Breaking Faith is published as a paperback and an ebook. I'm posting individual chapters here, each week, so that anyone who wishes can read the book in full and free of charge.
If you missed the start, here's the link: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January, following chapters appear each Friday and can be found via the archive.
Read, enjoy, invite your friends.
Tuesday 16th March
The kitchen was warm with the succulent aroma of frying bacon. I grinned at Jenny, the post woman, pretending to pose for me; saucily lifting the hem of her skirt and revealing support tights clinging to her size twenty-two thighs.
‘How about it, big boy? Want a good time with a big, and I do mean bi..i..i..g girl?’
‘You’re incorrigible, Jenny. What’d George say?’
‘Since when did you give a toss for the opinion of any woman’s husband, Leighton Longshaw? Any case, he’d be pleased if another man found me sexy enough to have his wicked way with me. All talk and trousers, you are. Bet that Abigail Churchfell’s not really here at all.’
‘Still in bed, exhausted after another night.’
‘Braggin’ again. Losing your touch there, aren’t you? Been here a couple of months. Don’t usually last that long.’
Ma slipped bacon, eggs and mushrooms from the frying pan onto a plate with beans and fried bread. ‘Got her hooks into him, that one. If he’s not careful, she’ll be persuading him to ask her to marry him.’
‘Oh, Ma! You’ve made him go all pale, look. He’d best not have that breakfast, feeling as sick as that.’
‘Hands off, Jenny. Hop it, and let me eat in peace.’
‘Such charm. No wonder he has them all falling at his feet.’
‘I know. How can they resist?’
I took a forkful of bacon to my mouth and paused. ‘Ma’s my favourite. No one can touch her cooking.’
‘Flatterer.’ Ma went through the utility room and yelled out of the back door for Old Hodge to come in for his breakfast.
Jenny bent close, apparently intent on kissing my ear, but pinched a mushroom off my plate instead. She grinned and backed out through the office door.
‘Tomorrow, you’ll pay for that.’
From the office, she shouted her obscene reply of hope and closed the door before I had time to accept or reject.
Ma returned to dish out Old Hodge’s breakfast. The old man came in and lifted his cap to scratch his head before he sat down opposite me. ‘T’old ash in yon corner’ll not last through another storm.’
‘You’ve been predicting the felling of that tree for sixteen years; ever since I came to live here.’
‘Longer than that, Leigh. He used to tell your Uncle Fred it were in imminent danger every spring. I reckon that tree’ll outlast the lot on us.’
I began opening the post; a lilac envelope revealing a four-page letter. A photograph fell from between the sheets, followed by a folded promotional leaflet. I picked up the picture and studied the smiling woman in her body paint, before turning to the pale leaves of hand written text. ‘Zizi sends her love to both of you. Hopes to pop up for my birthday.’
‘Don’t know why you don’t marry Zoë. She adores you and she’s so kind.’
‘Sexy, stunning, heart of gold.’ Old Hodge examined the photograph appreciatively and passed it to Ma.
‘Never changes. You’d not think she was the same age as you, Leigh.’
‘Zizi’s fine for short spells. I love her to bits, but I couldn’t settle down with her. She’ll never stop smoking and she won’t leave London, and I’m certainly not leaving Longhouse to live down there, for all the business it might bring.’ I lay the letter aside and looked at the leaflet. ‘It’s the Photographic Show at Olympia end of May. I’ll probably go down for a couple of days. Zizi’s invited me to stay.’
‘You take advantage of that girl. She deserves better.’
‘Zizi knows the score, Ma. She’s a big girl.’
‘Zoë’s too kind hearted by half.’
I opened a couple of bills and cursed. ‘We’ll have to cut down on electricity and coal; they’re costing me a small fortune.’
‘Long as you and your wenches go naked, you’ll ‘ave to pay to keep it warm or freeze your assets.’
‘Anybody’d think I was made of money. Did you hear the radio this morning? Prices have risen by seventy per cent in the past three years! Ridiculous; no wonder everyone’s going bust.’
The last two letters were from overseas and I viewed the envelopes suspiciously. From the German one I pulled out a single sheet typewritten in schoolboy English with a smaller piece of paper stapled to the back of the top left corner. ‘Bugger me!’ I looked at the cheque and passed it to Old Hodge for confirmation. ‘That say what I think it does?’
‘More’n you pay Ma in a year!’
Ma looked over her husband’s shoulder at the cheque. ‘Well, that’ll keep the house warm for a while anyroad. What’s it for?’
I read the letter again. ‘I’ve no idea what they’re talking… hang on. Of course! You remember the place that made industrial fastenings, went bust and was bought by a German firm?’
‘Did a catalogue and some advertising stuff for them as I recall. Never paid you a penny.’
‘They have now. It’s funny; the letter refers to my communication to them and apologizes for the delay in paying. Last time I wrote any threatening letters was over two years ago. Why now, I wonder?’
‘Does it give the date of your letter?’
‘It says twenty-third of February this year, but that can’t be right.’
‘What about the one from the States?’
I opened the other envelope and pulled out another letter with a cheque attached. This time I looked at the amount before I read the letter. ‘Bloody hell! Must be my lucky day. It’s in dollars but I’d say it’s for twice the other one! Someone up there loves me.’
‘Letter mention anything about a reminder from you on February twenty-third, by any chance?’
I screwed up my face at Ma but read the letter. ‘This is too weird. I don’t recall sending details of the serial numbers of any slides, but that’s how they say they identified them as mine, and I definitely didn’t write a letter to …’
‘Faith did. She told me she’d been going through your bad debtors file. Said there were over thirty unsettled accounts in there and none of ‘em touched for nearly three years.’
‘I’ve been busy.’
