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FUTURE TENSE

by

Frank Almond


Chapter 1

I hadn’t seen Emma since the night they said I murdered her. But even though her back was turned to me and she was wearing what I can only describe as a Jane Austen dress, I just knew it was Emma standing by that window. Something about her bright brown hair, the way she stood–her whole aura–told me that I was looking at the real Emma Gummer. And it was such a relief to see her again that all the doubts and horrors I had been through simply melted away. At last we were together. I closed the door discreetly behind me–things were likely to get pretty steamy.

"Em?"

She jumped. "Sloane! Would you mind telling me what the hell is going on? Why am I a prisoner?"

I laughed. "You’re not a prisoner."

"That door was locked!"

"Was it? Oh."

"Yes–it was! Something very odd’s been happening." She pushed up her fringe with her hand, and looked a little lost for moment. "I don’t know how I got here–"

"I can explain everything."

"Oh really? This had better be good. Well?"

"You’re pregnant, Em."

"What–? How do you know?"

"Believe me, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you."

"Try me." She folded her arms.

"Well, I was there when we, um"

"Just tell me how you know–because I certainly haven’t told anyone."

"It’s a really long story, Em. Can’t we just–?"

"I’m waiting." She tapped her foot.

I didn’t want to tell her–I knew how mad it was all going to sound. I took a deep breath. "All right–my father’s a time traveller from the fourth millennium and he’s immortal–it sort of runs in the family–"

"Oh, puh-leeze!"

"No, listen, Em–it’s the truth. I swear. The future’s controlled by a puritanical police state and they keep sending these–these robot things back through time to erase me–and anyone connected with me–"

She covered her ears with her hands and shook her head. "I’m not listening."

"No, Em–I know how it sounds, but–"

"Sloane, I’m not in the mood!"

"Emma–they know that’s my child you’re carrying! But there’s no need to look so worried–they can’t get you here. It’s about 1800, I think, and this is my old man’s place, Duckworth Hall. His name’s Sir Julian Duckworth and he's fabulously rich." I laughed, nervously. I was getting some very strange looks from her. "Yeah, he-he only looks about nineteen–you wait till you meet him, Em. Ah-ah. We call him the Duck because he kind of quacks when he laughs, but his real name’s Zebulon Zirconion and he’s a Doctor of Temporal Engineering, and, I mean, he’s obviously a lot older than nineteen–although, technically, he hasn’t even been born yet. Do you want me to go on? What?"

"You must think I was born yesterday."

"No. You won’t be born for another two hundred years. You see, as I was trying to explain, this is–"

She pushed me aside and looked around the picture rails.

"All right. That’s enough. Where’s the camera? This is one of those stupid reality TV shows, right?"

"No. I’m not joking–this really is the past. There’s a lot of other stuff I could tell you, but I won’t scare you with all that right now. All that matters is you’re safe–and we’re having a baby!"

"Correction–I am having a baby." She barged past me again.

"Well, that’s what I meant." I slumped down on the bed. "Now, do you think you could come to bed, love? I haven’t–you know-er-seen you since the third millennium." I scratched my head. "Although, since this is the past, I suppose the last time I actually saw you was the first time I met you. Ha-ha. Remember when we met, Em?"

"I remember when I dumped you!" She was still looking round the room for a hidden camera. She looked behind an old oil painting of a horse.

"Yes, but in view of the circumstances, I thought we could forget that little blip and move on."

"Forget the spin, Sloane–I have moved on." She sounded cold and distant, and kept searching. "That’s why I’m not playing any more of your little games!" She said it loudly, as though she thought others might be listening in.

"There’s no one there, Em." I patted the empty space next to me. "Please come to bed."

"That would be unethical," she said, stooping down to look under it.

"Unethical? You sound like one of them! How long were you in the future?"

She checked behind the dressing table mirror. "It’s over, Sloane. Get over it."

"Sometimes a thing has to be broken before it can be mended," I said. I got up and tried to put my arms around her. "Let’s mend our love, Em… you’re expecting our little baby."

