Captive Audience


I can’t recall the last time that I posted an extract from this e-book…

…but suffice to say it’s been a bloody long time. Too long: people will forget that I ever wrote serious sc-ifi mysteries. So, in an effort to re-set the creative balance of nature, here’s a smidgin of Captive Echo…

Wozniak’s bank account was still far from overflowing, but the future appeared rosier for him than it had in a very long time. His new secretary may have had a great deal to do with the resurrection of his self-confidence, and many of his friends had taken to Janice Gale in a big way – none less than his agent, Wallace Courtney, who was speaking with Janice over the telephone.

Janice was perched upon the end of a sofa in Wozniak’s small flat overlooking London’s Docklands. From her vantage point she could look out over Old Father Thames, and much of the city beyond. She was a country girl born and bred, and at first she’d found it difficult to adapt to the hustle and bustle of the capital of England. But with Wozniak’s help, and more surprisingly – her mothers’ blessing, Janice had done so, and was enjoying life more than at any time that she could remember since leaving behind the innocence of childhood.

Her laughter was light and gentle as she conversed with Wallace.

“Are you kidding?” She was saying. “I couldn’t hold him back. He wants to get started on another script as soon as he can. But first he wants to complete the tie-in novel that will accompany the show.”

She listened to Wallace’s cheerful questioning for a few seconds before replying, “No, he doesn’t have any firm ideas on future stories at the moment: but he knows that they’re bound to come. It’s all about location, location, location – or so he says.”

Once more she paused to listen.

“No – he’s gone on ahead. I have a few details to go over with Tommy down at Clarridge Productions – you know about the interview with Peter for the special edition DVD re-release of Clash of Symbols. Then I’m going home too. You realize that it’s almost a year to the day that Peter and I got together. Yes, we’re going to have a quiet celebration: Then with luck he’ll have my drawers down quicker than you can say ‘alternate reality’, and we can commemorate the occasion in the time-honoured manner that any two horny bastards should.”

Laughing loudly at Janice’s lewdness, Wallace signed off, and Janice replaced the receiver. She considered calling Wozniak, then looked at the time. She chose to wait until later: she had business to conclude.

Wozniak strolled into the grocery store in Brambledown’s main street as though he was the prodigal son returning home. He rubbed his newly grown beard absentmindedly before picking up a shopping basket. It looked so strange in his huge hands, and he wondered what he’d been doing the last time he’d carry one. Certainly life hadn’t been half as good as it was now.

Miss Witherspoon appeared from out the back. Wozniak’s beard was no suitable disguise against one of his greatest fans…

“Why if it isn’t Mister Wozniak! Oh I’m so glad to see you again.” She cried out gleefully

“Hello, Miss Witherspoon.” Wozniak responded – giving the older woman a smile that was guaranteed to melt her heart. “How’re things in the great rural metropolis?”

Things’ seldom changed much in the sleepy village of Brambledown –usually for decades. One year was much like another. People grew older, and new children were born into the village. It was all perfectly reciprocal – that is until the year previous…

“They never did find out what happened up at that scientific place, you know.” Miss Witherspoon informed Wozniak as he approached the cash register.

“Thank goodness for that.” He replied. “I’ve just written a make-believe story about what happened there: I’d be ruined if they found out the truth.”

“Oh, so you’re writing again? That is good.” Miss Witherspoon tried to reach across her cash register to hug Wozniak. “I s’pect that lovely Janice Gale has a lot to do with that. I always wondered if some lucky man was going to find her out one day. I’m so pleased it was you.”

Wozniak winked at her.

“You and me both.” He said. “I’m in The Peaks for a few days: I just need the basics. You know – caviar, champagne…”

“Ooh, I don’t know about them.” Miss Witherspoon responded. “How about milk, tea, butter: that sort of thing?”

“Sounds like heaven to me.” Wozniak replied – his smile widening as he felt his heart go out to the women standing before him.

At that Miss Witherspoon began scurrying around, filling Wozniak’s basket with the necessities of life.

“Janice with you, is she?” She asked.

“Still up in London. She should be along tomorrow.” He told her.

“That’s good.” Miss Witherspoon grinned cheerfully. “Send her round when she arrives, won’t you: I want to know all about life in The Smoke. Do you want this on your tab?

Wozniak opened his wallet. He was about to say “No Need,” but, as usual, it was lighter than he’d hoped. “Ah, yes,” He replied – his smile falling. “Perhaps that might be a good idea. Jan will put you right tomorrow.”

With that he made his farewell, and climbed into his large estate car.

Wozniak felt an intense blast of wellbeing as he drove through the village. Several people recognized his car. He felt quite like royalty as he returned their waves.

Turning into Pikes Lane he was half-afraid he might spot a small sports car sliding toward him. Although a year had passed, but now that he’d returned to the scene of the crime, events suddenly seemed all too fresh. Perhaps writing about it time after time – honing his work – had kept it very much alive in his mind, even if most of the people involved in the incident were now dead. With a spine-chilling sense of déjà vu, he caught sight of Tom, the now ex-postman, pushing his bicycle. He had no choice but to pull over.

Tom responded to his hail with, “Blow me down – if it aint Mister Wozniak. You aint got one of them manuscript thingies for the missus to send off by any chance, have you?”

Wozniak recalled the last time the older man had asked that question.

“Well you never know, Tom.” He said cheerily. “There’s always a chance.”

“Hope it’s better than that one they showed on telly the other day.” Tom said – climbing aboard his bicycle.

“One of my old shows was on television?” Wozniak was thinking of the royalty cheque he could expect in the post. “Terrestrial was it?”

“Nah – on me satellite dish.” Tom seemed almost dismissive. “Detective show, it was.”

