Friday, 26 May 2017

New book update

My next book is called The Cellist and is due to be released in October this year.  It is a psychological thriller that has references to The Witness, my other book in this genre.  Some of the characters from The Witness appear in this book.  It is not a sequel, but I am writing a series of books that are all liked by characters and circumstances.  I have 80,000 words completed in the first draft, but I need about 110,000 words.    
The cover has been designed and the synopsis is done, so I am planning a grand reveal soon.
If you are looking forward to reading The Cellist, it might be a good idea to get The Witness first.  These are available from Amazon in paperback form and on Kindle.

Happy Reading.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Witness

Free taster of my psychological thriller 'The Witness'.  

Chapter One

            It was six thirty in the morning and Josie, sat on a folding stool beside a riverbank was painting.  Her eyes hardly had time to focus as she glanced from landscape to paper, her brush dancing merrily as it conveyed colour and form to her work. 
It never ceased to amaze her just how quickly time went once she became fully engrossed in her work, she had been sitting there for just over an hour but it seemed no time at all.  She liked to paint in the early morning when the light was clear and the day was fresh and new.
Standing up she stretched out the stiffness in her shoulders then scrutinised her work carefully.  Tilting her head to one side, she squinted through half closed eyes and chewed at the end of her paintbrush.  It was a moment before she would admit that her work was done, and with a sigh of satisfaction, she smiled.  Josie studied the iron bridge in the foreground of her picture, it was a true representation of the real thing, the bridge that spanned the river Spey.  She had replicated the colours of the water perfectly.  Sunlight dancing on the surface played mischievously with the multi-coloured stones until they shone like semi-precious jewels in the shallows, and where the water ran deep, delicate shades and movement made the river appear pleasingly realistic.
Josie was delighted with the results and she sighed contentedly.  Her week had been a great success, not only was her sketchbook full but she had also completed three paintings.  In the morning, she would be heading back to London but first she was looking forward to spending the rest of the day with Molly.  Josie smiled again delighted at the prospect of shopping with her aunt. Later they would drive into Elgin, she wanted to photograph the cathedral ruins. Josie was planning a series of dramatic paintings based on the fire that had destroyed the beautiful cathedral generations ago. 
Molly had left London the moment she retired, moving hundreds of miles north she went in search of a quieter life and found it in the small village of Garmouth.  Situated close to the ancient city of Elgin in Morayshire, Molly loved this part of the world and wondered why she had not discovered it years earlier. 
Josie had spent many summer holidays as a child in and around Elgin but she could not remember having come across the village before.  She felt certain that Molly had not either.  Josie often thought that her aunt had simply driven a pin at random into a map and moved to wherever it pointed.  Whatever her motives, Molly had decided to uproot and move north.  No once did she discuss her plans to retire to Scotland, but Josie was glad that she had.  There was so much to see and she wanted to paint everything, she was also happy in the knowledge that her landscapes were very well received back in London.  Josie felt certain that one day she would move from the city and settle in the village herself. 
Before discovering Garmouth, she had been blissfully happy living in suburbia.  Content with her city lifestyle, she loved the idea of being able to shop for groceries at any time, day or night and culturally she was spoilt, there was a variety of museums, galleries and theatres not far from where she lived.  Having access to anything she wanted regardless of the time, was something that she treasured but coming to Garmouth for the first time had been a shock, everything here was done at a much slower pace.  The village was set firmly in the past, the people who lived there were content to spend their time chatting over garden fences or meeting up at the post office or corner shop.  There was no urgency and best of all there was no noise, it was very different from what she was used to and she just loved it.   
Josie poured water from her bottle into a little pot and washed out her brushes before packing them away.  Suddenly a scream shattered the silence and startled, she looked up.  Scanning the riverbank she looked towards the iron bridge but could see nothing out of place, the sound must have come from a rabbit falling victim to a fox or an osprey.  She stared up at the sky searching for the birds that operated along this stretch of the river.  Usually they would be fishing for salmon, but would probably consider a rabbit a welcome change from their habitual diet. 
Shaking her head, she smiled and cleared her mind of such thoughts. Stuffing her brushes into her bag, she reached for her paint box and mixing palette then dried them off with an old cloth.
Without warning, another scream echoed along the valley and this time there was no mistaking the sound, her skin crawled as she sensed danger.
Josie looked up, there was movement near the bridge then she spotted a man dragging a woman along the ground roughly by her hair.  Her cries carried clearly on the still morning air, and Josie watched in horror as the man slammed his fist into the woman’s face knocking her down into the long grass.  Standing over the spot where she had fallen he reached down and grabbed her, the sound of the woman crying as he hauled her to her feet spurred Josie into action.  Moving quickly along the path she was determined to help.  Perhaps she could distract him for long enough to allow the woman to escape but suddenly she felt vulnerable and very much alone.  The nearest house was over a mile away and there was no one else in sight. 
The man continued his assault and hearing the woman’s terrified screams Josie realised that it would be a bad idea to draw attention to herself.  Frozen to the spot she was filled with guilt and indecision and all she could do was look on helplessly.  The man stepped back and forced the woman to her knees then very slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out a pistol.  Thrusting the weapon into the woman’s face, they stared silently at each other.  Although defeated she remained defiant, it was the last thing she did.  The force of the discharge threw her back into the grass like a broken toy. 
Covering her mouth with her hands Josie stifled a scream and staggered backwards.  Her vision blurred as her eyes filled with tears and she wanted to vomit.  She could hardly believe what she had just seen, it had to be true because the sound of the blast was still rolling like thunder around the bay. 
