Published by Urbane Publications Limited
Available in ebook and paperback (5 July 2018)
Welcome to my turn on the Urbane Extravaganza. From 24 November to 31 December, bloggers will be featuring a different Urbane book – I have been allocated Blind Justice and I have an extract below. My thanks to Kelly for the tour invitation. The eagle eyed may notice that my spot was actually yesterday, however recent illness has put a spanner in all my planned blog posts and I’m still catching up.
| About the Book |
THE NEW NIALL BURNET THRILLER!
Superstar Paralympian Fiona Mackintosh Green retires from the track to set up Forward Roll, a charity helping disabled people achieve self-respect through sport. But is she all she seems? How is her charity spending its money?
Niall Burnet, visually impaired journalist, is sent in undercover to find out. What he discovers is a trail of illegal performance-enhancing drugs that leads from the charity to its major backer, global pharmaceutical giant Prince Rajkumar.
All too soon, Niall finds himself surrounded by key players who will stop at nothing to protect their interests. When a former athlete is found dead, he knows that one wrong move could be his last…
@THEBLINDBOXER tweeted: Domestic bliss: not all it’s cracked up to be.
The Blind Boxer regularly tweeted aphoristic statements about life and the state of the world. He also sporadically wrote a blog, but across the two platforms he had few followers. Some- thing about pearls and swine came to mind. Niall Burnet had been completely blind from the age of ten, but he had never boxed. He had lashed out. Connected with numerous walls and the occasional idiot who riled him, but he had walked into more people than he had knocked out. But, he had always loved “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel; completely irrationally identified himself with the guy in the lyric; and he felt that metaphorically he boxed against life. Life had put him on the canvas more than once, and each time he had got back up and carried on fighting. And once in a blue moon he felt for a while that he was winning.
As he had felt six months ago when he was close to exposing a fraud that had caused a suicide and relieved innocent members of the public of money donated to charity in good faith; a quest that had become personal when Hugo, Niall’s long-suffering guide dog, had been left with half his skeleton shattered in a hit-and-run. Hot on the trail and love blossoming, he had envisioned a golden future. So often life flattered to deceive. He had winged the fraudsters but not destroyed them, and the contribution that he had made to the reporting of the story in The Mirror had been well paid for but had not kick-started his freelance journalism career as he had hoped. Now he was back in the small garden flat in Telford he had been determined to escape, drifting from day to day collecting disability benefits and tweeting to a world that wasn’t really interested.
But he still had the girl. Blossoming love had become domestic bliss. Which (as aforesaid) wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Not that it was Miranda’s fault. Not that he didn’t still really love and fancy Miranda. It was just – well – living with someone. Who was a girl. Who could see.
And, of course, that was really ironic because when he met her she had been blind. She had been about to undergo the world’s first complete binocular eye transplant. Blind, she had fallen for him, and once she could see she had stubbornly refused to use her eyes to see through him. She had clung to him and especially Hugo when her new eyesight started to fail, and he had clung to her because it was the deliberately engineered failure of the transplant that was the fraud he was investigating. Then he was her hero for saving her eyes and she had left her family home in Surrey to move in with him in sunny Shrop- shire, a stone’s throw from his thankfully unprotective mother.
They had had problems with sex from the get-go: she was a virgin and hung up about the whole business; he was inexperienced and apparently inept. They managed to force their way through the barriers of their combined incompetence but it always felt routine rather than great, and they neither of them showed any inclination to talk about it.
For the rest, Niall found it really frustrating that everything could be fine one minute and then unravel the next because of something he had unguardedly said or done. If there was one thing he was really good at, it was the un-thought-through tact- less remark. But the point was that he never meant it, and she should know that and be able to get over it once he apologised and admitted he was a total boor. He also felt that his inde- pendence was being compromised because Miranda’s instinct, now being sighted, was to do everything. To cook (abysmally), to tidy, to clean; to turn his bachelor pad into something like a presentable home. She was loving playing house and that was sweet but sometimes he longed for the opportunity to make a mess or blow the roof of his mouth off with a hot and spicy pizza delivery.
And then there was the whole business of seeing. Once upon a time, he had been able to see. He had (he thought) come to terms with the fact that he couldn’t; but when he had first met Miranda and they had both been blind he had been able to introduce the idea of seeing to her, to persuade her – when she was very unsure – that the sighted world was one she would want to inhabit. Now she did inhabit it, had become very comfortable with it, almost, he thought, took it for granted, as if her blind life had belonged to somebody else. And looking after him, as she now did, felt patronising and had stood their relationship on its head.
