Thames Valley Tales – Free Promo

Contemporary tales that echo the rich history of the flowing heart of England…

Thames Valley Tales is a collection of 15 short stories written by myself between 2013-2015 and first self-published on Amazon Kindle in July 2105.  To coincide with my presentation on Self-Publishing at Slough Library today (Thursday 2nd June 2016), and to demonstrate the ‘free promotion’ option on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP),  I have made the book a FREE download for today and Friday 3rd June…so what are you waiting for?

Please download, read, and leave a review, nominating your favourite stories…

UK: http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B011PQHJUQ

USA: http://amazon.com/dp/B011PQHJUQ

Thames Valley Tales promo masthead

What’s your Favourite Movie?

Social media can be a wonderful thing for connecting people with similar interests, ideas and goals.  Recently, whilst publicising the release of my novel, Devil Gate Dawn, on FaceBook, Twitter and Goodreads, I was contacted by some friendly folk in the USA with an offer of an author interview.  naturally, I said YES!

The Search for Endorsement

DevilGateModifiedPixThanks to the 79 who took advantage of the free weekend download promotion of my new novel Devil Gate Dawn. Now I’m hoping this converts into reads and positive endorsement in the shape of favourable reviews!

As an unknown writer with a modest following, I feel this is a justifiable tactic to try and get those precious reviews on Amazon that will entice browsers (who’ve read the reviews, blurb and opening extract) to click on the Buy button… it’s gotta be worth a punt at £2.10/$2.99 surely?

UK:- http://amazon.co.uk/dp/B01EGDLHLW

US/other:- http://amazon.com/dp/B01EGDLHLW

 

Devil Gate Dawn…out now!

DevilGateModifiedPixMy first novel, Devil Gate Dawn, is now up and available to download from amazon kindle store.  It will normally be £2.10/$2.99 per download, but for this weekend, Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th April it will be a FREE DOWNLOAD.

I badly need your support to read and review this short novel, hence the two day free promo.

UK readers: http://amazon.co.uk/product/dp/B01EGDLHLW

USA readers: http://amazon.com/dp/B01EGDLHLW

also available in amazon territories worldwide.

Devil Gate Dawn is a tense near-future thriller set in the UK and USA in the year 2026.  Retired railway worker, George Osborne, is drawn into a battle with a terrorist group as the country slides into chaos.  Will he succeed in neutralising a deadly internet virus and help rescue the kidnapped King Charles III?  Find out as dawn breaks at Devil Gate Drive…

 

Don’t have an Amazon Kindle reader?  You can download their fee app and read on any device:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apps-Amazon-com-Kindle-for-Android/dp/B004DLPXAO

Please Nominate My Book!

My first novel, Devil Gate Dawn, has been selected for the Amazon Scout scheme (it has been professionally proof-read and copyedited and they have approved my manuscript).  This means I am competing with other debut novelists for an Amazon Kindle publishing deal.

Their stats record how many reads I have of my 5,000 word opening extract, and I have an encouraging 200+ reads after the first week – the promotion period runs for 30 days and ends on 9th April.  When they first put up my opening 5,000 words I carefully read through it and yes, spotted a couple of minor errors and things I’d like to change, but also notice, with horror, that my first dramatic moment comes just after the cut-off!

I got in touch with them (amazon.com in the USA) and requested a re-submit.  After a couple of days they agreed, and I did some editing and re-submitted.  The new version went ‘live’ on Friday evening, and it now reads much better (in my view) and ends on a dramatic high…

Please read my extract and if you feel it is worthy, please nominate it.  After the 9th April, the book with the most nominations wins a publishing deal…help make it me!

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3AC6627K4Q0B2

 

Devil Gate Dawn

Devil Gate Dawn, my debut novel, has been selected for inclusion on the Amazon Scout scheme!  This means that from now until 9th April visitors to their site can read the first 5,000 word extract and nominate my novel (plus two others).  The novel with the most nominations at the end of the promotional period will win an Amazon Kindle publishing package.  Please help me win this by clicking and nominating!  Thanks…

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3AC6627K4Q0B2

Devil Gate masthead_FB

Thames Valley Tales – Two Months Old!