The man moved calmly pocketing his pistol and glancing around searching for witnesses.  Removing his cap, he dried his forehead with his sleeve and turning very slowly towards Josie, he grinned.  She froze; it was as if he had known she was there all along.  The evil that surrounded him seemed to reach out towards her and she shuddered.  His grin turned into a sneer as he held her gaze then slowly he began to move towards the bridge.  He didn’t need to rush, his strides measured it was as if he had all the time in the world. 
Josie brushed away her tears with the back of her hand, her mind was in turmoil but she knew that she had to move quickly.  Glancing towards the bridge, she wondered if she could get to in time.  It was the only way to cross the river and the man had made his intentions clear enough but it was no good, he had almost reached the bridge. 
Retracing her steps back along the path, there was no time to collect her things; she would have to abandon her painting in an effort to save herself.  Emotions run wildly inside her head but despite this, she refused to succumb to panic.  Running as quickly as she dared, she missed her footing on a clump of grass and fell heavily.  Crying out in frustration and gasping for breath, she glancing back over her shoulder, he was closing in fast.  Picking herself up she pushed on and managed to increase the distance between them and reaching the point where the path split she hesitated.  To the right it followed the curve of the bay going towards a distant golf course.  Turning her head the other way she could see the visitors centre standing beside an ancient icehouse.   This had once been used to preserve salmon but it was now a museum.  The place looked deserted, there were no visitors this early in the day and the staff who worked there would not arrive for at least another hour. 
Heading that way Josie charged breathlessly into the yard and slipped on the loose gravel.  Picking herself up, she pressed her back up against the wall of the nearest building and in an attempt to control her racing heart took some deep breaths.  Pulling her mobile phone from her pocket, she flipped it open and with trembling fingers began to press out a number, holding it to her ear she waited, nothing happened.  Glancing desperately at the tiny screen it was a few seconds before she realised that there was no signal.  Groaning with frustration pushed it back into her pocket.  It was futile calling for the police, it would take ages for them to get to Spey Bay from Elgin.  
He was very close now and she could hear him coming, so moving further around the building, she searched for a place to hide.  The walls were curved, the bricks worn smooth by erosion and time, there were no recesses in which she could conceal herself and it soon became obvious that he would easily find her.  There was nowhere else to run and as the man charged into the yard, he slipped on the gravel and fell heavily.  The noise that he made sent a sea bird screeching overhead and Josie, looking up, heard the sound of waves breaking over the stony shore.  Moving towards the pebble beach, she stumbled noisily over the loose gravel, and making her way awkwardly down the slope found the coastal path.  She started to run along it as fast as she could. 
Sunlight flashed lemon yellow against the grey swell of the sea and as she went she managed to pull away from him, but she did not realise until it was too late that she was running into a trap.  The path ended abruptly as it dropped down to meet the mouth of the river and stopping at the top of the steep bank, she could see it curving back the way she had come.  Josie glanced around desperately searching for another way to go, she could see him moving slowly towards her, he seemed to be in no hurry and was obviously aware of her error. 
She considered making her way back along the path but that would not work, as soon as he saw her moving in that direction he would head her off and there would be little chance of slipping past him.  Turning her back to the water, she considered running straight at him, push past and maybe even knock him down but he looked much heavier and stronger than her so dismissing that idea she had to find another way. 
She realised that he was not carrying his gun, if he meant to kill her that would surely be the most effective way.  She had already seen him commit murder so he must be capable of doing it again.  This time there would be no witness, no one to see where her body fell.  The thought sent a shiver through her, forcing these unwelcome thoughts aside, she glanced towards the opposite bank willing someone to be near, a jogger maybe or somebody out walking their dog, anyone who might be able to help. 
She could feel his eyes boring into her back and turning towards him was unable to see clearly, the sun was still low in the sky and he appeared like a shadow.  The sight of him lumbering down the slope made her skin crawl and she cried out as the cold hand of fear ran its fingers along her spine. 
Taking a few steps backwards, she stepped into the shallows and water seeped into her boots, it was cold against her skin but she hardly felt it.  Glancing desperately at the opposite bank there was no one there to help and now she had nowhere left to run.  An idea began to form in her mind, perhaps she could reason with him but then realisation took hold, he was not going to let her live, she had seen too much.  
He was so close now that she could hear his ragged breathing and looking up he appeared black with evil intent.  There was nothing left for her to do so plunging into the water she struck out for the opposite bank, it was not too far and she was a strong swimmer.   Adrenaline coursed through her body as she propelled herself into midstream but the cold grey water was merciless, it pulled her down until she began to struggle.  The current was too strong, she had underestimated its strength and as it took hold, it swept her away. 
Gasping for breath, the cold was shocking and as her chest tightened Josie did what she could to keep her head above the surface but to fight it was impossible.  Her muscles were burning now and struggling to stay afloat was becoming painful, wave after wave poured over her head, and it became a relentless battle that was proving impossible to win.  She was amazed at how quickly she had been defeated. 
The man watching from the safety of the bank was keeping pace with the flow of the river.  He was hardly surprised by her plunging into the water in fact he expected it, she had nowhere else to go and he didn’t think she would give up easily. 
Josie could feel her strength ebbing away, her limbs going numb with the cold it was all she could do to keep her face above the surface.  The weight of her waterlogged clothing dragged her down and struggling only made it worse.  Waves constantly washed over her head, the water so cold it was as if a thousand tiny needles were pricking at her skin.  Here the water was tinged with salt, it was almost the point where the river met the sea.  Gradually the waves were becoming larger and in the grip of the swell, she could feel the pull of the tide, it was attracting her body as effectively as a magnet draws iron.  Josie began to panic, the North Sea was no place to be and struggling for breath was powerless against the flow.  She would have to wait for the current to ease before attempting to swim back towards the shore, she realised that she would be swept further from the beach and the thought terrified her.  She had to keep calm, and most of all she must remain conscious.  She needed to keep moving, try to generate some heat into her muscles that was the only way to keep them from seizing up altogether.
