy with a squint in his eye, whose name he didn’t know pressed against the wall with the palm of his hand on the lads’ chest, in the alcove under the assembly hall.
“Ye’ cannae’ dae’ that.” The wee guy squealed.
Diller poked an index finger into ‘Skelly-eye’s’ shoulder. “Hurry up ya wee fanny.’ His voice was calm and quiet. Skelly-eye looked around at his friends for a bit of back-up, but they’d picked a spot each on the ground and were avoiding Diller’s challenging, scanning stare. One of them got a moment of courage and told Skelly-eye, “Just give him them Jordan.”
Diller pushed his nose closer to Jordan’s. Letting some gas rise up his throat, he belched loudly in the kid’s face, noticing the after-burn of the cold curry he’d had for breakfast. Jordan wretched a little at the smell and reached into his jacket pocket for his ten-deck of Lambert and Butler.
“Here.” Jordan slapped the pack into Diller’s waiting hand.
“Smoking’s bad for ye’ Jordan” Diller put a mocking tone into name, “I’m doing ye’ a favour here, son. Right,” he leaned in close to whisper into Jordan’s ear, “get tae’ fuck, dick.”
As the little group of fourth years ran off, Diller rounded the corner and entered the bin shed, flicking one of Jordan’s cigarettes into his mouth as he walked out of view. Grimacing at the first harsh lungful, he examined the silver box Jordan had given him. Cheap, shitey fags, I’ll have to pick a better class of loser for my next pack. Lunchtime lasted fifty minutes and Diller normally spent that time smoking in the bin shed, chatting up some of the sixth year lassies he hadn’t ridden yet or occasionally doing some work in the library to keep up appearances. Today, he smoked eight of the ten cigarettes Jordan had ‘gifted’ him in a twenty minute blast, mind racing with possibilities, consequences and possible outcomes. This thing with Hondo was a worry, no doubt about it.
A long-term client of Hondo’s, Diller had made a small business of buying manageable quantities of coke over the last two years or so. He had a small number of guys dealing for him, after a wee tamper with the quality of the product, of course; and with Hondo’s blessing. The problem was that over the last six months or so, Diller had taken on an absolute mountain of coke, all on ‘tic’ with a far too care-free attitude.
He hadn’t snorted hundred grand’s worth of Hondo’s Charlie on his own, he found that coke made him a bit too careless and made his ego grow out of control; on the contrary he’d been very generous with it. The coke had been meted out to barmen, bouncers, and potential sexual-partners; to low-level dealers whose own inferior product paled in comparison and any number of thugs out over the six months. Diller was building his own wee network of ‘friends’ and filling an account full of favours owed from a range of useful types around Lanarkshire. You never knew when an alibi, some muscle, entry to a club or some sex would be needed and Diller liked to keep a myriad of opportunities and options on call. School, with its ever-changing clientele and flow of people was an ideal recruiting base and networking opportunity for those who kept their eyes open. Never dealing though, not in school.
It was an expensive endeavour, this networking and favour gathering and one that Hondo had been happy to fund, in the short-term, owing to Diller’s connections to the constabulary through his dad and the impressive sales he’d clocked up over a short time. It looked like Hondo had just decided that Diller had been giving away too much or not selling enough, either that or he’d decided that Diller was gaining too large a network and wanted him shut down. There was also the possibility that Hondo simply wanted a return on his investment. A hundred grand, though? Surely Hondo’s been a bit heavy on the interest there, I couldn’t have done in that much coke in six months, could I?
Lighting cigarette number nine, Diller noted that it was the ‘lucky fag’ from the packet, the one that everyone always turns filter side down when a fresh pack is opened. Smiling in acknowledgment at the absurdity of the ubiquitous smoker’s habit, he sparked it up. As he smoked his way down to the shite at the end of the cigarette, almost to the filter, an evil smile spread across his face and a plan tickled the cold recesses of his brain. It’d be tricky, but it just might work.
Flicking the butt into the pile he’d made, Diller straightened his shirt and headed up to the assembly hall just as the bell rang, signalling that lunchtime was over. As part of his ‘Special Duties’ he regularly delivered a short motivational or informative speech at some of the junior kids’ assemblies. It was fourth year today and a talk on health and wellbeing. Diller would be advising the junior pupils on the evils of drugs, alcohol and smoking. To be fair, he wasn’t exactly short of experience on the subjects. He’d have to remember to ‘thank’ Jordan for his lucky fag if he saw him in assembly.

