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Finding Zoe Dawes

by phleggers 

Posted: 16 July 2008
Word Count: 10384
Summary: Tom is a man in need of passion. His wife knew it all too well - but by killing herself Tom never gained the benefit of her insights. Finding Zoe Dawes in a novel which tells of how Tom goes in search of his own insights. With the help of old friend Rag Bowman, they re-live an old journey which results in a visit to Jupiter and an epiphany...with a few tales along the way.

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Finding Zoe Dawes
A novel by Matthew Langford

Tom stared into the hallway mirror. His suit, worn for only the third time, had become ruffled following the days events. What remained of the afternoon sun shone dully through the small window in his PVC front door. A pile of unopened post lay to one side where it had been idly pushed by the opening door. It looked as if it had grown in stature day by day. Dust had settled on the telephone and the bookcase. A montage of photographs hung above the phone. The centre photo – a picture of Tom and his bride on their wedding day – was flanked by various holiday and ‘out and about’ pictures, plus one of Tom being muddy on a mountain bike. They were all shamelessly ordinary.
Tom stared into the hallway mirror.
He absentmindedly dropped the VHS tape he had been holding. The shock of being stirred from his thoughts caused him to also drop the clear re-sealable bag he was holding in his other hand. It contained a single peanut. He clumsily crouched, his knees clicking wildly, and picked up the two objects. He groaned as he stood up again. The smart trousers he was wearing constricted his bollocks and his arse whenever he dared stoop or lunge – his 29th year had been a fat one. He swung his hips back and forth a couple of times in order to swing his trousers comfortably around his much abused appendages. It was then that it occurred to him he no longer needed the suit. It had served its function. It has made him smart in court, which was all he had needed it for. So he took the trousers off. Then the jacket. He merely loosened the tie.
He tried staring in the mirror again, but the moment had passed. He felt oddly self-conscious staring into a mirror with no trousers on, so he decided to make a cup of tea instead.
As the kettle boiled he mused to himself how tea and the making of it so adequately focussed the mind. Maybe it was sound of the boiling water which soothed. Or the drifting, hot steam which hit you in the face and sharpened your thoughts. He audibly gasped as it occurred to him that yet again he was considering the mundane aspects of the day. Surely the outcome of the inquest into his wife’s death, the one he had been avoiding for the last few weeks, should be more deserving of his consideration. More than the tea he was currently making anyway. The tea which had redirected his train of thought back to his wife. It had been careering, more recently anyway, towards the idea of what he would wear for the rest of the day. His legs were cold. He wouldn’t be going out. Was there any need to wear proper clothing when it would only be binned for the wash in only a few hours? He didn’t own a dressing gown. His tea spilt as he attempted to physically jerk himself back to the subject of his wife’s suicide. So he made another one.
Suicide. The word had struck him as the coroner had read the verdict – but nothing like as hard as it should have. As he’d sat there, the murmuring of Hazel’s family turning to further anguish, he’d tried to feel emotional. He failed. He’d mouthed the word to himself in an attempt to prick some root of sentiment, but failed. He felt only stuffy and thirsty. It had been a long day. His trousers should have been the least of his problems. Sadly, he felt that they weren’t. He’d turned and looked at Hazel’s mother – visibly greyer and forever joyless – and gave what he thought was an encouraging smile. Whatever his intention it was lost on her as she sunk almost to her knees in a wave of shameless grief. Hazel’s brother delicately manhandled her back to her feet. He darted a blank look at Tom, conveying far more emotion than Tom had managed since he’d found Hazel’s mottled corpse. Tom felt unsure whether the look was designed to convey ‘it was all your fault!’ or ‘why can’t you just leave us all alone!’ He doubted it as there was little he could have done to save Hazel...and there certainly has been no implication he’d been involved in the…suicide. So he gave Hazel’s brother another cordial smile. He got nothing in return.
Tom decided to try and feel bad about not feeling bad. He failed. Even when the court bailiff, or bursar, or some court official offered him back the items that had been central to the inquest, Tom had accepted them numbly and offered thanks for all the hard work. But felt nothing. He’d tried staring at the VHS tape in attempt to visualise what was recorded on it (the police, upon discovering it, had played it only to investigators – hence Tom had never watched it). Surely that would shock him into an outpouring of hysteria? Not a bit of it. He simply smiled as he mused at how Hazel has used such an outdated medium. There was a perfectly adequate and easy-to-use digital camcorder in Tom’s study. She must have faffed for ages trying to get the old handycam to work. So very like her.
He sat on his sofa with his tea and looked at the peanut. Maybe that would stir something. Having a severe allergy to all things nuttish, it had killed her before she had even swallowed it. Bang to rights. She hadn’t stood a chance – as she’d well known. Hence the verdict. And her final message at the end of her short film…
“This one’s for you, Tom!”
Without apparent brain to limb vindication he had inserted the video tape into his player and watched what would forever be referred to as evidence. He’d known about the details of the tape but this was the first time he’d watched it. Fuelled on cocaine and gin Hazel had installed the handycam on her dressing table to record what amounted to a surprisingly short, but no less explicit, sex session with a colleague from Tom’s newspaper. They’d pounded and groaned for barely 90 seconds before slumping into a very glazed and sweaty heap. Still shivering with orgasm she had demanded with an aggression Tom had hitherto never suspected that her temporary lover leave the room, the house and her fucking life. As he’d tripped semi-naked from the room, partly shocked, mostly relived, she’d perched herself on the edge of the bed. Sweating and still panting she stared into the camera. She proceeded to stare even further. The far off slam of the front door did nothing to stop her in her deadened gaze. A small trickle of blood from her abused septum was wiped away with barely a flinch. She stared…and stared. Tom could only stare back into those so familiar brown eyes. Usually they shone with contentment. Here they shone with menace and stimulants. She continued to stare until the word ‘stare’ lost all emphasis. Finally she averted her gaze with a defeated smile.
“Annoying, isn’t it?” She muttered. Leaning down she picked up her bag and took out the peanut. Holding it in front of the lens she smiled again and uttered her final words…
Still nothing stirred in Tom. She’d held the peanut in her mouth for nearly a minute when her eyes widened with terror. She started to go blue. Actually blue. Tom had always thought it was merely an analogy and that people merely went very pale as they suffocated. Now he saw that people really do go blue. She slumped forward, knocking the camera backwards and leaving the tape to record the grubby white ceiling for the next three minutes. The anaphylaxis sang it’s tune. The sounds of Hazel’s stridor and eventual total occlusion continued until the silence set in. After a few more seconds he realised ‘Head hunters ‘ by Herbie Hancock had been playing in the background, presumably the whole time.
Still nothing.
He stopped the tape and sat back in the sofa. He was still holding the peanut in one hand, his tea in the other. Was that it? What now? He hummed a tuneless ditty as if this may lead to some clue as to how he should react. Almost without thinking Tom ate the peanut. His stomach surged with adrenaline as he realised what a bizarre, cruel thing he had just done. But he still didn’t cry. Still he simply stared. He thought of Hazel’s continued gaze into the camcorder prior to her act of suicide. He completely understood what she was doing – she was parodying his annoying habit of drifting off in any given situation and staring into space. On these occasions he would rarely be thinking of anything specific. Just putting his mind on pause for a short time. At first she thought it was endearing. Then as they’d become more co-dependent she wondered if he had some kind of disorder. Then, following the redundancy and the miscarriage, she’d told him it depressed her. He didn’t realise that she wasn’t using the word to simply embellish her feelings. It was a palpable, ultimately fatal, state of mind she was in.
Still nothing. Not even faint regret. He stared at the white noise on his television. Gradually his thoughts become less and less bound to the important subjects of the day. The void quickly set itself back in place. With a short-lived jump of conscience he wondered briefly why it was that he was more than capable of passionate outpourings and splurges of emotion in response to many varied, mostly trivial, stimuli…but not this. Soon, he slept.

