‘Lifting the Lid’ – Opening chapters

These are the opening four chapters of my comedy thriller, Lifting the Lid, which is the first book in the ‘Lifting the Lid’ series.

Lifting the Lid is available as an e-book and as a paperback from Amazon.

I’m always interested in feedback about my work, so please feel free to comment in the box thing at the bottom of the page.

If you’d like more information about the book, click here.

For details of Heads You Lose (Book 2 in the Lifting the Lid series), click here.

CHAPTER ONE

Trevor stood with his back to the fireplace like some Victorian patriarch but without a scrap of the authority. Although the gas fire wasn’t on, he rubbed his hands behind him as if to warm them. His mother sat in her usual chair by the window, staring blankly at the absence of activity in the street outside.

He knew exactly what her response would be. It was always the same when he told her anything about his life. Not that there was often much to tell, but this was different. This was a biggie. Almost as big as when he’d told her about Imelda’s—

‘It’s of no concern to me.’

There we go. And now for the follow-on. Wait for it. Wait for it.

‘I’m seventy-eight years old. Why should I care? I could be dead tomorrow.’

Trevor screwed up his face and mouthed the words of his mother’s familiar mantra, but it became rapidly unscrewed again when she added, ‘…Like Imelda.’

‘Don’t,’ he said. ‘Just don’t, okay?’

‘No concern to me,’ said the old woman with a barely perceptible shrug.

In the silence that followed, Trevor became aware of the ticking of the pendulum clock on the mantelpiece behind him. It had never been right since his father had died, so he checked his watch instead. ‘You won’t be… ‘ and he hesitated to say the word, ‘ … lonely?’

If his mother had had the energy or inclination to have laughed — derisively or otherwise — she would have done, but she settled for the next best option and grunted, ‘Hmph.’

Trevor knew from experience that the intention was to pick away at his already tender guilt spot, and he looked around the room as if he were searching for the nearest escape route. His mother still referred to it as ‘the parlour’, perhaps in a vain attempt to attach some kind of outmoded elegance to a room which, to Trevor’s eye at least, was mildly shabby and darkly depressing even on the brightest of days. It was festooned with fading photographs of people who were long since dead, interspersed here and there with pictures of his more recently deceased brother and his very-much-alive sister. Of Trevor, there was only the one – an unframed snapshot of him and Imelda on their wedding day.

He became aware of the clock once again and cleared his throat. ‘So… er… I’ll be away then.’

This time, the shrug was accompanied by the slightest tilt of the head. ‘No concern to me,’ she said.

Again, he glanced at his watch. ‘It’s just that I have to—’

‘Oh get on if you’re going.’

Trevor stepped forward and, picking up his crash helmet from the table next to his mother, kissed her perfunctorily on the back of the head. For the first time, she turned — not quite to face him, but turned nevertheless.

‘Still got that silly little moped then,’ she said, repeating the comment she’d made when he had first arrived less than an hour before.

‘Scooter, mother. It’s a scooter. — Anyway, how could I afford anything else?’ He was thankful she couldn’t see the sudden redness in his cheeks or she would have instantly realised that he was lying.

He kissed her again in the same spot, and this time she seemed to squirm uncomfortably. For a moment, he followed her line of vision to the outside world. — Nothing. He tapped his helmet a couple of times, then turned and walked towards the door. As he closed it behind him, he could just make out the words: ‘Your brother wouldn’t have gone.’

Out in the street, he strapped on his helmet and straddled the ageing Vespa, eventually coaxing the engine into something that resembled life. He took a last look at the window where his mother sat and thought he saw the twitch of a lace curtain falling back into place.

‘Oh sod it,’ he said aloud and let out the clutch.

At the end of the road, he turned right and stopped almost immediately behind a parked camper van. Dismounting the Vespa and still holding the handlebars, he kicked out the side stand and was about to lean it to rest when he decided that some kind of symbolic gesture was called for. Instead of inclining the scooter to a semi-upright position, he looked down at the rust-ridden old machine, tilted it marginally in the opposite direction and let go. With the gratingly inharmonious sound of metal on tarmac, the Vespa crashed to the ground and twitched a few times before rattling itself into submission. Trevor took in the paltry death throes and allowed himself a smirk of satisfaction.

Pulling a set of keys from his pocket, he kissed it lightly and walked round to the driver’s door of the van. The moment he turned the key in the lock, a lean-looking black and tan mongrel leapt from its sleeping position on the back seat and hurled itself towards the sound. By the time Trevor had opened the door, the dog was standing on the driver’s seat, frantically wagging its tail and barking hysterically.