Themes_Valley_Tales_Cover_5My first dip of the toe into the pool of creative writing…

I’m glad I paid for professional proof-reading and copyediting, as I can face my readers and say, ‘It’s the best I can do at this stage of my development, and I’ve ensured it is technically sound and a smooth read.’

As for the stories themselves…are they engaging? do they stand comparison with other author’s work?  Here’s what my first five reviewers said…

“I love the range of emotions wrapped up in each story.  Witty, informative, educational – a thoroughly interesting read.  Strongly recommend it to any literary reader!”  awww…thanks sis.  I’ll try and be nicer to you…

Here’s a slightly cryptic one from someone I don’t know…

“Great collection of stories. Intriguing and witty.  Popeye shouldn’t read this…but everyone else should.”

Thrilled to get a five start rating from a stranger…but what does it mean???  I can’t see Popeye grappling with a tablet with his big thumbs, open can of spinach in the other hand.  Olive Oyle is a potential reader though…

A review from a member of my writing group is most welcome and I appreciate the peer support…

“Fascinating glimpses into the history of the area.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and wanted some of them to continue so I could find out what happened to the characters.”

Hmmmm….perhaps some stories could be extended into something longer, but I like the short story format because of my short attention span and inclination to hop from one idea to another.

Another review was from a cousin who I have no contact with, so the family grapevine works…

“An excellent collection of short stories which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Well written – can’t wait to read more from this author.”

Wow! great review and from an unexpected quarter… maybe I should re-engage with some distant branches of the extended family.  Especially now I’m an erm… author.

A review from a golf buddy who I never discussed books or reading with, just put his email on a speculative mailing…

“Great little stories.  Who is the murderer at Henley Regatta? Definitely the best of the bunch.”

Nice…and I’ve put ‘Murder at Henley Regatta’ forward for inclusion in an anthology of emerging writers…

With a few sales and a handful of reviews, I feel I’m emerging, blinking into the sunlight, embracing my new status and standing firmly behind my book in a few local media interviews.  It’s a start.  I’m up and running.

The Seesaw Sea of Fate

RED IS SUPPOSED to make you thirsty.  So say the psychologists, Stephen Joyce thought dryly as he surveyed the flock wallpaper on the wall of the pub.  Old and dirty, it had an unloved look about it.  The walls between the cream chipped paint sash windows had framed prints of scenes from Old London.  The one nearest him had a Victorian gent in a top hat promenading along a pavement with a parasol-touting lady on his arm.  Glancing at his smart phone, he checked the time again – a quarter past two.  Sean was late.

Pub pic1

It was Sean who had proposed that they meet up for a pub crawl on his birthday.  They had used to work together from the late 80s to the mid-90s on Fleet Street when he was a young reporter on the Daily Mail and Sean Malone was a printer in the dungeons of Associated Newspapers.  By the mid-90s the golden age of newspaper publishing on Fleet Street had come to an end, with Associated moving west to Kensington as the financial sector spread its tentacles outwards from the City to meet the legal firms clustered around the Inner Temple, squeezing out the wheezing alcoholic newspaper men.  Both Stephen and Sean left the company at that time and moved on to pastures new.  They had kept in touch, but now only met a couple of times a year as their lives moved on divergent courses.

He was in one of his favourite City pubs, the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street in the heart of Fitzrovia, once the bohemian centre of literary inspiration from the Romantic Poets right through to twentieth century figures including Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Anthony Burgess.  Yes, inspiration in the bottom of a glass.  How many of the great poetic and prose works of English literature were inspired by beer, wine and high spirits?  His musings were ended by the bustling figure of Sean, who brought a draught of cold air with him as he burst through the side door.  “Sorry I’m late, Northern Line, you know.  Anyway, great to see yer and happy birthday!”  He shook Stephen firmly by the hand.  “What are yer having?”

