Weekend Wind Down – Bad Side of Town

In a modern day Britain where the Roman Empire never left, Dai and Julia solve murder mysteries, whilst still having to manage family, friendship and domestic crises…

The Dog and Onion, was situated at the heart of what counted for the bad side of town in Viriconium. Here small retailers selling dubious items were squashed between nightclubs, gambling rooms and scantily disguised brothels. Above, between and around these were some of the cheapest rooms and apartments to let in the city.
Like most of the business and homes on its street, the taberna was a narrow fronted building which went back a long way. The street itself was also narrow with barely room for two vehicles to pass. Alleyways and car park entrances cut between the buildings, under the tunnel of their first floor rooms.
Most of the buildings were old and ill-maintained. If it had been in Eboracum, Dai reflected, they would have called it something interesting and turned it into a tourist spot, refurbishing the buildings, replacing the sex shops with gift shops, the brothels with fashionable boutiques,  and the nightclubs with eateries of various descriptions catering to broad tastes. If it had been in Londinium they would have gated the road at either end and thrown away the key. But here in Viriconium it provided habitation, employment, and what passed for entertainment, to the lowest strata of society. And any of the rest of society who liked to indulge themselves in such a way.
The last time Dai had been here it had been in broad daylight and then the area had looked grimy, run down and insalubrious. But night time was its element. There wasn’t enough street lighting to illuminate more than patches, but the various establishments made up for it with illuminated signs promising any variety of vice. There were shifting, multi-coloured lights emanating from the same open doors as the zing-tinkle of slot machines, and bursts of loud music as the bouncers opened and closed the doors to the nightclubs. The deep background thump-thump of loud bass beats, accompanied them, like an external heartbeat. The smell was a mix of overcooked streetfood, spilt alcohol, cheap perfume and fresh vomit.
Bryn seemed completely at home and even exchanged reserved nods with a couple of the local denizens. But that was to be expected. It was his job to know this place and fit in. For a moment, watching the older man stride confidently on, turning sideways to avoid a gaggle of half-drunk whores and their present companions, Dai felt a stab of envy. This had been him a year ago, prowling the streets of Londinium with the same superb assurance. But here in Viriconium his role was no longer that of street Vigiles and there were times he missed it badly.
Which was the real reason why, when Bryn suggested he come along, Dai hadn’t protested.
The taberna was busy, but not overwhelmingly so. The two of them managed to spot an empty table which they were heading towards when a large man wearing smartish tunic and trews and an ugly scowl intercepted them, grabbing Bryn by the arm.
“Not a good idea for you to be in here. We don’t cater for your kind.”
“My ‘kind’ being?” Bryn asked politely.
The large man nodded at Dai.
“Well, his kind to be precise. You would do better taking him along the road to the Aureum Pomum. They got things a bit more classy there. We don’t cater that way.”
Then Dai realised and felt an irrational sense of anger. Before he became a Citizen he was forever judged on his lack of status and now he was being judged on an excess of it. Bryn must have felt his mood shift because he smiled broadly at the large man blocking their way, then spoke in a pleasant and friendly tone.
“I suggest you let go of my arm and take your assumptions and stick them in your twll tin. Because you’ve read this so wrong it’s like you’ve mixed up the business news with the sports pages.”
The big man moved, but in the wrong way, and a moment later he was on the ground gasping with Bryn standing over him still wearing a friendly smile. Dai stepped forward and trapped his wrist with one foot, quite casually, as the downed man tried to reach for some weapon or other.
Around them people had pulled back chairs and stools, some edging away and some moving in. The atmosphere was as raw as blood on knife blade and Dai spared a moment to feel grateful they had a wall to their backs. Beneath his jacket he had a nerve whip, the non-lethal Citizen-only weapon, but he was reluctant to draw it here. Instead he shifted his stance to something more defensive.
Bryn was talking to the prone man.
“You must be new in here, fresh from the sticks?”
The man made a muffled grunt and tried to get up. Bryn might have been minded to allow him to, but before that could become clear, the gathering group around them parted and a woman who had to be in her late fifties or early sixties, with a plump figure and hard eyes, flanked by men with hard bodies and even harder eyes, kicked at the prone man quite viciously.
Any possible lingering idea that this was a sweet, rosy-cheeked middle-aged landlady vanished as she opened her mouth and demolished the unfortunate on the floor with a tirade of vicious profanity. When she had finished he seemed to have withered to half his original size and he scurried off, doubled over, vanishing through a door marked for staff use only.
The woman looked around at the audience they had gathered and made a circling gesture with one finger. “Show’s over. You can all get back to your drinks.”
The clientele of the place dispersed to the tables and conversation picked up almost immediately, with only the odd glance cast in the direction of Dai and Bryn to indicate the topic might not yet have moved on.
“So why is it every time you come in here you make trouble SI Cartivel?” The hard tone had gone to be replaced by a warm, friendly one with a hint of flirtation. That last became more obvious as the woman shifted her gaze to take in Dai – slowly, from head to toe. She was so clearly mentally undressing him that for a moment he almost felt naked.
“I wasn’t the one making trouble, Aoife,” Bryn protested. We just came by for a drink and a chat and your man decided to put himself in my face.”
“You’ll be ruining my trade bringing a Citizen in here. But don’t I remember him? Good looking bachgen like that is hard to forget. Isn’t he one of your Vigiles?”
“Something like that,” Bryn agreed easily. “Now about that drink and that chat.”