‘Hey, Milly. Wasn’t long, was I?’ said Trevor, taking the dog’s head between both hands and rocking it gently from side to side. ‘Over you get then.’

Milly simply stared back at him, no longer barking but still wagging her tail excitedly.

‘Go on. Get over.’ Trevor repeated the command and, with a gentle push, encouraged her to jump across to the passenger seat. Then he climbed in and settled himself behind the steering wheel. ‘Right then,’ he said, rubbing his palms around its full circumference. ‘Let’s get this show on the road.’

CHAPTER TWO

 The lift was dead. The grey-haired guy in the expensive suit wasn’t, but he looked like he was. Lenny had him pinned against the wall by leaning his back into him as hard as he could to keep him upright — no mean achievement since, although built like a whippet on steroids, Lenny was little more than five feet in height and well into his fifties.

‘Come on, Carrot,’ he said. ‘What you messin’ about at?’

Carrot – so called because of his ill-fitting and very obvious ginger toupee – jabbed at the lift button for the umpteenth time. ‘Lift’s not working. We’ll have to use the stairs.’

‘You kidding me? With this lard-arse?’

‘So we just leave him here, do we?’

Lenny’s heavily lined features contorted into a grimace. ‘How many flights?’

‘Dunno. Couple maybe?’

‘Jesus,’ said Lenny, taking a step forward.

The laws of gravity instantly came into play, and the Suit slid inexorably down the wall and ended up in a sitting position, his head lolled to one side and his jacket bunched up around his ears. Not for the first time, Carrot wondered why he’d been paired up with a dipshit like Lenny and even why the whining little git had been put on this job at all.

‘Well you’ll have to take the top half then,’ Lenny said. ‘Back’s playing me up.’

Carrot snorted. Here we go again, he thought. The old racing injury ploy.

Lenny pulled himself up to his full inconsiderable height and shot him a glare. ‘And what’s that supposed to mean? You know bloody well about my old racing injury.’

‘Doesn’t everyone?’ said Carrot.

Although Lenny’s stature – or lack of it – gave a certain amount of credibility to his countless stories about when he used to be a top-flight steeplechase jockey, nobody in the racing business ever seemed to have heard of him. It was certainly true that he knew pretty much everything there was to know about the Sport of Kings, and most of his tales of the turf had a ring of authenticity about them, so he must have been involved in some way or other but more likely as a stable lad than a jockey. Hardly anyone bothered to doubt him to his face though, probably because his vicious temper was legendary and so was his ability with both his fists and his feet. For a little guy, he could be more than handy when it came to a scrap.

He looked like he was spoiling for one right now, so Carrot diverted his attention back to the Suit.

‘Grab his ankles then,’ he said and manoeuvred the man’s upper body forward so he could get a firm grip under his armpits from behind.

Halfway up the first flight of concrete stairs, Lenny announced that he’d have to have a rest. Even though Carrot was doing most of the work, he decided not to antagonise him and eased his end of the body down onto the steps. Truth be told, he could do with a short break himself. He was already sweating like a pig and, besides, he needed at least one hand free to push his toupee back from in front of his eyes.

Lenny leaned back against the iron handrail and started to roll a cigarette.

Carrot’s jaw dropped. ‘Lenny?’

‘Yeah?’

‘What you doing?’

‘Er…’ Lenny looked down at his half completed cigarette and then back at Carrot. ‘Rollin’ a fag?’

His expression and tone of voice rendered the addition of a ‘duh’ utterly redundant.

‘We’re not in the removal business, you know.’ Carrot nodded towards the Suit. ‘This isn’t some bloody wardrobe we’re delivering.’

Lenny ignored him and lit up. He took a long drag and blew a couple of smoke rings. Putting the cigarette to his lips for a second time, he was about to take another draw when he hesitated and began to sniff the air. ‘What’s that smell?’

‘Er… smoke?’ Two can play the ‘duh’ game, thought Carrot.

‘It’s like…’ Lenny’s nose twitched a few more times and then puckered with distaste. ‘Ugh, it’s piss.’

‘Dumps like this always stink of piss.’

‘No, it’s more…’ Lenny carried on sniffing, his eyes ranging around to try to identify the source of the smell. ‘Oh Jesus, it’s him.’

