Available in Kindle and Paperback from Amazon, the first of the Neil Mackenzie trilogy.
Here's Chapter One to get you started!
‘No!’ Grace groaned quietly in the darkness. It seemed to sum up the situation perfectly.
Within a matter of seconds the lights in the room came on brightly and I heard Gilbert’s voice. What the hell was he doing here? Grace gripped my arm so hard I had to grit my teeth to stop myself gasping. In other circumstances having her fingers around a bicep I had spent months honing at the Leisure Centre would have been pleasantly diverting but not at this particular moment.
‘Put the bag on the chair by the desk.’ Gilbert’s voice came clearly from the other end of the room. It sounded as smooth and oily as I remembered it from the single time I had met him at a New Year’s Eve do some weeks ago now. I hadn’t liked the bastard back then - mostly if I’m honest because he had been shagging my ex girlfriend who wouldn’t have been quite so ex if he hadn’t swept her off her feet with his collection of expensive suits and whitened teeth. My boyish charm just couldn’t compete with good looks and shed-loads of money.
The other person seemed to start doing as they were told judging by the sounds I could hear. I also realised the significance of the order - something was going to be put into or removed from the bag and I had a horrible feeling the safe might be involved in the exchange. If that was the case then the cat would be out of the bag big time. Fan-fucking-tastic.
‘Easy on the death grip,’ I whispered into Grace’s ear.
‘Sorry,’ she whispered almost inaudibly and I felt her hand relax.
My mind carried on racing like Sky-Plus in forward times a lot, odd thoughts pushing and shoving their way into it like frantic bargain-hunters at a January sale. There seemed to be a surprising absence of fear but maybe that was just my usual lack of imagination saving me from myself. Instead I tried to remain calm by adopting the position of an interested observer, intrigued with the position Grace and I were in. How, for example, had my life gone from what can only be described as mundane to this in only a few months? Where life is concerned boring doesn’t get enough credit for the good thing it actually is. Boring, for example, doesn’t involve bad news from the doctor or being mugged. Bill Bush, a boyhood friend, had pointed that out to me a long time ago and back then I wasn’t convinced. But from where I was standing, or rather lying now, he was looking more and more like Devon’s answer to Confucius.
To state the blindingly obvious, life simply isn’t exciting in the way it is on television is it? And that’s okay because in our own way most of us enjoy just, well, living. We moan but as my mum once said when she was old and knew she had cancer ‘no one wants to die Neil’. Before this year I was like most people I knew - too occupied with paying the mortgage until my ex kicked me out to have much energy left for anything else except pointing the television remote. All right, I’m exaggerating– there were the kids, a few friends and, oh yes, Wanderers Badminton Club and more of course, but hardly enough to make my bid for Mr Interesting of Kent 2009 a front-runner. Back then, as a distraction from my daily routine, I would have settled for a lottery win or England World Cup glory.
But now, hey presto, here I was - I had nearly succeeded in my first attempt at burglary. Big mansion near Sevenoaks, over the perimeter wall, across the grounds, past the security at the front door and upstairs to the study - safe opened and a large amount of cash removed and job done. Except for one thing – owner of said safe and contents – Gilbert - comes back and what’s more he’s not your regular country gent. No, he’s probably the local criminal fraternity’s Mr. Big and a genuinely nasty piece of work. Hearing his voice coming up the passage behind the study door had ensured Grace and I switched off the lamp on his desk and made it to behind the sofa in double quick time. As problems encountered during a burglary are concerned it was pretty obvious to me to be akin to the Titanic hitting that iceberg or England reaching a penalty shoot-out – not good.
Grace is next to me hiding behind an expensive leather couch. It is one of three arranged in a U shape at the other end of the large sumptuous study from where Gilbert and his associate are busy. She is dressed, as I am, all in black. We are sporting the same outfits - jeans, sweater, gloves and balaclava. She is nineteen and I was thirty seven last month so maybe I’m just having a mid-life crisis. You know what I mean – pretending you’re cool enough for burglary in the hope it might impress a younger woman. Come on, could I really be that shallow? I hope not, but it’s a sobering thought and I hurriedly postpone the debate with myself. I need to focus on the present and analyse my motives later in a safer environment.