They settled into a corner booth and started to chatter like a couple of excited teenagers.  Now both in their mid-40s, they had not lost the timeless pleasure of sitting in a pub, sipping on a pint and enjoying the company of a friend.  Sean’s Irish accent was as strong as ever, despite having lived in London for over twenty years.  “Oi’ve been workin’ for a printing firm up in Kilburn, not far from my digs.  It’s not as well paid as Associated but it’s walking distance from where I live, and has the best pubs in North London.”  He took a long draught from his pint of Guinness.  “What have you been up to?”

Stephen described his ups and downs.  He had left Associated after completing his training as a news reporter and went to work for Reuters News Agency.  This had enabled him to travel to some of the worst war zones on earth – Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.   He had lived in tents and army barracks and reported on the lives of soldiers in the field, as well as on the wars themselves.  He had come to understand the utter futility of these stage-managed conflicts, and seen the shattered lives and despair absent from the steralised war rooms in London and Washington.  He now worked as a home-based freelance feature writer, from his cluttered office in a cosy flat in Islington.  He had also found the time to get married to his girlfriend and fellow reporter, Julia, and they had a six-year-old son, James.

“So what’s the plan?” Stephen asked his friend.  “Oi thought we would go ‘round the pubs in this area and end up in the Tattershall Castle – y’know, the boat on the river by the Embankment.”  He grinned as he raised his glass and had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  “Oh yeah, I remember many a boozy night on the floating pub on the river – good call,” Stephen laughed and they clinked glasses in a toast to old times.  “Drink up, let’s move on,” Sean said as he downed his pint and grabbed his coat.  Outside they turned north up Charlotte Street, crossing over the road and round the corner into Charlotte Place and into the Duke of York. “Ahh, one of my favourite pubs”, Stephen said, “A decent pint of bitter and the place where Anthony Burgess was alleged to have found inspiration for A Clockwork Orange, following an altercation with some knife-wielding thugs.”

They found elbow room at the bar and stood supping their pints.  “Have you tried writing a book yerself?”  Sean inquired.  “Well, actually, I have copious notes from my war correspondent days and it is in the back of my mind to write up an account.  But you can’t separate the politics from what happens on the ground.  War is what happens when the political process breaks down.  Getting stuck into the motives and machinations of self-serving political leaders like Bush and Blair kind of puts me off from starting.”  They drank quietly for a couple of minutes.  “Come on, let’s move on.”  They drank up and wandered down Rathbone Street to the Marquis of Granby.  They entered the grand old pub, with pictures of prize fighters adorning the walls.  Sean said, “Now it’s my turn to tell you something about this pub.  It was here that the rules of boxing were first thought up by the Marquis of Queensbury and his high society friends.  A gentlemen’s sport, fought by poor men for money.”

Stephen was not to be outdone and added; “Literary figures also drank here, including Eric Blair, who wrote as George Orwell.  He worked for the BBC, just ‘round the corner, during the Second World War, helping the war effort with propaganda programmes and where he no doubt got his ideas for Animal Farm and 1984.  This pub inspires me, Sean.  To think that one of the great English novels – 1984 – may have been dreamed up in here, that Orwell rubbed shoulders with working class men having a pint after work, and sketched in his mind the character of Winston Smith.  That TV programme – Room 101 – is based on 1984. It was the place where political prisoners, including the unfortunate Winston Smith, met their fate.  ‘A boot stamping on a human face forever’ was Orwell’s bleak description of what happened in Room 101.  The fact that they’ve made light entertainment out of it cracks me up.”

“Never read it,” Sean said in a nonchalant manner.  It was as if the entire works of English literature was nothing more than a colossal waste of paper.  He tried to move the conversation back to sport.  “The only English literature I’m interested in is the form on the horses in the Saturday paper.  This is more of a sporting pub, with the pictures of boxers on the walls.  You got any interest in sport?”  Stephen paid for the beers and sipped the frothy top of his pint.  “Only the fortunes of Arsenal.  I used to go up to the old Highbury Stadium and stand on the North Bank.  Those were the days – the Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon back four, and David Seaman in goal.  Those ugly buggers scared off all attackers.  No wonder Arsenal boasted the meanest defence and the most humourless manager in George Graham.  I like the current manager, Arsène Wenger, but somehow I can’t summon the enthusiasm to go to the new Emirates Stadium.  I hear the ticket prices are astronomical.”  “Yeah,” Sean chipped in, “I only watch the horses in the bookies and the footy in the pub.”

