A Death in Didsbury was about art theft, as well as murder. There may not be any drive by shootings, but the real world of art recovery has its share of eccentric and dangerous characters.
Night & Fog 1: The March is available on Amazon today. An action sci-fi novelette, it’s more space pop song than space opera.
In the dying days of planetary occupation, the invaders have marched prisoners into the barely explored interior of the main continent.
Tren, an Aurzi, has escaped the march, only to be left in arid wasteland with little chance of survival. Until human mercenaries offer a way out, and to rescue the rest of the marchers.
The Tories are in Manchester, and thousands have turned out to protest their presence.
In the midst of the peaceful protest, a small group of hired troublemakers are planning to cause trouble. They want to start a riot, to distract from the demo’s message, and usher in new laws.
Irwin has been working with an MI5 agent to track them down before they can do any damage. But now, she has been stabbed, and he is trapped in a big crowd being held on a square by Police. Just the right place to start a fight.
With the reluctant help of Kay Wood, Irwin must track down the troublemakers before it’s too late, and find out who stabbed the MI5 agent.
Gary gave the motor a little blast of electricity, and used the torque to help pull up the front wheel. He pushed his torso up and forwards, and managed to get the back wheel into the air. It still tapped the edge of the curb, but he was getting better at these high speed bunny hops. Swinging back off the pavement, he caught some air and threaded between bollards.
The next delivery was by the chippy. There wasn’t a deadline, this wasn’t a video game, but he liked to push himself and get a bit better every time out. Like with the bunny hops. A right turn, then angle left, and he had another to do. It was a taller curb, and he whacked the wheel harder this time. Not enough to buckle the wheel, but he didn’t want to do it too often.
His customers were obvious, standing by the chip shop’s side door, hoods up and shoulders hunched against the drizzle. He angled across the car park, pulling a ragged stoppie as he drew up to them. It was only as he reached into his jacket for the bag that it began to feel wrong. They weren’t looking at him, eager to get the deal done, but scanning the surroundings.
The taller one reached out, real quick, and pushed Gary back. He kept pushing until Gary’s legs tangled in the bike frame, and he went over. His shoulders hit the concrete. He had tensed for it, but still his head cracked against the ground as well. Everything went unpleasantly bright.
The tall one was over him now, pinning him to the ground while the small one went through his pockets. “Tell that cunt Lee not to take the piss. He steals our business, we’ll steal his shit.” he hissed as he pulled out bags and cash. When he’d pocketed it all, he stood. The kick he swung at Gary’s chest was almost an afterthought. “Next time I bring a knife, yeah?”
Peter had provided copies of paperwork from the Family Court. His ex-wife’s transphobia, projected in the ways she treated their son, had been so bad that Peter had won primary custody, with her only seeing her son under supervision.
It had been bearable for a while. Then she had tried to drag Miles out of a fire exit, with a car waiting outside. Her accomplices had sped away, never identified, as a care centre employee intervened, and she had avoided being charged. But that was when father and son had moved halfway up the country. Whether they could truly start anew was a big question. Irwin was going to do what he could to help.
He had done some research before meeting Peter and Miles, getting an overview of the state of the ‘trans debate’. One side effect of diving in was that he had seen the word groomer more times in the last few days than in the rest of his life combined. Shorthand for child groomer, the baseless accusation was thrown out by Gender Critical activists- and a lot of sock puppet accounts- all over social media. Trans people were groomers. Drag queens were groomers. Parents of trans children were groomers. Anyone who supported trans people was a groomer. You were a groomer if you expressed no opinion on transgender issues or didn’t wholeheartedly agree with the bigotry aimed at trans people.
It was ludicrous, and would be comical if it weren’t simultaneously so dangeous. Irwin had tracked extremism whilst with MI6 and studied historical examples of a deadly idea taking hold of a population, hatred building until it boiled over into violence. Genocides didn’t start with mass murder. They began with whispered hatred, insinuations about a particular minority. With increasing volume, and decreasing subtlety, the out group became the focus of more and stronger vitriol. They were blamed for ever more of the problems they had nothing to do with. Politicians used them as a distraction from their failings, promising harsh treatment and punitive laws.
Somewhere along the slide to fascism, people started to die. Irwin hadn’t realised they were already at that stage until he started researching. There had been homophobic attacks in London and elsewhere. People in the United States had been shot because they dared to fly a Pride flag. Politicians in multiple countries were running on culture wars narratives, and putting in place bathroom bans and trans sporting restrictions when they could get away with it.
It was no wonder that Peter was worried what might happen to Miles if his mother tracked him down.
