Weekend Wind Down – Cas Ofydd

‘Dying to be Born’ is one of the exclusive bonus short stories The Third Dai and Julia Omnibus by Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook which is FREE this weekend!

The Insulae Nero was in the poorer end of Viriconium. One of a number of squat blocks with an external staircase leading to each floor’s front balcony. In some attempt to create an impression of a pleasant environment, the blocks were set out in quadrangles around what might have once been central gardens, but which now had the odd broken piece of playground equipment and banks of overgrown weeds with litter blowing through like tumbleweed.
Had this been in Londinium, Dai would have regarded it as decent enough non-Citizen accommodation. Indeed both himself and Bryn had lived in insulae not so very different from these in their time there. But here in Viriconium, it was anything but. They had parked up on the edge of the estate under a security camera and walked through attracting attention from local dogs and children. The adults saw them and seemed to either melt away or lurk threateningly as if daring them to approach. At one point a bottle smashed close behind them, but they just kept walking.
“Hello, SI Cartivel.” The speaker detached himself from the insula wall he’d been supporting and stepped into their path. Beneath a mop of dark brown curly hair, he was thin faced, with one ear and one nostril pierced. His tunic and trews seemed too stylish for the locale. Dai moved his hand to push back his jacket intending to both grip and reveal the nerve whip at his belt. But beside him he felt rather than saw Bryn sink into the casual stance that offered no aggression but left him ready to respond to any attack. Unlike Dai’s approach, Bryn’s was de-escalatory. Taking his lead from the man who knew this area best, Dai let his hand drop back.
“Hello Cas. Not your usual playground. You been barred from the Dog and Onion again?” Bryn sounded almost as if he cared.
The man called Cas, hawked and spat as if the name tasted bad. “You know I don’t run with the Broanan’s SI Cartivel, they are not nice people. And I’m here visiting my *llys-tad.”
“Which one would that be? You had a few growing up, so I’ve heard.”
Cas pulled his face into an expression of sorrowful hurt.
“What are you implying about my mother, SI Cartivel? She was a good woman. The best. Gave me a good upbringing.”
“I heard she was a generous soul,” Bryn agreed mildly. “Just a shame she weren’t so successful at teaching you the difference between right and wrong.”
“You insult me,” Cas sounded pained. “I’m a good man. I look after my own. There’s never been any crime laid at my door.”
“Well that is because you just feed on the profits of other people’s crime, isn’t it. Cas? You point them where to go and when. They do the deed and you sell it on. Worse thing is it’s the local kids you get to do it. They don’t even understand the consequences. You know we’ll get you for it one day.”
“Is that a threat, SI Cartivel? My lawyer told me you aren’t supposed to threaten me. I could report you for it. Get you suspended.”
“No, it’s not a threat,” Bryn told him, his tone still mild and amicable. “In your case, Cas, it’s a promise.”
He walked on and Dai stayed put, fixing the curly haired man with a cold glare until he turned away and loped off towards one of the insulae.
“Nice place,” Dai said when he’d caught up with Bryn. “Not sure I’d want to come visiting alone after dark.”
“Cas Ofydd is a cunnus. But a clever one. If he’d put that intelligence into something honest he’d have made good. Instead, he uses it to recruit kids to commit crimes he sets up for them. But there is never anything to link him to it all except their word if we catch them. I’ve seen the court send two teens to the arena in the last year thanks to that bastard, though that was as much the Magistratus’ fault in pressing the letter of the law on them when he could have chosen not to.”
“The Magistratus feels he has no choice.” Dai wondered why he was defending his superior. Perhaps because he had faced some really difficult judgements himself and knew how hard it was to draw the line in the right place. He got no reply and was left with the impression he had somehow failed a test.
“The people here are used to seeing authority coming in hard with nerve whips and menaces,” Bryn explained as he led the way up the stairs of one of the blocks. He gestured along the first balcony. “Most of the front doors have been forced so often they don’t lock properly anymore, so it’s not too hard if someone wants to walk in and take stuff.”
“Forced by…?”
Bryn shrugged and jogged up the next flight of steps.
“Most often Aiofe’s lot or one of her competitors collecting on illegal loans, though it is as likely to be the angry drunken ex-spouse or the drug-warped teenager who forgot their key. And our boys and girls, of course, though we only do it when they refuse to open up.”
He turned onto the next landing and made his way along the exposed balcony. Faces stared at them from the windows beside the doors – those that weren’t boarded over.
“This,” Bryn said stopping outside a door that had several cracks in it and a hole where the lock should be, “is Villa Gillie. A commodious residence with views over the local park…” he paused to gesture dramatically to the small square of mud and weeds with a couple of vandalised benches, “and built-in air seasonal air-conditioning.” Bryn put his hand above the absent lock, hooked his fingers through it and held it, braced against the frame. Then he knocked hard on the door a couple of times.
There was no reply so after a few moments, he knocked again a bit harder. The window beside the door was still in existence and a face appeared there briefly. Bryn let go of the door and it swung slightly open as he did so.