He was jerked awake by sound of someone banging on the front door. Still bare legged he stood up; a sense of panic not helped by the erection bulging unmistakably beneath his boxers. He kicked over his half drunk tea and lunged at the TV to turn it off. He lost his balance, toppled forward and simultaneously banged his head on the TV screen and pulled his calf muscle. The banging on the door continued.
Head pressed against the TV and legs floundering in the air, he rolled awkwardly onto his back with a groan. Tom’s mood was jostled by the spilt tea, which was enjoying an unexpectedly final journey through the fibres of his boxer shorts. He jumped up quickly and jarred his back in trying to twist round and look at his own bottom. The banging on the door abruptly stopped. It was then that he noticed the carpet burn on the tip of his still unexpectedly erect penis. Mentally shaking himself he walked slowly to the front door, performing several twists, pushes and cool, mental baths as he went.
He opened the door. There was nobody there.
He gently closed the door with a sigh and absently picked up a random selection of mail that was piled high under the letter box. His attention was stolen by his monthly edition of Mountain Bike Rider (mbr). On the cover was an action picture of the new Cannondale frame with Marzocchi bomber suspension forks and, what appeared to be under all the grime, a Hope Pro 2 rear wheel. Tom wasn’t a fan of the Hope Pro 2. It looked clunky and cumbersome. It was good for downhill racing but get it on the normal trails and its weight always made those tight corners harder to navigate. He decided to leave the magazine by the telephone and flip through it during his breakfast.
Walking up the stairs he thought now might be a good time to sort the letters into three morbidly distinct piles. Letters for him, letters for Hazel and letters for both of them. He would then create sub piles for each of the three main ones – important looking letters, important looking letters which on closer inspection were clearly junk, unimportant looking letters which may well be important, clearly important letters which could be dealt with when whoever sent that one, sent another one, hand-written letters and parcels. He would then take the neatly stacked piles and with the exception of the parcels, push them into a black bin liner. Tom didn’t believe in recycling. If the earth had survived goodness knows how many meteor impacts, it could survive a few thousand years of elaborate and hairless monkeys, no matter what they got up to. The telephone rang. The shock caused Tom to drop the letters and fall backwards down the stairs.
By the time Tom had regained his composure and sorted his stiffened but still working limbs from the pile of letters, the caller deemed the passage of time sufficient enough to assume that Tom would not be answering the phone. Tom, however, was mere microseconds out of step and sighed a curse as he replaced the receiver. He spent the next few minutes dialling for the caller’s number, or the answerphone, occasionally leaving an arbitrary length of time in which somebody could reasonably leave an answerphone message, then dialling for the caller’s number again. Through all this he hoped his extend arousal would dissipate soon. Its longevity was bordering on the extraordinary, even for a morning. He then found himself jumping in shock at the face pressed up against the window of his front door.