She shrugged me off. "Don’t remind me. Now, where’s the camera crew?"

"Don’t remind–? There isn’t one. I’ve been to hell and back looking for you! The police think I murdered you and my so-called best friend–Matthew bloody Turner–says the kid’s his and the two of you have been at it behind my back! You haven’t, have you, love?"

She spun round and slapped me hard across the face. All in one swift movement. And it bloody hurt!

"I’m getting a cab back to London!" she screamed–in my face–and stamped towards the door.

I jumped up in front of her. "No–listen, I mean, you can’t! The only cabs round here use real horsepower and take three days."

"Get out of my way, or I will kick you very, very hard."

"Emma, please–in that dress?"

"Get out of my way!"

"Just let me explain–"

There was a ripping sound and I felt a sharp pain in my shin.

"Aunt-Blood-y-Nor-a!"

I tried to hop away in retreat, but she hooked her ankle around the back of my standing leg and pushed me over. Then she tore open the door. The Duck, who had obviously been listening through the keyhole, tumbled into the room.

The Duck and I were now both lying flat on the floor, looking up at a startled Emma. She suddenly realized the Duck was looking up her torn dress, and quickly covered the split.

"May I present my father, Sir Julian Duckworth," I said.

"Charmed," smirked the Duck, extending a hand up to her.

Emma was so surprised to see the elegantly dressed youth fall at her feet, that she almost accepted it. She recoiled.

"What am I doing?" She picked up her skirts, skipped over the Duck’s legs and fled down the hall. "You’re mad! All mad!" she cried.

I tried to go after her, but the Duck grabbed my ankle.

"Let her go, mate–she won’t get far," he said. He used my trouser leg to haul himself up, adjusted his big red spectacles and flicked his ponytail straight. "I’ve told my staff not to let her off the estate."

"Every time you’re around, my life goes down the toilet." I rubbed my shin. "Have you noticed that? You’re like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s bloody dog!"

"Hey?"

"The mutt was called Flush."

"Charming. But if I know Lizzy she meant a hot flush, mate–not a wet one. Racy filly that Lizzy Barrett. You know, I nearly got off with her once at one of old Coleridge’s, er, parties–what a night that was–if those harpsichord strings hadn’t snapped, I might have been in there–I was nearly up the pleasure dome."

"Is this leading anywhere? Only I’m in a hurry–I’d like to catch up with Emma and explain why my father looks like my kid brother."

"Ha-ha, no, I mean–we’re young–full of high spirits–plenty of time to play the field yet–come here. I want to show you something, son."

"Can we please drop the ‘son’ bit?"

He closed the door and led me over to a writing bureau. He pulled a secret lever somewhere in the back of a drawer, and a decanter of wine and two glasses popped out of a hidden compartment. "Glass of Madeira, me dear, uh, mate?"

"You know, this was not the reunion I had in mind," I said, as the Duck did the honours.

"I know what you had in mind," smirked the Duck, handing me my wine, while raising his to his mouth to guzzle it down.

"I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about love," I said.

The Duck sat on the edge of the bed and bounced up and down. "Yeah-yeah. This brings back a few happy memories," he laughed. "Anyway, there’ll be plenty of time for all that lovey-dovey stuff later–we have a mucho problemo, old son–ah-ah! Old son–get it?"

"Yes, I get it, father. And you can forget it."

"Forget what? I haven’t said anything yet."

"You don’t have to. I can hear it coming. The day I go on another one of your freaky little time trips, cuckoos will be crapping from the clouds."

"She’ll come round," said the Duck. "Stuck here, in beautiful Georgian Gloucestershire, waited on hand and foot, living in the lap of luxury–preggers. Now, ask yourself: where’s she gonna go?"

"I’m not leaving her," I said. "She’s confused. She can’t get her head around all this. Neither can I." I took a large gulp of wine.

"I’ll ask Emily to have a little heart-to-heart with her. They’ll have stuff to talk about, what with ‘em both being in the pudding club," smiled the Duck.