From there they stopped in The Wheat Sheaf on Rathbone Place, a narrow pub which used to be a coaching inn in days gone by.  “This was the pub in which Dylan Thomas met his wife-to-be, Caitlin.”  Stephen had not given up trying to educate his Irish friend.  “She was with another man, but Dylan chatted her up and started seeing her.  After a whirlwind romance they got married and lived happily until Dylan’s early death from the demon drink.”  “Sounds like a man after my own heart,” Sean chuckled.  Stephen continued: “I brought Julia here for a drink one time and told her the same story, about Dylan Thomas.  She surprised me by reciting a few lines from his poem Under Milk Wood.  I can still remember it:

The only sea I saw

Was the seesaw sea

With you riding on it

Lie down, lie easy

Let me shipwreck in your thighs.

I knew from that moment that I was in love – I was destined to marry her.”

IT WAS A CHILLY, blustery October day and it was already getting dark at 4:30pm as they headed towards Oxford Street.  Stephen, whose 44th birthday it was, had already had four pints to Sean’s three, and he was starting to rock from side to side, like a ship caught in a heavy sea swell.  “Whoops! I’m rolling on the seesaw sea!” he cried as he stepped back onto the pavement as a Boris Bike sped by, splashing some rain water onto his shoes.  It was crowded with shoppers, and he turned to see Sean dodging his way past a group of five or six Muslim women, clad in black from head to foot, who hurried by, not replying to his “Oops, sorry!” as he nearly walked into them.  “Bejesus, they can’t even acknowledge you,” he muttered under his breath; “London used to be a friendly place.”  They navigated their way past black cabs and red buses to the south side of Oxford Street and headed towards Soho Square.

As they hurried down Dean Street into the heart of Soho, Stephen decided to have some fun with his friend; “You’re a fine one to comment on the multicultural society – you Paddies are everywhere!”  Sean let out a loud guffaw and replied, “Come on, the Brits and Irish are practically cousins.  We’re all from the same wet and windswept islands off the north coast of Europe.  London’s now full of  those who tink they can bypass hundreds of years of development by taking a short plane ride or bunking through the channel tunnel just so they can get subsidised housing, free education and healthcare.  They’re spoiling it for the rest of us.”

They pushed through the door of the next pub on their journey, the Coach and Horses on Greek Street.  A busy pub with an upstairs restaurant frequented by actors, actresses, playwrights and theatre workers.  Sean muscled his way to the bar and ordered the round.  Stephen had been reflecting quietly and said, “You know, London has a long history of absorbing waves of immigrants, going back hundreds of years.  But there’s something not right about what’s happening now.  In the paper this morning it said that there are already over 600,000 unemployed migrants from EU countries.  Add that to the millions from Commonwealth countries and you wonder if this island will sink under the weight.”  “Yeah, and they won’t even talk to us.  Integration my arse”, Sean added as he supped his pint.

Stephen decided to change the subject: “Now, let me tell you something about this pub.  The journalist and barroom raconteur Jeffrey Bernard used to drink here, and it is where playwright Keith Waterhouse got his inspiration to write the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. It is set in this very pub, where Jeffrey awakes in the early hours of the morning and emerges from under a table to reflect on his life-long association with booze.  In fact he died from alcohol-related complications shortly after the play opened.  Like I said before.  There is a strong relationship between booze and English literature.”