            The man standing on the shore watched as Josie was swept further away.  He made no attempt to help or to alert the Coastguard and now she had almost disappeared from view.  Licking his lips, his tongue flashed reptilian like from between his teeth and his mouth became a cruel thin line across his face. 
He felt a stab of regret, distracted by a jumping dolphin, he took his eyes off her for a moment and now she was gone, lost from view in the vastness of the sea.  He would never see her again and as the smile faded from his face, his eyes narrowed.  He began to imagine the fun he could have had with her then his thoughts turned to the woman he’d left lying in the grass.  He would have to be quick, tidy up the mess before others wandered along the path. 
His pulse quickened, oh what fun he’d had with this one, she was the best so far, now it was like a drug and he craved for more.  The voices in his head would soon return and their demands would become even more shocking, he would know no peace until he had done their bidding, but for now he was safe, their hunger satisfied. 
            Josie was slipping away, unconsciousness beckoned offering her a merciful release.  This was nature’s way of relieving pain and suffering, but she must resist the urge, to give up now would be the end of everything. 
She managed to improvise a life jacket by trapping air under her shirt, it helped by keeping her head above the waves.  This was a skill learned many years ago as a child at the local swimming pool, she had never imagined that one day she would have to employ the techniques for real. 
Next, she attempted to remove her jeans but it was impossible, they were heavy and weighed her down, each time she moved she went under and choked.  They would make a more effective float but it was not as easy as she remembered, practicing this in a heated swimming pool with help at hand was one thing, doing it for real was quite another.  Frustrated and rapidly becoming exhausted she abandoned the idea and made do with her shirt. 
The chill from the water continued to press in around her and her body, acting like a sponge, soaked up the cold until gradually her muscles began to shut down.  She had very little feeling from her waist down and now her arms were beginning to feel heavy and tired.  Her skin felt as if it was on fire even though she was freezing to death. 
Josie was terrified; the thought of drowning filled her with dread.  The current was gaining in strength and with her strength failing she would soon no longer be able to swim back to the beach.
At least now she was moderately buoyant, if she could just relax and go with the rhythm of the swell, precious air trapped beneath her shirt would not seep away so quickly.  Often she had to refill it by lifting the hem above the water and scoop in more air, inflating it like a balloon.   The effort of this process gave her something to focus on and moving her arms kept the blood flowing into her frozen fingers.  This simple but vital act gave her hope, without it she would almost certainly drown. 
The grey water was sapping her strength and she knew that she would have to do something quickly to help maintain her body temperature.  The initial burning sensation of cramp from rapidly cooling muscles had now given way to a dull ache and the situation was becoming hopeless.  She had tried to swim but the movement deflated her buoyancy aid and she no longer had the strength to stay afloat without it.  Her eyes ached from the cold as waves slapped relentlessly against her face and it was as if a band of steel had been wound about her head, the pressure mounting by the second. 
Gritting her teeth she moved her arms slowly, raising each in turn above her head but the effort was too much and she cried out in frustration, the pain was becoming too much to bear.  Air escaped from beneath her shirt as she moved then she had to go through the inflating process all over again.  It was a relentless battle but she had to ignore her nagging doubts, she was determined not to give up. 
How long had she been in the water?  The thought came from out of nowhere, it confused her and paying it no attention she focussed on more pleasant things.  Going to her favourite place, she could feel the sun on her back.  It was a delicious sensation, the warmth invading her mind soothed her body and she imagined herself dancing in a soft breeze.  She could feel grass as soft as fur brushing gently against her bare legs and closing her eyes, the smell of freshly ground coffee invaded her thoughts, she could even hear the sound of breakfast sizzling in a pan. 
How long had she been in the water?  Faces appeared before her eyes, friends from long ago, colleagues from places she had worked and people with whom she socialised. 
How long had she been in the water?  Absurd thoughts burst into her head but were gone before she had a chance to grasp them.  Was this what it was like to die, her life flashing before her eyes? 
How long had she been in the water?  Reluctantly she forced herself to open her eyes.  She was crying with frustration, warm tears washed away by cold water, this was just another unwelcome emotion.  Suddenly she was angry with herself, angry with the man who had put her in this situation but there was no time for self-pity, not now. 
How long had she been in the water?  There it was again that infuriating voice filling her head, always the same question over and over again.  Like a tattoo drumming laboriously into her skull, she had no choice but to deal with it.  With an effort she focussed on her wristwatch, she could hardly see the time the face was too small.  It was then she decided to buy another watch, one with a larger face, she was always having to squint at this one.  She almost laughed at the absurdity of it and concentrating on the task, recalled the last time she had checked her watch.  It had been six thirty, just after she had finished her painting and now the time was six fifty five.  Going over the events in her mind, she realised that everything had taken place during the last twenty five minutes.  She estimated how long it had taken to run along the riverbank and evade capture by diving into the river.  This must have taken fifteen minutes; that left ten.  She was shocked, only ten minutes, it seemed as though she had been in the water for much longer.  How long could someone survive in the North Sea at this time of the year?  She started to think about seasonal water temperatures around the British Isles.  She considered body mass and insulating layers of fat and for once in her life regretted being so slim, there was not an ounce of fat on her.  She was in grave danger; there was insufficient insulation to protect her from the extreme cold.