Carrot looked in the direction he was pointing and, sure enough, the dark stain which covered the Suit’s groin area was clearly visible despite the charcoal grey of the trousers. ‘Oh for f—’

‘Bugger’s wet ‘imself.’

‘I can see that.’

Lenny took a pull on his cigarette. ‘Fear probably.’

‘Don’t be a prat. The man’s out cold. He doesn’t know if it’s Christmas Day or Tuesday.’

‘Maybe it’s like when somebody has their leg cut off – or their arm. They reckon you can still feel it even though it’s not there any more.’

Carrot stared at him, unable to discern any logical connection between amputation and pissing your pants.

‘You know,’ Lenny continued, apparently aware that further explanation was necessary. ‘It’s like your subconscious, or whatever, doing stuff behind your back without you realising.’

‘I think it’s far more likely it’s a side effect of the stuff we injected him with.’

‘Could be,’ said Lenny, and he took a last drag on his cigarette before lobbing it over his shoulder into the stairwell.

‘Ready now?’ Carrot made no attempt to disguise the sarcasm in his tone.

‘I’m not taking the feet this time though. My face’ll be right in his piss.’

Carrot squeezed his eyes shut and counted to three. ‘You want to swap?’

‘Not necessarily. We could try taking an arm each.’

Because of the substantial difference in their heights, Carrot knew that this meant he would be taking most of the weight again, but he also realised there was no point in arguing. The priority was to get the guy up the stairs and into the flat before somebody spotted them.

CHAPTER THREE

 The time wandered by, and the miles slid comfortably under the tyres at a steady fifty-five. Battered though it was, the converted Volkswagen Transporter was only twelve years old and could have gone faster, but Trevor was in no particular hurry. He was enjoying the ride, happy to be away and with the road stretching before him to an unknown destination. Milly seemed equally contented and alternated between sitting upright on the passenger seat, staring fixedly ahead, and curling up to sleep in the back.

It was Trevor’s first real trip in the camper, and he liked the idea of having no fixed itinerary. After all, he reasoned, wasn’t that the whole point of having one of these things?

To say that he had bought it on a whim would have been a gross distortion of the truth. Trevor didn’t really do whims. His idea of an impulsive action was to buy an item that wasn’t on his list when he did his weekly shop at the local supermarket. Even then, there would have to be a pretty convincing argument in favour of dropping the quarter-pound packet of frozen peas, or whatever it might be, into his trolley. Half price or two-for-one were minimum requirements.

The camper van hadn’t fulfilled either of these criteria, and to begin with, he’d toyed with the idea of a motorbike. Something a bit flash, like a Harley. He’d have needed a halfway decent tent of course. A simple bedroll and sleeping out under the stars were all very well in Arizona or wherever but totally inadequate over here — unless you were one of those rufty-tufty outdoor survival types with an unnatural fixation about the SAS. He’d never understood the attraction of deliberately putting yourself in a situation where it was more than likely you would either starve or freeze to death or be attacked by a large carnivore or stung by something so venomous you’d have seconds to live unless you applied the appropriate antidote in time or got your best friend to suck out the poison. No, Scottish midges were about as much as he was prepared to tolerate, but even then he’d make damn sure he had a plentiful supply of insect repellent with him.

A hermetically sealable tent and a good thick sleeping bag would be indispensable as far as Trevor was concerned and, if space permitted on the Harley, an airbed — preferably with a pump which operated off the bike’s battery. It had all started to make perfect sense until a small problem finally occurred to him. What about Milly? She was too big to ride in a rucksack on his back, and as for the only other possible option, the very idea of a Harley with a sidecar made him squirm with embarrassment.

A car was far too ordinary for his purposes, so a camper van had seemed to be the next best thing if he couldn’t have a Harley. It still had a kind of ‘just hit the open road and go where it takes you’ feel to it, and he’d once read a book by John Steinbeck where he set off to rediscover America in a camper with an enormous poodle called Charley.

The whole decision-making process had taken months of what Imelda would have called ‘anally retentive faffing’, but which Trevor preferred to consider as an essential prerequisite to ‘getting it right’. In his defence, he would have argued that it wasn’t just about buying a van. There had been much greater life choices involved, such as whether to pack in his job at Dreamhome Megastores.

As it turned out, that particular decision had almost made itself for him. The company was in a bit of financial bother and was having to make cutbacks, so he and several of his colleagues had been offered voluntary redundancy. Although not exactly generous, the severance package was certainly tempting enough to cause Trevor a run of sleepless nights. But it wasn’t until his annual staff appraisal that he’d finally made up his mind.