Suddenly, I felt faint and had to sit on the bed.

"All right, son?"

"Er, yes, I just felt a bit funny then." I peered into my glass. "Sort of queasy."

"Spot of time lag catching up, I expect," he grinned. "Close your eyes a sec and hold your nose–soon clear it."

I did as he said and when I opened my eyes, the Duck was right, I felt much better. But, strangely, the room appeared to have darkened somewhat.

"Wow, that was really odd," I rubbed my eyes. "Anyway, I’m–I’m, um, staying here," I said, "until you can fix me and Emma up in another time period–a safe one–and then I want you to stay as far away from us as possible. I fancy the 1920s–the Charleston, Scott and Zelda, flappers–"

"And then the Great Depression," added the Duck.

"You’re the great depression–that’s why I’m off. You can come and visit your grandchild from time to time, but keep it short, and I don’t want you turning up every five minutes either," I said. "Has it got darker in here or is it me?"

"It’s you," said the Duck. "Remember Jemmons?"

"Of course I remember Jemmons. Why–what’s he done now? There’s something wrong with my eyes."

"Only got himself nabbed by a Temporal Criminal Pursuit snatch squad–the duffer."

"Well, I can’t help that–I’ve got enough on my plate," I said. I blinked my eyes repeatedly. "It was definitely brighter in here…"

"Oh, that’s nice," said the Duck. "That man risked his neck for you, and this is all the bleeding thanks he gets. Remind me not to do you any more favours, mate."

"Please don’t do me any more favours," I said. "And consider that a final reminder."

The Duck got up on his high horse and started strutting up and down the room. "You couldn’t give a toss, could you, Stephen? There’s poor old Roger, rotting away in the worst hellhole on Earth and all you can say is: I can’t help that. Well, I just hope you end up sharing the same cell some day, then you can explain to him why you just couldn’t be bothered."

"It’s not that I can’t be bothered. Anyway, I seem to remember it was me who did all the rescuing last time–you both owe me. Big time. I had to save you from getting sent down, while good old Jemmons went walkabout." I got up and walked over to the window to look up at the sky. "Did a cloud just pass over?"

"I explained all that–Rog was arrested and I offered myself up as a sacrifice to save you and the others. Just like whatshisname in that book by whatshisname. If you hadn’t interfered we wouldn’t be in this mess. Dickens."

"Wouldn’t be in this mess? They were about to cart you off to the human vivisection farm! In case you’d forgotten," I said. "Sydney Carton."

"Yeah, that’s the geezer. I would have escaped. I had it all sussed," said the Duck.

"I’m not even going to discuss this. If you’re so keen, you go and spring him, you don’t need me."

"It’s a two-man job."

"Well, take Emily’s dad with you, he likes a good punch-up. I’m staying here to get my love life sorted. And that’s that."

"Roger has been sent to the Castle!" said the Duck. "I can’t ask Tree to go back there–the poor bloke did a seven stretch in the place. He nearly has a heart-attack if he sees a sandcastle."

"That’s funny, because you told me he’s never even been anywhere near the Castle. You said he made it all up." I looked around the room for something to explain myself with.

"Well, I might have bent the truth a bit."

"Yeah, you are to the truth what Uri Geller is to spoons, mate."

"You’re coming–I’m your father–you’ve got to do as I say!"

"Bollocks."

I chose a heavy looking metal clock from the mantelpiece.

"Not that!" quacked the Duck. "It’s a Louis the Fourteenth!"

"I want to get it through your thick skull, once and for all!" I said. "I am not going to the fourth bloody millennium!"

I swung it at his body–missed–and it slipped from my grasp and smashed into the wall.

"That was ormolu!" He charged into me, with his legs kicking and fists flailing.

Now, the Duck liked you to think he was an expert in the martial arts, so his assaults were always accompanied by lots of oriental-sounding screams and extravagant posturing. But since he only has the physique of an apprentice jockey, I easily grabbed him by his ginger ponytail and slung him out of my way. And then I dashed out the door to find Emma.