From Dying on the Mosaics by E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago The seventh Dai and Julia Mystery, set in a Britain where the Roman Empire never left.

Granny Knows Best – Weird Cutlery

Open your cutlery drawer and stare inside. Is there any weird stuff? Obviously I’m not interested in why you keep your vibrator in there.

No what I’m on about is ‘specialised’ cutlery. 

Do you have? 

Soup spoons

Tiny weeny mustard spoons

Steak knives

Fish knives and forks

Pastry forks


Coffee spoons 

If you can answer yes to any of the above I have one question. Why?

I have managed to eat food for the better part of ninety years without resorting to weirdness. Why the fuck can’t you? All you need is a knife, fork, and spoon. And don’t get me started on sporks! 

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Piglock Homes and The Dartymuir Dog – Part the Third

Join Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson as they investigate the strange affair of the Dartymuir Dog…

The cab skittered and rattled over the uneven streets canting at crazy angles as it cornered with injudicious speed. Bearson grasped the cissy strap and hung on for dear life, while the smaller, lighter Homes was thrown about the vehicle like thistledown in the wind. 

Arriving at the station with time to spare, Homes paid off the cabbie while Bearson dashed to the ticket office. By the time the somewhat corpulent bear arrived puffing at the platform, Homes awaited with his pocket watch in one trotter and a large bag emblazoned with the logo of Mrs Miggs’ excellent meat pie emporium in the other. Mrs Miggs’ pies are undoubtedly the best in the city – even if it is unwise in the extreme to enquire what ‘meat’ precisely one is ingesting. 

Espying the hurrying Bearson, Homes strode forward.

“How fared you old chap?”

“Excellent well Homes. I have procured for us a first class compartment until Dumpshire City, where we have to change to a small local line for the last ten miles. On that train I could only procure tickets for a first class carriage.”

Homes clapped Bearson on the shoulder. “Excellent fellow. And now, if my ears do not deceive me, our train approaches….”

Of course his ears did not deceive him and the Pride of the Westcountry huffed into view with her smoke stack belching out a black miasma as her iron wheels clattered on the track. She braked to the beginnings of an ungainly halt and gave vent to an ear-splitting whistle. 

Bearson watched the carriage numbers as the train slowed to a screeching, rumbling stop. 

“We are coach C. Compartment 26. I wonder how far we shall have to walk.”

“Not far Bearson, old chap.” Homes was reassuring – for a reason as it turned out, as the final resting place of the smoke-belching monster put the door to compartment C26 right beside them.

Bearson smiled a wry and reluctant smile. “How do you do that, Homes? Even without knowing what carriage we are to board, you always manage to be standing in precisely the correct place on the platform.”

Homes climbed onto the step and used the weight of his small body to swing open the carriage door. As he disappeared into the compartment he threw a comment over his shoulder.

“Elementary my dear Bearson.”

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week

Jane Jago

The Best of the Thinking Quill – Collective Nouns

Bonjewer mes enfants terribles.

It is one. Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham, novelist, raconteur, social commentator, and world traveller, best famed for my seminal science fiction ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. My life is a procession of tastes, sounds and smells – of which those as limited as your little selves can never hope to be cognisant. But I think of you – even in the social whirl of my new-found sexual liberty I can still find time for those who hunger for my words of wisdom.

