Scarlet Fever

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Scarlet shifted in her seat, looked at her mobile phone and twisted back into her previous position. Boredom had settled on her like a heavy, damp blanket two hours into the flight when she finished reading her novel. It was a six hour flight and she’d only packed one book.
The complete lack of distraction or stimulation felt like it was killing her slowly from the inside. It was a sign of how desperate Scarlet was that she did something she had never done before. She looked around for someone on the plane she could talk to.
It was an unspoken rule, almost and Eleventh Commandment, and Scarlet was sure she was not the only one who followed it; nobody talks to strangers during a flight. Bad enough, she thought, that people were packed together in a great flying sardine tin. Worse yet that there was less than no chance of having something in common with another passenger. Once you factored in stop-overs and connecting flights, economy versus first class, travel for family and tourism or business, it seemed to Scarlet like human soup, everyone mixed together in a random assortment of jumbled lives.
But the boredom was numbing her mind and she needed to talk to someone. On her left, in the window seat, a slightly tubby lady in her late sixties was dozing against the armrest. Scarlet looked at her for a moment, taking in her blonde hair faded almost white, and wondered whether she had been beautiful when she was younger. She had done her makeup before boarding, there was a smudge of lipstick on the cuff of her blouse, so clearly she was someone who took care of her appearance.
The cruise brochure sticking out of the seat pocket suggested that she might be hoping to meet a male companion during her holiday. There had only been the usual safety card and in-flight magazine in front of Scarlet’s seat. I was fun trying to make observations about her neighbour, but she was aware of how awkward be if the lady woke up to fin Scarlet staring at her.
The man on her right seemed more promising. At least, Scarlet thought, he was awake. Her first guess was that he was a holidaymaker traveling with his family, but she hadn’t seen him even look at another passenger.
“Hi, I’m Scarlet. Are you going on holiday with family?”
He couldn’t have looked more shocked in Scarlet’s mind if she had hopped onto his lap and started singing Christmas jingles. His eyes widened as he turned to look at her, mouth slightly agape, as though he couldn’t believe someone was actually trying to start up a conversation mid-flight. There was genuine panic in his expression as he seemed to momentarily forget how those exchanges usually went.
“Yes.” He said in an oddly high-pitched voice. “Sorry, I mean no. I was going back, or rather I was home seeing relatives. Now I’m going back. I work in Manaus.”
“Oh that’s interesting.” Scarlet said, not needing to pretend to be intrigued. Nothing about his appearance suggested he was an international businessman. In fact, she had noticed that he didn’t carry a briefcase onto the plane, only a small backpack stuffed full to bursting. “So what is it you do?”
“I work for a large commercial organisation.” He furrowed his brows in a frown, as if frustrated with himself. “Sorry, I’m not really allowed to say more. It’s quite sensitive.”
“Ah, right.” Scarlet muttered in a blank tone. “Do you mind if I get up for a minute?”
She gestured vaguely down the aisle towards the toilets. He stretched out of his seat and let her shuffle past. Scarlet scowled as she walked between the rows of seats. She guessed that the man had been flattered by the attention of a younger woman and decided to try his hand at being mysterious. The way he had spoken made it sound like he was a spy, or wanted to be one. Her mood was sour and hadn’t improved by the time she left the bathroom.
But something distracted Scarlet as she wandered back to her seat, stumbling through a juddering patch of turbulence. The man in the aisle seat looked even more nervous than when she had initiated their short-lived conversation. A Latin American woman, tall with stooped shoulders and tear-soaked cheeks, was clinging to his arm. The man was nearly writhing with discomfort.
“Please, mister.” The grey-haired woman said in a frantic voice. “Tell me what you know. You must know something. My son, my grandchildren. What’s happening to them?”
A flight attendant had arrived on the scene, wearing an expression of canned calm. It was the same look all airline employees bore, one which told travellers that nothing was wrong. That look always worried Scarlet, making her think that they were hiding some impending threat from her.
“Madam, please go back to your seat.”
“No, but I heard this man talking. He works for the company. They know what is happening where my family lives, let me ask him.”
Scarlet decided to intervene. A part of her felt sympathetic towards the old grandmother, but more than that it seemed like a situation which could easily provide a few hours of distraction. The flight attendant had managed to chivvy the lady back to a vacant seat in the rear of the plane. Scarlet followed them and waited until the stewardess had moved away, suspecting that she might be breaking some airline rule.
“Excuse me.” Scarlet said. The woman’s tear-streaked face turned towards her with a despairing look. “I heard what you were saying before. Is there something I can do to help?”
“Please.” She whispered, reaching up with a quaking, wrinkled hand to hold Scarlet’s. “Something terrible is happening. My family lives in the rainforest, at a tourist lodge in the jungle, and I haven’t heard from them in weeks. Please, look at this.”
She pulled a crumpled sheet of paper out from her battered handbag. It was a printout from a website, the layout similar to that Scarlet had seen on news sites, but the writing was all in Portuguese and she couldn’t understand a word of it.
Her eyes snagged on a black and white photograph stretched across the top of a page. It had that obscure, abstract appearance Scarlet always saw in monochrome pictures. For a while, she couldn’t even tell what it was. Then a small detail emerged, someone’s grey big toe nudging out from the bottom of a crumpled tarpaulin. Gnarled tree roots were twisted around the edge of the image. Scarlet realised that she was looking at a picture of a dead body.
Using her very basic knowledge of other languages and some guesswork, she translated the headline.
“Mysterious deaths in heart of rainforest. Cause unknown. Hundreds missing.”