If you have enjoyed reading Chapter One of my novel 'The Witness' then why not look it up on Amazon and purchase a copy.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Synopsis. Book Three in the Torc Trilogy

This book is currently on offer from Amazon.  For one week only the kindle version is available at just 99p (UK) and $1.25 (US)

(The Gordian Knot, second book in the trilogy will now be available from Saturday.  Same deal as above)


Two months after their disastrous holiday, Orlagh and Jerry are at home in Ireland recovering from their terrifying ordeal.
The Belgae Torc is at last on display at the National Museum and Orlagh is under increasing pressure to divide her time between her work at the museum and heading up an archaeological dig in County Meath.  She is convinced that an ancient battle between Iron Age tribes took place here and is determined to prove her theory, but as archaeologists begin to unearth the truth, they are faced with some unexpected surprises.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Jack Harrington is making discoveries of his own and finds himself juggling personal and professional commitments.  His organisation is still recovering from recent events in the Mediterranean and is loathed to be drawn into another deadly conflict, but like it or not, there are unresolved issues that cannot be avoided.
The Phoenix Legion is about to implement the final phase of its master plan and this time Schiffer is convinced that nothing can stop him from realising his goal.

With the past merging with the present, the elements of a deadly conclusion are finally coming together.  Will history repeat itself or can another worldwide catastrophe be avoided?   

Chapter One free.

 I'm pleased to announce that the third book in The Torc Trilogy, Cutting the Gordian Knot (The Final Solution), is on offer from Amazon.  The kindle version is currently available for one week only at just 99p (UK) and $1.25 (US)

(The offer on the second book, The Gordian Knot begins on Saturday, same deal as above for one week only)

Following chapter one the story goes to Berlin 1944 before returning to modern day bringing this adventure to an exciting conclusion.

