I'm not a natural short story writer. I don't dash them off when I have a spare five minutes − I tend to need a commission and a deadline in order to get my brain into gear. Even better if the publisher dictates the subject or the theme but now and then an idea for a short story just pops up out of nowhere and I simply have to get it down on paper.
Some novelists, I know, began their careers exclusively by writing short stories and eventually decided that they needed more space, more freedom to develop their favourite characters. With me it was the other way round − I wrote my first novel when I was just a teenager and it came naturally to me to develop the story line and the characters at length. That first effort wasn't published but some very encouraging critiques from several generous editors encouraged me to keep on grafting.
My professional writing career took off in 2001 with the publication of the first Charlie Fox book, KILLER INSTINCT. It wasn't until 2003 that I published my first short story. Since then, I find myself increasingly being asked to submit stories. One, ĎServed Coldí was shortlisted for the Crime Writersí Association Short Story Dagger, while another, ĎTell Meí, was longlisted, and turned into a short film.
FOX FIVE is an anthology (or should that be e-thology?) of stories all featuring ex-Special Forces soldier turned self-defence expert and bodyguard, Charlie Fox. Four stories have been published elsewhere in highly-praised anthologies and prestigious outlets such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
In 'A Bridge Too Far', we meet Charlie before sheís become a professional in the world of close protection. When she agrees to hang out with the local Dangerous Sports Club, she has no idea it will soon live up to its name.
'Postcards From Another Country' has Charlie guarding the ultra-rich Dempsey family against attempted assassination − no matter where the danger lies.
A finalist for the CWA Short Story Dagger, 'Served Cold' puts another tough woman centre stage − the mysterious Layla, with betrayal in her past and murder in her heart.
'Off Duty' finds Charlie taking time away from close protection after injury. She still finds trouble, even in an out-of-season health spa in the Catskill Mountains.
'Truth And Lies' is a brand new 11,500-word tale in which Charlie has to single-handedly extract a news team from a rapidly escalating war zone.
Also included: Excerpt from KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, Meet Charlie Fox, Meet ZoŽ Sharp, info on the other books in the Charlie Fox series. Bonus material includes an excerpt from KILLER INSTINCT and a taster of each of the ten books in the Charlie Fox series to date.
All in all, a lot of bedtime reading at a very modest price.
"Last name I woulda picked out for you is somethiní lame as Tommy Renshaw," Manfrotti said, lifting the drink with the fruit and the parasol wedged amid the rapidly melting ice. He was a big man not coping well with the high humidity that came before the monsoons. "What made you go for that, for cryiní out loud?"
The man who had become Tommy Renshaw shrugged and gave a fractional smile. "Possibly because itís the last name you would have chosen," he said.
He, too, had a drink in front of him on the weathered table. A bottle of the local Bintang beer. Condensation ran down the outside as freely as the sweat along the fat manís temples.
They were sitting in the little open bar, looking out over one of the black sand beaches that fringed the north side of Bali. It was the last place Renshaw had expected a man like Manfrotti to be found − too far from five-star resorts in the south of the island, or the nightclubs and bars near the airport at Kuta. Too far from the air conditioning and the kupu kupu malam − the so-called Ďnight butterfliesí − that were his noted predilection.
He waits. No hardship there − heís waited half his life. But now, tonight, finally you provide him with that perfect moment.
The one heís been waiting for.
In the alley, in the dark, just the distant glitter of neon off wet concrete. And heís so scared he can hardly grip the knife. But anger drives him. Anger closes his shaking fingers around it, flesh on bone.
He tries not to know what the blade will do.
But he knows. Heís seen it too many times. He remembers them as only a slur of violence, swirled with a lingering despair.
And he canít remember a time before you. A time when he was innocent, trusting. You taught him misery and guilt, and heís carried both through all seasons since. A burden with no respite.
Tonight, he hopes for respite.
Tonight, he hopes finally for peace.
A long time ago, when Angel was just starting out in the business, an old pro she met lurking in a doorway opposite the Russian embassy in Paris laid down the Rules of Engagement. 'Get in. Take the shot. Get out,' he'd said, with the careful solemnity of a man not quite sober at ten o'clock in the morning.
To this advice Angel had since added a bitter rider of her own.
Always get the money.
Layla's curse, as she saw it, was that she had an utterly fabulous body attached to an instantly forgettable face. It wasn't that she was ugly. Ugliness in itself stuck in the mind. It was simply that, from the neck upwards, she was plain. A bland plainness that encouraged male and female eyes alike to slide on past without pausing. Most failed to recall her easily at a second meeting.
From the neck down, though, that was a different story, and had been right from when she'd begun to blossom in eighth grade. Things had started burgeoning over the winter, when nobody noticed the unexpected explosion of curves. But when summer came, with its bathing suits and skinny tops and tight skirts, Layla suddenly became the most whispered-about girl in her class.
The guy who'd just tried to kill me didn't look like much. From the fleeting glimpse I'd caught of him behind the wheel of his brand new soft-top Cadillac, he was short, with less hair than he'd like on his head and more than anyone could possibly want on his chest and forearms.
That was as much as I could tell before I was throwing myself sideways. The front wheel of the Buell skittered on the loose gravel shoulder of the road, sending a vicious shimmy up through the headstock into my arms. I nearly dropped the damn bike there and then, and that was what pissed me off the most.
'So, where is she?'
CSI Grace McColl ducked under the taped cordon at the edge of the crime scene and showed her ID to the uniformed constable stationed there. The policeman jerked his head in the direction of the band shelter as she signed the log.
'You'll have your work cut out with this one, though,' he said.
Lenny Bright sat opposite the Holland and Seagrave Building Society in a gunmetal grey Honda Accord with the engine running. He hadn't taken his eyes off the front door for the last twenty minutes and right at that moment he would have sold his soul for a cigarette.
Lenny's cigarettes, together with a cheap disposable lighter, were in the inside pocket of his black bomber jacket, but he knew it was more than his life was worth to reach for them. He couldn't even fall back on another nervous habit, chewing his fingernails, on account of the string-back driving gloves he'd been told to wear.
Somebody once said that the rich are another country − they do things differently there. It didn't take me very long working in close protection to realise that was true. Hell, some of them were a different planet.
The Dempsey family were old money and that put them at the outer reaches of the solar system as far as real-world living was concerned. Personal danger came a distant second to social disgrace, which was always going to make life tough for those of us tasked to keep them from harm.
I watched with a kind of horrified fascination as the boy climbed onto the narrow parapet. Below his feet the elongated brick arches of the old viaduct stretched, so I'd been told, exactly one hundred and twenty-three feet to the ground. He balanced on the crumbling brickwork at the edge, casual and unconcerned.
My God, I thought. He's going to do it. He's actually going to jump.
The youth arrived like a peasant, hitching a ride on the flatbed of a rusty pickup truck to the end of the driveway − two bales of straw, a goat, and an iPod, his travelling companions.
The guards watched him walk the last half-mile in, shouldering his rucksack and trudging between the citrus trees, his feet kicking up the dirt into the shimmer of the hot dry air. They took lazy beads on him with their rifles, and joked with each other about whether they should shoot him before he reached the main gates, just to relieve the boredom.
It was only when he drew nearer that they recognised his face, despite the simple clothes, and they shivered at the thought that they had even contemplated killing Manuel de Marquez's son, just for sport.