Tom limped over.
“What do you want?” He called, not unreasonably.
The face continued to press its nose against the glass, mist rising and falling rhythmically on the opaque window around the distorted features. A dark outline appeared to one side of the head, apparently holding something black and sleek against its ear.
The phone rang. With nothing better to do Tom answered it.
“Yes!” He said, testily.
“Tom?” Asked the caller. “Is that you, Tom?”
“I am me, Tom, yes. Am I speaking to whoever is staring at me through my front door?”
The speaker chuckled. “Yes, I am me also. Nothing gets past you, does it? Same old Tom; same old sharpness.”
There was an uncomfortable pause as neither Tom nor the caller could think of anything useful to say.
“Would mind opening the door please?” asked the caller, finally.
Tom apologised and replaced the receiver. He felt very tired – so tired in fact he was unable to identify to himself that he was, indeed, very tired. It felt like something else; something more profound and emotive. But he was simply exhausted. He looked down at his tea-stained boxers, his now thankfully flaccid penis and wrinkled shirt, and thought about nothing in particular. His face, furrowed and confused, watched the replaced receiver for a short time before taking a deep breath. He knew instinctively that the caller would hold nothing but irritation for him. He turned, and opened the door.
“There we are, Tom!” Said a gleaming smile. “I knew you could do it. Last time we saw each other you only slightly worse for wear…having not bathed for three and half weeks in between sweating and sitting in smoky bars. You were on a train departing for Salisbury and waving at me. In part you were being polite, but I fear your motives were driven mainly by relief. Hello! How the devil are you?”
Tom rubbed his eyes and itched his arm.
“It’s Mark, isn’t it?” He said. “Mark Bowman?”
The smile didn’t falter.
“Of course it is,” said Mark. “Although these days people aren’t calling me Mark anymore. They’re all calling me Rag. But you do what you’re comfortable with. Can I come in?”
Tom stood to one side and indicated that it was fine for Rag to enter. He closed the door – the light in the house sinking to a gloam – and watched Rag looking around: judging his hallway.
“Well well well! Ten years does a lot to a man, Tom. Tell me, who’s the lovely lady in the picture?” Rag pointed to the wedding photo next the hallway mirror.
Tom scratched his arm again more irritably and replied, “We haven’t been in touch for ten years. You’ve somehow tracked me down here in Oxford. We went to school together in Exeter. Surely whatever extensive research you’ve put in would have thrown up the fact that my wife has just killed herself?”
Rag stared blankly at Tom for an uncomfortable period – so long in fact that Tom replayed his little retort back in his head and realised how rude he may have been. He was about to apologise and explain that he had been under a lot of strain recently (and his blasted itchy arm was making him tetchy) when Rag broke out into another smile.
“Of course, Tom! I know everything. I just wanted to hear it from you. It’s not easy opening up a ten year old healing wound with a ‘So, your wife’s dead then. Did it with a nut and captured it post-coitally on film for all to see…or so I hear.’ Wouldn’t do, would it. My word this reunion isn’t going too well so far, is it? How about a cup of tea and we can start all over again. I have a proposition for you…and I’d feel better about my offer if I had a cup of tea in one hand and a non-cuppable Tom in the other. In fact I’ll be frank with you Tom – please put some trousers on.”
Tom gaped at Rag and seemed to expect something exceptional to happen. It never came. With nothing better to do he mumbled a half hearted apology and went off to have a shower. With a subtle shake of the head Rag went onto the kitchen and made some tea.
Mark Bowman. Tom ran the name through his head and let it cascade over his memories like the rather overly hot water that had just gushed forth from the shower head. He had barely thought of Mark in any of the squirts of life that had occurred over the past ten years. He had been very funny. Outrageously funny. He had been able to make teachers laugh – genuine, full-blooded laughs. Not the distracted snorts they usually offered out to the usual spaniel-puppy humour offered by the past-it adolescents. They laughed at Mark in the way they probably laughed with their friends down the pub. The other kids could barely contain themselves. Tom always smiled and chuckled inwardly, but he was always felt it his duty to bring a sense of order back to a situation unsettled by Mark’s wit.
As he rinsed the suds from his hair, Tom recalled how Mark would always seek Tom out in a crowd. Few others went beyond polite acknowledgment with Tom, but Mark always made a point of spending time with him; asking about him; drawing warmth from Tom where no one else bothered to think that bother was an alternative. Tom came dangerously close to a feeling of gratitude, but was distracted by the clunk of the soap on porcelain, and the moment passed. Mark hadn’t maintained Tom’s popularity at school…merely stopped it from foundering completely. He would never have regarded Mark as being a ‘best’ friend. Mark, in actual fact, did not have a closest ally. He was not really close to anyone…merely fabulously convivial with everybody. More so with Tom. Rather inexplicably, thought Tom.
Mark Bowman. Mark. In fact, Bowser, as he had been more commonly known at school. Partly due to his thick lips, fantastically ugly features and liking of video games, and partly because there was no other obvious feature by which to foist a nickname on him. Tom stepped from the shower and decided that he did, on balance, like Tom. He was happy that he had just turned up, unannounced, uninvited, unexpected, on his doorstep at a time in the morning currently lost on him. As he dried himself with indifference he decided to be polite. He’d ask searching, interesting questions without delving too deep. He’d offer some breakfast and maybe he’d suggest going for a walk, or something. But only until lunchtime – after then he really did need to get on. Letters don’t discard themselves, afterall…
Tom walked back into the living room to find Mark, having already made the tea, looking through his photographic portfolio.
“These are good,” said Mark.
“I should hope so,” replied Tom. “Otherwise people wouldn’t pay me to take them.”
Unsure whether to sit down next to Mark or in a chair facing him, he stood awkwardly adjusting his shirt in ways he hoped would cover the excesses of his 29th year.
“You were always quite the artist at school. What got you into photos?” Asked Mark.
Tom shrugged. “Just fell into it really. When I got back from our, er, travels, I enrolled in a photography course. From that I took a degree and got into freelancing. It’s not as easy these days to be ‘good’ as it were…the technical aspects of good SLR photography have been overshadowed by the advent of digital cameras. Anyone can pick up a camera these days and take a professional photo…well, think they can take a professional photo. It’s all about getting into the right place in the first place of course…”
He tailed off hopelessly. There seemed little else to add.
“No, Tom. These are quite brilliant. Do you still travel?”
Tom mirthed, laughlessly. “I never really travelled in the first place! I wouldn’t call our three weeks spent on a train getting dirtier and dirtier ‘travelling’ as such.”
“What!” Mark threw his arms in the air in mock abandonment. “Throwing cigarette buts at Germans didn’t broaden your mind!? Eating 7 types of meat in Brussels didn’t quell your bohemian spirit!? Running full pelt out of Rotterdam train station away from guards didn’t sharpen your nomadic instincts!? Falling helplessly out of King Sedgemoor’s Bar and vowing never to return didn’t tweak your very soul? Every second of that trip has stayed with me since we parted. And that is partly why I’m here.”
Tom undid his top button sheepishly and decided to sit down in the Mark-facing chair after all.
“Look, Mark…”
“Rag,” said Rag. “People are calling me Rag these days.”
“Of course, Rag. I’m really not in the best frame of mind to, erm, entertain at the moment. My wife…you know,”
“The nutty lady,” announced Rag with a vile, devilish grin.
“Quite. And my job is, well, not very…well at the moment. I’ve got tons of correspondence and…arrangements to sort out. It’s great seeing you. Lots to catch up on. I’ve got a busy day and, you know, the morning is getting on…”
“It’s 5.30 am,” Rag pointed out.
“Yes, and…is it? Why did you get me up so early?”
Rag closed the portfolio and threw is dramatically across the room. It landed neatly with a satisfying thump.
“Because there’s a lot to discuss. Planning to be done. Train times to check. Bed and breakfasts in Brighton to book! Egg on toast to be made! Reminiscences to be trawled! Tea to be remade! Bags to pack! Passports to find a safe place for! Belts to be tightened…shirts to be loosened! We’re going places Tom! You and I!”
Tom stared at Rag for slightly longer than he really should have done. He got up and walked over to his portfolio and picked it up, setting it back in it’s place on the bookshelf.
“Ok,” Tom said slowly. “You do know what has happened to me of late, don’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Rag. “Your point being?”
Tom rubbed his eyes and found that he was, indeed, a lot more tired than he’d at first realised.
“I need to…some time on my own. To sort things out. It’s great to see you, and if you’re staying locally we should catch up for a drink. But, I…”
He trailed off again. Rag fixed Tom with another grin.
“You have no responsibility. You’re accountable to no one. No one will expect anything of you for, ooh, I’d say…around three weeks.”
They shared some quiet time.
“What do you want?” Asked Tom.
“To go back on our journey, Tom. Brighton, Dover, Oostend, Bruges, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Jupiter, Calais, Folkestone! Same places; same bars; same hostels; same patches of grass we slept on when we arrived too late to find rooms! It seems like the perfect opportunity for both of us to do all these things!”
Tom did his top button up again.
“Can’t we just go for a drink?”
“In King Sedgemoor’s Bar, of course,” replied Rag. “But that will be on, I’d say, day 16. A lot to do before then!”
Tom looked out of the window and shook his head.
“King Sedgemoor’s Bar,” Tom whispered to himself. “This is insane! I’ve got…things to do!”
“I’ll say. I saw a rather appealing trucker’s diner around the corner. Get your coat and buy me breakfast! It’s a long journey to Brighton!”

