Today I am joining the Escapists Tours blog tour for Envy by Tim Beeden with an extract to whet your appetite and a chance to win a copy for yourself. Please do check out the rest of the tour.
When Charlie Lightfoot plays his fiddle, people listen.
More importantly, they pay.
It could be that music is Charlie’s way out of a tough life on the Backstreets of Calver.
There are, however, plenty of people who are only too happy for Charlie to stay exactly where he is. Not only that, they’ll do whatever they can to keep him there.
But when Charlie decides to take his future in his own hands, he realises just how far-reaching the hands of others can be.
A story about always keeping your eye on someone else’s blessings.
“Envy is a Seven Deadly and Four novel set in and around the notorious city built on a hill – Calver. Once within the city’s great walls, you’ll encounter such luminaries as Auntie, Drunk Morgan, Mr Lunk, Blind Watch ‘em, as well as Charlie Lightfoot and his friends. Just remember to watch your step, keep your wits about and carry something pointy.”
The Seven Deadly and Four books have been described as “ideal for fans of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.”
Charlie Lightfoot skidded around the corner—fiddle under one arm, bag of coins under the other—and hurled himself down Drinkle Street as fast as his legs could carry him, which at that moment, and given the circumstances, was just about fast enough.
But only just.
He risked a glance over his shoulder as he reached the end of the street and decided his legs might need to carry him a little faster. Through the perpetual gloom of the overhanging buildings and the type of rain which seemed determined to become mist, he could just make out the three odd-sized men who were intent on catching up to him.
And catching up to him they were.
Charlie burst forth from the end of the street as a large stone clattered against the wall where his head had been seconds earlier.
“Ha! Missed!” he shouted.
“It was supposed to!” shouted one of his pursuers. “It was a warning shot. Meant to scare you!”
Well that bloody worked.
Up ahead, three of the most notorious routes through the Backstreets met at a crossroads known as Gamble Point. As in, pick one, take a gamble and see what happens to you.
Something always happened no matter which you picked; it’s just that some of the things that happened were worse than others.
Charlie picked the centre prong of Broken Alley and put shoe leather to cobblestone.
From somewhere behind, he heard the muffled shouts of the three odd-sized men.
“Which one did he go up?”
“How many streets are there?”
“One, two, three.”
“And how many of us?”
“One, two, three.”
“That’s handy ain’t it?”
“Good lords above! You are proper thick!”
“Thanks. I been lifting rocks.”
“Not thick like that, numpty. Thick in the head!”
“Oh. Wait… is that one of them insults?”
“What do you think?
“Sorry to break in to your chat and everything, but shouldn’t we get after him? He had a lot of coins in that—.”
And that was as much as Charlie heard as their words became the grunts, scuffles and wallops of things turning physical.
As he moved on, he smiled. It really wasn’t fair. He knew the rambling streets, alleys, dead-ends and general hotchpotch construction of the Backstreets better than just about anyone in the city of Calver. Once he’d given the odd-sized men the slip, there was no way they’d catch him.
Charlie shook the coins in his bag and once again smiled. The odd-sized men were right—he did have a fair few coins in there. Not bad for a morning’s work. It was market time and that meant plenty of people in and around Lower Calver. He was wondering whether he should drop the coins off with Auntie, then head back out again, when he turned one of the many corners of Broken Alley and slammed straight into a wall.
Charlie fell down on his backside, his fiddle skittering off in one direction, the bag of coins spilling its contents in the other.
The Backstreets were an ever-changing entity – Broken Alley wasn’t its original name but it’s adopted one after so many extra buildings, twists and turns had been added – but he was pretty sure the last time he’d passed this way, there hadn’t been a wall where there now was one.
As he started to stand up, the wall spoke.
“If I was you, I’d stay down there. Arse on the cobbles and all that.”
Charlie looked up.
A huge man loomed over him. Everything about the man was flat. And wide. Indeed, his face was so flat and so wide it seemed as if his features were trying to run away from one another.
From behind the giant stepped an all too familiar figure.
“Hello Dodge,” said Charlie.
“Wotcha Charlie,” replied Dodge.
Charlie eyed the massive man. “See you’ve got yourself a new friend,” he said.
“Oh yes, Charlie. Do you like him?”
“As a wall, I’d say he’s second to none.”
