Published by Urbane Publications
ebook & paperback : 6 July 2017
Genre: Thriller, crime, horror thriller
For my turn on the final day of the Nemesister blog tour, I’m delighted to have something a little bit different to share with you. Sophie has kindly provided a short story, featuring one of the book’s characters. Over to you Sophie!
When I write, I often take a break from my manuscript by writing short stories in the background of the main story, just to allow the novel to percolate away in the background without losing touch with its world. This is one of those stories, written about two characters, one who appears in the book, one who doesn’t. I though you might like to read it as a taster for the book, and if you’re working at your writing too, you might give the technique a go as a way of working through plot issues.
Hope you enjoy
Beatrice French goes to town
The esplanade was hot. Beatrice French was hot. As she walked, she was aware that her flip-flops were sticking to the soles of her feet, so they weren’t so much flip-flopping as squish-squashing.
Sweat had pooled under her breasts and the folds of her belly, soaking the cot-ton of her dress.
She adjusted her parasol and flicked on her battery operated hand fan.
‘Worth ever dang cent.’
What in the hell am I doing this for, anyway? Pastor Jones would have a blue fit if he knew. Didn’t he spend the whole sermon a few weeks back, preachin’ against the evils of horoscopes and tea leaf reading, sayin’ as how they were nothing more than Satan’s calling cards? If he knew what I’m up to, why, I’d never look him in the face again!
The place was three up on the left. Beatrice paused to buzz the fan over her face and squinted at the turning. It was on the shady side of the street, well, it would be, wouldn’t it? Surely nobody would think anything of her crossing over and walk-ing on that side, not in this damn heat? Hell, nobody had looked at her twice yet, they didn’t tend to these days. She flip-flop-slip-slopped to the curb, counted four cars passing and stepped onto the broiling asphalt.
She’d gotten the card from Georgia May’s house the last time she’d been over. All over the place they were, them cards, and Georgia May not the least bit ashamed. Always there, she was, swore by her; getting her this and her that read, and talking to Buster May, though he’d been dead for six years.
‘How you know you’re talkin’ to Buster?’ Beatrice had asked, not quite able to call Georgia May a liar to her face. ‘What if it turn out you’s just talkin’ to some nasty ole devil or some-such?’
‘I ‘spect I am,’ Georgia May said. ‘Seein’ as it’s ole’ Buster.’
It sure was cooler now, she could feel it through her flip-flops. As she took the turning she lowered her parasol as if to shield her face from on-lookers, only nobody was looking on, save for Jesus, who saw everything, parasols or not.
‘You’re just gonna have to forgive me,’ she muttered. ‘I know I’m bein’ previous, an’ you’re probably gonna send me a sign tomorrow to make me look a fool for not trusting you, but I gotta find my boy, really I do. I know you look out for me, and the shop’s alway’s busy, but my sort of customer, they just got their own way o’ doin’ things. Some weeks, all that gets a woman through is a tint an’ set, and what can I do if they ain’t got nothing in their pocket books till payday? Sure, we all been there.
Beatrice flipped off the hand fan, tucked it into her purse and took out the card. It read Angelic LeBeau. Even now, twenty years or more since they’d last seen each other, Beatrice was not going to spell it the way she did on it, even in her mind.
Lord, I’m sorry for the hell I put her through in High school. Don’t make no odds that it weren’t just me, that I weren’t the worst of them, not by a long chalk. Scrawny, coonass yellow faced bitch, oh, and so much worse. Never in somethin’ one might call a uniform, all holes an’ angles an’ arms folded. That was back when I was pretty, when I had something to be proud of, Lord forgive me. She folded up her parasol.
‘You can say what you like to me, Angelic LeBeau,’ she said as she took hold of the door handle. ‘Just as long as you tell me where my boy’s at. So I can tan his hide for him.’
The door chimes struck a discordant note, well, of course they would, and then there was the smell of the place! Incense and amber and cats, and cinnamon – an’ what else was that? Something old an’ stale, like thrift shops and left over attic spaces. The whole place is cryin’ out for a pound o’ elbow grease an’ shake n’ vac.