Tom found himself sat in a transport café a short distance from his home. In front of him was a plate laden with 2 fried eggs ‘sunny side down’, 3 rashers of extraordinarily rigid and salty bacon, a piece of cold toast with a thick layer of margarine, a dry piece of black pudding and a very large portion of congealed baked beans. He ate the eggs tentatively and was rather surprised to find himself actually enjoying elements of the meal. Only the beans held any true horror as far as he could see – the iniquity of the black pudding was easily ignored if he simply pictured his wife dying horrifically on camera. Rag had a bowl of cornflakes.
The hum of the café’s clientele and inane roar of talksport pulsing ludicrously from the radio caused Tom to ask Rag to repeat the question he had just asked.
“How’s your Mum?”
“Dead,” replied Tom.
“Ok. How’s your father?”
“I see,” said Rag, barely pausing from his endeavour to scoop up the final cubic centimetres of his cereal.
Tom pushed away what morsels he felt would be too much to ask of his gastro-intestinal tract and lit a cigarette. He reflected briefly on the painful search for his passport and the surprising manner in which he had accepted Rag’s argument that bags of clothes merely facilitated struggles and tribulations when embarking on a long journey. Weight added to by mass merely caused the action of running away or running towards, to be more difficult. It was a point of view presented in a way which was probably similar to that, Tom imagined, of, say, a great physicist. Rag had always been very good at that kind of thing. He had been able to extract golden moments from the most ostensibly tedious occasions, back when they had been fully paid up members of the past. Rag always seemed privy to extraordinary insights into individuals or circumstances, allowing him to then distil perfectly legitimate arguments in favour of whatever it was he felt needed to be done. (MORE)
“Did I ever tell you about my grandfather?” Asked Rag.
“No,” replied Tom. “Did he do this kind of passive kidnapping thing too?”
“Nothing of the sort. He, in fact, led three very different lives – one in Poland before the 2nd world war, one in the sea during the war, and the rest of it in England because of the war. I feel its important that people hear about some of his lives, not because he lived through a horror we could never imagine, somehow allowing us to learn about ourselves, but because it just so insanely different to anything that will ever happen to any of us that it shows us that whatever we do it all amounts to banal normality anyway. With me so far?”
“Of course. My name isn’t Arthur Dent.”
“Sometime during the second world war, let us say1941 to be exact, although not true, my Grandfather, Constance Gorski his name was, had a choice…either be captured by the Nazis and sent to a prisoner of war camp or pose as a renegade and fight on the U-boats in the Atlantic. There was nothing unusual about that – like many young men of his time he had lost his previous life, most of his family, any sense of freedom. After 2 years of it all he’d grown weary of the smell of gas and, in a perverse kind of way, rather looked forward to getting out of his beloved country and seeing what all the fuss was about. So he took himself off to Mr Bosch, collected his papers, bayonet and de-lousing agents and got on the first U-boat that would have him. Leaving behind of course everything he had left – which included a wife and son.
“What he neglected to mention to his superiors was that in his previous life he had been a world class swimmer. If it hadn’t been for the war he would have tried out for the next Olympic trials and almost certainly have been picked to represent Poland in many of the swimming events which specialised in stamina and endurance. So what he did next was almost, only almost, an act of pure genius. He stood and waved on the deck of his U-boat with all the other soldiers, presumably to the many Jews he was aiding to condemn, a smile on face; all the while calculating knots, direction, current and wind speed. He needed to be absolutely certain all the conditions were perfect in order for him to execute his plan. Because, yes, he had, as some famous war figures have mentioned in the past, a cunning plan.”
Tom’s mobile phone bleeped intrusively. It was ignored by all.
“About 6 hours into the journey as the sun was setting, at a moment he judged to be the optimum, he casually, wordlessly and quite deliberately dropped from the edge of the boat and into the deep freeze of the English Channel. The next hour was a furious bluster of discreet water treading and blind fear – one spot from an eagle German eye and all would have been lost. Apparently it was German Naval policy to shoot a man overboard. This was partly a show of mercy due to the slow death in the cold water, but mostly because they couldn’t be bothered to turn the boat around. As luck would have it his planning had been of the highest order and no German seafarer looked in his direction. He turned towards France, haven of havens, and swam for his life.
“It was a treacherous endeavour. 10 hours in the English Channel, even for a trained athlete, is near suicide. You need top preparation, unlimited support, pure fitness and ultimate dedication. Constance Gorski merely had his backpack and khaki uniform that swelled exponentially with seawater on the hour. He forced himself beyond the realms of his own bodily limits. At those moments when he was seconds from utter exhaustion he forced himself to tread water and take miniscule supplements of whatever victuals he’d salvaged from the luxury of his U-boat. When all seemed lost, in the dead of night, his head spinning in near madness and his body screaming with hypothermia and near collapse, he suddenly felt the brush of rocks on his belly! With one final push of energy scoured from the dregs of his reserves, he managed to haul himself those few extra feet onto the French coast. He was in haven! As near to death as it was possible to be, he turned onto his back, feeling the soft comfort of the sandy beach on his back, and gazed up at he stars. With a grin as broad as the boat he had abandoned all those hours earlier, he fell into a comatosed state.
“He awoke to find himself in an English hospital with two soldiers at the foot of his bed pointing, rather stupidly it has to be said, very big rifles at his head. The problem with executing a plan that is only almost genius is the fine line that would have made it total genius. He’d jumped off the wrong side of the ship and swam almost to death until he’d ended up on the Isle of Wight. Unconscious and close to demise, he had been transported to Portsmouth where he could then be cured and captured with equal measure.
“Despite being treated initially with disdain, his natural charm soon endeared him to his saviours and, when back to full fitness, he was offered a stark choice – either be sent back to Germany as a traitor, or be kept in England as a prisoner of war and sent to work the land on a Devon farm. Certain death, or aid the British effort?
“He, as I’m sure you’ve deduced by now, chose to live.”
Rag paused and looked knowingly at Tom. He leant over, took a cigarette, and lit it, taking a large lungful of smoke and blowing it skywards with a satisfied air.
“That’s all very nice and tragic and all the rest of the things you’re supposed to say to war stories…”
“He ended up on a farm in North Devon and, like many others of a similar ilk, was forgotten by the authorities. He met a local girl, got married, had a couple of children, one of whom was obviously my father, and fell into the very quaint niche of local odd-job man. Not that he had any skills. An unemployed swimmer in pre-war Poland doesn’t tend to have anything practical to offer per se. Still, he muscled through, learning and bluffing as he went. He was helped by his unrivalled charm and beautifully unobtrusive manner. He was as gentle a man as you could ever wish to meet. Having been relatively unscathed by the brutality of war, he offered a good measure of jollity into the mixture.
“Anyway, a few years ago, around the time we were on our travels, my Grandfather, who had long since changed his name to Colin Bowman, was doing some work for a city tycoon who had a pad in the countryside. In his back garden he had an enormous plastic greenhouse filled with rows and rows of tomato plants. He employed my Grandfather for a morning every other day to water these tomato plants, for which he was paid rather handsomely. My Grandfather thought nothing of it – it was a simple job, not dissimilar to countless jobs he’d performed in the past. He would take the watering can, say something likeable and pleasant, and get on with what he was best at – hard work and anonymity. So a few months into the job and the city tycoon hasn’t been seen for a while. Again, there is nothing unusual about this. So respected is my Grandfather that he knows he can carry on with the work unsupervised for unspecified lengths of time and he will always get paid eventually. One Friday afternoon my Grandfather, in his 70’s by now and arthritic from head to foot, is filling his watering in the greenhouse can when three Chinook helicopters, 24 SAS soldiers and a small armoured tank burst in through every part of the greenhouse and point, and this is only a rough estimate, 83 AK-47s at my Grandfather’s head and body.”
“Oh my God! After all those years?!” Said Tom.
“Well, after the furious shouting had died down a kind of calm descended. It was obvious he wasn’t able to get on his knees as the soldiers so dearly wanted. My Grandfather offered the watering can by way of apology, but seeing it may be seen as an act of terror he decided to place it on the ground in front of him instead. He stood for a while and looked faintly embarrassed. Even though his English was good having been in the country for 50 years by this point, he could not grasp what it was that the soldiers were saying to him, even though the machismatic shouting of only a few minutes before was now tinged with unsteadiness. So in an act aimed at exonerating himself he apologised for everything he’d done, and that if ever he was faced with having to escape from a German U-boat again, he would not only remember to bring the correct papers, but also aim to learn the difference between port and starboard.”
Rag stubbed out the cigarette and looked at Tom with the maddening grin that so irked Tom in situations like this.
“So was he deported? After 50 years?” He asked.
“No. They let him have a go in the helicopter and took him back to his home. They made him some tea by way of an apology and promised never to talk of it again. It was the guy’s greenhouse they were after. My Grandfather hadn’t been watering tomato plants. He’d been aiding the growth of A-grade marijuana. They eventually caught the guy and he got 10 years. My Grandfather lost a hundred quid a week out of it! But he wasn’t bitter. His already legendry status in the village went stratospheric. An extraordinary man was Constance Gorski.”
“I see,” said Tom. “Whilst you were telling me all of that we seem to have boarded a train.”
“You remind me of him a little,” continued Rag. “The quiet way you go about things; this barrier you seem to have to the cruel things that happen. It’s admirable but a little upsetting all the same…”
“We’re on a train! And there is a man asking for tickets!!” Pressed Tom.
“Sorry about that,” replied Rag, showing the ticket inspector what it was he paid to inspect. “We’re on our way to Brighton. I did say it might happen, didn’t I?”