After all, perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic and forgetting I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of guy. Maybe I’m grasping at straws, but the evening hasn’t been a total disaster because we haven’t actually been caught yet and there’s no reason for Gilbert to suspect we’re still in the study. On top of that we’re both carrying back-packs stuffed with the twenty and fifty pound notes that were, up until a few minutes ago, crammed in the safe behind that painting of Venice. So in one respect the plan hasn’t gone completely tits up – I just have to find a way out of the house without running into Gilbert or his hired help. How hard can that be?
Of course it really would be easier if I were a highly trained operative who could take a compromising situation such as this in his stride. Believe it or not, however, I’m a teacher – and before you ask, this isn’t the time for a long explanation as to how a law abiding and risk-averse bloke like me ends up trapped like this. Suffice it to say that my usual routine at school is not the ideal preparation for my present predicament. Yes, Year Ten’s last lesson on a Friday can be a bit of a bastard, but generally my profession is rarely noted for its thrills or danger. If I was a member of the SAS maybe all this wouldn’t feel as nerve-wracking as taking part in a nude hundred metres race on Sports Day, but I should have thought of that when I agreed to help Grace.
From my position behind the couch I assume the safe has been opened because Gilbert suddenly goes stark staring mad. He’s almost incoherent with rage and his voice has lost all of its smug self-confidence. There’s no mistaking this would be a bad time to ask him for a trick or treat. Initially his shouting nearly makes me wince but once he is into his stride I make a conscious effort to let it wash over me. I assume he will soon realise that turning the air blue wasn’t going to catch anybody and that he needed to start a search ASAP. Preferably a search outside the study!
For some bizarre reason I briefly wonder what Philip Marlowe would do in this situation. Yes Marlowe – outwardly tough and world-weary but incorruptible and moral nonetheless - a long-time hero of mine. I had been re-reading Raymond Chandler’s novels so that probably accounts for such a random thought – it certainly wasn’t going to help me come up with a plan of escape. Besides, I knew Marlowe would never have agreed to help a nineteen year old girl rob a gangster if it meant putting her life in danger. To help assuage the threat of imminent discovery he would also have a Luger nestling in its holster under his arm – something I am going to have to do without.
It is a warm evening and I notice sweat is trickling down my neck and that I’m feeling uncomfortably hot and damp. I hope my deodorant will last the evening because my position behind the couch has left me closer to Grace than would normally be acceptable. I reach for her hand and squeeze it anyway. Then I carry on waiting for Gilbert and his henchman to do something - something which would involve them leaving.
Eventually Gilbert sends the guy he came in with downstairs to find help and look for the intruders. Then there are noises suggesting he is examining what is left in the safe. I’m becoming more distracted by the thought that if anything happens to Grace I’ll have a hard time forgiving myself. Her eyes are fixed on me and I try to look calm and reassuring. Okay, it’s a tough one to pull off when you’re wearing a balaclava and you’re burning with self-reproach but I give it my best shot. Why couldn’t I ever say no? It wasn’t just my own children who could wrap me round their little fingers in the right circumstances, even at school it was routine for me to be eventually suckered into saying ‘yes’ to almost every request short of donating a testicle to one of the school’s charity appeals. If I had acted like the responsible pillar of society teachers are supposed be I would be at home on a Friday night watching television and, who knows, horny and devoted girlfriend holding my hand.
So there’s no one else to blame then. Not Gilbert even though he’s an arrogant shit who deserves to be the love-slave of a sex-starved gorilla. Or Grace, who only wanted justice but should have been told to forget it - by yours truly. I could have made her see it was better to walk away, forget the money and get on with her own life. But no, Neil Mackenzie had to go and poke his nose in again, even though past experience should have taught him the opposite was almost always the more prudent option. That boring was good.
The seconds tick slowly by as Gilbert fiddles with his papers and I try to remember where it all began. At what moment did it become inevitable that I would end up like this – trapped and dressed up like a twat? God only knew but for some strange reason my mind wanders back to that football match last year when Grace scored the winner - when she gave me her bra to look after at half time.