ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

He went through to the kitchen, as good a place as any to sit and wait - there was nothing he could do now but sit and wait. He took the cheesy snacks from the fridge and began to munch on those, his hunger only faint but given an edge by the general unease, the trepidation, working in his system. Uncomfortable in the wooden kitchen chair, he thought of taking the eats through to the lounge, where he could wait in greater comfort. But he decided that it was best to wait there, encounter them there, amidst the tinselly trimmings, sitting behind the cake with its wholly inapt message: "Welcome Home". Or rather "Wel ome Home" with the slice missing that he had cut out.

He took his own welcoming gift from his jacket and laid it down beside the cake, taking the safety catch off. He adjusted the cake so it would be facing the right way round for them when they came in.

He decided to have only a couple of cheesy snacks - they weren't very nice. Twenty snacks later and he wished he had stopped at two. Beginning to feel dyspeptic, he took some milk from the fridge and drank it straight from the carton. Minutes later and he was edgily peckish again. He finished off the wedge of cake he had cut - it wasn't too bad, once you got the taste of it - then cut out another, from the other side, the "H" wedge: "Wel ome ome".

Several hours now he had idled there, much of it spent watching the cricket. Afternoon had melted into evening. The sun had sunk below the line of poplars, burnishing their upper leaves with russets and coppery hues, like an augury of autumn. The screeling swallows were out in force, swarming through the air, scaling up their attack on the late-day insects.

He opened the back door a fraction, to let in the freshening breeze. It carried with it the same bittersweet sounds as before, the birds lyrically vying and faraway the lonely waters trying out their song.

As the time dragged on, on and on, his confidence began to flag, and like hungry scavengers his doubts approached, coming nearer, near, sidling up wary and sly. He began to think idle thoughts of violence, thought idly of killing a man - it was easy, so easy, to think idly of it - and the doubts came, hounding his best intentions, snapping away at them, wearing them down. Just how does a man, an ordinary man, bring himself to kill someone? Is it a frenzy of hate that's required? Or a kind of blindness? How do you steel yourself to doing... that?

"You have to forget. That's the secret of it - forgetting." He remembered the look on George's face as he had said it, the way his features were in conflict, the simple honest frown on his lips battling against his eyes, lying eyes, that wanted to be simple, honest, tried to be, failed. There was something there, a hint of it. Anguish? Remorse? Regret? His expression was like one of those twofold pictures, that was one thing when you looked at it one way, and another when viewed another. The frown and his hard haggard face said it was difficult but necessary, forgetting; the eyes, however, told of no forgetting.

"That's how I dealt with it, anyway," George went on. "Maybe not the others, maybe not your father, but me, certainly. Even back then. Convincing myself that whatever it was I was doing, I wasn't killing a man."

George glanced up at him, though didn't (couldn't?) hold his eye. Instead he gazed past him, through the study window, to the sun-soaked yard and the shed that they had spent the whole morning labouring on, dismantling it, replacing the rotten sections of wood, putting it together again. Christian had helped with the dismantling, fetching and carrying while George repaired the rotten sections, then helped put it together again, holding one wall steadily in place while George bolted or nailed it to one of the others.

"Forward a bit. Bit more. Perfect. No, back a bit. There." George drove one nail in, then another, went to the other end and nailed there too. "Okay. You can let go now."

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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