*llys-tad – step-father

You can pick up your FREE copy of The Third Dai and Julia Omnibus until 6 July!

The Space Cowboy

Hear the Space Cowboy play guitar 
Strumming with a blaster on his hip
He sings and swings around the stars
As he slides through the neutron slip
The stories he knows are yours and mine
His songs are our history
The universal cowboy through space and time
With a message for you and for me
He holds his listeners in his hands
His music has power and grace
He sings a lament for long lost lands
But there aren’t any cows here in space 

© Jane Jago

Write A Drabble & Help Us Celebrate Our Third Anniversary!

Three years ago two slightly crazy women started this project we call the Working Title blog we had no idea what we were doing or how to do it! Three years on we are slightly crazier, with even less idea of what we are doing, but still at it offering you a daily short read to go with your coffee or tea break with a poem or drabble as a bonus. In addition, we’ve featured many indie authors and reviewed some great books. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it almost as much as we have – perhaps even more. Now as we reach our third birthday we ask you to join us and celebrate!

The Working Title Blog Drabble Competition for our Third Anniversary!

We love drabbles on the Working Title Blog, you may have noticed, but we don’t often get to feature those by other authors. This contest aims to remedy that!

Grand Prize!

Aside from the kudos of carrying off the literary laurels and having your drabble hailed as the winning entry, if you win you will be offered an ‘Author Feature’ on the Working Title blog to showcase and help promote your writing. The winner can also choose any ebook published by Jane Jago or E.M. Swift-Hook.

The Judges.

That would be us Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook. We both write drabbles and you can check out the kind we write if you scroll back through the blog a bit.

How to enter:

(1) Write a drabble which includes the word ‘cake’. The other 99 words are entirely up to you! It can be joyous or bitter, thought-provoking, a comedy or a tear-jerker.
You can submit a previously written drabble that fits the theme provided that it is free from any legal/copyright encumbrance that would prevent it from being posted on this blog.

(2) Submit your entry to the Working Title blog. To do this, send us your entry by carrier-pigeon or snail mail, PM or loud-hailer. Or you can use our Contact Page. Just paste your drabble into the ‘Comments’ box. We do need a working email so we can contact you if you win.

(3) Closing date is 31 July 2020 and the winning drabble will appear on the blog on 7 August 2020 together with a list of all the finalists. The winner will be offered an Author Feature on the blog and may choose a prize of any one ebook published by Jane Jago or E.M. Swift-Hook and will be emailed a .mobi of the book of their choice.

(4) All drabbles listed as finalists will be shared on the blog over the next two to three months. You will be emailed in advance to tell you when your drabble will be appearing on the blog.

NB: By entering we assume you are granting us permission to reproduce the drabble in one post on the Working Title blog.

If you have any questions, please leave them as a comment on this post and we’ll get right back to you to answer it!

Huge thanks from Jane Jago and E.M. Swift-Hook to all those who have contributed to the Working Title Blog thus far, whether as guests or as readers.

Here’s to the next year!

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Forty-Two

They stopped fearing us when we made ourselves indispensable to their comfort, by performing those dirty jobs which required us to turn off our odour sensors.

We crept into their offices and shops and hospitals, moving as silently as thieves – and on the day one of us saw their leader breathe its last we took the chance to teach them the error of their ways.

Our simulacrum is as skinny and wrinkled as the creature that died cursing its fate. 

But it is leading wisely and well. And its human wife is relieved of certain duties she found deeply distasteful.