The new information from Peter gave some more specific people and groups to look into. It was unlikely to be any more pleasant than wading through the sea of hate, but it would help narrow the focus to more immediate threats. Peter’s ex had made most of her social media private after the court case, only popping up occasionally to make saccharine posts about missing her little girl and how sad it was when relationships broke down. The mask slipped occasionally, letting some transphobic meme through, but she was clever enough not to use some of the more extreme versions Irwin had seen.
This limited public engagement still gave Irwin a way in, though. Each of these people had their own presence and links, and Irwin started to build a network map from those. A number of tools helped, crawling through post histories to make the connections and creating heat map diagrams of the most prolific users of chosen phrases. This sifted out the merely obnoxious and focused on the obsessed. Some of them were present across multiple platforms, giving him even more to work with. Two, maybe three, he was sure he could match to names in the information Peter had given him.
Luckily, most of them hadn’t heard of VPNs, or knew anything about security basics. When they weren’t openly yelling about where they were, their phones and laptops tagged posts and pictures. There was a cluster in Surrey, which correlated with Peter’s old home and his ex-wife’s presumed location. An even larger grouping near Brighton looked like one human and a lot of sockpuppets on investigation. The spread of the rest roughly matched population density. Which meant there were some in Manchester. He could track their location over time, and one of them had only recently arrived in the city. The current location wasn’t precise, but it matched part of Peter’s background information too closely to be ignored.
Irwin dialled the number he had been given for Peter’s brother.
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I’m cheating a little here. The Mouse Organ gang were created for one of those projects I got distracted and walked away from. When I realised I needed at least one more thread for Another Summer of Hate, I remembered them and dug out the file. In the final chronology, this bit is going to slot in earlier, whilst I’m establishing all the characters. But that’s for future drafts.
All the crockery behind the coffee bar rattled as the train passed overhead. Jon scanned the four clocks behind the bar, then poked his phone until it woke up and told him the time. The train had been late, but the clock for New York was running slow as well.
It was almost time for the last, small, rush of customers. The Mouse Organ lived in a tall and deep railway arch under the viaduct between Salford Central and Manchester Victoria stations. Down the hill and across the river from Manchester’s Crown and Civil courts, they had regulars from all the solicitors’ offices who dropped in on their way home from work, to grab a coffee and unwind. Most of them were single, and home was a one bed flat and whatever Netflix suggested today. Romances had started because of the early evening mingles, including his own.
Will was on coffee duty, and had just returned with last minute milk. As he busied himself with lining up mugs for the regulars, Jon went back to his job. Sat at the work bench opposite the coffee bar, he was using loops of wire to hang 35mm film slides off a metal ring to make a light shade.
The last slide of the fourth row clipped into place. Jon held the lamp shade out and waved it over the far edge of the tool shelves that the table butted against. “What do you think?”
“Pretty.” a little voice from the other side said.
“Cool. I’ve only got to make another six. If I can find enough slides.”
The regulars started to roll in. Sally was the fifth of the usual crowd to appear. Jon still loved to see her in her business suit, the sharp lines and dark wool contrasted with her pretty heart shaped face. She waved at Will and he picked a particular mug from the ones he had lined up.
Jon spun on his stool and stood to kiss Sally. He didn’t lay his hands on her waist, just in case he had picked up any grease or oil that would do terrible things to Sally’s suit. “Hey there.” said Sally when they parted lips. “Where have you hidden my daughter?”
Jon turned and knocked on the top of the tool shelves, and a moment later the top of a small head- curly black hair pulled back as tidily as its energy would allow- appeared from behind it. “Hello Mum.” the little voice said.
“Hey Nat. What are you doing behind there?”
“I’m putting the tools away. But not the sharp ones.”
“The girl whose room is such a mess is tidying up?”
“This is a job. I’ve been helping make things, so I gotta help put tools away.”
“Are you all oily again?”
“That’s why we got you work clothes, isn’t it.” Jon prompted. “Why don’t you go and get changed while me and your Mum smooch a little?”
“Eeeew! Okay.” Nat walked around the end of the bench. A trip to a charity shop had provided her with work clothes- jeans and a top that was too big for her, the ends of the sleeves rolled up into fat cotton bracelets so that she could stick her hands out. She had the same heart shaped face as her mother, but her skin was a warm mid brown. The front of her top was streaked with oily swatches, some of them the exact size and shape of her hands.
“Good grief, what have you been doing?” Sally asked.
“I’ve been building a bike. Danny says I can have it when it’s done.”
“Really. Don’t you already have a bike?”
“Yes. And I ride it whenever I can. But the one I’m making is super cool.”
“I can’t wait to see it.”