Sean put his empty pint glass down on the bar and said: “Sounds like the sort of play I should see.  OK, we’ve done literature, immigration, politics, religion and sport.  Let’s take a break and get something to eat.  How about we go over the road into Chinatown for a Chinese?”  Stephen nodded and they made their way across Shaftesbury Avenue and through the archway into Chinatown, walking along Gerrard Street and into the Four Seasons restaurant.  The ground floor was full of diners, and they were ushered up a rickety wooden staircase where they were seated at a large round table with other recent arrivals.  “Service is rubbish but the aromatic duck is to die for,” Sean whispered.  Stephen briefly scanning the menu, before Sean leaned over and pointed to the ‘Set Menu for Two’.  “That’ll do,” Sean said, ordering two pints of lager from the tiny waiter.  Stephen opened up a new subject: “You haven’t told me if you’re seeing anyone at the moment?”

“Erm, no, not at the moment.  I’m between relationships,” he smiled.  “I had a girlfriend, Molly, until a couple of months ago.  She’s from County Clare, and works behind the bar in The Jolly Miller.  It didn’t work out – she worked long hours on evenings and weekends; it was impossible to get a date, and I became jealous of all the lads chatting her up.  I bet you’re loving it, being a husband and daddy.”

“Yeah, it’s great and it has given me new purpose and direction in my life.  You can’t go on being young, free and single forever.”

“Don’t know about that,” Sean said, “London’s the place to be if you’re single.  There’s plenty of distractions here.”

They laughed and joked as they rolled their duck pancakes, and tucked into bowls of fried rice and things swimming in monosodium glutamate.  Sean insisted on paying as it was his friend’s birthday and he had invited him out.  “You’re a bad lad Sean, but it’s good to see you again.  I remember our drinking days around Fleet Street and Blackfriars.  We were young then – work hard and play hard, spending whatever we earned in the pubs.  This is a timely reminder that it’s all still here. Life goes on; it’s just that the punters get younger.  Let’s head on to that pub next to Charing Cross Station and then down the alleyway to the Embankment and onto the Tattershall Castle.”

Sean took his opportunity to say what was on his mind.  “Steve, you couldn’t help me out could yer?  I hate to ask, but I need a job – do you have any contacts in the production side of things?”  Stephen eyed him cautiously, feeling he had been ambushed.  The alcohol had made him slow to engage his brain and think of a reply.  “I can’t think of anything offhand.  Let me give it some thought over the next few days.”  There was a slightly awkward and embarrassing silence, broken by Sean, “Yeah, of course, sorry to ask, but yer know how it is.”

“No problem mate, that’s what friends are for.  I’ll help if I can.”

They walked out into the well-lit narrow street and turned their coat collars up against the wind and rain.  Theatre-goers hurried by, smartly dressed in their evening wear, on a special night out.  They returned to small talk about the people they had worked with and the nights out they had had.  Time changes things, the intervening years had taken them in different directions with differing fortunes.  The excitement and energy of youth had given way to a more circumspect and practical view of life.  ‘For one night only!’ a neon sign shouted above a theatre.  Stephen pointed to it and said; “One night only for me, my friend – I hardly get out these days.  I’m really enjoying this nostalgic stagger across London!”

The Tattershall Castle swayed gently at its mooring next to the Embankment riverside walk.  The old iron boat had been colourfully painted in blue and yellow, and they had to duck their heads as they went below decks to the cosy bar.  It gave the sense of being somewhere away from the city, the illusion of travelling to faraway places.  They were both pretty drunk by now and Stephen in particular was feeling the effect.  “I think this’ll be my last, I’m as pissed as the proverbial newt.”  Sean eyed some attractive office workers giggling across the bar as they moved to a standing-only table.

“I feel the sudden need for a fag,” he said.  “You haven’t smoked at all this evening, I thought you’d given up,” Stephen said.  “Ah well, you know, after a few pints I still get the urge.  I’ll just go up on deck for a quick smoke.  See you in a bit.”  Stephen smiled as his friend bounced off the wood panelled walls and followed an equally-drunk woman up the stairs.  He fished out his mobile phone and checked his mail, replying to a message from his wife.

He was distracted by shouts, screams and a splash coming from the deck.  Most of the drinkers responded and ran up the stairs.  Stephen followed.  A distraught, inebriated woman was pointing into the river, and Stephen saw his friend Sean, bobbing up and down, arms flailing as he struggled to keep his head above the murky water of the Thames.  Stephen ran along the deck and pulled a plastic life ring from the railing, throwing it to his friend.  “Here!  Grab hold of this!”