He had sat across the desk from the store manager and studied the thin wisps of hair on top of the man’s head while he read out a litany of shortcomings and misdemeanours from the form in front of him.

‘This simply won’t do, Trevor. Really it won’t,’ Mr Webber had said, finally looking up and removing his glasses. ‘I mean, there have been more customer complaints about you than any other member of staff.’

‘I don’t know why. I’m always polite. Always try and give advice whenever I—’

‘But that’s exactly the problem, Trevor. More often than not, the complaints are about your advice. We’ve had more goods returned because of you than… than…’ The manager had slumped back in his chair. ‘Good God, man, have you learned nothing about home maintenance and improvement in all the… What is it? Fourteen years since you’ve been here?’

‘Fifteen.’ And in all those long years, he’d never once heard Webber use the phrase ‘do-it-yourself’, let alone its dreaded acronym.

‘Quite honestly, I’m at a loss as to know what to—’

This time, it was Trevor who had interrupted. He couldn’t be sure that he was about to be sacked, but he’d already had his quota of verbal and written warnings and thought he’d get in first with: ‘About this voluntary redundancy thing…’

And that was that. Decision made and not a bad little payout. Added to what he’d squirreled away over the last couple of years or so, he could buy the van and still have enough left to live on for a few months as long as he was careful. He’d have to look for another job when the money did run out of course, but he was determined not to worry about that until the time came. At least, he was determined to try not to worry about it.

‘What the hell, eh, Milly? This is it,’ he said and shoved a tape into the cassette player.

He caught sight of the dog in the rear-view mirror. She briefly raised an eyebrow when the opening bars of Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild bellowed from the speakers above her head. Then she went back to sleep.

Trevor tapped the steering wheel almost in time with the music and hummed along when the lyrics kicked in. A song about hitting the open road and just seeing where it took you seemed particularly appropriate for the occasion, and when it got to the chorus, he’d begun to lose all sense of inhibition and joined in at the top of his voice.

Moments later, the van’s engine spluttered and then abruptly died.

CHAPTER FOUR

Carrot and Lenny hauled the Suit to his feet and, with an arm slung around each of their shoulders, half carried and half dragged him up to the first floor landing. As Carrot had predicted, Lenny’s contribution amounted to little more than providing a largely ineffectual counterbalance, and by the time they’d lurched and staggered to the top of the second flight of steps, every muscle in his neck and back was screaming at him to stop whatever he was doing.

‘I’m gonna have to… have a break for a minute,’ he said, fighting for breath as he altered his grip and lowered the Suit to the ground.

‘Come on, mate. We’re nearly there now,’ said Lenny, but his words of encouragement were meaningless, given that he did nothing to prevent the Suit’s descent.

Carrot groaned as he sat him down against the frame of the fire door and so did the Suit.

‘’Ang on a sec. He’s not coming round, is he?’ Lenny squatted like a jockey at the start gate and brought his face to within a few inches of the Suit’s. ‘He is, you know.’

The muscles in Carrot’s back grumbled as he crouched down to take a closer look and spotted the faintest flicker of the eyelids.

‘You can’t have given him enough,’ said Lenny.

‘What?’

‘The injection.’

‘Yeah, stupid me,’ said Carrot, slapping his palm against his forehead. ‘I should’ve allowed extra time for all your fag breaks.’

Even though he resented Lenny’s accusation, he’d worked with him on several other jobs and was used to getting the blame when things went wrong. Not that this was surprising since Lenny always avoided making any of the decisions, so any cockups were never his fault.

‘We’ll have to give him another shot,’ said Lenny.

‘We’ meaning ‘you’, Carrot thought and shook his head. ‘Stuff’s still in the van.’

‘Jesus, man. What you leave it there for?’

Carrot bit his lip, aware from his peripheral vision that Lenny was staring at him, but he had no intention of shifting his focus to make eye contact. The Suit’s eyelids were twitching more rapidly now and occasionally parted to reveal two narrow slits of yellowish white. Maybe the guy was just dreaming, but it was two hours or more since they’d given him the shot, so—

‘Better bop him one, I reckon,’ said Lenny.

It was Carrot’s turn to stare at Lenny. ‘Bop him one?’