“Here you go darling. Go and get changed.” Jon handed Nat a plastic bag and she skipped off to the toilets to get changed. “Don’t forget to scrub your hands well to get the oil off.” he called after her.
Will waved at Sally and she went to collect her coffee. “You don’t have to get her a bike.” she said when she returned.
“Oh I’m not. She really is building it. Danny got a couple of kid’s bikes thrown in for free by his tame scrappy. He’s been giving her lessons and helping her and she’s been keeping his work space organised so he doesn’t waste half an hour trying to find the right size Allen key. They make a good team.”
Sally smiled, then blew on her coffee before taking a sip. “Thanks for looking after her this week. You’ve been a lifesaver. When Mum had to go look after Uncle Brian I didn’t know what I was going to do. And she’s loved it here. She’s tried to explain everything she’s done, but it just sounds like she’s been under your feet the whole time. I hope she hasn’t caused too much trouble.”
“Not at all. We’ve loved having her here. I think she’s closed a couple of sales just by being cute at customers. And she did a bit of waitressing as well. We’re going to miss her tomorrow.”
“She never mentioned that you made her work. I hope she’s been adequately reimbursed.”
“Well, she is getting a bike.”
Nat came bouncing back from the toilet dressed in a very girly red dress and white stockings with white and red pumps. She’d let her hair loose and it was a crazy spray of tight curls. She didn’t look like she had been wielding hammers and spanners all day. Jon tore a big square of blue paper towelling from the roll and said, “Hold on, come here, you missed a bit.” He carefully wiped a smudge of oil off her cheek.
“Give Jon a hug goodbye. We have to get you to your Nana’s house.” Sally instructed.
Nat reached up to wrap her arms around Jon’s neck and pressed her cheek against his as she closed them tight. He lifted her up off her feet. “You have fun at your Grandma’s. Grandmas always have the best sweets.”
“And you look after Mummy tomorrow when I’m away.”
Sally had an odd expression. When she realised Jon was trying to read it, she flashed a smile. Jon lowered Nat to the floor and Sally kissed him lightly on the lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.” She handed over her half empty cup of coffee then took her daughter’s hand. “Come on then, let’s see what Nana’s made for us.”
As they headed for the door, Nat waved at Will. “Bye bye Will! Bye bye Danny!”
Will waved back and, from the rear of the big arched space a voice called out, “Bye Nat!”
This, and more, is available first to supporters of my Patreon page.
Spoiler- Nelson is irredeemably stupid. It’s a combination of learnt and chosen stupidity. He may have been indoctrinated by his church, but faced with reality being in opposition to his beliefs, he has decided to double down and find ever more convoluted explanations for his nonsense. I see this a lot from the Satan Hunters and TERFs that have inspired Nelson. His thought process isn’t that different to theirs, I’m just playing it up for dramatic and satirical effect.
It was raining in Summer, and had been doing so for most of a month. So much for Climate Change.
Stakeouts were all about waiting and watching, often for long periods where nothing happened. Nelson was using this one to think about all the nonsense in the world.
The irregular drumming of heavy raindrops on the tarp had made him think about the weather. If they couldn’t get it right about tomorrow, how could they possibly predict for years away.
Covid was another example. It had been a made up scare, to test governments’ ability to control their people. So many had fallen for it it was embarrassing.
Some would say it all started with 9/11, but Nelson knew better than that. All of these scares and lies were part of long war- the eternal fight between good and evil, the power of the Lord Jesus against the dark armies of Satan. His Church had laid the foundations of his understanding of this grand picture, but his own research had shown him how aberrations like feminism, homosexual liberation and now the transgender cult were all part of Beelzebub’s plans to push humanity ever further from The Truth.
Water had found its way inside his hide. He had been trying to ignore the dampness creeping up his right leg, but it hadn’t stopped. He couldn’t rearrange the setup in daylight. Even in this rain, it was possible he might be spotted. So he would have to put up with it until the sun set.
The rain kept on falling, and the drip began to become a pool under his sin. But he kept himself warm and distracted by listing all the ways that progress was a tool of the Devil.
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One of the things about first drafts is realising that a bit belongs somewhere else in the story. This should really go before part 3, mostly because I changed that bit to night time after I started it, and partly because the last line of this feeds into it quite well.
This is another info-dumpy piece as well, with possibly more Irwin lore than I’ve put in all the previous Rain & Bullets stories combined. Again, later drafts will probably prune this and feed relevant information out in smaller chunks elsewhere.
Miles’s partner in climb was called Fouzia. Fearless as she had been tackling obstacles in the gym, she became shy and self conscious when introduced to a new adult. Her father shook Peter’s hand and commented that most of the other boys didn’t like to climb with a girl, which made Miles a true gentleman. Miles’s grin was so wide his head might explode.