Scarlet Murder Release

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My first crime / mystery novel has just become available on Amazon Kindle. It’s a new genre for me, so something of an experiment. I’ve already posted a prologue and introduction. It’s quite a short ebook, but reasonably priced.

Here’s what it says on the tin:

“If your fiancé suddenly asked you to go on an early honeymoon, would you say yes?

When Jack begins behaving oddly, Scarlet wishes she hadn’t. But little does she know that the holiday from hell will soon be taking a terrible turn for the worse.

Unsettling mysteries, tragic murder and a cold-blooded assassin stalk a young couple’s romantic getaway on the Spanish coast.

Scarlet Murder follows the experiences of a woman who is desperate to discover the truth and catch a heartless killer.

But can she succeed before the murderer turns his attentions towards her? And how does the death of a laid-off construction worker turned petty arms dealer connect the dots?”

Buy the ebook here.

Scarlet Murder Introduction

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Introducing a work-in-progress for which I would appreciate any feedback or criticism. I currently intend to publish it as a short novel to start off a periodic crime thriller series. 

If your fiance suddenly asked you to go on an early honeymoon, would you say yes? When Jack begins behaving oddly, Scarlet wishes she hadn’t. But she little knows that the holiday from hell will soon be taking a terrible turn for the worse.

Unsettling mysteries, tragic murder and a cold-blooded assassin stalk a young couple’s romantic getaway on the Spanish coast. Scarlet Murder follows the experiences of a woman who is desperate to discover the truth and catch a heartless killer. But can she succeed before the murderer turns his attentions towards her? And how does the death of a laid-off construction worker turned petty arms dealer connect the dots?

Read the prologue on this blog by clicking here.

Scarlet Murder Prologue

Here’s a taster of a crime thriller I’ve been playing around with. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Javier took a slow sip from the lemonade bottle as he leaned against the back of his convertible. His wife wanted him to stop having fizzy drinks but she did not push the matter too forcefully. Like he told her, lemonade was better for him than beer. He was honest enough that he could admit to being a mean drunk.

Something in his trousers pinged insistently. Javier pulled the mobile out of his jeans pocket and looked at the screen. The number was unknown. He slipped inside the car and turned up the volume on the radio.

“What are you looking for?” He asked.

“One piece, it doesn’t need to be clean.”

“You can pay?”

“I’ll bring cash.”

“Do you know where?”

“It’s a hotel.”

“Adios.”

Javier slammed the driver’s side door closed and tossed the empty bottle into the street. His littering did not worsen the appearance of the street in any noticeable way.

Two large rubbish bins were parked against the side of a decaying block of flats but the bin men always seemed to pass his neighbourhood by. The bagged rubbish left over from a time when people still bothered to make an effort was buried beneath a growing mound of cartons, cans and rotten food.