Beatrice peered into the gloom, seeing a mess of voodoo and hoo-doo; china hands and beads and charts and candles, and, oh goodness, dead things in glass jars and boxes. There wasn’t anywhere she could look and not see something to set her skin crawling, just like when she had to pay for gas at the truck stop, where the shelves were nothing but girlie mags.
‘Beatrice? Been long time since I see you.’
Oh my goodness, there she was, like a puff of smoke blown in on the breeze. Just look how thin she is, like she’d eaten nothin’ since junior prom.
‘Angelic –’ Beatrice drew her shoulders back and wiped her free palm against her thigh. ‘I know as how we were never much friends, or nothin’.’
Angelic could not have been said to be smiling. She raised her hand, one finger at a time. ‘Past’s just a whole lot o’ water gone by. Ain’t no need go swimmin’ in it.’
Beatrice sucked her teeth. ‘You don’t need use that tourist talk on me, Angelic LeBeau. I was one hell-of-a bitch to you at high school, an’ I ain’t here to ask for no favours, but I am here to say I’m sorry bout that, if nothin’ else.’
Angelic folded her arms, just like when Beatrice had seen her last, standing in the school corridor, chin jutting, defiant.
‘You best sit down,’ she said. ‘Ask what you come to ask.’
There was a round table against the far wall of the shop. Angelic nodded to it. There was something on it – please say it’s a fish bowl, please say it’s a fish bowl – It wasn’t, and there were cards too, though not the sort for bridge. All of it was sheltered by a tall Chinese screen, not exactly hidden but if you were to peer in at the window, the person sat directly behind it would be out of sight. Oh, but look at those chairs! Spindly little things they were, with slatted backs and cabriole legs. They made Beatrice think of that time at Enid’s wedding, who’d had chairs just like them with all manner of fancy stuff tied on the back. Everything had been just fine, until Mamma had gone and knocked over her wine and Beatrice had jerked her arm back to miss the spill, jamming her fat elbow through the back of the chair. It had stuck fast, trapped like a hog in slaughter crush. The shame of it! I do my best, she thought, approaching the chair as if facing an old foe, ain’t my fault you can buy two dozen doughnuts cheaper than one.
Beatrice sat and settled her hands on her lap, envious as Angelic slipped easily into the seat opposite.
‘What is it you come to ask? Must be somethin’, come all dis way on a hot day. Seen’ as you ain’t drivin’ no more.’ Beatrice didn’t ask how she knew.
‘I’m tryin’ to get word of my son, Peter.’
Angelic’s eyes narrowed. ‘You fear fo’ him?’
‘No I don’t. If he were dead, I’d have been sent the bill.’ She saw Angelic suppress a smirk. ‘But I gotta find him.’
Angelic’s brow creased into a frown. ‘Him took something from you?’
‘Sure did. Guess you don’t need the sight to know that.’ She sighed. ‘It was my own fault, I should ha’ known by now, but he got me again, windin’ me round his li’l finger like always. Took my savings, told me as he’d bring me back double, but I ain’t seen hide nor hair o’ him since.’
Angelic shrugged. ‘Not sure who you want me to ask. I speak to de dead, an’ if he ain’t dead, all I can do is ask da spirit if they’s aware of him.
You got somethin’ o’ his?’
Beatrice faltered, then touched the bracelet on her wrist, the one with the pretty blue stones.
‘He give me this…’ She eased it off and held it out. ‘I know it ain’t his as such, but he did give it me. Years back, mother’s day.’ She sniffed. ‘Lord knows where he got it. Nothin’ but paste, no doubt.’
Angelic took it and turned it about in her hands, holding it up to what light there was. The smell of the place was starting to niggle at Beatrice, she could taste it.Whatever it was, it was awful familiar. It reminded her of Peter, a little bit.
