Beckenham book event and The Murder of John Smith

Most of this week has been taken up with organising a book fair for the end of the month in our local area of South London. I assumed once the venue and authors were in place it would be a case of sending out regular generic updates to keep everyone informed, and turning up on the day. It turned out that several of the original authors were unable to make the date, mainly due to it being a bank holiday weekend in the UK. Rather than cancel I’ve been on a mission to find some new names which has resulted in individual emails going back and forth to catch up with who is aware of what. Fun but unbelievably time consuming.

What do you call a group of authors or writers?

I rather like an anthology of authors, a scribble of scribes, and a writhe of writers.

On that note I’ll stop wittering and post the first part of a short story which, like my latest book, should have been completed ages ago but wasn’t!  😀

The Murder of John Smith

‘Sorry guys, but you’ll have to count me out. John wouldn’t like it.’

‘That’s ridiculous, Pam. You can’t let him control your every move. Tell him you’re going, like it or lump it.’

‘Mark’s right, Pam. It’s only the boss treating us to a slap-up meal as a thank you for our work on the contract. Your husband should be proud of you. Have you actually asked him about going?’

‘He knew about the deal and was pleased we won and it all worked out so well, but he can’t see the point of a meal. To his mind it would be better spent as a bonus in our pay packet.’

‘That’s not fair. Lawrence has already arranged for extra in this month’s pay; it was just his personal way of saying thank you. Would he let you go if he was invited too?’

‘No, he’s not very sociable. Anyway, I’d better get off or he’ll be wondering where I’ve got to. See you tomorrow.’

Mark’s eyes followed Pam as she picked up her coat and made her way to the lift. She was a beautiful girl, but he knew how vulnerable she was. They had worked together for five years and although she was friendly with all the staff, she tended to keep her private life to herself. They knew she was married and that her husband was older than her but little more than that. It was one evening when they had been working late that she had finally opened up to him. Lawrence had previously been there with them but had been called away to a meeting, leaving Pam alone with Mark when her phone rang.

‘Yes, I know, but I told you I would be late tonight. We’re nearly at the deadline so this has got to be finished.’

There was a pause, and although Mark moved away slightly to give her some privacy, he could still hear the angry voice coming down the phone.

‘I told you. Lawrence is sorting out the last-minute hitches and my colleagues are all doing their individual tasks to help meet the deadline.

‘Yes, I know. Another hour and we should be done.

‘I’ll cook something when I get in, but if you’re hungry there’s plenty in the fridge. Or you could order a take-away.

‘No, I know you don’t really like them, but it doesn’t happen very often. Or you could put the lasagne I made in the oven. About Gas mark 5 for half an hour just to heat it through.

‘OK, I’ll do it when I get home. You know how to make a sandwich, don’t you? The bread was fresh yesterday, and there’s plenty of cheese, ham and other stuff in the fridge.

‘Yes. Now I’ve got to go, Lawrence needs some figures. I’ll see you later. Bye.’

Mark caught her eye as she put the phone down and she gave him a wry smile.

‘Sorry about that. He’d have kittens if I’d told him Lawrence had gone out and I was left alone with a man, even if he is a friend and work mate. He means well, but….’

Mark had a good heart and would have taken her into his arms to comfort her even if she’d been in her eighties, rather than early thirties. When she burst into tears, he gave her his handkerchief, made her a cup of tea and held her hand while she cried it out.

‘I’m a good listener if you want to tell me about it,’ he said. ‘And I promise whatever you say won’t go any further.’

Gradually the whole story came out. She had run away from home aged fifteen when her step father had taken a shine to her, and her mother had taken to the drink. Despite spending some time on the streets and in illegal doss-houses she had survived, and even found herself a job waitressing at a private club which was open until the early hours. The late shift had enabled her to save enough to pay the rent on a tiny flat, and even supplied her with one good meal a day from the excellent chef who worked there.

Life wasn’t easy but she was proud of what she had achieved through her own efforts, and never gave up on her dream of having her own social club one day. She liked her independence but occasionally regretted not having someone around to care for her and share life’s burdens.

Lawrence had turned up at the club one evening with several business associates who had already taken advantage of the corporate hospitality at the conference they had attended earlier. Pam was used to dealing with drunken louts, but two of them in particular had become loud and obnoxious. She was normally quick on her feet in avoiding the ‘touchy-feelie’ type of clientele, but her heel caught on a snag in the carpet and she was sent flying into the lap of one of them, who immediately tried to take advantage.

By the time Lawrence reached her side, she had soaked a pristine napkin in ice cold water from the jug on the table, wrapped it around the guy’s head so his eyes were covered, and under the pretext of helping him after the ‘accident,’ got in a couple of sharp punches which would have left him with bruises to his ribs as well as his ego.

The bouncers helped Lawrence escort his associates into a cab to get them back to their hotel, but not before he had slipped Pam a card with his contact details.

‘I like the way you handled yourself,’ he smiled. ‘If ever you’re looking for a different sort of job, give me a call. I’m a great judge of people and I’m sure there’s an excellent brain behind that attractive face. Just what I need for my team.’

Once she’d finished her shift and arrived home, Pam looked properly at the card he had given her and started doing some research on her laptop. He was a well-respected legitimate businessman, with his fingers in several pies, and his major companies listed on the stock exchange. Was this her chance to escape from her seedy past and make something of herself?

To be continued. See you next week.

© Val Portelli January 2022.

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