The two old friends found themselves in Brighton. They disembarked at the train station and immediately avoided the public toilets, shops and pubs within the confines of a building described by some as being too good even for a disaster of biblical proportions. The Bible touts clearly agreed – even the atheists concurred.
As they left the large, unsightly entrance hall and walked into a built-up square of such grubby filth it had been re-classified as an A-class drag, Tom’s phone beeped again – indicating that he had received another text message…
Where are you?! Need to sort funeral! Why not answering door or phones?
The message was from Gordon – Hazel’s brother. Tom deleted it and switched his phone off.
“What was that?” Asked Rag.
“Nothing. Where are we going?”
“The start of our journey!”
“Oh, that,” said Tom, unenthusiastically. He stared vacantly as they looped round to the left and under the shabbiest underpass Brighton had been allowed to build. They walked down Trafalgar Street, passing the tall, anonymous buildings to the left; steadily improving in appeal the nearer they got to commerce and consumerism. The hill was steep and caused them to walk at a pace Tom found uncomfortable. The right heel of his Converse All-stars was rubbing horribly and jarred sharply with every step. He briefly reflected on how a place revisited always appears dirtier, as if time attempts to buff up your memory but manages only to redistribute the smudges. It is difficult to judge with Brighton anyway, immersed in esteemed filth as it is, but he certainly felt a new coating of grime had entrapped these vaguely familiar surroundings.
Tom imagined free-wheeling down such a steep hill as this. An orange 223 with some RS Boxxer forks and SRAMX9 shifter would really do it some justice. The slack head angle and lengthy wheel base would make it nice and stable at speed. But the need for some good, solid braking would be key. Hope mono might just carry it off, but they are prone to under-braking: you couldn’t have that with traffic and pedestrians threatening your passage. You can’t go wrong with Deore LX hydraulics and they would certainly be cheaper than Juicy 5s – not as much fun, though.
They passed the Lord Nelson pub. Tom felt a minor wave of relief that they didn’t go in there – the beer had been dreadful and the food he wouldn’t have foisted upon a compost heap. With unspoken consensus they turned right into Tidy Street and walked towards Gloucester Road, passing some charming Victorian houses – strangely alien in such a vibrant area of a place like Brighton.
“So it’s the Basketmakers then?” Offered Tom.
Rag merely nodded, an oddly serene grin on his face.
It was lunch time. They found themselves sat in the Basketmakers – a pub dedicated to dialogue in the heart of the North Lanes. Good conversation wasn’t to be intimidated by the distraction of fruit machines, pool tables or juke boxes. So they had all been taken away. Customers came to the Basketmakers purely to enrich or regale. Tom found himself the new owner of a pint of Harvey’s bitter.
“My Grandfather fought in Burma during the second world war,” offered Tom. “But he never spoke of it so no one knows anything about what he went through. There were rumours of a necklace made of the ears of his kills, but so saturated are we with the horror or war it’s hard to feel anything other than contrived revulsion.”
Rag snorted into him bitter.
“Any one of those ears,” he replied, “may have belonged to the potential inventor of, say, a hydrogen engine, or the author of a pivotal piece of poetry. Conversely your Grandfather, tainted with the stench of murder, may never have dragged his inner potential from its darkest recesses. Maybe he was destined to be a Prime Minister who chanced upon the perfect political ideal that would harmonise humanity. We’ll never know of course. I couldn’t care less, to be honest. It happened, people died, political aims, no matter how inane, were achieved, and your Grandfather gained a rather fetching piece of neckwear out of it. Big deal!”
Tom had barely registered what Rag had said – he was studying the rather fetching cigarette cards and silks adorning the walls of the pub.
“So what do we do from here?” Asked Tom.
Rag ignored him. He merely supped his ale and watched the wall. The pub was typically busy for a lunch-time and Tom was starting to feel the humidity of a score of people talking and moving in a relatively confined space. He felt his back get hotter and his legs began to twitch. Feeling hemmed into his corner seat he bumped his elbow on the wall whenever he took sip of his beer. Despite sitting on a chair in a space surrounded my standing punters, Rag seemed to have space in abundance.
“Cashew?” Asked Rag, proffering a bowl.
“What is it you do exactly?” Asked Tom, ignoring Rag’s cruel wit.
Rather absently, almost dreamily, Rag replied, “I’m a mobile detective.”
“What! What did you say?” Tom spluttered, unusually animated.
“I’m a mobile detective,” Rag repeated with a little more cohesion. “Its good money, I travel a lot, I get to meet lots of interesting people, and I don’t have to spend too much time in my home.”
“What’s wrong with your home?” Asked Tom.
“It’s a 1 bedroomed, 1 storey pre-fabricated house based on a post war design aimed at solving the housing shortage caused by the blitz. I saw a mock up of one at the Museum of Welsh life in Cardiff and thought I’d get one. I loved it initially, but grew to despise it…”
“Lord Chavington! You old bugger! Back to settle your tab at last!” Said a man with a very round head and wonderfully tailored beard, slapping Rag on the back. He was holding several dirty pint glasses stacked inside one another.
“Red!” Rag got up and awkwardly hugged the man with the beard. “So glad you’re here! I couldn’t remember which days you worked and which days you went out on your boat. I want you to meet my good friend Tom. Tom, this washed up old goat is the landlord. He’s called Red. We’re not sure why, although my best theory is that this is the colour his ale turns when he adds the water to it.”
Red put the glasses on the table and leaned across to shake Tom’s hand. Tom smiled amiably but offered little other means of a welcome. Red’s genuine smile drooped everso slightly, such a connoisseur was he in reading people it quickly dawned on him that Tom was one to offer a particularly enlightened exchange. With a polite nod he released himself from the handshake and chuckled warmly. He sat down next to Rag.
“You’ll have to excuse Rag’s opinion of my beer. His pallet isn’t up to it, you see. He’s had far too much Belgian lager to appreciate the subtlety of the Sussex ale. It’s been a while young man, “ said Red, addressing Rag, “have you come to see me out of curiosity, or was it the, erm, item I have in my possession which you would like returned?”
Red’s confident demeanour flagged infinitesimally. He shuffled uneasily in his seat. A grain of anxiety seemed to flash at light speed across his eyes. He was a man equipped to roll with adversity and seemed to quickly recovered himself.
“Yes,” replied Rag. “Well, one of the items anyway. Not the one you’re thinking of, anyway.”
“Of course!” Red’s demeanour was one of palpable relief.
“But I wanted to catch up with things here anyway. Are you still running the other place?”
”Goodness me no!” Relied Red. “I’m far too brittle in the hip for that. Do you remember Blakey?”