They managed to coax him around the bow of the boat and hauled him out onto the pontoon.  “Are you alright, mate?  What happened?”  Stephen was sobering up fast in the cool night air.  Sean looked up at him and rolled over, vomiting brown river water mixed with Chinese noodles.  “Come on, let’s get you home.”  Stephen managed to get him to his feet and got him to put his coat on – at least that was dry.  “We’d better get a taxi back to my place.”  Sean just groaned.

After a shower and with a hot mug of coffee in his hand, Sean sheepishly apologised to Stephen’s wife, Julia.  She tutted and fussed, blaming her wayward husband for what she assumed was a drunken prank that got out of hand.  “Come on Sean, tell us what happened, and get me out of jail!”

Sean groaned and said; “Stephen’s not to blame, Julia.  In fact he wasn’t there, as I was on the top deck, flirting with a woman who I’d just bummed a fag off.  Well, I leaned backwards on the rail, and it opened like a gate, and before I knew it I was falling down into the river.”

“Oh my God!  You must have been terrified!”  Julia said, shocked.

“Yeah, my life flashed before me, and it wasn’t a pretty sight!  Anyway, now I know what the Thames tastes like, and I won’t be bottling it.”

Stephen suddenly sprung to life: “That’s it!  I think I’ve got a job for you!  Honey, you remember your friend who works for the bottled water company?”

“Yes, you mean Lucy at the Essex Spring Water Company…what about her?”

“Well, she said they were looking for someone to organise their publicity leaflets and advertising materials…well, young Sean here is a publishing guru and is looking for a new job.  It could be a perfect match!”

Sean brightened up and managed a smile: “Wow, a job referral is almost worth taking a swim in the Thames for.  That’s the only thing missing from my CV.”

“What’s that?”  Julia asked.

“Good contacts and word of mouth recommendation – that’s the only way to get a job in this unfriendly, divided and deeply suspicious city.  Another coffee?”

The Colnbrook Caper

This short story is taken from ‘Thames Valley Tales’, a collection of 15 stories, now available on Amazon:

http:/www.amazon.com/gp/product/B011PQHJUQ

THE GENTLE SEA swell lapped on the shiny white hull, nice in Nice, nice in Nice.  Rami Raja leaned on the polished chrome railing and surveyed the bay, smug in the knowledge that his yacht, the sleek and fast Arianna, was the best and most expensive within sight.  In the Bay of Nice he was the Big Dog, and other yacht owners waved enviously at him.

He sauntered with the gentle swaying motion back to his tablet and sipped ice tea, in a bubble of contentment, not disturbed in any way by the squawking gulls, dive-bombing the scraps thrown on the lower deck by his chef.  Although technically on holiday with his wife and daughter, he always spent the first hour after breakfast checking the financial markets, before calling his CEO at his business, Travel Cash Limited, in Colnbrook, near Heathrow Airport, to discuss the day’s objectives.

The Arianna, a Class B type-luxury yacht, was his indulgence – his reward, for the successful management and growth of his now international travel cash business.  The yacht cost a cool two million pounds and was built to order by Italian firm Benetti.  Sixty-five metres long with three decks, six luxury cabins, swimming pool and helipad, it was the ultimate status symbol for the Travel Cash millionaire boss.

On the upper deck his beautiful daughter, Jasmine, wearing a yellow bikini, rubbed sun oil onto her slim bronzed limbs, as she casually surveyed the walkers on La Promenade des Anglais, swimmers splashing in the surf and sunbathers on the crescent-shaped beach.  Ahh, so nice to be in Nice, she thought to herself.  Maybe I’ll stop playing Miss Casual and take up the offer from one of Daddy’s friends to appear in a Bollywood movie.  A brief walk-on part could help launch my career as a model.

Rami, resplendent in palm tree motif Bermuda shorts, looked up from his tablet.  Now he could relax.  The Travel Cash share price was up, following a slight dip, and he was assured by his stockbroker that it would continue to trade strongly following good quarterly turnover and profit figures.  Money makes money.  As long as travellers needed to change currencies, he was assured of a cast iron income from his chain of bureaux.

