With the previous book, I painstakingly combed the stories to find intriguing and beguiling extracts. And I recorded myself reading a few sections.
I haven’t done that
yet for this one. So here are the opening paragraphs from each…
Nobody died, although one person inadvisedly issued a death threat and another certainly wished that the ground would swallow him.
The death threat sounded like this: “You know I could probably find someone who could have you killed.” Gabriel was disappointed. Bob wasn’t going to do it himself – hell, he wasn’t even going to organise it himself. He was going to staff out arranging the outsourcing of the killing – he was keeping himself so far removed from the action that even putting him into the sentence made the grammar uncomfortable.
We were somewhere around Tacoma near the edge of Commencement Bay when the phone began to take hold.
You’ve definitely stolen that from somewhere.
Of course I have. That’s the whole point.
Be reasonable, be specific and be nice. Not the best slogan that he had ever heard but shorter than some and clearer than most. How could he spread the word?
He settles on the classified advertisements in the local paper. So reasonable for seven specific words and a phone number that he pays extra for bold printing and a nice little box around it. Five people phone. One makes a rude noise. One tries to sell him insurance. Three arrive for the inaugural meeting. He letters them for convenience and anonymity. If they return he’ll find out their names. For now, they are B, C and D. He, of course, is A. A for Adam, the first man. He smiles at the prescience of his parents.
The roar and whoosh of the kettle hides the chatter from outside. She boils it repeatedly while warming her hands on the coffee mug. She keeps away from the window.
The vans, the cars, the huddle, sometimes on the pavement, sometimes in the garden, occasionally opening the letter box – always for posting something through, never for a look, officer. The notes, the scrawls, the requests, the abuse – she thought it would die away, she thought it would recede, she thought something more important would be happening somewhere that might take some of them away at least for some of the time. It hasn’t happened yet.
In my quieter moments, I write verse.
When the red box has been turned out, its contents digested, some replies drafted, some notes made in some margins, the awkward matters put off for a sunnier day and then the whole lot swept up, dropped in, lid clicked shut above it – then the tightening abates and the breathing is easier.
And I take the old fountain pen and a clean sheet of smooth heavy-stock paper and, whisky in left hand, I construct lines and rhymes, syllables skipping over the meter.
After a bad day of being patronised by the twerp, I write lousy limericks.
When Madame Douard pressed his forefinger firmly onto Stella’s collarbone, his little finger fluttering over and around the blouse buttons, she knew he was no ordinary palm reader. To be fair, she had already become suspicious.
Kosta first met Ina when he fell through the ceiling and landed gracefully and, some would say, stylishly, next to her on her sofa. The disadvantage of apartment-living immediately became clear. At least in one’s own house, one would always expect to know the person in the room above. She put down her book and turned to look at him.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Konstantin. Call me Kosta.” He offered his hand for shaking.
Whatever she might have said in reply was lost because a little of the ceiling chose that moment to wrench itself free and flutter down over them, as a magical white plasterboard snowstorm.
Kosta wasn’t going to let an opportunity like this go to waste. “What are you reading?” he asked.
The pacing was subtle but detectable. It was the sound of a man who did not want to sit still, who had no need to rest, yet who did not want to appear impatient. Footfall after footfall with a break in rhythm at each end of the room as he turned.
“Won’t be long,” called Ed.
He heard an uh-huh or perhaps an mm-hmm. Through the door it was difficult to tell the difference.
After a good look-around, some peeking and a little prying, she moved upstairs. It was the logical thing to do next.
She had run her finger along the spines of the books, sighed at the primary-coloured self-help, tutted at the potboilers, considered planning a mini-break with the guidebook promising charming, family-run hotels. Her glance had flicked up and down the CD-rack, taking in the strangulated tenors, yelping divas, youthful mumblers – nothing recent, possibly due to musical disaffection, more likely embarrassment-proof download-only.
A few small doses of luck can be more useful than swallowing down a large clump in one go. Bethany was glad for the luck that it had been a warm day so she had wound down the window. She was glad for the luck that the car had rolled onto its side and not continued rolling onto its roof, or onto its other side. And she was delighted to discover that seatbelt pretensioners do, indeed, tighten seatbelts prior to a crash, prior to an otherwise nose-breaking airbag inflation, prior to an otherwise whiplash-inducing thrown-forward tossed-backwards episode.