“Of course! Bald bugger – tall as he’s round.”
“That’s the fella. He runs it now. Doing an ok job of it as well. He’s not as central as me so has to find other means to pull in the punters, but he’s doing a good job. And Tom,” said Red, turning in Tom’s direction. “How did fate allow such misfortune and throw you into the company of my man Rag?”
“Oh, er, we, we went to school together,” mumbled Tom, surprised his thoughts were pulled back from their drift.
“Really? Rag did a little job for me a few years ago and got me out of a…little hole shall we say. I got wind of him after the Daly murder and thought he’s the man to get me out of a tricky situation. Did you hear about the Daly murder and what he did?”
“Well, obviously…I haven’t seen Mark for years, and…” Stammered Tom.
“People are calling me Rag.”
“Oh, it was extraordinary,” roared Red, pulling his chair closer to the table and leaning conspiratorially towards Tom. “Rag turns up at the murder scene…God only knows how he got wind of it. Anyway, he somehow gets chatting to the DCI who after a good grilling from Rag admits that this old time aristocrat, Victoria Daly her name was, had been murdered! Not only that, but her daughter, Greta, a hate child on account of Victoria being raped by her brother, was found standing over the body with a knife screaming ‘She’s dead! At last!’ or some such thing.”
“Oh, Red! Every time we get together…” Rag objected. But not very much.
“Anyway, Greta was bang to rights obviously. She’d been an outcast from birth – hated by her family due to being the product of such a loveless act. Her mother hated her most of all. I’m sure you don’t need much of an imagination to work that one out.”
“Quite,” said Tom, interested despite himself. Red had an extraordinarily charismatic charm that drew you like a black hole.
“So there you have it – open and shut case. Greta Daly: At the scene, holding the knife, covered in blood, confession and motive. Easiest murder case ever – solved…except for Rag. He didn’t believe it. His gut told him something else had gone on. And he was right! He went to visit Greta in prison and got her to admit something the coppers had missed – a theft! Someone had stolen an antique necklace. Rag knew that whoever had stolen the necklace…”
“…must have been the murderer. Any danger of a half before we drive on, Red?” Asked Rag, head swelling exponentially.
“Being a mobile detective he travels to the British museum and British library and does a bit of research into the Daly family history. Well, he finds that not only had the Daly’s been big time buddies with the Nazi’s during the 2nd world war, but also that Victoria Daly, dearest mother to poor Greta, had been having it away with an American oil tycoon, Harrison Blake. Now Blake had two big weaknesses – antiquities and women. So trying to impress his big cheese lover he uses Daly’s links to the Nazi’s and acquires this priceless necklace…part of the Austro-Hungarian stockpile, but traceable to Marie Antoinette of all people! He gives it to Vicky darling and all is gravy.
“Well, years pass. Blake and Daly continue their affair for a bit but the whole rape, hate-child tarnish thing put pay to that. More years pass, and Vicky finds herself brutally murdered. After a few quick convincingly bogus calls to Interpol Rag discovers they’d been after Blake for years pursuing lost bits of the big Nazi haul that had found it’s way to cunts like Blake during the war. He puts two and two together and Bingo! He gets Greta to confess the truth – that Blake, too old to cope with prison, needed the necklace back in order to hide it far from Interpol’s prying eyes. Vicky refuses – slash, slash you’re dead honey! Poor, vile Greta hears the commotion and finds Blakey bang to rights.”
“So how did Greta end up in prison? Why didn’t she call the police and tell them this Blake had done it? More to the point, why didn’t Blake just kill Greta?” Asked Tom, fascinated despite himself.
“She’d been persecuted and mentally tortured all her life! This was her way out! Prison! Far away from her family. Nothing to link her to her disgrace. Just another con making up the numbers at her majesty’s pleasure. Imagine how her family would have treated her if they’d found she’d done nothing about her mother’s murder! Her life, excruciating as it already was, would have been even worse!”
“So that was it? She was released and Blake went to prison?” Asked Tom.
“Yes, but not before Rag here was threatened with cold revenge!”
“What? Blake threatened to kill you, Mark?” Asked Tom.
“No, no. Nothing like that,” said Rag. “Didn’t you hear what Red said about Greta? She wanted to go to prison for life and escape her nightmare family. I ruined that! As she was released she screamed I’m going to get you for this, Rag Bowman! You’ve ruined EVERYTHING! I’ll get my time with your blood on my hands!”
“Oh my God!” Exclaimed Tom. “Aren’t you worried?”
“No, not really. She got a suspended sentence for perverting the course of justice and jumped off a railway bridge a few weeks later. Pitiful.”
Tom found himself drifting away from a new conversation. He thought about nothing in particular. He stared. It occurred to him that he had never brought Hazel to Brighton. He’d travelled down several times before he’d journeyed with Rag ten years before, but only with his parents. He fondly remembered the usual seaside jollities specific to Brighton – ice creams, the sweet, oily smell of the Palace Pier, the particularly loud seagulls, the local art next to the pebbles. He found it difficult to enjoy these memories though – the pub was getting very noisy and hot; Red and Rag were laughing raucously at a private joke. He was feeling more and more displaced and a picture of Hazel smiling at him as she had left for work on their final day together jumped into his head…
“Hello!” Said a pretty, dreadlocked girl who chose that moment to sit next to Tom. “Can I sit here? No one else is I hope. You don’t look like you’re doing anything much anyway. Those two over there are talking about something without you, and I doubt you’re even with them anyway. The one with the big lips is nice. The other one is, well, androgynous I’d say. I do have this habit of interrupting and talking too much, so do stop me if I’m getting on your nerves. My name is Antonia. Antonia Bull. I’ve just moved to Brighton. I’ve got an art studio down the Phoenix. Do you know it? I’ve been after one for ages! I come from London. There were plenty of art studios up there, of course, but there’s nothing like the sea for getting inspiration for my sculptures. You look tired.”
Tom nodded in agreement, rather stunned at the sudden high level of attentiveness surrounding him. He tried to recapture the image of Hazel that was stolen by Antonia’s interruption, but his heart wasn’t in it anymore.
“So that’s him, is it?” He heard Red quietly ask Rag.
Tom jerked his head round to catch Red looking glumly at him.
“I love to use pebbles in my work as well but you have to either travel or buy them from somewhere – a hopeless task in London. So I’d have to travel down to here in search of both motivation and material! So it made much more sense to simply move down here. It’s expensive and I have to work on the Pier to pay for my room. I share a house with a load of doctors. But my art is better for it. Do you like it in this pub?”