Irwin watched the exchange in glances up from his phone. He had done some background digging the night before, but Peter had added extra details and background. A few more names went into a spreadsheet, to be run through the many open source intelligence sites Irwin had access to, and crawled for across social media. The boring work of spycraft, and hopfully this little favour for his old boss would stay that way
His work for MI6 had primarily been data analysis, working with information gleaned by others or skimmed from the dark corners of the web. The one time Irwin had gone out in the field for MI6, he had ended up on the wrong end of a knife. It was mostly luck that meant he was alive to feel the ache of the sliced muscle in his shoulder when the nights got cold. It had been the optional training he had taken with ex-SAS men that meant his attacker was dead.
A simple sting operation in Berlin had turned into a double cross. Irwin’s survival, and the work he did from his hospital bed digging into the corruption in German intelligence, had earned him an early retirement, enemies, and a very rare dispensation to carry a firearm in the United Kingdom. It was harder to carry the Glock discreetly in warmer weather, so he was channeling Bond, and had a Walther in a holster inside his trouser waistband. It looked like he had a large and clumsy wallet and could be uncomfortable when he sat for too long. He had stopped carrying even that smaller gun, until the message from The Jedi dragged up old memories and trauma.
He had seen more action and danger since leaving the service than he had whilst in it. Almost every time, it had started with a call from Jeremy Simpson- known as ‘Jed The Jedi’ for his unnerving ability to judge the motivations and emotions of others. The pair of them had made a vow some time ago that they would use their skills to help those the intelligence services and, increasingly, the Police, didn’t seem to care about. Then they had forgotten about it when opportunities to play Robin Hood hadn’t popped up. This job fit the rough outline of their proposed crusade, but was primarily a family thing for the Jedi.
The brief was simple. Do an assessment of the risk, if any, that Peter’s estranged wife and her transphobic grandstanding presented to him and Miles. Then tighten security and teach father and son any appropriate tradecraft. That latter part should be almost too easy. What eleven year old boy wouldn’t want to play at spy?
Pete exchanged phone numbers with Fouzia’s father, Hamid, and there was talk of play dates, the other events put on by the gym, and rock climbing in a repurposed church. When Hamid and Fouzia left, Peter guided his son to the table. “This is Irwin.” he said. “He’s going to help us get settled in.”
“How?” Miles asked, sizing up the stranger.
“I know all the best value furniture shops. But I specialise in security, so I’ll be working on the burglar alarms.” Both statements were true, though Irwin had not intended to volunteer as a personal shopper.
“And making sure Mum doesn’t find us?”
“But it’s true, isn’t it? I heard what she said about me. I heard what her friends were calling you.” Miles had grasped his father’s wrist, his stance protective, bristling with anger a child shouldn’t have to feel toward a parent.
Before the silence became uncomfortable, Irwin admitted, “I can help with that, yes. I have some experience.”
“Good.” Miles couldn’t maintain the anger much longer. “Are you a Policeman, then?”
“No, but I know some Police.” Irwin’s main Police contact didn’t hate him, but was never happy about the trouble he tended to bring whenever he called her.
“A bodyguard? I know, you’re a spy.”
Irwin simply smiled. Miles grinned back. Now he knew a spy, and the excitement about that could lessen the worries about his situation.
“Right. Time to get you home. I bet you’re starving.” Peter announced.
“Can we have noodles? I really want noodles the way you do them with chicken and an egg.”
“I think we have the ingredients in.”
“Are you coming for tea Mister Irwin?” Miles asked.
“Not today. But I’ll be visiting soon. I’ve got to find out some information, and I’ve ordered some security bits and pieces.”
They went their separate ways at the main door. Peter and Miles lived within walking distance. Irwin had parked his car around the side of the building. He scanned the area, from force of habit, but nothing registered as suspicious. With luck, this would be how everything stayed.
I need to be producing more than one of these scenes a week, or the story will still be going this time next year.
Introducing one of the antagonists. Nelson is inspired by two groups of equally unpleasant people- ‘Gender Critical’ reactionaries and religiously inspired ‘Satan Hunters’. Later drafts may tease out the hypocrisy and stupidity of Nelson’s beliefs and world view, but for this first one, I wasn’t so subtle.
The girl was in Manchester, Robert Nelson was sure. Her uncle, the homosexual, lived in the city. The father would certainly have turned to his brother for help with his evil plans for kidnapping and mutilation.
But the mother, the heroine, had people who supported her, and would make sacrifices to get her daughter back. Believers, who had the power of the Lord on their side. Robert Nelson was one of them.