‘Yeah, you know…’ He mimed hitting the Suit over the head with some blunt instrument or other and made a ‘click’ sound with his tongue. ‘Right on the noggin.’

Carrot continued to hold him in his gaze while he pondered which nineteen-fifties comedian Lenny reminded him of, but he was shaken from his musing by a strange moaning sound. The Suit’s eyes were almost half open now.

END OF FIRST FOUR CHAPTERS

Lifting the Lid is available as an e-book and as a paperback from Amazon.

If you’d like more information about the book,  click here.

Please feel free to leave a comment, and let me know if you’d be interested in reading more.

For details of Heads You Lose (Book 2 in the Lifting the Lid series), click here.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “‘Lifting the Lid’ – Opening chapters

  1. I think you’re extremely funny. And I hope you get your book published. I would recommend however toning down the prose and relying more on the story and plot. I felt a bit bombarded by the jokes and descriptors but without a good idea of the scene. So even though the jokes were funny and the descriptors super clever, the action didn’t carry me along wondering, “what happens next?”. That said, I’m only offering this as hopefully helpful criticism because I would hope that talent such as yours doesn’t go unnoticed. While you whack olives off trees and what not.

    • Hi Allison. Many thanks for your encouraging comments and also for the constructive criticism, both of which are very welcome. I’ll certainly have another look at this first chapter, especially in the light of what you say about it not making you want to find out what happens next – obviously a major problem for any opening of a novel.

      One thing I wasn’t quite clear about was what you meant by the overuse of descriptors. If you happen to see this reply, I’d be very grateful if you could give me a couple of examples.

      Incidentally, I hadn’t really considered trying to market the novel in the USA because I thought it might be ‘a bit too British’. Having read your comments and discovered from your website that you’re in the USA, I might just give that a rethink! Also, and at the risk of sounding like some kind of mutual admiration society, my partner and I both genuinely thought the examples of your work were brilliant. I hope you’re getting the respect you obviously deserve in the art world.

      Best wishes,

      Rob

      • How funny! I saw your reply while googling myself (I’m quite vain).

        Americans not only adore all Britishism, we also automatically assume all British people to be more intelligent/funny/handsome than they actually are, based of their Britishisms and accents. Luckily for you, this does not apply to me; my husband is English and I’ve long since figured out the ruse.

        Reading it again, I don’t think there is much you could cut from it without removing some of the humor as well as your ‘descriptors’ are part of what makes it funny. I think it’s a bit of the curse that comes with humorous writing; when a book is very funny, say a work of Jerome K. Jerome or Chris Moore, I don’t invest in the characters, and therefore the action – I’m simply delighted by the prose. Perhaps the best bet then is to play to your strength and simply make it as funny as possible so they can’t put it down!

        I’m sure by now you’ve realized I’m offering you near the exact opposite advice that I gave you a year ago. Clearly it’s best I didn’t get into book editing. I’ll end with the equally infuriating advice that I’d really love to read this in first person. Reading your blog, I think you capture the reader more in first. And it seems to lend itself better to humorous writing; I think it helps to bond the reader more quickly to the character, thus making up for the whimsy of the humor.

        I’ll get back to painting now, or the “real job” that I am also forced to do. Mostly to pay for my art supplies. Thank you very much for the mutual admiration. This time I will click the box to notify myself of follow-up, rather than waiting for the next self-google. Best wishes and good luck, Allison

        • Hi Allison, and many thanks for taking the time to comment once again (although you’ve obviously rumbled the real truth about us Brits ;)).

          Since your previous comment – and also the comments of others – I’ve been reworking the beginning, and I’m currently in the process of editing what I hope will be the final draft of the whole novel. In fact, I now have a new opening chapter, and moved this one to Chapter Two. I think this restructuring might improve the ‘what happens next’ factor, and the text of what you read here is much the same even though it’s been shifted around.

          I’d like to be able to post the new opening here, but it includes the first four lines of a well known song lyric and I’m still waiting to get copyright permission to reprint them. However, I’d be happy to send you a ‘sneak preview’ if you have the time to read it as I’d be interested to know if you think it’s an improvement or not.

          Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a publisher for the novel, although I’ve had some positive feedback from a few literary agents. Close but no cigar! I’m therefore seriously considering the self-publishing route to get it out there as an e-book and probably a print-on-demand paperback. Watch this space.

          In the meantime, thanks again for commenting, and I hope all goes well with your painting. (What is your ‘real job’, by the way?)

          Best wishes,

          Rob

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s