Tom was so shocked that something was required of him he dribbled in response. Luckily Antonia didn’t seem to notice.
“I’m not that keen. It’s a bit of an old man’s pub. I much prefer the places down on the front…Fortunes of War and the Zap in particular. At least they play music in there. I like gay music. A bit of Abba or Pet Shop Boys. But I do like house music as well. The louder the better. I like gays a lot. A bit of a pre-requisite living in Brighton!”
Tom turned his head to see if Rag was still talking to Red, but the two men had disappeared. He sat aghast, discomfort and confusion beginning to overwhelm him. Antonia was talking and giggling into her beer which didn’t seem to help Tom’s plight particularly. With nothing better to do he reached into his pocket and got his mobile phone out. As he switched it on he was somewhat surprised by the 23 beeps that shouted at him, alerting Tom to a galaxy of texts and answerphone messages that had been sent his way since the last time he’d checked. He dialled up his answerphone service and listened to the most recent message.
“Where are you Tom!?” Barked Gordon’s irate voice. “There are people relying on you. Mum’s going out of her head! We’ve been round to your house and to your newspaper and nobody has seen you. Your car is still there for God’s sake! We’re getting worried here!”
Tom tried to feel panicky or alarmed at what he had just heard, but failed completely. His was too anxious about his current plight to feel conscientious about anything very much. He was getting hotter, sweatier, twitchier and more hemmed in. It crossed his mind to send a text to say that he was ok and that he would make some calls soon, but at that moment Antonia knocked the phone out of his hand.
“Sorry! I was trying to get your attention,” she shouted above the increasing din of the pub. People were getting noisy as they waited for their lunches…like chimps around a banana tree. “Would you like a drink?”
“No, I’m fine thanks,” he replied, testily.
“Oh, come on now! Don’t be silly. I’ll get you a pint of something.”
“No, really. My head is feeling a little heavy anyway. I’m probably going to go in a minute and…”
Antonia giggled stupidly and stumbled towards to the bar, oblivious to Tom waving away the offer of another beer. He looked down at his hands and wished he was in another place. He started to push them down on the table as if to rise…
“You’ve met the dapper slapper then?” Announced Rag, sitting back down in Antonia’s seat.
“What!?” Said Tom very loudly. “You know her?”
“Goodness me no. I can tell the sort, though. Now, I’m starving! I seriously recommend the homemade beef burgers here. They’re incredible: as big as the cow’s arse that bore them and as lean as a fossil. Drink?”
Tom exploded.
“I don’t want anything!” He shot up and knocked the table, spilling Rag’s fresh pint. “I just want to get out of here! I don’t know what I’m doing here! I should be…”
Rag would have to wait and find out what it was Tom should have been. He chose that moment to stamp his foot storm out of the pub.
Tom felt instantly calmed as the cool air hit his face; the space of the street, devoid of bodies, offering him solace following the crush of the pub. He took out the mobile again and started to walk back in the direction of the train station. He read some more of the messages from Gordon, all of which had a similar tone to that of the answerphone message of earlier. The rising sense of panic never came, however. He simply wanted to get away from the pub. It crossed his mind that he really needed to give the cassette and chain of his bike a really good clean. That was as any other reason to go back to Oxford – away from Rag, away from Brighton and away from this insane journey he had somehow stumbled into.
“Do you know what this is?” Asked Rag, stepping out in front of Tom just as he was about to turn back into Trafalgar Street. He was holding a battered looking old diary with the date 1997 written on it.
“What! I don’t care! How did you get there? Just go away. I want to go home!”
Rag stepped forward and kissed Tom hard on the lips.
“What! Why!” Spluttered Tom.
“Merely a distraction by which I hope to buy a modicum of time. In those few seconds, rapidly diminishing as I bang on currently, I was able to distract you in order to get a foothold in the steep cliff of your interest. I will engross you further with unassailable argument in the hope of gathering accumulative distraction until, finally, you will be back on course. I can’t lose you now – the most important factor of our journey is now back in my possession!”
“There is no journey!” Reiterated Tom. “I need to go home now! You’ve somehow…”
Rag licked Tom’s ear.
“What! Stop doing that!”
“In this diary,” assured Rag, “is the complete commentary of our last outing 10 years ago.”
Tom, despite himself, took notice.
“Really? No! You don’t get me like that…I really need to clean my bike and…what, everything?”
“Let me read just one small section to you then I promise I’ll leave you to do what you will.”
Tom stuttered, stamped and blustered pointlessly, managing only to disturb his sore heel again.
“We sat there on the train watching the Dutch countryside flash past us. Tom was relaxing at last. He certainly hadn’t liked Amsterdam particularly, probably something to do with the pimps and muggers, but at least he’s agreed to come with me to Jupiter. And he’s just done this funny thing…he took my diary and wrote in the final page. It was really odd. He’s been his usual quiet, distracted self all through the travels but has clearly enjoyed bits and pieces of it. Mainly being in the open spaces. But he has been just as disengaged as usual. But he suddenly reached across, said ‘Can I borrow this mate?’ and wrote 2 lines in the back, and slapped be on the shoulder with a really affectionate grin! He then said, simply ‘Cheers buddy’ – he’s never called anyone ‘buddy’ before, I’ll stake my cock and balls on it – and then just sat down and went back to looking out of the window. The moment had passed. Gone forever. I always said he was a big box of surprises waiting to be prised open. Maybe we’re starting to creak at the lid at last…but then again maybe not.”
Tom had stopped stamping and stood gaping at Rag. A memory long since locked away had been disturbed and replayed in his head.
“I remember that! We’d just run from those guards after not paying for our lunch. You bastard! Imagine if we’d been caught! It was only sheer luck that got us on the train…”
“Do you remember what you wrote?” Rag pressed.
“Not really,” lied Tom following a pause.
“Read it!” Demanded Rag, passing Tom the diary.
Reluctantly, Tom turned to the final page in the diary and read…
Wherever you go mate, I’ll be there with you. Thanks.
Tom read and re-read the words silently. He was recapturing the emotion of that moment and wondering why it was that all the good feelings flitted in and out of him with such immeasurable ease.
“I…” he said finally.
“Just get in the car,” demanded Rag, pointing to the black Mini Cooper parked on the road next to them.
“We need to leave now if we’re to get to Dover before all the B & Bs shut.”
Tom found himself sat on a grubby bed in a shabby guesthouse somewhere in Dover. Rag was having a shave in the bathroom mirror.
“Did your Grandfather ever try and find his wife and child?” Asked Tom.