Dodge’s lips parted revealing only a few small, spaced out teeth. It was not a nice smile. It would never be a nice smile.
“He can do other things, you know,” said Dodge. “Show him, Mr. Lunk.”
Mr. Lunk turned around. This in and of itself was a major achievement and seemed to take into account the gravitational pull of the nearest moon. He reached out a massive hand, grasped the door of the nearest building, and with the merest tug, ripped the door and its frame free, leaving crumbling brickwork behind.
“What in the—!” came a confused and incensed shout from inside the doorless house, as the owner emerged from his new hole. He strode angrily into the street, and took one look at Mr. Lunk—the door still clutched in the giant’s meaty fist.
“Never mind, keep it,” he said, before turning around and hurrying back inside. Had he still a door, Charlie thought, he’d have probably slammed it shut and double bolted it.
And then left by the back door.
“Good innit!” said Dodge, skipping from one foot to the other.
“Very impressive,” replied Charlie.
“It’s quite a bit more than impressive. It’s fantastic! Think of the possibilities!”
Charlie didn’t like to think of the possibilities of someone like Dodge being around someone like Mr. Lunk.
“Well, I suppose if you’re thinking of getting into property development, I can see how your new friend might prove pretty useful,” Charlie said, starting to stand.
Dodge moved in front Charlie and scowled.
“You’re making fun of me Charlie Lightfoot. That’s what I’m thinking. In the past, too many people made fun of me. Not now. Not anymore. With my new friend Mr. Lunk, I think a lot of people who used to make fun of Reginald Herbert Dodginton might have cause to think otherwise.”
Charlie lifted himself from the cold cobblestones and brushed himself down.
He’d known Dodge all his life. Growing up on the Backstreets, Dodge had always been around. He always seemed to stay the same age; always seemed to somehow survive, scurrying from one place to another. Charlie knew him well—he knew what he’d done and what he would do to survive. He was pretty low level, but that just meant that he’d mastered how to be low.
“You know me, Dodge,” Charlie said, taking in the looming form of Mr. Lunk. He tried not to think about how easy it would be for the man to tear his arms off, and forced what he hoped was a pleasant smile. “Laughs and jokes—Mr. Easy-going, that’s me. I didn’t mean anything by what I said. Look, how long have we known each other? We’re proper Backstreet lads, aren’t we?”
Dodge spent a moment studying Charlie, his head tilting first one way, then the other. Then another nasty smile split his rat-like features.
“Course we are, Charlie! Course we are. Proper Backstreet lads, that’s us.” He leaned in towards Charlie conspiratorially. “Although, there’s a few round these Backstreets who Mr. Lunk and I are going to pay a visit to. Settle a few scores and all that!”
More than a few, I’d wager. Bet there’s plenty who’ve wronged ol’ Reginald Herbert Dodginton in the past… or at least that’s the way you see it.
Of course, Charlie said none of this. What he did say, as he dusted himself off, retrieved first his fiddle and then his coins from the floor, was: “Well, it was nice to see you again, Dodge. Always good to bump into an old friend. And, Mr. Lunk, it was… nice bumping into you too.”
Mr. Lunk considered Charlie for moment, his face expressionless. Then, in a creeping wave of understanding, his stony features slowly drew towards each other, and he laughed.
“Har, har. That was a joke and it worked and it made me laugh. Har. Har.”
Charlie edged past the giant, a nervous smile plastered across his face and held in place by willpower alone.
“Hang on a minute there, Charlie,” Dodge said.
“Sorry Dodge,” said Charlie, feigning disappointment. “I’d love to talk but Auntie’s expecting me. Duty calls.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t exactly let you go now, can I?”
“Erm, I think you can,” Charlie said edging away.
Dodge calmly took another step forward, blocking Charlie’s path.
“No, I can’t, Charlie. And unless you want to find out what your fiddle sounds like when you don’t have the arms to play it, I’d suggest you stand perfectly still.”
Mr. Lunk navigated himself around in a half circle to face Charlie. His features had since gone their separate ways and the smile had vanished.
“You see, Charlie, as much as it pains me to do so, now that I’ve got Mr. Lunk, I’ve got a reputation to build. You’ll help me build a reputation, won’t you Charlie?”
“I don’t like where this is heading, Dodge,” said Charlie, ignoring the question.