I didn’t have far to look. I found her talking to some bloke at the foot of the stairs, a tall, smartly dressed, foreign-looking guy, with a tache. And Emma had changed her torn dress and was looking very fetching in an elegant floral morning gown. She was leaning against the banister, girlishly trying to conceal a blush with her fan, while they shared what looked like an intimate joke. I wasn’t a bit jealous, but thought I should break it up before the jumped-up little poser got the wrong idea.

"Em! There you are–shouldn’t you be taking your nap?" I called, as I came bounding down the stairs.

I got my body between them, with my back to my rival, completely blanking him, and spoke directly to Emma.

"You know, in your condition, you really should be taking it a bit easier, love," I said.

"I yam sorree–you are not well, Emmeur? I did not meen to tireur you," said the young man, in what sounded–to me, at least–like a phoney French accent.

I turned on him. His handsome–if you like that sort of thing–Latin features were filled with concern. "She’s blooming, mate–she’s having my baby. That’s all. Close the door on your way out."

"Oh, pardon," he said, looking all embarrassed and awkward. He bowed to me and then to Emma. "Forgeeve my clumsee intrushone, Monsieur. Pleese excuse mee, Madame Emmeur. I did not no." And then he backed away and scuttled off.

"That’s right–run along," I sneered. I turned back to Emma, who promptly slapped me across the face and swept past me to chase after him.

"Monsieur Travis! Monsieur Travis!"

"Emma?" I said. "I was only–"

"–Wasting your breath, mate," said the Duck, patting me on the shoulder. "I forgot to tell you about my other house guest. He’s a bit of a lady’s man is our Travis. I should have warned you."

"Who the hell is he?"

"He’s on a mission," said the Duck confidentially.

"I can bloody see that," I said. "But who is he?"

"Name’s Travis De Quipp. He’s from Paris in France."

"I know where Paris is," I said. "What I want to know is–what’s a lump of it doing over here? I thought we were supposed to be at war with his lot."

"It’s a long story. He just needs a bit of help, that’s all," said the Duck.

"Well, he’s not helping himself to my girlfriend!"

"Yeah, you want to watch that–the women just seem to fall at his feet, that’s why I’ve sent Emily away for a few days. She’s having some retail therapy in Bath. I told her to visit the Pump Rooms. Put it all on my account."

"Hm, very convenient. So, what does this guy want, apart from a smack in the mouth?"

"Now, now," said the Duck. "Travis is all right."

"It’s easy for you to say–you’ve got dozens of women," I said. "What happened to that one you were going to marry–whatshername–the Viscount’s daughter?"

"Henrietta? She dumped me," said the Duck. "I need to build up a bit more cred around here before I crack the posh crumpet market. Seems her old man didn’t think I was good enough for her. Said I was only after her for her heirlooms. Heirlooms? I said, I’ve had more heirlooms than you’ve had hot dinners, mate–you can keep your family silver–I was after your bloodstock!"

"Yes, well, you’ve still got Emily," I said. "I like Emily."

"Yeah. Why don’t we take a turn around the garden?" The Duck put his arm around my shoulder and walked me through to a back drawing room, which led out onto the terrace. "And I can tell you all about it over a spliff."

"I’m not leaving Emma alone with him," I said, holding back.

"Not much of a basis for marriage, is it, mate?" said the Duck, with a lopsided grin. He took out some papers and started patching them together.

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

"A serious deficiency in the trust department, if you ask me."

"Well, I didn’t. Anyway, I do trust her, it’s just–she’s acting very strangely. It’s as if she doesn’t care about us–but I know deep down inside she does."

"You don’t think you’re being a bit, you know… now, how can I put this, without sounding offensive–pathetic and self-delusional?"

"Do you want a smack in the mouth as well?" I said.

"Face it–she blew you out, man."

"She doesn’t mean it–wait a minute, how do you know? You’d better not have anything to do with this?"

"Me? As if."