Nelson was not a vain man, and everything he did was for the glory of God. He was one of those chosen to lead a blessed and pure life, to guide others onto the path of redemption. Or to strike back against the evil they did, if Satan had taken them completely. Which was surely the case here.
Women were created to give birth, and to raise and nurture children. To push a girl down a path that would take her away from that was surely the work of those inspired by the Devil. Who but Satan would think it right to slice off breasts and sterilise a potential mother. They might convince her that this was what she wanted, but in her heart, the doubt would surely always remain.
That was why Nelson was determined to rescue this girl, and return her to her brave and beautiful mother. She had others helping her, but they needed the intelligence Nelson would provide if they were to complete the mission. Which was why he was reconnoitring the area around the brother’s home, to find a base for surveillance.
Nelson had not known about the ‘Gender Crisis’ until recently, but it made so much sense to him. He had spent many years campaigning against and investigating the Satanically inspired homosexual agenda that this made perfect sense to him. Of course the Devil’s disciples would take their campaign even further and deny the reality of sex. Just as the bottom was not made for procreation, a girl could never have a penis. To claim otherwise was a clear sign of delusion or the evil intent he had sworn to fight.
The brother’s house was a recently built semi-detached. He lived there with his ‘partner’, another man. Nelson had walked past it three times before finding the ideal position to observe from. Across the road from the house was an area of undeveloped land. Fast growing bushes had sprung up on it which would be perfect for him to set up a hide with a view of the front of the house.
It was two in the morning, and there was no traffic but the occasional taxi. Nelson still kept to the shadows as much as possible, moreso now he was so close to the house. Rather than approach the scrub directly, he went down the nearest street, then cut across and used an alley to enter the far side of the open ground. Crouching down, he sneaked toward the bushes.
He had kit in his backpack, which he had accumulated when he had been hiding from the Police after revealing how many were Masonic Satanists. More recently, he had used it again to keep watch at a nudist beach, looking for the perverted goings on he just knew happened there. Nothing had happened that he could report, but the photos were all on his computer, and he went through them often, seeking incriminating images. There was a new memory card in the camera, and several spare batteries, and he had new binoculars with anti glare lenses. He pushed the pack under the bush ahead of him, and went in to set up his hide.
A padded waterproof sheet covered the ground between the thicker trunks of the bush, then a camouflaged bivvy sheet covered him up. He might sneak out during the day to see how well it worked, but he was confident only a close look would find him.
There was food and water in the backpack, and he could do supply runs when the brother and his ‘partner’ weren’t in. Now, though, there was time for some sleep before the vigil proper started. He pulled the light sleeping bag over himself and settled in.
I wrote a novel, ‘Solstice’, partly inspired by the claims about VIP child abuse rings. Finding out they were all lies led to me unpublishing the book. It’s taken the Metropolitan Police two more years to investigate some of the liars.
Between work, making YouTube videos, and everything else, this is coming together far more slowly than I’d like. But here’s another scene, and another thread to the story.
The bike was fast. Gary loved it. He pressed the little button on the handlebar, and it shot off. The first couple of times, the whole bike had squatted on the suspension, and the front wheel had lifted off the ground, scaring him. He had quickly learnt to lean forward to balance that out.
He was zipping along the cycle path on an old railway line now, but would move onto the roads soon. When he had more confidence with the acceleration.
This one was different to the ebikes he had read reviews of. The motor kicked in if he pedaled, boosting his speed, but if he wanted to go real fast, he pressed the button. He didn’t even have to pedal then. There were rules that said bikes could only go so fast- fifteen miles an hour, he thought- or they’d be motorbikes, with plates and licences and all that. This one broke those rules, for sure.
It wasn’t quite silent. The motor made a high pitched whine, and the tyres made a rippling buzz on the hard surface of the path. What would they sound like on gravel?
The turn off was up ahead, coming at him faster than he had anticipated. He released the button, and quickly sat back as the motor became a drag on the back wheel. It still wasn’t going to slow him enough, so he gave the rear brake a gentle pull. The pads bit the disc, and the front of the bike dipped. He stretched even further back, and squeezed some more. The back wheel locked, and the ripple became a light scraping, not quite a squeal, of rubber. But it had done the job. He released the brake and leant into the turn.
Down the ramp, and then left, and he passed under the cycle path, onto a rougher surface. He slowed all the way down, then, just before coming to a stop, pressed the button. The bike didn’t tuck as much as before, because the tyre couldn’t grip the same, spinning and sending gravel shooting out behind. The small stones pattered against the ground, and he could hear them over the crunching of them being lifted and thrown. The back of the bike slewed right. He shifted his weight, and it wiggled back. Almost too much. He released the button, straightened out, then tried again. This time, he held it.