Yes my pale and thirsty ones, you need not fear abandonment, your beloved pedagogue and mentor is still here. Here to tackle your little grammar issues with a light hand and a sharp stick. Attend carefully to my words of wisdom as there will be questions later, and those found wanting will be spending time on the naughty step with sore botties.

One of the questions that seems to plague the minds of innocents such as yourselves is the proper way to refer to more than one of anything. Oh, how I hear you squeak with excitement. Oh, how damp are your palms. How your little hearts do go pitty-pat with excitement. But settle down my little ones whilst one inculcates you into the mysterious world of the group noun.

How to Write Right  – Lesson 2. The Write Collective Noun

Even those with such paucity of education as is provided within our state system must be aware that there is such a thing as a group noun – a.k.a a collective noun. You will even have heard of some, like a gaggle of geese, an exaltation of larks, a murder of crows, and an unkindness of ravens. Looking at this exemplar in quartet firm you will surely notice that the group noun takes into account the popular perception of some facet of the behaviour, sound, or character of the creatures it is describing. Hence a daylight robbery of estate agents.

Herewith a short glossary of helpful collective nouns for you to exploit and export to your own writing.

An alligator of tabloid journalists
A Botox of daytime TV presenters
A disagreement of wedding guests
A dissonance of amateur musicians
An elocution of Radio 4 presenters
A fabrication of politicians
A flop of footballers
An irritation of yummy mummies
A perspiration of gym bunnies
A perversion of 1970s disc jockeys
A raucousness of rugger players
A screech of sopranos
A slapfest of adult bridesmaids
An understatement of British Males
A wrinkle of cheap tailoring

One could continue…. but.

Even to minds as understretched as yours, it should be obvious that there will not always be a convenient group noun for your purposes.

The advice in that case. Make one up. As in yourselves – a credulousness of pupils.

Until next. Try not to make too much of a mess of your notebooks. A nastiness of naughty steps awaits those with blotched pages!

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy’s profound thoughts in How To Start Writing A Book courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

Coffee Break Read – Star Dust: 1010

Built upon an asteroid, these mighty habitation towers are the final stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the city thrives — a utopia for the rich who live at the top, built on the labours of the poor stuck below. Starway Pathfinders is a science fiction show that entertains the better off and brings hope to the poor…

He called Joah as he travelled, on the excuse of telling her he had done his bit, but a big part of him needing some reassurance.
“You did good, Dog, really good.” Joah’s face smiled at him as he finished his tale. “We are trying hard as we can to tell people there is no curse, but no one seems to be listening.”
For a moment Dog was puzzled, then he got it and felt a spike of adrenaline.
“I did my best,” he said, “but those guys — they really believe in it.”
“I know. It’s everywhere. And I’m getting worried, Dog. People are saying the whole series is cursed and it’s having a knock-on effect. Now no one is donating to the president’s project, and those that have are trying to get their money back.”
Dog let that thought echo around wherever it needed to before he replied.
“And that about Zarshay?” He showed her the tweak. “It’s just the same crap, isn’t it?”
There was a long pause and Joah’s face blinked away. When she reappeared, she looked grim.
“I didn’t know about that one, Dog. I don’t know where Zarshay is, she’s not answering my calls and I can’t get hold of her.”

Joah woke in the dark, heart thudding, and reached out a hand to the empty space where Zarshay should be. It was the worst time to allow her mind free rein in speculation. She had spent a while trying to convince the nice woman the police sent round to interview her that there was nothing wrong. But she knew she had not succeeded.
“If Ms. Sygma was missing, don’t you think I’d be the very first to report it? She’s my wife.”
“So, where is she? These tweaks say she’s been kidnapped and you say you don’t know where she is — and I can see you are worried. Where do you think she might be?”
“I — I don’t know.”
“You can think of somewhere possible, though?”
Joah could not deny it.
“Below,” she said, her voice hoarse with worry. “She has — had — family down there, somewhere.”
The nice police officer looked gently inquiring.
“But wouldn’t she have told you if she was planning a visit there?”
Joah had tears pricking at the edges of her eyes. “No. She wouldn’t. She knows how I feel about her going there; we would only have rowed, and—” She broke off and blew her nose. “She probably thought she could go and come back before I missed her. Something must have happened.”
The nice police officer looked sympathetic.
“Are you sure you don’t know anything about it? I mean, all these odd things being reported about events at your studio and this silly talk of a curse—”
Joah had erupted then. All her fear channelled into anger.
“How dare you?” she spat, standing up as she did so, her whole body shaking with emotion. “How dare you come here and suggest I’m playing some game around the love of my life? You came to question me — I didn’t call you here. I think she’s just fine. She’ll be home tomorrow. Now get the hell out of my house.”