Buying a convertible in a neighbourhood with no rubbish collection had been a very expensive mistake. The seats were beginning to smell like the inside of a skip.

Javier put his foot down and the car shot out onto the hot tarmac. He was heading towards the seafront. If he had been going at that speed in summer there would have been a whole pile of pale, fat English and German corpses piled up on his bonnet.

But that part of the coast stayed pretty quiet in the winter. He did not mind the quiet; it helped his business run more smoothly.

The mobile was ringing again. He took his hands away from the wheel and tried to ease it out of his pocket. It was harder sitting down. Maria was right, he had put on weight.

He finally wrestled the phone free from his jeans and saw his wife’s name lighting up the screen. Javier swore and put one hand back on the wheel.

“Why didn’t you pick up?” She asked.

“I just did. We’re talking right now.”

“Are you drinking?”

“No, I’m driving.”

“Are you drinking and driving?”

“No, I’m just driving. Why are you calling me?”

“A client called.”

“I know. I spoke to him.”

“Don’t be late and don’t get ripped off again.”

Javier hit the end call button with his thumb and threw the phone into the passenger seat. The money was easy but sometimes he missed construction work. He hated economic recessions.

He had not even heard of a recession until he was in one. Empty apartment blocks loomed up on either side of the street. He would have been tempted to break into one if he did not know from past experience that there was nothing worth stealing inside.

His car rolled up to the front of the hotel and he climbed out onto the pavement. The waterfront was even emptier than usual. He took his sports bag out of the boot and strolled into the reception.

A weary old man in glasses peered at him as he approached. Javier tapped his hand on the desk and the man slid a room key across it. He passed him a five euro note and walked towards the lift.

“It’s not working.” The old man called after him.

Of course it was out of service. That was typical of a rundown hotel like this. Javier wondered if he was the only guest who visited the place. Perhaps there was an even older man in a suit sitting in an office behind reception counting his five euro notes and lining them up in neat stacks.

There were brown stains on the white painted walls of the staircase. Javier wondered if it was dirt or mould. It did not matter much to him but he was curious.

His room key said one hundred and three. He knew there were less than a hundred rooms in the hotel, he had been in nearly all of them, so the one meant first floor.

It was odd that the receptionist always gave him a different key, not in a worrying way, just something strange to think about.

He stepped into room one hundred and three. It looked identical to every other dingy room in the building. The paint was flaking off the walls, the mattress was stained and the television was a relic from when he was a toddler.

Someone knocked on the door a few minutes after he arrived.

“Wait a second.” He called.

There was nothing familiar about the man in the doorway. He hid his eyes underneath a low baseball cap and moved inside as soon as the door was open.

Javier knew better than to look too hard at his guest, people did not like feeling as though someone would remember their face.

“Do you have it?” He asked.

“It’s in the bathroom.”

The man dropped a plastic shopping bag and stepped into the next room. Javier heard the toilet flush as he was counting the money. They always had full bladders, something to do with nerves. That was what gave him the idea of leaving the merchandise in the bathroom. That way he could deny knowing it was there if the police caught him.

He furrowed his eyebrows and started counting the small wad of notes again. Unless he had counted wrong the first time, there were a few missing.

Walking towards the open bathroom door, he heard the sound of a running tap. The second count had given the same result. Javier hoped the buyer had not climbed out of a window. Maria would scream herself hoarse if he was ripped off again.

His worst fears were realised when he got to the bathroom door. The toilet seat was up and the tap was running in the sink. His sports bag lay open on the counter, emptied of one small calibre pistol, silencer and a magazine of seven rounds. Javier swore.

Something moved in the mirror. He looked across the room and saw the man standing in the bathtub below the shower.

“Hey, there isn’t enough here.”

Something flashed and spat in the man’s hand. Javier felt his head hit the hard tiles. The man stepped carefully over him and he heard the door bang shut just as a black void closed in around him.

You can find:

  • a crime short story here
  • a historical-crime short here;
  • or a fantasy short here.

You can also find a novel I wrote on Kindle here.