He was going to enjoy this bike. But first he had to do the deal to get it. He grabbed the brakes and swung around, carving nearly a full semi circle in the loose surface.
“You like it?” Lee asked, as if he couldn’t see the grin on Gary’s face.
“Love it man. So much power.”
“So, it’s yours right. If you’ll do the deliveries. And you’ll get paid for them too.”
“I’m in.” Gary jumped off the bike and leant it against the wall under the window. “Can’t take it home though can I? Questions, y’know. Mam’ll wanna know where it come from.”
“I hear you. Get it from me yard. I’ll give you a key. Run a few errands for me, then play the rest of the night.” Lee assured him.
“Yeah, I can do that.” The rush was too much to pass up. “So, what do I do?”
“Simple stuff. I give you a bag, or bags, tell you where to meet the buyer, and how much to take from them. You bring the cash back, I give you your share. Don’t be wearing that though.” Lee pointed at Gary’s City top. “All black. I’ll give you a mask, a balaclava. I’ve got some somewhere. And no helmets. Police won’t chase you if you’re not wearing a helmet. They don’t want to risk it. Give it enough juice to get away, then hide down an alley or something. When d’you want to start?”
Gary wanted another ride on the bike, but he was thinking about the uniform Lee had just laid out. “Tomorrow? And week after next it’s holidays, so I can do more runs for you. If you’ve got the customers.”
“Oh, I have them. Should have more in the next few weeks, too. Come here tomorrow evening, and I’ll give you a key and a balaclava, and we can see how good you are.”
Cross posting from my Patreon page, where the story will be serialised.
This is quite first draft-y, and will likely be revised a lot when the story is finished. But it’s a start to a story I’ve tried to get started a few times, so let’s go.
The working title, as above, is Another Summer of Hate- a phrase lifted from a Carter USM song. I’m planning a few parallel stories, with some of them connecting, building to climaxes around the same event.
The Miles and Peter story, and Irwin’s actions in it, are partly a response to the novel I unpublished a while back, and the people who made me want to withdraw it. The knifepoint kidnapping was a real event, that fed into my decision, and the shooter Irwin mentions is a call back to A Death In Didsbury.
“It’s good that he’s so…. gregarious. I don’t think I could have coped with being moved from one end of the country to another at his age. Not if I’d been told I couldn’t talk to any of my old friends again.” Peter Taylor gestured with his teacup. On the other side of the window was a large gymnasium, where children were practicing parkour. The boy he was talking about was a short, wiry ten year old with dark blonde hair . He was talking to an Asian girl half a head taller than him, and they looked like they had been friends forever, when they had only met fifteen minutes earlier.
“Does he understand why?” Irwin asked. The girl was pointing out a route across the obstacles that would get from one side of the gym to the other without touching the floor.
“Probably more than I’d like him to. He certainly understands that it’s the best way for him to be…. him. I don’t think he understands what conversion therapy can be like. What his mother wants to do to him if she can get him away from me.”
“Isn’t conversion therapy illegal?”
“With this government? They’d make it mandatory if they thought it would give them a little culture war clout. I got custody of Miles because she was threatening it, but that was last year, if you’ve seen the sort of shit they’re coming out with now, transphobia’s the in thing for a certain type of politician.”
Miles watched his new friend run up to a tall obstacle built of padded boxes, spring up, use her foot to provide a boost, and grab the top edge. She hauled herself up, and twisted into a seated position. When she had shuffled to the side to provide room, Miles lined himself up and sprinted straight for the wall. The girl had a height advantage over him, but he was determined, and put extra effort into his jump. It wasn’t as elegant, but he managed to get a hand hold on the edge, and pulled himself up after a moment’s pause.
Peter had watched this, nervous enough to let out a sigh when his son succeeded. The girl stood, and led Miles to the next obstacle, as other children lined up to have a go at the wall.
“If we have to go back to court, I’m not confident Miles will get the protection he needs. Not with the way things are at the moment. So it’s good, I guess, that she doesn’t trust the courts at all.”
“You think she’s planning to snatch him? Where would she take him?”
“That’s the worrying part. I don’t know. She still has his passport, the one in his old name. She was supposed to hand it over, but didn’t before it started to feel dangerous.”
“Would you leave the country? If you had his passport?”
“Escape from Terf Island? Absolutely. I don’t know where we’d go. New Zealand, maybe.”
Miles was clambering up a pole against a wall, presumably a facsimile of a drainpipe. About two thirds of the way up, he levered his body to the right, until he got his feet onto another box. His new friend waited at the other end. “He chose Miles after a Spider-Man, so this is the right place for him, I guess.” Peter said. He had finished his tea, so pushed the cup aside. “But you don’t need to know all the background. You want to know why Jed has asked you to get involved.”