Chapter One

Jack was standing in the street looking up at a neat townhouse.  The brownstone building was typical of this neighbourhood and one that his mother would feel quite at home in.  She had moved here ten years ago having fallen in love with Manhattan and the vibrant life that surrounded it.  She had told him once that her only regret was having not moved to Park Avenue sooner.  He smiled at the memory, his mother had thrived on city, it was like an enchanting elixir that sustained her as the years rolled by.
The quiet country house where he was born had been her home for over forty years and he was surprised when she sold up and moved to the city.  Most people retired and moved to the country, but not his mother, she was an extraordinary woman.
Jack sighed and climbing the steps leading up from the wide sidewalk, he approached the polished front door and fumbled in his pocket for the key.  He tried to work out just how many times he had visited his mother in the last ten years and was appalled by his conclusion.  He could count the occasions on one hand.  Shrugging off his thoughts, he inserted the key into the lock and pushed open the door.
 His mothers scent assaulted him the moment he entered the property and he was compelled to call out to her.  Shaking his head, he made his way along the narrow hall passing a little polished side table where the cleaner had piled up a month’s worth of mail.  He decided to leave it for later then hesitated as he moved slowly towards the room at the front of the house.  Taking a deep breath he wondered what ghosts were waiting for him there and placing his hand against the polished wooden door, he pushed gently. 
He need not have worried; the room was full of warmth.  Sunlight was streaming in through a huge bay window that overlooked the street and wherever he looked, everything seemed clean and fresh.  His mother’s presence was stronger here, this had been her favourite room, it was where she sat every morning to enjoy the sun and look at the people passing by her house.
She had lived a stylish life, the furniture was old but of the best quality and he recognised many pieces from his childhood home.  Fresh roses filled a vase that stood on a table by the huge bay window.  He guessed that it was the cleaner who maintained the house because it was spotlessly clean; it was as if his mother had merely stepped out and was expected back at any moment.
Jack looked around taking in every detail and began to notice things that he had never seen before or had merely taken for granted.  A beautifully ornate French clock stood on a shelf above the fireplace; it had stopped so instinctively he reached towards it.  He was tempted to wind it and set the time, but he stopped himself.  The last person to touch that clock was his mother and it did not seem right, he was not yet ready to interfere with her things.
On a writing table that stood in the bay window, he found what he was looking for.   A neat collection of documents had been left for him and on top of the pile was an envelope with his name neatly printed on it.  Reaching forward he picked it up and slipping his thumb under the flap, ran it along the seal.  Inside he found his mother’s letter beautifully written on quality, embossed writing paper and the first thing he noticed was her crest.  A perfectly formed rose pressed into the expensive paper, this was her trademark.  He could not remember where the idea had come from, but the rose had been a constant throughout his childhood. 
Jack lowered himself down into a soft leather wingback chair, it must have been his mother’s favourite because as the cushion gave way it released more of her scent.  He sighed again, fighting off an unaccustomed emotion.  He had not arrived in time to see his mother before she died and he could not forgive himself for that, but it would do no good to dwell on such things.  If his mother had wanted him there, she would have sent for him sooner.  Rubbing his hand over his face, he took a deep breath and as he placed the envelope on his knee, something slipped out and fell to his feet.  Reaching down he found a small faded photograph.  The black and white print was so old it had almost turned sepia but he recognised the young woman instantly.  His grandmother as a young woman was smiling out at him, clearly from another place and time he got the impression that her smile was forced.  The detail was difficult to see but it was her eyes, her smile had not reached that far and as he studied it closer, it became clear that she looked shocked and haunted.  She was holding a small bundle close to her breast.  The weather must have been warm because the baby was wrapped in a thin embroidered shawl and his grandmother wore a short-sleeved summer dress.
Turning the photograph over he could just about make out a date printed in black ink.  August 20th 1944, it was five days after his mother’s birth.  He knew very little about his grandmother’s early life, she rarely spoke about the time when his mother was born.  Studying the photograph carefully Jack searched for clues but there was nothing.  He wondered where it had been taken.  During his childhood his grandmother had from time to time, ‘gone away’ and it was not until later on in life that he discovered the truth.  She had suffered with depression that often became so severe that she would be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.  Of course, his family never discussed this; it was an uncomfortable subject and not one to be dwelt upon.  What had happened to make her like that he wondered.  There was so much he didn’t know and he realised now that the truth had been kept from him during his mother’s lifetime.
Placing the photograph to one side, he turned his attention to the letter, but suddenly his cell phone began to ring.  Staring at the screen, he could see that it was Paul.  He decided to ignore the call; he was not yet ready to return to work.
My dearest son,
If you are reading this then I guess you are sitting in my favourite window seat.  Are you enjoying the view?  I love the way the sunlight filters in through the window. How are you finding the heavenly scent from my roses?
Jack smiled and continued to read.

My greatest regret was never having the opportunity to tell you about your family history.  Oh yes my son, there are a number of skeletons in our cupboards and I’m afraid the secrets they have to tell are rather disturbing.  Most of them concern wartime Europe and in many ways, it would be best to leave them buried, but there are things that you should know.  Before I go on you must understand that the world was a very different place then...

Friday, 3 February 2017

Pick up a bargain.

Synopsis of my novel The Gordian Knot, the second book in The Torc Trilogy.  The kindle version is on offer from Amazon at just 99p or $1.25 from Thursday 9th February for just one week only, so don't miss out, order your copy on Thursday.

Dr Orlagh Gairne and her partner Jerry Knowles leave Ireland for a well-earned holiday on the Aegean Coast of Turkey.   The last thing on their minds is the Belgae Torc, but soon after arriving at their hotel, they are drawn into a world of druid ceremonies and outdated Nazi idealism.
The Phoenix Legion, still reeling from a humiliating defeat just twelve months earlier, is planning the next phase of their quest.  They are in possession of the torc, but this is not enough to ensure total power so they must rely on the combined forces of the druids and the spirit world.

Jack Harrington and his team, whilst prospecting in the Sea of Azov, make an unexpected discovery and with the past weaving with the present they become involved in a deadly race against time.  Spreading his forces thinly, he must keep Orlagh safe from the clutches of the druids, whilst engaging the Phoenix Legion in a deadly battle to save mankind.