Star Dust by E.M. Swift-Hook, originally appeared in The Last City, a shared-universe anthology. This version is the ‘Author’s Cut’ and differs, very slightly, from that original. Next week – Episode 1011

Love’s Seasons

I brought my love a golden ring and on it I did write
Words that spoke of love so true and bonded spirits bright
I gave my love that golden ring and with it gave my heart
And we exchanged our soul-sworn vows that never would we part.
And as the winter turned to spring and summer fell to fall,
We wove our hearts as lovers do and answered Cupid’s call.
And as the spring to summer changed and autumn passed to chill
We held each other in our clasp and love grew stronger still.
When summer faded with the leaves my love he faded too
And as the gold gave way to white my love slept ‘neath the yew.
And when the snowdrops pierced the snow, their cold grief pierced my heart
And when the bluebells ‘gan to grow they tore my soul apart.

E.M. Swift-Hook

Weekend Wind Down – New Home

This is the story of what happens when a pragmatist gives in to a romantic impulse. Be warned.
I’m that pragmatist and my name is Alysson Kowalski.
Now that we all know who we are, there’s a couple of things you need to be aware of before you start reading: I swear too smegging much; I couldn’t give a flick what you think of me; and I do expect you to pay attention. Listen up, there may be questions later.

Through the skinny end window of my three-metre square office I watched Jackdaw Court grow from a hole in the ground to something one might call an architectural oddity if one was being kind. That having been said, and almost in spite of myself, I got interested and when the ‘for sale’ boards went up I dropped into the estate agent on my way home.
I sat in my tiny ‘apartment’ (ain’t that a joke: read bedsit with pretensions) ate pizza, and studied the blurb with increasing fascination. It was the tower that got me. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been fascinated by towers, and the idea of living in one really floated my boat.
Not being one to let the grass grow, I was in the estate agent’s prim little office before nine thirty the next morning.
“The tower at Jackdaw Court. When can I see it?”
The over-presented receptionist looked at me as if I was something that had crawled out of the undressed lettuce that undoubtedly formed the mainstay of her meals. I favoured her with my best and most dangerous glare, and she thought better of whatever it was she had intended to say. Instead she made painfully slow progress on her computer. After faffing about for at least ten minutes she made a breakthrough.
“You can see it now” she said brightly. “Mister Brown is free.”
“Well wheel him out then. I don’t have all day.”
She picked up a handset and dialled three digits with a perfectly manicured finger.
“Customer wants to see the tower at Jackdaw Court. Now.” She put the handset down and only just managed not to sneer.
“He will be right with you.”
A middle-aged gent with a bit of a beer belly came out from the back office and smiled at me.
“Paul Brown” he stuck out a hand.
“Alysson Kowalski” I kept my own hands behind my back and his grin actually broadened.
“I’ll just get my car.”
I looked at him sternly. “You could do with the walk.” He winced then grinned.
“As you say.”
It was all of fifteen minutes, even with me needing to slow down for my new friend, but in that time we had sized each other up well enough for no fencing to be necessary.
“I take it” he said genially “that you have all your finances in position and you are in a position to proceed.”
“Yeah. Course I am. But blondie didn’t think so.”
“No. If she had she would have called on one of the thrusting young men who were also sitting in the back office drinking coffee.”
“How’d anything that stupid get a job?”
He grinned and shrugged.
“Yeah. There’s that” I had to admit. “But how does she keep the job?”
“She probably won’t. Especially if I make a sale this morning.”
“Eh? But don’t you make rather a lot of sales? The harmless duffer pose must be worth more than a few bob to the company.”
He grinned toothily. “It is. And I’m probably the most successful salesman in this branch. But you are not my target market. I’m supposed to deal with older people who would be turned off by Ranjit or Ralph – who are both a bit flashy.”
“Well then. I’d probably have wound up breaking someone’s pinky in a handshake. I don’t much care for flashy young men.”
By this time we were rounding the corner to come face to face with Jackdaw Court. Paul Brown visibly recoiled.
“It’s smegging ugly isn’t it” I said conversationally.
“No comment. But if you think that…”
“It’s the tower.”
He must have seen the yearning in my face, as he sprinted to unlock the front door of the tower apartment, which gave access to a flagstoned lobby and a broad stairway that ran up the side of the stone-clad building to the base of the tower proper. We ascended in single file with me in front. When we reached a second locked door Paul passed me a key. I opened up to find myself in a large, light entrance hall.
“Bedroom level. Both are en suite.”
I looked into the first room to find a hardwood floor and white wooden shutters at the window. Nice. The en suite was a wet room with slate walls and floor.
“Master the other side of the hall.” This was bigger and with windows in two walls, but it had the same flooring and shutters. The en suite was a proper bathroom with whirlpool bath, and walk-in shower. Again the floor was slate, but the walls were white composite. I nodded once and preceded Paul up the stairs. This floor was almost entirely taken up with a kitchen cum diner cum family room. The kitchen bit looked fine to me, and the rest was more than fine. Up again we reached the sitting room, which had a big balcony on one side and a tiny roof garden the other. A final bonus was the spiral staircase to a mezzanine level study.
I stood in the middle of the sitting room and considered my options. “Okay” I said. “Take it off the market. I’ll pay the asking price if I can be in inside a month.”