Wozniak’s shoulders slumped. His one foray into police drama had not gone well for him. The results hadn’t been quite what he – or the production company – had hoped for. The story had been weak, and the director inept.

“That was an old one.” He said. Unable to avoid a critique – even when he knew it would be bad, he added, “What did you think of it?”

“Honestly, Mister Wozniak?” Tom responded sadly, “I thought it was one of the biggest load of bollocks that I’d seen in years. I hope yer next one’s gonna be better.”

Wozniak gave him a sickly grin. “I think we can safely assume that. See you later, Tom.”

With that he drove on.

The action of steering his vehicle into the grounds of The Peaks brought back his sense of well-being. It was only when he parked, and the gravel of the driveway crunched beneath his feet, that the memory of Katherine Marcus’ strange little sports car came back to haunt him once again – dismissing his lightening mood in an instant.

‘Is it really a year since that unbelievable night?’ he asked himself silently.

He began to wonder if somehow he’d managed to blur the line between fact and fiction in his final script: Could it all have been true? Really? Wasn’t there a chance that he’d allowed his imagination to run away with him? That his script lay somewhere between fact and fiction? An amalgam of both perhaps? He shook his head: he knew the truth.

The Peaks was just as he remembered it. Mrs. Wilkins had changed nothing – not that she needed to: the house came as close to perfection as it is possible for any edifice to come. His step was jaunty as he entered it.

After stocking the fridge, he went for shower. The water heater was still giving trouble.

Even paradise isn’t perfect’, he thought.

By the time he’d dried himself off and dressed, he was surprised to find that the time was well past six o’clock.

Too late to call Jan now,’ he considered, ‘she’ll be over at Connies’.

“I’ll catch her later.” He spoke aloud to the room.

The sun was far from setting, so Wozniak treated himself to a walk about the garden. This killed perhaps a half-hour. A year in London had altered him. He could no longer lounge about doing nothing: he needed to entertain, or be entertained. Normally his word processor would prove sufficient for his needs – but that required unpacking – and he remained as inept with wires and sockets as he’d always been. He sought solace elsewhere.

Entering the Muck and Bullets public house, Wozniak was disappointed to find it devoid of clientele. Claude, the landlord, stood alone behind the bar watching the television news. He jumped when Wozniak asked for a pineapple juice.

“Well if you aint a sight for sore eyes, Mr. Wozniak.” Claude grinned “Wait ‘til I tell the wife: she’ll be over the moon. You sure a pineapple juice is strong enough? I seem to remember you’re a brandy man.”

Wozniak couldn’t remember which one of his many middle-aged-to-elderly female admirers was married to Claude; so he said, “I’m here for a short break, Claude: she’ll probably catch me in the street sometime. And yes – the fruit juice is fine. Whichever one you have to hand: I kind of went off brandy.”

Claude rattled some ice cubes into a glass, and handed it to him. He opened a bottle of pineapple juice, and emptied half of it into the glass – placing the half-empty bottle beside it.

“Well you won’t go making my fortune with that.” He half-stated – half-complained.

Wozniak looked about the empty bar.

“Quiet tonight.” He observed.

“Like the blinking grave.” Claude nodded toward the television, “Footie’s on tonight: England against somebody. These days blokes like to stay at home with a few cans from the supermarket. Times have changed: it aint so much fun runnin’ pubs no more.” He lamented. “If you aint got satellite TV and a full-time restaurant, you’re well and truly buggered.”

“I suppose you are.” Wozniak responded – casting his gaze about the dark half-lit room.

‘Cutting down on electricity consumption?’

He had no wish to sit alone; but neither did he want to spend his free time lamenting the end of civilization with a morose bartender.

“Still,” he continued, “being the only surviving pub in the village, I suppose you have something of a captive audience.”

Then he noticed a pair of well-worn steel toe-capped boots protruded from within a snug. He indicated the direction to Claude.

“So I’m not entirely alone, then?”

“That’ll be Len. Len Peters.” Claude replied, “Funny bugger he can be sometimes. Believe anything – he will. Reckon he’s a bit keen on them flying’ saucers and stuff like that. Don’t talk to him much, m’self.”

“Sounds like my sort of man.” Wozniak grinned – taking his purchase, and making for the snug.

It took little more than a handful of paces for his long legs to carry Wozniak to his destination – a semi-enclosed area featuring a central rectangular table, with high-backed benches to either side.

From Claude’s description he had expected a man of few years – slightly spotty, wearing spectacles and an anorak; so he was surprised when a bearded septuagenarian looked up from his beer.

“Hello.” Len said gruffly. “Thought you’d turn up again. Figured you couldn’t stay away.”

“And a good day to you.” Wozniak remained unruffled. He responded with, “Have we met?”

“Not so much that you’d notice.” Len’s cryptic reply came.

Wozniak didn’t like being manoeuvred into asking questions. Nevertheless he was instantly intrigued.

“You’re right there.” He said, turning away – hoping that Len Peters wouldn’t let him leave without finishing what he’d started.

“But you will.” Len stressed the last word.

Wozniak couldn’t help himself:

“Will?  As in a future tense? I thought we just did.”

“Depends,” Len took a sip from his glass, “on what came first: the chicken or the egg.”

Wozniak allowed his eyes to narrow. Len looked straight into them. The big man chose to sit.

“Okay,” he said – lowering his large frame onto the bench that faced the mysterious elderly man, “you’ve got me snared. I don’t know a damned thing about you; but you obviously know something about me.”

“Do you believe in dreams?” Len asked obliquely.

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2014

I really should get back to ‘proper’ writing. Naturally this book remains active in the market place. Should you be interested, some of the better known retailers are mentioned behind the book covers on the side bar. Just click on the image.

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