Special offer

My novel The Gordian Knot, the second book in The Torc Trilogy will be available from Amazon as a special offer from Thursday 9th February for one week only. The price of the kindle version will be reduced to just 99p or $1.25

Here is a preview.  
The story begins with a prologue then goes back to Berlin 1943 before returning to modern day where the adventure continues.

Part One
Fountain of Life

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me
Exodus 20:3


A beautifully restored Junkers JU52, nicknamed ‘Iron Annie’ lifted her wheels from the tarmac and rose gracefully into the air.  Olga Zindel and her brother Ernst were at the controls, they were both wearing wide grins across their faces. 
‘Iron Annie’ was heavy and slow to react, but she was a pleasure to fly.  Her cockpit contained none of the refinements of a modern aircraft, but that was her charm.  Constructed in the 1930s, she had been designed using flowing lines and curves that were not just aesthetically pleasing but aerodynamically sound.  Her three BMW Hornet A2 liquid cooled radial engines were original but had been extensively overhauled and it was not just her engines that had been refurbished, her airframe had received a thorough examination and now the aircraft was once again fully operational. 
Olga eased the control column gently forward as the aircraft reached its operational height and at 4000 metres, they settled into level flight.   With the engines set for economic cruising, the vibrations running through the airframe subsided and now both Olga and Ernst could begin to relax and enjoy the ride. 
From the windows on the flight deck, they had a clear view over the mountain range that stretched out ahead of them; it reminded Olga of a wrinkled duvet.  The colour of the terrain was as varied as a patchwork quilt; rich greens indicating thick forest and vegetation interspersed with shades of brown and grey where the rocks and sandy soil formed mountaintops and valleys.
With Olga in the pilot’s seat, Ernst sat at the little navigation table situated just after the flight deck.  One of them would have to remain at the controls at all times; ‘Iron Annie’ was high maintenance, she had no autopilot or satellite navigation systems. 
Speaking into the intercom microphone attached to his earphones, Ernst gave his sister a direction heading and she made the necessary changes to their course.  The noise inside the cockpit made communication impossible; the only way they could make themselves heard was by using the intercom system. 
‘Iron Annie’s’ nose was now pointing due east and her controls were set for level flight, her trim was good and she required less muscle to hold her steady.  Glancing over her shoulder at her brother, Olga nodded her appreciation and a wide grin split her face, she would have it no other way.  She loved to fly vintage aircraft and had logged up many hours.  Ernst preferred to fly modern aeroplanes especially jets but he too had hundreds of hours logged flying old piston engined aircraft.
“Well that’s it.”  Ernst spoke into the microphone.  “I’m going to get us some coffee.”
Easing his long legs from the cramped space, he made his way back into the cargo hold and grasping at the overhead rail, ducked under a bulkhead rib before straightening up in the larger space beyond.  The fuselage resembled a long corrugated tube, the walls made from thin aluminium sheet vibrated and rattled especially when flying through turbulence, but this was nothing unusual.
There was only one crate strapped into the hold and reaching down beside it, he unstrapped his satchel containing a thermos flask and neat packs of sandwiches.
Ernst and Olga were a team, business partners struggling to make ends meet.  They were in the airfreight business but their ageing cargo jet would never pass another bill of health.  Their enterprise was sadly coming to an end as was their relationship with their financiers, so it was an opportunity that neither of them could have imagined when an organisation calling themselves the Phoenix Legion contacted them.  The job on offer was too good to miss; it was hardly a difficult decision to make.  On closer inspection, they discovered that a group of executives devoted to everything German ran the Phoenix Legion and both Olga and Ernst were patriotic enough to appreciate this. 
Glancing around the hold, Ernst had to pinch himself; he still couldn’t believe that he was actually flying a Junkers 52.  The level of restoration was breathtaking, it was as if the old aircraft had just rolled off the production line, but ‘Iron Annie’ was in fact older than he and his sisters combined age. 
He eyed the packing case.  Fabricated from wood, it stood waist high with dimensions that made it a perfect cube, but strangely, it looked a little out of proportion.  He wondered what it contained, they had documents relating to its passage, but the contents remained a mystery, the inventory simply stated archaeological artefacts. 
He was aware that the German high command during World War Two were fascinated by ancient treasures, he also knew that priceless items were stolen from Europe during the German advance.  Maybe this case contained such treasures; he frowned as his imagination threatened to run wild. 
Their destination was also a mystery; an abandoned airfield in northern Turkey, but he was professional enough not to ask questions, it was simply his job to deliver the goods.
Squeezing back into the cockpit, he sat in the co-pilots seat next to his sister and poured two mugs of coffee.  Handing her one he then turned his attention to unwrapping the packs of sandwiches.
“What do you think we are carrying?”  Olga glanced at him as she took the mug.
“I’ve no idea.”  He replied.
Usually she didn’t care about such things but today was different and as Olga chewed thoughtfully on her sandwich she had no idea why her curiosity was aroused, she simply had a burning desire to know what was inside that packing crate.  Earlier she had watched from the edge of the runway as men loaded it into the aircraft and it was then that something strange happened.  The hairs on the back of her neck had stood up and she had an overwhelming desire to look inside the crate.