EIGHT HUNDRED MILES north, in Colnbrook village, on the north bank of the River Thames just west of London, David Willis put on his cycling helmet and surveyed the grey morning sky as he pushed his bicycle out of the front door of the worn brick terraced house he shared with two others.  It was drizzling lightly, not enough to put him off cycling.  He would change out of his cycling gear and into dry clothes in the locker room at work.  He worked as an Order Checker at Travel Cash in Hounslow, West London, fairly close to Heathrow Airport where most of their customers were based.  He was a temp, modestly paid at £9.00 an hour and with no job security.  In fact, his employers preferred a steady turnover of staff – it was a soulless moneymaking operation and people were just cogs in the cash-counting machine.

Travel Cash was based in a large warehouse, occupying a block in a grey, featureless business park about two miles from Heathrow.  It was an ugly breeze block building with blacked-out windows and thin metal roof sheets.  The building was surrounded by a three-metre-high wire mesh fence, with electric fencing around the top.  Outside the fence were concrete bollards at intervals of two metres, designed to stop the most determined ram raiders.

David pushed his bike through the security checkpoint.  He was eyed suspiciously by the guards as he swiped his ID badge.  No friendly “Hi, how are you?”  These guys never smiled.  Funny, he thought – Eastern European guards protecting Indian money from British employees.  There was an absence of trust when money was involved.  This lack of trust deepened when tribal factors were added in.  He locked his bike in the shed provided and walked through the revolving front door into the high-ceilinged reception area.  At least here there was a friendly face – fake-boobed Sheila, the morning shift receptionist, gave him a warm smile: “Hi Dave, how are you today?”

“Just fine Sheila, and you?” “I’m OK”.  She smiled at him and he had to restrain himself from staring at her ample cleavage.  I wonder how much they cost?  I could park my bike in there.  He continued moving through the lobby during this brief exchange, to the door marked Staff Locker Room.  As he got changed, his eyes were again drawn to a notice on the staff noticeboard.  ‘Computer Equipment and Printers for Sale’.  It had been up for a week and had got him thinking.  He didn’t need a computer as he already had one at home, but he was drawn to the offer and a mischievous possibility.

His workspace was in a large open-plan office with a dozen desks, each with an Order Checker.  In the corner of the room there was a large cage in which boxes were piled high.  Each box was labelled with a major currency and contained bundles of cash.  A small, sweaty Indian man called Randeep delivered bundles of currency to each Order Checker on demand, with a small trolley he wheeled around the floor space.  The Order Checkers would receive an order for foreign exchange, usually from a travel bureau, by email on their computers.

DollarsThese order sheets were printed out, then bundles of cash were requested from Randeep who would deliver them to the appropriate desk.  The Order Checkers would then count out the exact amount ordered, less commission, and the bundles were banded together with elastic bands, put into large envelopes with the order slip and the details written on in black marker pens.  The packages were then put into a chute, similar to laundry chutes in old hotels, where they tumbled down one floor to the Despatch Area, where they were wheeled in big blue bins to waiting security vans for delivery.

There were no security guards in the room where David worked, only CCTV.  The guards were guarding the entrance and exits to the building, checking people in and out.  During the morning shift David processed on average six orders per hour – about one every ten minutes.  By lunchtime he had handled US dollars, euros, yen, yuan, Turkish lira, Thai baht, Indian rupees, South African rands and Canadian dollars.  Big orders were quite common, maybe two or three a day with a value of over three million pounds.

The largest order he had ever processed was for five million euros (£4,237,288 on the invoice) and it was surprisingly small in size and weight.  He received twenty bundles of 500 euro notes, 500 notes to a bundle.  The 500 euro note was by far the highest value note at that time.  He picked up one of the bundles and could easily hold it in his hand.  It was about two inches high and weighed no more than 300 grams.  Hmmm, he thought, if I could figure out a way to get twenty of these bundles out of the building I’d be four and a quarter million pounds richer.  Without a doubt this was a life-changing amount.