“Don’t worry, Charlie-boy!” said Dodge, giving him a gentle slap on the cheek. He smiled smugly. “Blimey, you should see your face, it’s a right picture! Okay, seeing as we’re old chums and everything, I won’t let Mr. Lunk lay a finger on you. Honest.”
Charlie knew when people like Dodge used the word honest – especially at the end of the sentence – it was only in the vaguest sense.
“That’s good to hear, Dodge, it really is. I—”
“However, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve got a reputation to build as well as an empire.”
Charlie gritted his teeth.
“I don’t think there’s much room for an empire on the Backstreets,” said Charlie. “Bit crowded as it is, don’t you think?”
“Still, I’ve got to give it a go, haven’t I?” said Dodge. “And you must feel some sort of duty to help a fellow Backstreets lad, yes?”
“And how do you suppose I do that?”
“By handing over that bag of coin,” he said, eyeing Charlie’s earnings. “It doesn’t look like much, so I’m sure you won’t miss it.”
“I think I will,” said Charlie, clutching the bag tighter. “Besides, I worked bloody hard for these coins. Some blokes already tried to take them away from me.”
“But Charlie, old pal of mine, you aren’t thinking big enough. Imagine if your small investment was the very thing to kick-start my empire. I’d be forever in your debt. Technically speaking of course.”
“What if I don’t see the business opportunity?” asked Charlie defiantly. “What if I decide I’d like to keep a hold of my hard-earned coins? What then?”
Charlie knew he was pushing it. Whilst Dodge was hardly the worst the Backstreets had to offer, he was still wary. You had to be around here. Always.
Dodge smiled that smile again; the one which hadn’t told the rest of his face what it was doing.
“Charlie, I really thought you’d have a little more sense, I really did,” he said, his disappointment far from genuine. “Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you what might happen when you fail to spot a fantastic business opportunity such as this one. Now, I promised I wouldn’t let Mr. Lunk lay a finger on you, remember that? I even used the word ‘honest’ and that’s pretty much an iron-clad guarantee, as you know I’m a man of my word. The problem is… if Mr. Lunk were to decide – of his own accord, you understand –that he couldn’t help himself and had to lay a finger on you, well… I’m not entirely sure I could stop him.”
If you weren’t looking closely, you probably wouldn’t have seen it, but Charlie was looking closely. He’d grown up looking closely.
So Charlie did see the little nod Dodge gave Mr. Lunk.
The massive man began to lumber towards Charlie—flexing fingers which looked like tree trunks.
“Now hang on a minute, Dodge!” Charlie said, backing away. “You’d do this to me?”
“Not me, Charlie,” Dodge said innocently with an odd glint in his eye. “Mr. Lunk makes up his own mind. Once he has decided on a course of action, it’s like trying to stop a wave from crashing upon the shore.”
Mr. Lunk reached out and, in a motion much faster than Charlie thought possible for a man his size, grabbed a hold of Charlie’s head as if choosing a melon from a market stall.
“Okay, okay,” said Charlie, waving his hands in front of him. “C’mon, Dodge. Tell him to stand down, I’ve got an idea.”
Dodge studied Charlie in that way of his again, his head tilting first one way, then the other.
“Mr. Lunk, as much as I am unable to stop you in your current line of action, if you wouldn’t mind – and remember this is your decision and yours alone –releasing your grip?”
“Eh?” said Mr. Lunk, turning his giant head to look at Dodge.
“Just let him go, would you?” Dodge hissed.
Mr. Lunk dutifully let go of Charlie’s head. If he was unhappy at doing so, it certainly wasn’t shown upon his face, which remained as impassive as ever.
“So what’s this idea?” Dodge said. “And it had better be good.”
Charlie brushed him self-down again, stalling before an idea actually came.
“Why take all my coins now?” Charlie asked.
“Because I want them,” Dodge replied.
“But you’re not thinking like a businessman.”
“I don’t want to be a businessman,” Dodge said. He stood up a little straighter. “I want to strike fear into the hearts of people, and I want to get rich while I do it.”
“And that sounds like a great thing to aspire to,” Charlie said gently, “but what would happen if you took my coins now?”
“I’d have your coins,” Dodge said.
