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ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

"Of course, first I've got to find it," George muttered to himself. He looked in the drawers and cupboard sections of a large writing desk, only ever half-opening them, peeping shyly in. He lifted down two shallow boxes from a shelf and took the lid off each in turn, again looking in in a shameful, secretive way. The study was George's personal domain, his hallowed ground, where even his wife wasn't allowed to tread, only his son sometimes and Christian; every drawer in it and box and oddment was a shuttered window opening onto the graveyard of his heart, and each and every time Christian had been there George had been this way, timid, cautious, wary of flinging open the wrong window and giving a view of a part of his heart never meant for anyone but himself to see.

Giving up on the boxes, he switched his attention to the other end of the shelf and a set of leather-bound scrap books there, lying flat, a pile of old newspapers stacked haphazardly on top. George reached up and tried to lift the scrap albums down without taking the papers off first, jerking the albums back and forth, getting the papers to inch back, then with a hack magician's flourish whipping the scrap books away, the old tablecloth trick. It didn't work: the newspapers fell, catching the boxes on their way down, sending all of them scattering over the floor.

"Bloody hell," he fumed, setting down the albums then bending to gather up the paper and newspapers. Christian, bending to help, was rebuked at once. "I can manage," George snapped. He had his back to him, shielding the newspapers, but standing almost over him Christian still managed to see three or four. One of the ones near the bottom, partly covered, bore the broken headline: Girl Found Drowned In Sa-... -iver. Below the headline was a photograph, mostly obscured, with only the pale brow showing and one eye, gazing out impassively from the ruined past. The newspaper lying on top bore the legend: Briggs Found Guilty of Girl's Murder. There was a photograph there too, a small one set within the type of the article, a lurid print snap of Briggsy, clearly chosen for being unflattering: his hair was swept back and slick, and there was an arch, vampiric grin on his bleached-out face.

"I really must," George said, standing, cramming the newspapers and boxes back on the shelf, "get organised in here one day." He grinned rather weakly, red-faced, an effort to show that it was all nght, that really it didn't matter that Christian had seen all those newspapers with their ghastly stories that were hoarded in the study. "There's a lot of good stuff buried away in amongst all this junk. Real gold. Like for instance, this article I'm looking for, if I can but find it." He opened one of the scrap albums and started thumbing through the photographs and newspaper articles gummed inside, and magazine adverts and pages from books and photocopied pages. He held the album only fractionally open, keeping his arm at an odd crooked angle to obscure the page lying flat.

Christian went across to the window, stood there in the angle of sunlight, with his back to the other man. On the window ledge, wedged in place between the lintel and a cracked china vase, sat a bundle of variously sized letters, all done up in a pretty pink ribbon in a bow. He flicked unobtrusively through them, to see what they were: love letters, from George to his once-sweetheart, now wife.

"If you ever do get round to sorting this room out," he said, carefully setting the letters back, "then give me a shout and I'll give you a hand. I'm sure there's a lot of stuff here that'd be of interest to me."

"Thanks. But there are a lot of things I wouldn't want anyone seeing but me."

"Have you still got my father's letters?" Christian asked. "You always promised to let me have them. I'd like to see them, if you've still got them."

"They're not very nice. Most of them were written just before he... - before he shot himself. They're all a bit bleak and senseless." The sound of the pages being turned, behind Christian's back, ceased for a time. It started up again, one page, two, three. Then George sighed, a laboured sigh, slapped the album shut with a lusty whomp! and said, "Beggared if I can find it. It's in one of these somewhere, I'm sure of it. I'll root it out some other time. Or is it - no, maybe it's in... oh, hell, I don't know where it is." He laughed curtly, unembarrassedly at himself.






Available for purchase now

Buy the e-book version of Dead Men's Fingers online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

The novel is also available as part of an omnibus edition with Sheldon's other novels, Delhi Deadlines and Virtually, via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).



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