He had never stolen anything in his life, and generally conformed to the British norm of respecting other’s property and accumulating stuff.  He was a dutiful worker and consumer, paying taxes and supporting the system whilst being patronised by politicians.  Could he possibly break out?  Could he make the quantum leap from this dull but safe life to one of a criminal on the run?

At the end of his shift he got changed and wheeled his bike out through the security hut.  He had his backpack searched by a bored-looking guard.  No words were spoken, and he still had to swipe his ID card to open the outer steel doors.  There could be no carrying bundles of cash out of this place.  At home that evening, he got a screwdriver and took off the back of his PC hard drive tower unit to see how much space was inside.  Actually, quite a lot of space.  Particularly if you remove the cards on which circuits, switches and wires were mounted, there was an empty cavity behind it.  He got some old newspapers and made up some bundles of similar size to the ones he had handled earlier that day.  He was able to fit twenty bundles into the cavity and then replace the circuit board.  It was a bit of a squeeze, but it fitted, and if the back was taken off there was no sign of the paper bundles.

HE DECIDED TO ease his rising anxiety with a pint at his local pub – The Ostrich in Colnbrook High Street.  It was quiet on this mid-week night, and the friendly publican, Steve, was happy for someone to chat to.  David picked up a booklet on the history of the area, and Steve drew his attention to the chapter on this very pub.

“This pub has a long history, dating back to medieval times when it was a hospice for the sick of the parish.  It was known as the ‘Ospice, which gave way to the ‘Osbridge Inn’ when it became a popular resting place for travellers going to and from London.  This road outside, Colnbrook High Street, is actually a part of the old Roman Road, now the A4, that runs due west to Bath.  Travellers have been passing this way for close to two thousand years.  Some years later the name was further corrupted to ‘The Ostrich Inn’.”

David, happy for the distraction, sipped his pint of beer and skimmed over the section on the pub.  He stopped at the mention of the word ‘murder’.

“What’s this about murder?  Does the old inn have a dark past?”

Steve brightened up:  “Oh yes!  This place gained an infamous reputation.  During the eighteenth century, when highwaymen roamed the road from here to Reading, this was a popular stopping point for weary travellers on horseback.  The landlord was a man called Jarman, and he made a good living with his wife providing a room and a hot meal for the night.  They had also earned a reputation for their delicious pork pies.

“One evening, a merchant from Reading arrived, one Thomas Cole, and he handed over his pouch of coins to the landlady for safekeeping, as was the way.  He was given the best and warmest room – the one above the kitchen, and tucked into his dinner of pies and ale.  That night the evil and conniving couple carried out their plan.  They prepared a large vat of boiling oil and then crept upstairs to see if their guest was sleeping.  Satisfied that he was in a deep sleep, they tipped up the bed, and slid his body through an open hatch in the floor, right into the vat of boiling oil.  The poor merchant was killed instantly.  They then removed his body, quartered it and cooked it in an oven, ready to be mixed with other ingredients for their delicious pork pies!”

“How ghastly!” David said.  “To think such a horrific murder was committed here, not far from where I’m sitting.”

“Well, the local sheriff was alerted when the dead man’s horse escaped from the stable and made its way home, and an investigation into his disappearance took place.  Other travellers had also mysteriously disappeared, and Jarman, fearing their discovery, fled into the Windsor woods.  He was tracked down by the sheriff’s men and confessed to as many as twenty such murders of travellers with his wife, who cooked and served them up in their famously tasty pork pies!”

David was suitably impressed with this gruesome story: “I’ll have another pint, but I think I’ll pass on the bar food!”  They both laughed and David was grateful to have his mind taken off his predicament.  Was this a warning tale that criminals eventually get caught?  He decided to sleep on it, but knew if he went ahead, he would have to make sure it was the perfect crime – and a one-off – never to be repeated.

WILL HE DO IT?  HOW DO DAVID AND JASMINE FINALLY MEET? 

READ ‘THAMES VALLEY TALES’ TO FIND OUT!