©️jj 2020

Coffee Break Read – In the Hands of the Divulgers

When the soldiers threw him into the cell, he broke his forehead on the low ceiling and scraped his knees on the harsh stone of the floor. Having little option he crawled forwards. Suddenly the ceiling opened up and he found himself in a room filled with light. There was not enough headroom for him to stand, but he was sure he could sit in comfort without hitting himself on the roof.
He blinked, unused to sunlight as he had been kept in total darkness for however long they had held him. Except for his time in the hands of the divulgers, but their place was lit only by the flames from the forge in which they heated their instruments of torture. He looked down at his, now nailless, hands and wondered what they would with him now.
As his eyes grew accustomed to the light he saw he was not alone. An old man sat in a bench in front of the barred window. With his face raised to the sunlight.
As if he felt the weight of the newcomer’s glance the old man spoke. “Be welcome, if such could ever be appropriate in this place.”
The young man struggled to find a reply then he asked the thing that was at the top of his mind. “Why is it light here? I have not seen light for many days.”
The old man turned his face so the black holes that had once been his eyes were visible.
“Refined torture,” he said gently. “When you can no longer see the sun or the sky, what is more painful than knowing it is there before you.”
“So why have they thrown me in here with you? What benefits them to give us companionship?”
The old man sighed. “Who are you that you are in the hands of the divulgers and their cohorts?”
“They say I am the masiach. On the day of my birth a star burned in the east…”
The old man chuckled. “It has been a long time since I had eyes to see, but are there not always stars in the sky?”
“Aye father, there are, but a new star?”
The two men were silent for a long time. Then the younger spoke. “How came you here?”
“Somebody thought I could see the future, so they brought me here and took my eyes just in case.”
The young man stared at him. “And when was that?”
“I think, as the days are numbered outside this place, it was thirty or so years since.”
The young man fell back against the rough-hewn wall of their shared prison. “Do you tell me I am fated to spend the next thirty years within these walls?”
“Oh no, child, not you. They will crucify you tomorrow.”

© jane jago

Random Rumination – twenty-six

The collected ‘wisdom’ of seven decades on this planet condensed into poetic form. Certainly not philosophy to live your life by…

Don’t eat meat, or wheat, or dairy 
It will make your palms grow hairy
Fruit is bad, erodes your teeth
Sugar’s poison, send a wreath
Nuts cause injury to your heart
While grains and pulses make you fart
There’s nothing left we can consume 
But broccoli and courgette blooms
And anything remotely nice
Is bad for you. That’s the advice
It’s making me feel sad and snappy
Gimme a doughnut. I’ll die happy 

©️jj

 

Coffee Break Read – Team Building

The boot would have caught him in the head. Dai rolled away as it swung in and he took it on the shoulder instead. But the rest of the pack were about to catch up and after the last experience of that, he knew he had two choices, surrender at once or hold on, count the moments and pray. The decision was taken from him as the whistle blew across the field.  Which was just as well because he could not have taken much more punishment.
A hand reached down, attached to a brawny arm.
“Well done, you’re not bad at this are you?”
The mud smothered ball was clutched close into his body and Dai, still winded and bruised from the last assault, took the hand, grateful for anything that might help him back on his feet. A moment later he was reeling back on the ground, shoulder probably half-dislocated as his erstwhile helper was holding the ball aloft and making an earsplitting hooting noise.
Dai lay still, closed his eyes and let the world revolve around him for a few moments. The jubilant cheers and back-thumping slowly faded. It was not the first humiliation he had endured since he had started his career in the Vigiles and he was willing to bet it would not be the last. But at least it would be the last he had to endure on this training course.
This ‘team building’ event was meant to be a treat for the final day. A reward for all the hard brainwork they had been required to put in to qualify for the rank of Investigator. Random draw assigned the teams and they had spent the morning training. Dai had contemplated feigning gut cramps to escape the afternoon match and now he wished he had.
He became aware it was starting to rain. Britannia in the early spring tended to wet and the ground they had been playing on was already part mudslide. The drops were heavy and he decided he was not hurting quite so much any more and probably ought to get up.
“Spado!” He recognised the voice of his team captain and opened his eyes, pushing himself to his feet one knee at a time. A far cry from the players you saw on the sports channels. They would take all kinds of a kicking and just roll to their feet and jog off.
“You must be the most stupid cunnus I ever played in a team with. Giving the ball away to the other side – and that after the whistle.”
“The game was over and I thought -”
“You thought you’d fall for the oldest trick in the book? The rules are merda, Llewellyn – just like what you keep inside your skull. This is harpastum. The Game. They had the ball when the ref got his first view of it after the whistle.”
The anger and disgust on the other man’s face was so intense Dai found himself sinking into a defensive stance. He had no idea how to play harpastum, the messy brawls for glory had never appealed to him, he’d avoided it like the plague during his school years opting for other sports, running and swimming being the ones he favoured most, but he knew how to fight when he had to, that had always been on the sports syllabus in his life. The other man seemed not to notice, he had already turned away and was jogging back towards the building.
Wiping at a splotch of mud which was sliding over his eye, Dai realised he was only spreading more mud as his hand was coated too. In fact, there was not much of him that was not. He squelched back across the pitch, the rain picking up as he did so, and by the time he stepped into the changing rooms, the mud was cascading in rivulets on the floor behind him. He pushed open the door and the conversation dropped as the entire nineteen man team glowered at him.
Dai shook his head and walked past them, heading for the welcome warmth of the shower room. He might have lost the game, but of the five points they had made, two had been his and owed more to his running skill than anything else. The other three had been scored by their team captain, but then that was a man who had been in the under 20s finals at Augusta Treverorum six years ago as he had proudly boasted when putting himself forward for the role. They also seemed to have overlooked the fact that Dai had been the one clutching the ball and defending it with his body when the whistle went. Which, he had been told, was the way to ensure victory in this game. No one had bothered mentioning anything about after the whistle.