“Background is good. I started this game as a data analyst.” Irwin assured him. “You think there’s an imminent threat? More than before?”
“She’s never really shut up online, and there are too many people who wat to use her claims to sell their transphobia. That’s scary enough, but it’s getting worse. I have friends who keep an eye on it all, because no way am I soaking up more of that poison. They say that some potentially dangerous people have taken an interest in all her claims. Have you heard of Satanic Ritual Abuse?”
“There were a few case studies on it in my training, from the Satanic Panic back in the eighties and nineties. Everything from how not to interview people- particularly children- to the ease with which disinformation spreads. Then there was all that Q nonsense from the States, and the shooter in something I helped with a while back was into it, too. Some of those freaks are getting involved?”
“Yeah. they’ve been campaigning against the Family Courts for years, tying to make out there’s some…. ‘Satanic'” Peter waved his arms, not doing air quotes so much as expressing exasperation at the stupidity of what he was conveying. “Yeah, Satanic conspiracy to cover up, well, all the things they claimed in the Satanic Panic. Some poor child was kidnapped at knifepoint by some of these types. They were rescued, luckily, and the kidnappers are in jail. But there are still believers out there. It looks like some of them have latched onto transphobia and all that ‘protecting the children’ bullshit, and think they’ve found easier targets. Cynthia is one of the higher profile mothers going on about losing her child. So….”
“You’ve reported this to the Police?”
“For what good it’ll do. I doubt they’ll act until…. unless something happens. Jed said you could cover some of what they aren’t doing.”
“Fair enough. So let’s start going over personal security, and then I’ll get into a bit of preventative investigation. Tell me what you’re doing already, and we’ll work from there.”
Last month, I unpublished one of my books. Solstice is no longer available to buy.
I’ve stopped selling books before, but there’s a bit of a tale to this decision. It needs to start with the story’s inspirations, and what happened in it. I’d put a spoilers warning here, but you can’t buy it any more, so let’s dive straight in.
Inspiration is a wonderful thing. Sometimes stories come from a single idea. More often- for me- a bunch of thoughts combine, and I’ve got something to build from.
Solstice came from three directions.
The first was an urge to create something akin to 24- a fast moving, time limited challenge for my characters. It was going to be a Rain & Bullets story, so the crime needed to have an immediate and further threat related to it.
Next, there was the news that the government wanted to outsource management of youth detention centres to private providers. Given the history of this sort of thing, the inevitability of corruption or incompetence harming children was obvious. For a crime story, it’s the corruption and harm that I would be concentrating on, so what form would that take?
As Solstice started to come together, I was becoming aware of the then starting Operations Yewtree and Midland. The threat of a ring of child abusers with powerful connections was compelling, and very “ripped from the headlines”. If those powerful connections had access to children, then there was the danger and harm for the story.
The story came together quickly from there. As the Rain & Bullets regulars investigated a murder with ties to corruption after the invasion of Iraq, a young woman and her activist friend are trying to rescue her nephew from detention. They have a suspicion that something very wrong is going on, and as they find out what it is, they’re heading for collision with Kay and Irwin’s case.
All good ingredients for an action adventure, and I’m very happy with the structure and pace I managed to give it. So why have I deleted it from the back catalogue?
Shortly after publication, it started to become clear that the claims of a VIP paedophile ring all originated from the testimony of one supposed witness. His stories fell apart one by one, until he ended up on trial for the damage they had caused.
Still, Solstice was a solid story. I figured I’d still leave it out there, though. What harm could it do?
Then, along came QAnon, and its bizarre British mirror image – the SRA hunters.
SRA stands for Satanic Ritual Abuse. It isn’t a new fantasy, the Satanic Panic of the eighties and nineties damaged countless lives because of unfounded tales of mass abuse. The professionals who deal with children have learnt a lot from it, thankfully, and now know how not to lead children into creating tales that confirm the interviewer’s beliefs. There are, however, far too many amateurs unwilling to learn anything, who happily fall for fantasies that align with their prejudices.
As an indicator of how far-fetched SRA is, not-friend of Spinneyhead, long-time fantasist, petty bigot, and, now, convicted harasser of the judiciary, Richard Carvath has staked his non-existent reputation on pushing it. It definitely made me uneasy about the premise of Solstice, that it could be getting too close to the beliefs of folks like him.