But she was kind and funny and loving and loyal and none of it was her fault. On balance they were doing OK. Only he was feeling emasculated and a failure. He trailed to the fridge and counted the cans of Guinness on the top shelf. Four. That wasn’t going to get him through more than one day. He was drinking more now than he had at any time since he left school, and he knew it wasn’t good for him but at this moment he found it difficult to care. Miranda was off swimming with his mum. The two of them had become great pals. Niall thought his mother probably took Miranda out to give her a break from him: from toxic conversations about the future and what they were both going to do with their lives. For all that she was in her twenties, Miranda had been able to see for less than a year. Prior to that her life hadn’t been going in any particular direc- tion, largely thanks to parents who thought it didn’t matter.
She had done nothing since leaving school at eighteen with not much. Now she was full of ridiculous ambitions she had no chance of fulfilling, and any kind of study was complicated by the fact that she was still coming to grips with sighted reading and writing.
Niall sat at the kitchen table and drank cold Guinness from the can. It was 10:30 in the morning. Hugo wandered in from another room and lay across his feet. This is the life of the blind, Niall thought: sitting, drinking, doing fuck all.
His phone rang – a ring-tone he had all-but forgotten. “Hello?” he said, curious.
“It’s Matt. Matthew Long. The Mirror.” “I remember you,” Niall said.
“Sorry it’s been a while,” Matt apologised. “Are you busy?” “Incredibly.”
Matt missed the sarcasm, possibly deliberately. “Great.”
They had worked together on the story that had put two high-ranking officials at the British Association for the Blind out of a job, exposed at a sordid sex party. In the euphoria that followed, Matt had promised Niall everything: they would work together again, he would push Niall’s name, get him known and noticed. He had probably meant it at the time, as people usually do.
“I’ve got something that might be right up your street,” Matt was saying.
“OK. Yeah. Sorry. I totally get it if you’re not interested.” “Maybe I need to hear what it is first.” For all that Matthew
Long was a successful and employed journalist, Niall had always felt in their dealings together as if he was working with an idiot. No, maybe not quite an idiot. But someone who always seemed to be half a step off the pace.
“I’m guessing you know shedloads about disabled sport,” Matt said.
“Shit all would be nearer the mark.”
“Right.” Matt sounded a little dashed. “But you were a sports reporter?”
“On Radio Salop,” Niall clarified. “It was mostly football and horseracing. And the odd local fun run. To the best of my knowledge the Paralympics never came to Shrewsbury.”
“Have you heard of Forward Roll?” Matt asked.
“I think I can do one,” Niall said. “Is that a sport?” “It’s a charity that helps disabled people get into sport.” “OK.”
“It was set up by Fiona Green. Fiona Mackintosh Green as she is now,” Matt went on. “Have you heard of her?”
“Name does sound familiar,” Niall confessed. “Is she a K-list celebrity off the telly?”
“She’s a former Team GB paralympic double bronze medal- list in the 800 and 1500 metres wheelchair,” Matt said.
“She married her trainer, Nate Mackintosh.” “It happens.”
“He mostly trains normal athletes – ”
“Such a privilege being abnormal,” Niall cut in.
“Sorry,” Matt said. “Able-bodied athletes. God that sounds worse. Political correctness is a nightmare.”
“I get the picture.”
“He’s on our radar because we think he’s involved with doping,” Matt continued to explain. “And we think that some of Forward Roll’s major donors are companies that research, develop and deal drugs to athletes and coaches.”
“OK,” Niall said. “But isn’t getting disabled people some self-respect through sport a good thing?”
“Yeah,” Matt conceded, in a tone that suggested he couldn’t see the relevance of the point. “But,” he added, cottoning on, “you could say that the Blind Association was doing good things. We still brought down the big guys who were only in it for themselves.”
“We didn’t bring them down,” Niall said. “Not properly. We stopped their little game and got them ushered out the door, but nobody had the guts to get them for what they were really doing.”
“So you’re not interested, then?” Matt said. “Interested in what?”
“In being a part of this investigation?”
“What do you want me to do?” Niall asked. He wasn’t excited by the prospect, but almost anything was better than the nothing that filled his days now.
“It’s quite major,” Matt said. “You’d need to clear your diary for a few months.”
“Get to the point.”
“I’ve got you an interview there next Tuesday.” “Who am I interviewing?”
“No, mate,” Matt said. “It’s an interview for a job. We want to put you in there under cover.”
“I’ve got a contact,” Matt explained, “ – well, more of a mate really – who works in a recruitment agency. He gave me the heads up that Forward Roll were looking for someone. Their recruitment policy positively discriminates in favour of disabled people. I thought you’d be the perfect fit.”
“What if I fuck up the interview?” Niall asked.
“We’d go back to the drawing board,” Matt said. “But I know you won’t. I’ve persuaded my mate not to put anyone else forward for it. Plus the job’s in marketing – you’re a journalist, a writer. Just what they’re looking for.”
“If you say so.”
“I may have spiced up your CV with a couple of marketing jobs. I’ll get my mate to send it to you.”