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Comments by other Members

NMott at 23:44 on 16 July 2008  Report this post
Hi & welcome to Write words.

It was a bit too long to read and comment on in one sitting (~2000 words is about my limit) so I have to admit skimming some of it, but I liked what I read, especially some of the dialogue, eg:

“How’s your Mum?”
“Dead,” replied Tom.
“Ok. How’s your father?”

“Did I ever tell you about my grandfather?” Asked Rag.
“No,” replied Tom. “Did he do this kind of passive kidnapping thing too?”

One bit which I think needs work is where Rag goes off into a long story about his grandfather in the war. It doesn' t come across as a normal conversation between old friends, but is more of an information dump. By the end of it I wasn' t sure what the point of the story was, other than to bridge the time gap between breakfast and getting on the train.

I also found some of the prose a bit clunky, eg:

Tom pushed away what morsels he felt would be too much to ask of his gastro-intestinal tract and lit a cigarette. He reflected briefly on the painful search for his passport and the surprising manner in which he had accepted Rag’s argument that bags of clothes merely facilitated struggles and tribulations when embarking on a long journey.

Used in moderation the words are fine, but all in one paragraph, they act as a log jam and start to impede the flow of the prose as one pauses a fraction of a second to think of what each word means in this context. Just keep it simple and it' ll flow better.

Also, probably best to delete this one:

Tom mirthed, laughlessly.

Good luck with it.

- NaomiM


Oh, and, you might have Tom ask Rag, why he's calling himself Rag these days.


..I think it's one of the first questions I'd ask an old friend who came knocking at the door.

phleggers at 09:39 on 17 July 2008  Report this post
Thanks very much for your comments. Very much appreciated. I' ve been out of the writing game for 4 years due to kids and jobs and the rest, so seeing my work read AND commented on AND quoted back at me as being good is quite something. THANKS!!!

I will trim it a bit. A bit out of touch with forum etiqutte.

It becomes clear later why he' s called Rag...Tom asks when he is ready. Part of character development.

I am prone to clunky dialogue. Will edit proerly soon.

I really want to know if the characters and plot SO FAR are engaging enough for the reader to continue and enjoy.

The war story is a true one. I knew the son of the old boy...and he really was arested for cultivating someone elses cannibis! Again, it continues later and develops into integral part of the story.

Thanks again...i' ll return the pleasure soon.

NMott at 11:14 on 17 July 2008  Report this post
It becomes clear later why he' s called Rag...Tom asks when he is ready. Part of character development.

I thought you would say that , but it is a natural thing for someone to comment on off the bat, so if you can move it up to the front then I would recommend doing so.
Or, have Tom call Rag ' Mark' , until at some point Rag says he' d rather be called Rag, because....
Afterall, your character does say "They’re all calling me Rag. But you do what you’re comfortable with.", but later, when Tom calls him Mark, then Rag corrects him, and says ' it' s Rag' . That seems the logical point to have Tom ask ' Why' s it Rag?' .
It's just a minor point, I know, but it's one of the sections that caught my eye, and it's the sort of detail that can be picked up on if you post a short extract.

I really want to know if the characters and plot SO FAR are engaging enough for the reader to continue and enjoy.

I found the plot device of a video of his wife (her death, etc) a good hook at the start of the chapter. And I liked a lot of the interaction between Tom and Rag - especially Rag's lack of tact over the death of Tom's wife, as he shakes/shocks him out of his mental stupor .
There is a temptation in the initial chapters for writers to put in backstory in the belief it will help with the character development, but I'm of the belief that it is largely un-necessary. As a reader, I'm more interested in what is going on in the present, than what happened in the past - unless, as you say, it is integral to the plot. eg, Tom could simply refer to Rag as one of his old school mates whom he hasn't seen for ten years. (We all have freinds like that, so it's easy to relate to). Maybe 'Rag' refers to Rag Week pranks which he was famous for - little facts like that tells the reader he's a prankster, and the way he's treating Tom, without ceremony, bears that out.
Keep backstory short and sweet as small snippets are easier to remember for when the info. is needed again at a later date.

- NaomiM

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