The final nail in Solstice’s coffin was an event last year, when Carvath’s latest bigot-crush travelled to Wales to kidnap a child at knife point, only being caught several hundred miles away. The child, of course, was allegedly a victim of SRA. A different reason, but so close to the plot of Solstice that it made me uncomfortable.
Luckily, no-one was hurt during the kidnap. But it’s too short a step from rescuing children from Satanists (or lizards, or whatever) to deciding they’re so corrupted that the only way to save their souls is to kill them. As the details came out about the event, I decided I no longer wanted to have a book out there that could, even slightly, feed into the SRA fantasy. I don’t want to have accidentally written a Turner Diaries for kidnappers.
So, Solstice is gone from the Rain & Bullets series, and is no longer available. You can, however, still buy my other books, and those of Garth Owen.
As the Trump presidency tumbles down in its final days, I thought you’d like a trip back to a more innocent time, when I wrote this piece of silliness in anticipation of the orange one’s inauguration.
Hopefully, the Biden inauguration will go off without a hitch. But Trump is going to be furious if it gets higher ratings than his. Which is likely, given his efforts to turn it into a racist version of White House Down.
January 20th 2017
It happened just as President elect Donald J Trump went off script whilst swearing his oath of office. A figure appeared from nowhere, gun hand outstretched toward The Donald, finger already pulling the trigger.
She had come from the future, her mission- to kill the President before, on January 25th, he nuked Latvia to prove the country’s Prime Minister wrong and show that his fingers were long enough to press the atomic button.
Even before the bullet had left, she was joined by dozens, maybe hundreds of other assassins. With everything from lasers all the way down to clubs, each of them had come back with a specific mission- eliminate Trump before he could carry out the action that blighted their particular future.
It was one of the lasers, by an almost immeasurable fraction of a second, that got the job done. Which triggered the second wave of temporal assassins. These were dedicated to cutting down Mike Pence before he could institute his plans for homosexual re-education camps and sexuality snooping.
Into the middle of this already confused mess came a pair of twenty-second century Men’s Rights Activists. Angry at the unfair advantages equal wages gave females and the sissification inherent in paternity leave, they had decided to travel back and kill the first female President. Incompetence had shunted them sideways as well as backwards, but they never found that out, as they were burnt to a crisp by one of the many flamethrowers present.
With so many bodies and temporal anomalies overlapping, a critical mass was formed. A gore explosion was followed by collapses in the fourth dimension. Time went crazy.
Washington is now the flickering city, to look at it is to watch a jump cut time-lapse of the city’s past and possible futures. Buildings and people appear and flash away randomly, as the time-line tries to knit itself back together.
The inauguration was ground zero, but the effects have radiated out, and there are pockets of temporal instability all over the world. There are pockets where you can step into the past and pull people and things back. The USA is currently being run by the dream team of Kennedy and Lincoln, snatched up just before their assassinations.
It’s a crazy world, ripe for adventures and wacky hijinks. Annoyingly, I can’t think of any silly stories to tell in it right now.
Soon-to-be-former-President Trump is currently failing bigly to overturn the result of the US election. Which is good, because there were times earlier this year when I thought we were living through the prequel to one of my novels.
Sounds of Soldiers was started on November 1st 2008. Whilst not stated explicitly in the story, the back-story was that McCain and Palin won the election, McCain keeled over from the stress, and the (then) worst person imaginable became President of the USA. The culture/civil war that ensued affected the rest of the world, as US troops ran amok in Europe.
Luckily, Obama and Biden won in 2008, and it wasn’t until 2016 that the US got its worst President ever.
Sounds of Soldiers wasn’t finished during NaNoWriMo 2008, as planned. But I wrapped it up in 2009, and published it in 2010. It remains one of my favourites of the books I’ve published, and is available in paperback or for Kindle from Amazon, or- if you don’t want Bezos to get any more money- you can find it on Smashwords and other online book shops.
One of this year’s missions is to get as many as possible of my ebooks available as paperbacks. A couple of Garth Owen books are already in print, and now Sounds of Soldiers joins them.
It’s also going to be available through the appropriate distribution routes for sale in bookshops. If you want your local bookshop to get some of your money, you can ask them to order it for you. The dreaded Amazon still get their cut, and I get less. But I don’t mind that if it puts money into the pockets of small business owners as part of the deal.
When a woman is shot dead on a quiet street of trendy shops, Detective Sergeant Kay Wood is reunited with an old acquaintance, and has to work with retired intelligence analyst Irwin Baker to help them out.
Unexpected violence flares on the streets of the Manchester suburb of Didsbury, and the investigation is soon tangled up in links to Russia and crimes dating back to the Second World War. As the intelligence services are drawn into the mystery, two witnesses find their lives turned up side down, and threatened, by their connection to the victim.