“You would, that much is true,” Charlie continued, “but I’d go out of my way to make sure we never crossed paths again. If there’s anyone who knows these streets better than you, Dodge, it’s me. You caught me off guard once but that’ll never happen again. No more coin.”
“Where are you going with this?” asked Dodge.
“What about a partnership?”
“What, me and you?”
“Exactly,” said Charlie, hoping his sales tactics were good enough. “I give you some of my coins now, and next week I’ll give you a few more. And then the week after that. And so on.”
“And why would I agree to that?”
“Because it makes sense. You’re guaranteed weekly coin.”
Dodge reached up and pinched Charlie by his cheeks. “You know,” said Dodge, “I could just take your coins from you every week. I know where you live.”
Charlie smiled as the smaller man released him.
“That you do, Dodge. But if you’re planning on knocking on Auntie’s door each week demanding money, you’re going to need more than Mr. Lunk.”
Dodge paled at the thought.
“Oh… I don’t think that would be necessary. Not necessary at all. I’d… probably just grab you as you made your way home.”
“Listen Dodge. I’m trying to suggest more of a long-term business relationship rather than you skulking around the Backstreets trying to rob me every day. Anyway, I thought you said there were others round here you needed to pay a visit to. Won’t you be a bit busy to be hanging around, waiting for me to show up?”
Dodge thought it over and glanced up at his partner. Mr. Lunk remained unmoving.
“So… let me get this right,” Dodge said, moving back to Charlie. “Each week you give me some of the coin you earn—”
“—leaving me free to go about constructing my empire with Mr. Lunk at my side. Or rather, in front of me.”
“I’d say so.”
“And how would we set up such a transaction?” Dodge asked.
“How’s about, every Friday, just after happy hour ends in the Rat and Vat?”
“And if you don’t turn up?”
“You have my permission to give your permission to Mr. Lunk to pop my head like a pimple.”
“And what do you out of this deal?” asked Dodge again.
“Aside from still being able to wear a hat when it rains, not a lot, I’d say.”
Dodge wrung his hands, still contemplating.
“All right then,” he said after a moment, and then stepped aside. “The more I think about it, the more I like this new agreement.” He clapped Charlie across the back. “You do understand the whole threat of violence thing didn’t sit very well with me, don’t you? I mean, I thought I’d try it out—it’ll be my main tool going forward—but my heart sank when I saw it was you who’d bumped into Mr. Lunk. I’m glad you’re such a quick thinker, Charlie, I really am. Me and Mr. Lunk look forward to a long and prosperous future dealing with you.”
Dodge put his hand out and Charlie shook it, but just as he was about to let go, Dodge pulled him in close. And Dodge up close was not a good thing.
“But remember, Mr. Charlie Lightfoot, it’ll take more than quick-thinking if you decide to double cross me. You will remember that, won’t you?”
“Of course, Dodge,” Charlie said, pulling his hand free. He reluctantly reached for the bag clutched beneath his arm and pulled the drawstring, but before he could get any coin from inside, Dodge had snatched it from his hands. He tipped a sizable share into his and threw the bag—now significantly emptier than before—back to Charlie.
“Well then, that’s all lovely!” he said, smiling again. “Say goodbye to our first business partner, Mr. Lunk.”
“Goodbye, funny man,” Mr. Lunk said without as much as a look at Charlie.
Dodge clapped Charlie on the arm a final time and began to walk away, with Mr. Lunk following slowly in tow.
“Every Friday, just after happy hour ends in the Rat and Vat,” he shouted back over his shoulder, “I’ll be waiting!”
Charlie let out a breath he didn’t realise he’d been holding and made his way back home on legs which were only somewhat steady.
Tim Beeden is someone who likes to make things up. Things like stories, ideas and friends. He’s lived a varied life, has had thirteen different jobs and will one day work out what he wants to do (aside from living in a cabin in the woods of Denmark). He loves to travel and is utterly convinced he’s part Viking (much to his wife’s continual annoyance).
His Seven Deadly and Four books will (eventually) consist of eleven books, each one named after one of the seven deadly sins and four last things. To date, he’s written Greed (a story about two hapless brothers, a precious stone and a host of characters who have worked out what’s important in life and are now trying to take it from someone else) and his latest book, Envy.
He’s married with one child and has a dog whose ears are too big and legs are too short.
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