‘This won’t be no good.’ Angelic handed it back to her. ‘But there might be somethin’ I can try.’
She was dealing the cards, the slip-slip noise of them swapping between her hands like the slap of Beatrice’s feet on the hot road. Beatrice found she was watching the cards even though she didn’t want to.
‘Dat’s the seven o’ cups,’ Angelic said. ‘Him’s living in a dream, Beatrice French, one that he done chose for him self. It’s a lie, but he don’t want see it. Dis, the two of pentangles. Him’s got all in da air, keepin’ one up, den the other. He better not put a foot wrong, Beatrice French, or he gonna fall. Man can’t have two masters an’ serve both well.’
Really, what was that smell? It’s gonna be all through me, I’m never gonna be free of it. Pastor Jones’ gonna smell it on me.
‘Last card,’ Angelic said, though Beatrice couldn’t quite remember many that had gone before it. ‘Hanged man. Nuttin’ much I’m goin’ say bout dat, sept once him been the Hanged Man, him never goin’ see things as he done before. Once he done bein’ hanged, him goin’ come back to you. Up to you if you open the door to him.’
That seemed to be it. Beatrice shook herself and blinked across the table at Angelic. Now she’d cause to look, she could see how she’d aged, the lines at her eyes, deeper hollows under her cheeks. Perhaps she was right, what did all it matter anymore, the past? All those twenty-six years behind them?
‘You were expectin’ an address?’ Angelic asked.
‘Be nice,’ Beatrice said. She looked at the table, there was her bracelet. She went to pick it up but Angelic put her finger on it. Her nails were painted green, long and rounded. They made Beatrice think of beetles.
‘You want my advice? Take dis to de place three doors down, an’ ask him dere what he give you for it.’
‘This?’ Beatrice frowned. ‘This just glass?’
‘You go ask him,’ Angelic said.
Beatrice looked at the bracelet. ‘Maybe I will,’ she said. ‘Seen’ as I’m out this way.’
‘Next time, don’t pass by. Be nice to catch up.’
‘I’ll do that,’ Beatrice said.
Angelic watched Beatrice leave, waited for the door to chime behind her. Then she got up, crossed to her counter and reached under for her cel. When it was answered, she turned her back to the window.
‘O’Toole? Just sent a body your way, with something for you to look at. She’ll be happy with five hundred, only make her think as she’s robbin’ you. You set my finder’s fee to one side, an’ I’ll be expecting the same when you sell it on.’ She paused, listening to the lilt of the voice on the line. ‘Don’t waste your charm on me, you an’ I both know I don’t send you nuttin’ not worth the bother.’ She hung up, then stowed the phone out of sight.
‘No matter how far de river flow, cat you tried to drown not gonna forget nuttin’, Beatrice French.’ She sniffed. ‘I seen your boy, but I never needed no sight to see him. Him got himself hooked up with one as gonna make him regret it. Walkin’ about like a man as thinks he’s bought a turkey egg, on account of he don’t know gators lay round ones too.’
She reached under her counter for her flask, and took a long swig.
| About the Book |
An American Gothic thriller of deception and obsession, slicked in sweat and set in the swamps of Louisiana. It’s a psychological mystery where the female protagonist stumbles into a deserted shack with no memory but a gun in her hand. There she meets an apparent stranger, Red, and the two find themselves isolated and under attack from unseen assailants.
Barricaded inside for a sweltering night, cabin fever sets in and brings her flashes of insight which might be memory or vision as the swamp sighs and moans around her. Exploring in the dark she finds hidden keys that seem to reveal her identity and that of her mysterious host, but which are the more dangerous – the lies he’s told her, or the ones she’s told herself?
Nemesister is the thrilling debut of award winning short story writer Sophie Jonas-Hill and will be hugely popular with fans of John Connolly and Ruth Ware.
| About the author |
Sophie Jonas Hill lives next to the sea in Herne Bay, Kent with her husband and baby son. An antenatal teacher, Sophie is just completing Broken Ponies, the sequel to Nemesister.