Niall hadn’t had a full time job since he had been made redundant by Radio Salop fourteen months before. He didn’t even know if he could remember how to get himself up early and ready to join the commuting multitude on a daily basis. But the carrot was tempting.
“Where are they based?”
“You’d be working out of their office in Fulham.” “London again.”
“Of course London.”
“I’d have to get a place to live,” Niall said. “I can’t sleep on friends’ floors if I’ve got a full time job. And that’s going to be bloody expensive.”
“Airbnb,” Matt said. “Eh?”
“You must know airbnb. It’s a website. People rent out their properties or bits of them. And it’s not that expensive.”
“Oh that. I thought that was for sex parties.” “Not exclusively.”
“You’ve thought of everything.”
“I just know I owe you one,” Matthew Long said. “And this is a perfect fit for you. Get the job, get settled in, get to know everybody, and then start digging.”
“What if I end up liking the job?” Niall asked.
“You’ll have to ask yourself, ‘Am I a killer journalist or am I a guy who works in marketing for a dodgy charity?’”
“What if I find out they’re not dodgy?”
“Trust me, they’re dodgy. We’ve been working on this for a while.”
Niall drew a deep breath.
“I’ll have to talk it over with the other half,” he said. “Somebody got you on the leash?” Matt asked.
“Miranda,” Niall said. “I’m still with Miranda. If you can remember her?”
“Of course,” Matt said. “Wow. That’s great. How is she?” “Weren’t you supposed to have exclusive rights to her
story?” Niall reminded him.
“Sorry mate, but her story hasn’t been that interesting lately,” Matt quipped. “So are you still shacked up with her parents in Surrey?”
“No. We’re shacked up in Shropshire. If you know where that is.”
“Not really. And her eyes are fine and everything?” “Yeah. Her eyes are really good.”
“It would be great to see her again,” Matt said.
“So I’ll talk to her,” Niall said. “And I’ll get back to you.
She’s out at the minute.”
“Have a look at Forward Roll online,” Matt suggested. “I will,” Niall said. “And I’ll get back to you.”
He ended the call. London. Again. The memories were mixed. Hugo still walked with a limp after the hit-and-run in the city, and the prognosis was that he might not be able to func- tion as a guide dog for much longer, which didn’t bear thinking about. He had friends in London – Simon, his old schoolmate; Faith, his sometime counsellor. He also had enemies in London
– Daniel Sullivan, dismissed bigwig of the British Association for the Blind chief among them. But London was a big enough place. And maybe, once he was there, he could set a few rabbits of his own running. Do Matthew Long’s investigation during daylight hours and hunt down his real prey in the dark. Fanciful imagery always made Niall feel better. This was a golden oppor-tunity to reboot his life – or just himself – too good to ignore. Miranda would surely see that. It galled him that he had to go through the rigmarole of running it past her. He had liked his life when he could make a decision on the spur of the moment and run with it, dragging Hugo along in his wake. He knew there were probably men out there who would go ahead and make the decision and present their girlfriends and wives with it as just another piece of news to be accepted and dealt with, but he wasn’t one of those men. He liked to think he was better than that. He tipped the rest of the Guinness down the sink as part of a new, healthier lifestyle, and put the kettle on for a raspberry tea instead. To his general annoyance and frustration, it was becoming increasingly difficult to get simple raspberry. The explosion of interest in bizarre fruit combinations had blown many of the old standards off the shelves. He had found himself grudgingly having to accept Cranberry and Raspberry as the closest modern equivalent. A rummage in the bread bin produced a stale doughnut which he ate (as part of a new, healthier lifestyle) as the kettle came up to the boil, covering his face and fingers with jam in the process.
Tea made, he repaired to the lounge and his laptop.
| About the Author |
Alex grew up in rural England with a dream to write for a living which never quite came true. He has enjoyed incarnations as a theatre publicity officer, restaurant manager, teacher, teacher trainer, and curriculum developer. Along the way Alex wrote five plays that were performed by students including one, Never Mind the Rain Forests, that was enthusiastically reviewed (3 stars) at the Edinburgh Fringe. Another, Gavin’s Kingdom, received a professional workshop production at the Birmingham Rep. Plays Into Shakespeare, a book for English and Drama teachers that introduced students to the characters in Shakespeare’s plays through short modern-English ‘additional’ scenes, was published by First and Best in Education in 2007. Alex moved to Abu Dhabi in 2008 with a Lebanese international education company that had a contract to train English teachers and develop curriculum materials. Latterly moved to their Academic Development office in Beirut and wrote two series of books for students from ages eight to sixteen – one on grammar and one on the art of writing. He is now living with his wife of many years in Worcestershire, his children pursuing careers in education, fashion, charity fundraising and web development in places as disparate as Beijing, London and Chesterfield. Alex also enjoys writing stories for his young grandchildren.
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