From Jackdaw Court by Jane Jago.

Granny Knows Best – Being Called ‘Dear’

I hate being called ‘dear’

I may be as old as dirt. But that doesn’t make it okay for you to patronise me, or not bother to ascertain my name.

So many times I have ambled up to a plexiglass screen to be faced by a face with a lot of orange make-up and nothing going on behind the eyes, who will then refer to me as ‘dear’ throughout.

I read the other day about an old lady in Utah, who suddenly got out a gun and blew off a bank clerk’s face.

I rather suspect she had been called ‘dear’ once too often 

You can now have a collection of Granny’s inimitable insights of your very own in Granny Knows Best.

Piglock Homes and The Dartymuir Dog – Part the Second

Join Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson as they investigate the strange affair of the Dartymuir Dog…

‘Mister Homes. Please come quickly. There’s murder afoot on Dartymuir. Signed Inspector E. E. Yore.’

Bearson had to admit the words meant little to him, but he was satisfied by the change in his best little chum from amoral turpitude to intellectual rigour. 

Homes showed his teeth in a feral grin.

“You’d be more interested if you read the Thunderer instead of your dreadful publication full of bones and innards.”

He passed Bearson a copy of the newspaper which he had folded to display a headline and and a short article about a series of strange happenings in the wilds of Dartymuir. The headline read ‘Dogged by the Dartymuir Dog’. According to the somewhat sensationalised account, one of the oldest families in the shire was being persecuted to the extent that its scions lived in fear of their lives. That, combined with the Inspector’s telegraph message, certainly seemed enough to pique the interest of the formerly torpid pig.

“Are we off to Dartymuir, Homes?”

“Oh yes. I think so. Consult your Bradshaw’s for train times and have Mrs Cangar pack some hunny sandwiches. I don’t think we will be home for tea.”

Bearson ascertained train times. “There is a fast train leaving at three thirty, but we will scarcely make that one. Or a stopper which departs at five.”

Homes nodded, and Bearson went off to negotiate with their formidable housekeeper. When he returned, coated and booted, Homes was busily ferreting in an old steamer trunk beside the bay window.

“Aha,” he exclaimed, “got you you little blackguard.”

He emerged triumphantly with a large brass whistle on a lanyard, which he hung about his neck.

“Are you not ready yet Bearson old chap?”

“Very nearly Homes.”

“Good man. Do not by any means neglect to bring your service revolver with you.”

Bearson tapped the pocket of his Ulster. “It’s right here, old thing.”

A knock on the door heralded the arrival of their cab.

As they claimed aboard, Homes passed the driver a shilling. “There’s half a crown in it for you if we make the three-thirty train to Dumplingshire.”

The jarvey whipped up his pony and they were off.

Piglock Homes and his sidekick Doctor Bearson will continue their investigation into The Affair of the Dartymuir Dog next week Jane Jago

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