‘Aye. I reckon she’s brought in her salary for a year and a half, or more, Leigh. Shame you got shot of her. Wonder who’s gaining from her efforts now?’
Ma and Old Hodge exchanged meaningful glances and I knew I was in for advice or criticism; probably both.
‘Look, it wasn’t my fault she left. I never meant for her to go.’
‘Perhaps you should’ve told her.’
I couldn’t out-stare Old Hodge so I looked at the letter again.
‘Said you’d lost a gem there, didn’t I?’
‘Look, it wasn’t my fault she misunderstood…’
‘Course not, Leigh. I mean, innocent little lass with no experience is bound to have a proper grasp of the big bad world. Bound to know more’n a businessman who’s travelled and seen life, been educated and had a few advantages. No, you’re right, Leigh; bound to be her fault there was a misunderstanding.’
‘Now, Ma, don’t be too hard on the lad. I mean, it’s not as if he prides hissen on knowing women. Not like he believes he understands them or owt.’
‘True enough. Always been honest about that, has our Leigh. Still, bright and able lass like that shouldn’t have any trouble finding work with only a million or more out of work and no transport out the village, should she?’
‘None at all. Mind, let’s be fair, Ma. He’s not said he’ll not try to get her back, has he?’
I knew I was beaten. But I wasn’t ready to admit it. Faith’s accusation had stung and still irked me. That I could see some truth in her assessment made it even more difficult to accept. I looked at the two cheques and the accompanying letters again. Her efforts had brought in a fifth of my annual turnover. There was no doubt I owed her. And I certainly missed her being about the place. It was not just her work and organisation, but something strangely compelling about her mere presence.
‘Course, problem is, Ma, pride can blind a man.’ Old Hodge slurped the last of his tea and picked up the bacon rind from his plate. ‘I’ll be back at it now. Want yours, Leigh, or can the birds have it?’
I nodded at the rind on the edge of my plate and Old Hodge took it. He turned in the doorway, lifted his cap and scratched his head, all the time looking at me as if he expected something. ‘Terrible affliction, blindness.’ He shook his head slowly and plodded off into the garden, his body shouting disappointment.
Merv was tying the apron round his waist as I entered the finishing room. ‘You’re up for a bonus for that special job last week. I can pay you now. And I want you to know you’ve Faith to thank.’
‘That little twat? ‘Ow’s that then?’
‘She was doing her job.’
‘Not now she ain’t. Skinny tart’s signing on with the other no-hopers. Fuckin’ good whippin’ from her father an’ all if he’s any sense. Serves ‘er right, if you ask me.’
‘I didn’t ask you, Merv. But I want you to know you’ve reason to thank her. There’s a chance I might ask her back, you see?’
‘After what the bitch said to you? I’d never ‘ave her tight little arse back ‘ere if I were you.’
‘Just as well you’re not, then, isn’t it? Suffice it to say, if she decides to return, I expect you to treat her with more respect.’
‘Can’t respect a skinny tart that don’t know ‘ow to be a woman.’
‘It’s not a request, Merv, it’s a requirement.’ I stayed long enough for the message to sink in.
In the bedroom, Abby was diagonal across the bed, the quilt wrapped round her upper body but one leg uncovered from thigh to toe. Her blonde hair, like a halo against the deep blue pillow, hid one eye but exposed a small ear. I tried to ease the bedding from beneath her but she woke, as I’d hoped, and twisted to frown up at me. I told her about the cheques and praised Faith.
‘So you’re going to beg her to return? Doubt she’ll get any more for you. Can’t be that many bad debtors in your files, can there?’
‘A few more, those two were by far the biggest.’
‘There you are, then. She’s done you a favour by doing her job. I’d let her stay where she is. I mean, do you really want a square like that working here with her yesterday attitude? Leave her be, Leigh, you’re well shot of her. She’s not cool, not sexy, not in the groove, man.’
‘You can be a hard bitch, Abby.’
She sat up and shrugged the covers off. ‘But soft and sexy with it.’
I nodded. She was beautiful to look at. ‘Aye, well, you might as well stay where you are for the moment. I’ve a job in Bradford. I’ll be all today and most of tomorrow. Might stay over at Abdul’s if he’s got something on.’
‘You mean if he’s lined up one of his escort girls for you.’
‘Me? Involve myself with a woman who sells it? I don’t think so. Not even if someone else is paying the bill.’
‘Come back tonight, Leigh. I’ll make it worth your while.’
‘I don’t doubt it. Depends how long it takes and what Abdul has in mind. It doesn’t do to reject the hospitality of an Afghan, you know, especially a well heeled one.’ I bent and kissed her. Her own perfume mingled with the spray she used liberally.
She stretched an arm up to pull me closer, her tongue parting my lips before she disengaged to speak. ‘Don’t go.’
‘Living to earn.’ I let her fall back onto the rumpled ultramarine sheet. ‘See you later.’
‘I’ll make it up when I get back.’
She groaned with frustration and punched the pillow as I left. I resisted the temptation and hurried downstairs.
Packing my gear in the office, I missed Faith. She would have everything prepared and would wait by the gate to close it after me.
As I was about to leave, Abby wandered in, wrapped in the sheet from the bed. She let it fall around her feet as I looked at her. ‘Come back to bed with Abby, baby.’
‘Work to do. Someone’s got to keep this place going.’
She tongued her parted lips and stroked her hand down the flat of her belly to loiter in the short blonde curls.
‘Temptress. I’ll see you later. ‘Bye.’ It wasn’t easy, but I left.
At the gate, I turned to look at the house and suddenly I missed the way Faith would stand there until I left the lane end, not waving but watching and wishing me a safe journey. I wondered whether she would come back after the way I’d let her go
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