Curiosity was an infectious thing; she was going to have to satisfy it before long.  Olga shuddered as she checked the instrument panel.  One of the engine temperature gauges was a little high and watching it intently, she realised that the needle was climbing slowly beyond the normal operating range.  There was not yet cause for concern but instinctively she reached for the throttle and reduced the revs to that engine.  This would make little difference to their progress and with a slight adjustment to the trim wheel she nodded with satisfaction.
“Just keep an eye on that Ernst, we don’t want to break it.”  She grinned before handing control over to her brother.
They had been in the air for almost two hours and were flying over a barren mountain range with peaks reaching to just over 3000 metres.  It was not a particularly hazardous journey, there were no high winds or pockets of turbulence to send them jerking across the sky.  The aircraft rose and fell gently in the Mediterranean air, the only thing to rattle the fuselage was the vibrations of the engines.   Olga left her seat and stretched her long legs out before disappearing into the cargo hold.  She was not as big as Ernst and was able to move around much easier in the cramped space.  Once she had used the tiny chemical cubicle, which had been added especially for their convenience, she eyed the packing case with interest.  Reaching out she rested her hand on the warm wooden top and could feel the vibrations of the aircraft running through her fingers.  Pulling her hand away sharply it was as if the case was alive and looking around she mumbled something under her breath, embarrassed by her childish reaction. 
She had to know what was inside.  No one would know if she lifted the lid, she would of course replace it once her curiosity was satisfied. 
Moving towards the maintenance locker, she found a small crowbar and used it to prise off the lid.  The nails came out easily and placing it to one side, she began to feel around with her fingers.  Pushing her hands into the packaging, the shredded paper was like straw protecting the items from a hazardous journey. 
Her fingers touched something solid and lifting it carefully from its resting place, she pulled out a silver flask.  There was no indication to its contents and once she had scrutinised it she put it down carefully beside the crate.  Going in again, she found a package wrapped in greaseproof paper.  Unwrapping it carefully her eyes widened as soon as she saw the light glittering from its twisted golden surface.  A beautifully crafted neck ring appeared in her hands and lifting it higher she knew it was priceless.  It was old; she had seen such things in museums, but never before had she held an object of such ancient beauty.  She recognised it as a Celtic torc crafted from finely twisted white gold and she revelled in its magnificence.  Looking closer she could see gold threads woven together to form a rope thicker than her thumb, the quality of the workmanship was exquisite; she had never seen anything so beautifully worked.  Finials of solid gold had been crafted into the shape of horses’ heads; these adorned the ends and a chain so fine she could hardly see the links.  Although delicately made it was strong even after all these centuries and moving closer to one of the windows set into the fuselage, Olga held it up until it caught the light.  She studied the symbols carved into the gold with interest, she had no idea what they meant; its message from the past was beyond her understanding. 
After the initial shock of her discovery, a wide grin settled on her face and she experienced an overwhelming urge to try it on.  It would do no harm to slip it around her neck.  As soon as the idea flashed into her head, her fingers were unfastening the golden chain, and lifting it up she slipped it over her head. 
The weight of it against her neck was satisfying, its significance as an object of power was re-assuring and it made her feel like a queen.  Wearing such a magnificent object, she could now begin to understand how a chief must have felt. The torc represented the wealth of a nation and she was proud to be wearing it even if it was for just a fleeting moment, besides it could have been her own ancestors worshipping the bearer of such a torc.  Turning towards the cockpit, she wanted to show her brother, the power of the torc was intoxicating, she must share it with Ernst.  She could feel its force running throughout her body, it was like a weak electrical current or a vibration against her skin then suddenly from the corner of her eye, she thought she saw movement.  Turning towards the tail section, she knew it was unlikely, there could not possibly be anyone there, but her eyes widened and she drew in a sharp breath.  Standing at the end of the fuselage was a red haired woman dressed in a long white robe.  Olga blinked, it couldn’t be true, in her heightened state of excitement she realised that her imagination must be running wild, but the woman continued to stare.  Vibrations running through the metal at her throat became stronger and the torc began to feel hot.  It was as if it was alive, like a serpent encircling her neck, it drew tighter and the first glimmer of fear touched her soul.  Moving her hands to her throat, Olga tried to lift the torc over her head.  She wanted rid of it, her breath was coming in quick gasps, and as the torc wound tighter around her neck she cried out in panic, but the sound of her terror was lost in the noise of the aircraft. 
The red haired woman moved slowly towards her and with every step, the illusion became more realistic.  Reaching out, her ice-cold fingertips stung Olga’s cheeks and moving backwards Olga almost stumbled.  She couldn’t pull her eyes away from the woman’s stare, her rich green eyes seemed to burn into her very soul and Olga shuddered as evil thoughts filled her head.  She had no idea where they came from but they occupied her mind until she could think of nothing else.
  Suddenly as if unable to support the overwhelming burden, her legs gave way and she struggled for breath.  The woman looming over her reached out and placed her hands on top of Olga’s head.  She could no longer move and as her eyesight began to fade the red haired woman seemed to enter her head, her evil grin devouring her soul and unable to resist, Olga took her final breath.