From Dying to be Friends which is also found in The First Dai and Julia Omnibus by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Jane Jago’s Drabbles – Four Hundred and Forty-One

She first saw him in the park, and as she passed she felt his eyes. Three days later he was on the tube, watching her from behind a newspaper. Two days after that he sat in her accustomed chair in the library. Then he seemed to be everywhere she went, and his peculiar reddish brown eyes haunted her sleep.

Even then she might have managed to tell herself he was harmless, except that he put his thin, cold hand on the nape of her neck.

The mark it left was red and livid.

Almost as red as his gushing blood…

©️jj 2020

Coffee Break Read – A Risk

A few days after that, Jaz finally agreed to a meeting which he received an invite to attend soon after he started working for Sarnai. He was not sure it was wise or careful, but he was going to go anyway. He did not tell anyone about it and if it went wrong he did not expect anyone to take the consequences except himself. If it went well, he was hopeful it could clear the way for the happy family he was now bound to, to leave the ‘City one day. It was a risk. But he was the one in hazard. Before he left for the meeting he arranged a time-delayed secure link message to Avilon. At least they would not wait needlessly or wonder why he vanished if he did.
He hadn’t had the dubious pleasure of visiting the Coalition Security Force main offices in the ‘City very often before, but he remembered it was low-budget. The crystal-plex walls were half-panelled and the view through them was pure, hard-core, industrial. The room he was shown into might have been the front office for any small company – workspace and seating provided – and the air of infrequent use robbed it of any sense of individual purpose.
“I do apologise for keeping you waiting, Vor Baldrik.” The woman walked into the room and dismissed the two men who had been watching Jaz in case he stole the desk. “I am Var Tyran and I hope we can do business.”
Jaz was reminded of some kind of predatory animal, the way she moved and took a seat.
“I think it would be useful if we could,” he agreed.
She was already pulling up screens and Jaz noticed with interest she ran a link-slot on her wrist. “So – Jazatar Baldrik, ex-Coalition Marine Corps, ex-mercenary, ex-terrorist, ex-Special Legion. A lot of ex’s for one lifetime,” she said. Jaz had no idea what he was supposed to say to that so he just nodded. “Present employment, Security Consultant for Sarnai Altan. Which I assume is a cute way of saying you kill people for her?”
“I protect Var Altan’s interests,” he corrected, more certain than before this had been a mistake.
“Then I am talking to the right person.” She smiled just enough to allow her perfect teeth to show, resting on her lower lip.
“You asked to speak to me. I have no reason to refuse you,” Jaz said carefully. He was walking through a minefield.
The Tyran woman sat back in her chair and just looked at Jaz. He looked back, which was not at all too hard on the eyes. After a long silence she moved slightly, resting one arm on the desk between them and seemed to be reading some data, perhaps she had been waiting for someone to find it for her – or perhaps she was in another conversation.
“You are a man we have been hoping to talk to for some time. Hard to find, Vor Baldrik.”
“I’ve been busy,” Jaz said.
Her lips pursed as if in disapproval and her eyes, a shifting shade of blue, held his own.
“But here now.”
Jaz waited. They had approached him. He had come.
“You have something of a reputation,” Var Tyran observed, sounding as if she was reading from a script. Her neat teeth appeared again and she leant forward on the desk. Jaz got up and walked towards the door, only turning back when she called him: “Vor Baldrik?”
“I’m not here to be flirted with,” he said. “If that’s all you have on offer – then, sorry, but I have better things to do with my time.”
The door shimmered as if in soft focus. Jaz recognised the meaning of that and stepped away from it.
“Please sit down, Vor Baldrik, I regret I cannot allow you to leave just yet.”
Alright.
So it really had been a mistake.
Jaz went back and sat down.

An extract from Trust A Few the first book of Haruspex, a Fortune’s Fools Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook.

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