Leaving the school grounds within ten minutes of the final bell ringing, Diller turned off of Main Street, passed Riley’s pool hall, which was in the process of closing for good, and along Thorn Road towards the railway bridge. Having grabbed a Superdry hoodie from his school locker, Diller pulled he hood up over his head. His old man still worked in the police station. He rode a desk these days, but still had a finger in every pie. Diller needed to slip past unnoticed, he could do without a conversation with the old man at the moment; he had places to be.
Continuing along towards the little tunnel under the bridge, he slipped through and took the short walk to ‘The Sandy’ a shitehole of a park where all the local Neds gathered. One Ned in particular interested him, Tommy McTavish, aka Tawttie.
Tawttie appeared with a small crew of his ‘team’, a bunch of local losers who Diller had known for years. Each of them had been a pupil at Bellshill Academy.
Noticing Diller lurking on the periphery of the park, Tawttie, left his four comrades and shuffled over in Diller’s direction. Dressed in typical NED attire; tracksuit, trousers tucked into socks, scabby-looking, ingrained mud on white clothes offset by sparkling white trainers, Burberry cap and a brace of sovereign rings, Tawttie and his crew looked like every other wee fanny in Lanarkshire. Their clothes were practically a uniform and the trademark ‘dug’, normally Rottweiler or Pit-bull, was a given.

Not being the academic type, Tawttie had left Bellshill Academy in fourth year and been quickly recruited by Diller. Amongst other things, he couriered items and substances, but essentially did Diller’s dirty work for him, allowing Diller to maintain his facade. The pair had first spoken business after a particularly vicious playground fight that Tawttie had won quickly and clinically with a boot to the balls and a stamp on the prone head of his opponent. Diller had watched with interest as Tawttie had dismantled the other boy, moving aside only as Bowie pushed past him to break up the fight, admonishing Diller with a hard stare for standing watching the display. Within a week of the incident, Tawttie was permanently expelled from school and working for Diller.
Guy’s like Tawttie were far from rare in Lanarkshire and easily made use of; a few free bags of Charlie here, a few quid there, some opportunities to make some easy money and build a bit of a street-rep; They weren’t interested in getting a job; all they wanted was some money and some drugs in their pocket and their hole occasionally.
Fear was another excellent tool to make these guys comply and one which Diller was expertly skilled in wielding. Physically, any one of these guys could easily overcome Diller, but he’d been patient in his younger days, Overheard conversations between his dad and a variety of colleagues; greasing the right palms with drugs and money, the threat of Hondo in his corner; these things had served to place Diller into a position where these street-mugs respected and feared him. As the son of a teacher and a copper, convention would dictate that he’d be the last type of boy to involve himself in this world. His desires, connections, insight, skills and inherent badness had meant he was a natural.
By far the most difficult part to date had been keeping up his mask of normality in school and at home, but he’d turned it into a game in his mind, considering the roles he played as his secret identity; like Batman, but a bastard-Batman. Every so often though, violence was required by circumstances and demanded by his true self, the pressure of hiding his inner-bastard built up and needed to be released.
He’d learned to pick his moment over the years and selected people that no-one would miss; those who would serve as a warning to others. Junkies, dealers, people who owed dealers money, nobodies. He always cleaned up after himself, burning every fibre of clothing he may have worn in the act. Each victim attributed, on the grape-vine, to young Hondo.
Of course, with Tawttie, there was the added incentive that the guy had seen the monster hidden under the mask, when he’d walked into a dark close on Lawmuir Road in the early hours to find Diller crouched over a forty-year old man, knife in his eye socket, eye on the ground. No stranger to cutting a man himself, Tawttie had nodded, turned around silently and left Diller to his work, but he’d never looked him straight in the eye again and never argued when issued a task.
“Eh, awright, eh… Diller.” Tawttie’s voice was nasal and he used exaggeratedly long and faux cheery notes, again, part of the NED persona. He was nervous, he always was around Diller. This showed that he was smarter than he looked.
Diller ignored Tawttie’s eloquent greeting and threw a fifty-gram bag of Charlie in his direction. The coke, Hondo’s finest was cut generously with glucose from the school’s Science stores and cost Tawttie one hundred pounds per gram. Diller had ‘paid’ Hondo eighty pounds for it. The effective downgrading of the Charlie made it go a whole lot further and usually went unnoticed by the kind of mutant who opted to purchase their drugs from the likes of Tawttie. His clientele would still be thrilled at the quality despite the glucose; it would most likely be a nice change from their nose-powder being cut with bathroom products. In all likelihood when Tawttie’s coke made its way down the supply chain a few levels, from the odd banker and lawyer, to Hipsters to bored housewives, to deadbeats; it’d probably still be destined to mingle with a variety of household powders until the junky at the bottom of the pile and the peak of some junk withdrawal was snorting about one percent coke, ninety-nine percent fuck-knows what.
“Money.” Diller barked at Tawttie who hurriedly fished a scabby-looking brown bag stuffed with what Diller expected would be even scabbier-looking notes of all denominations from one of his pockets and placed it in Diller’s hand.
At that, Diller left without another word and headed to five more similarly engaging appointments with several variations on Tawttie around town. The money was stacking up, for sure, but a hundred grand in a week just didn’t seem possible. Diller suspected that was the whole point. Hondo liked to make an example of someone from time to time. It was becoming apparent that Diller’s moment had arrived. Hondo had abandoned his corner and become his opponent. Fuck it. Had to happen eventually; bring it on, Hondo.

Head Boy will be published by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing in July 2013

 

Mark Wilson’s Other Novels are available now on Amazon

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