In the cockpit, Ernst felt the aircraft lurch and his eyes flew to the instrument panel.  The gauge registering the nose engine’s temperature was dangerously high and it no longer sounded smooth.  Gripping the throttle handle, he eased it back reducing power to the engine and immediately the noise began to subside as the engine responded.  Nudging the two remaining throttles forward, he increased the revs to both wing engines and resumed level flight, he then adjusted the trim wheel to compensate for the distribution of power before shutting down the ailing engine.  As soon as this was done, he opened the cowling flaps to allow cool air to rush into the engine compartment; this would help cool the overheated engine before any more damage could be done.  Slowly the needle on the temperature gauge edged away from the danger zone and Ernst sighed with relief, but then another shudder ran through the aircraft.  Suddenly the port wing rose as it rode an invisible cloud of turbulence and gripping the control yoke tightly, Ernst was experienced enough not to fight the aircraft.  Feeling for its movements, he coaxed it gently until the airframe settled down.
“Olga,” he called over the intercom, “I need you here sister.”  His voice was edged with urgency but there was no response.  Ernst frowned, and thinking the worst wondered if the sudden movement had unbalanced his sister, maybe she had fallen.  If she was injured, there was nothing he could do to help her, he had to remain at the controls his hands were full with flying the aircraft. 
Glancing worriedly over his shoulder, he could see nothing beyond the bulkhead separating the cockpit from the cargo hold.
“Where are you Olga?”  He spoke into the intercom again more urgently this time.
Suddenly the starboard engine began to clatter and glancing at the control panel Ernst turned his head to look out over the wing.  Smoke was billowing from the engine cowling, curling back in dirty black clouds over the wing and he could hardly believe what he saw.  There had been no indication that the engine was about to fail.  Instinctively he reached for the fire extinguisher switch and once activated he watched as black smoke turned to grey.  Ernst held his breath, the next few seconds were critical but with a sigh of relief, there were no flames, the extinguisher had done its job.  The temperature gauge was reading normal and the engine was still running, but he would have to close the cowling louvres.  If there were sparks around the engine the blast of air moving over it may fan them into something more serious, however by doing this the engine would soon overheat just like the first one.  All this ran through his head in a second.  Ernst reduced power to that engine and immediately the propeller began to lose momentum.  He checked his altitude, it was holding at just under 4000 metres, the peaks below fluctuated between 2000 and 3000 metres, this gave him an operational height of just a 1000 metres.  It was a slim margin but if the situation did not become any worse, he was prepared to live with it.  He knew that at some point he might have to trade altitude for airspeed, but with the engines in their condition increasing power and trying to climb was out of the question.
He adjusted the inner flap section of the wings, this effectively lowered the stalling speed and now the aircraft should remain airborne even if it lost more momentum then, easing forward on the throttle, he coaxed a little more power out of the remaining good engine.  The nose began to creep round so he applied pressure to the rudder bar to counter the yaw. 
He had no idea what was going on, what had caused the engines to overheat was a mystery; there must be some mechanical anomaly because none of them were running at full power.
“Olga, I really need you now.”  He shouted into the intercom.  His heart was hammering inside his chest and his mouth had gone dry.  Tightening his grip on the yoke, he could feel every vibration running through the aircraft, then without warning the starboard engine coughed and its propeller seized.  Pushing the emergency stop button he shut the engine down before it could destroy itself and damage the aircraft, then pushing the throttle on the remaining engine all the way forward the nose slewed sideways.  Using all of his strength, he fought against the pull and applying more rudder the aircraft began to side slip.  Frantically he searched for somewhere to land, they would not remain in the air for long, the strain on one engine alone especially at full power was too much. 
The terrain below was mountainous and barren, nothing was level and he realised there was little hope of getting down in one piece.  Turning the dial on the radio, he selected an emergency channel and began to send out a mayday.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Working from home has its advantages!

Working in my study on the next book, a psychological thriller about a Cellist called Mia Ashton.
30,000 words now completed so I'm just over 25% done.  Looking for about 120,000 words.

By early afternoon I had arrived at a natural break in the plot so decided to go for a walk, clear my head and seek inspiration.  I live in a beautiful village in the south of England so just a stones throw from my front door I have magnificent views across the fields.  

This is the part of the main road running through the village, views from both directions.

The view from the roadside just after the pig farm.

At the top of the lane this footpath begins.  It goes across the Downs towards the pub about two miles away.  It was along this path that we picked blackberries during the summer.

This lane leads you down behind the village.  Although it was a bright and sunny day, frost remains at the roadside, the temperature just above freezing.

Along here we have beautiful views across farmland.  On a clear day you can see the sea in the distance about ten miles away.

The distant tree line in this photograph is another favourite walk through the woods.  This route leads to another little village pub!

The route back into the village.

This is one of my favourite walks covering about two miles.  Its an ideal forty minute stroll which inspires me to write the next chapter.