"If I find out this is all your doing, I’ll–" I scratched my ear. "I don’t understand it–I’m the father of her child."

"It’s not uncommon," said the Duck.

"What isn’t?"

"Rejection of the biological father."

"And you’d know all about that, dad," I nodded.

"The mother conceives by mistake with an unsuitable partner, then rejects him and seeks a superior substitute," said the Duck. "Happens all the time."

I grabbed him by the collar of his floppy white Byronic shirt. "If I find out you’ve been poisoning her mind against me, I’ll tear that evil little forked thing you call a tongue right out of your lying mouth!"

"Get off!" He broke free and straightened his matching white silk neck scarf. "You want to watch that, mate. Jealousy is a very ugly emotion. No wonder your bird’s playing away from home."

"She is not a bird and she is not playing away from home! We are in love–with each other!"

The Duck nodded through the window. "You’d better tell her that. Doesn’t look like it from where I’m standing, mate."

I followed his gaze. My heart sank. There, standing on the terrace, was Emma, in the arms of Monsieur De Quipp.

"What is she playing at?" I gasped. "She’s killing me."

The Duck stifled a laugh. "I think we know what her game is, mate."

I grabbed him by his lapels and swung him round to face me. "I don’t know how and I don’t know why yet–but you’re behind this–and when I find out what your game is, you are going to be very sorry! And I’m not playing games. Got that?"

He shrugged me off. "Charming. I got the blame for everything last time!" He jumped up on a card table and swung his feet onto a Chippendale chair, to continue rolling his spliff.

"That’s because you were to blame for everything," I said, not taking my eyes off the loving couple out in the garden. "You’re always to blame for everything. I’m going out there."

"You’re wasting your time, mate. Besides, it won’t last."

"No, it won’t, because I’m going to put a stop to it right now," I said, lurching towards the French windows. I lurched back. "You see, once again you seem to know everything–this is how I got into trouble last time. How do you know it won’t last?"

"Well, stands to reason, doesn’t it?" said the Duck, sealing his spliff with a single lick. "His sort are only after one thing–once he’s had his wicked way with her, he’ll be off like a shot."

I knocked the spliff out of his mouth.

"Mind the gear, man!"

"Travesty De Creep, or whatever his name is, is not having his wicked way with my Emma!"

"Your Emma? You really are an emotional dinosaur, aren’t you, Stephen? When are you going to realize that you can’t own people? Emma has free will, if she wants to give you the old heave-ho, you just have to respect her decision, and let her get on with it, mate."

I was speechless.

He picked his spliff up off the floor and inspected it for damage. And then, satisfiying himself that it was still intact, stuck it back in his mouth and lit up. "You don’t have much luck with birds, do you, son?"

I pointed at him through the cloud of marijuana smoke. "You’re behind this. And I will find out what you’re up to. That’s a promise. But, right now, I’m going to go out there and give that cheesy Frenchman a piece of my mind!"

"Watch yourself," said the Duck.

"Don’t worry about me–I can take care of myself." I reached the glass doors and turned back. "Why?"

The Duck expelled another cloud of thick grey smoke. "Well, he’s from the eighteenth century."

"So?"

The Duck sniffed. "Code of honour and all that, innit."

"Code of honour?" I laughed. "Don’t give me that. I know his sort–bloody gigolo–he’ll probably hide behind Emma when I lay into him." I made for the French windows again.

"Don’t say I didn’t warn you!" called the Duck.

I swung open the doors and stepped out onto the terrace. Both parties looked suitably compromised and released each other from their embrace. Emma primped her hair. The Frenchman coughed into one hand and looked skyward.

"What exactly do you think you’re playing at, Em?" I said.

"We were just–nothing–" she began, momentarily caught off-guard, but then she recovered and her face hardened. "What business is it of yours, anyway? I can do what I like. Travis and I have become–we’ve become very close and–"

"Very close? You’ve only known him five minutes–wait a minute!" I took her by the shoulders. "How long have you been here?"

"How long have I been here?" said Emma, looking puzzled. "You know how long I’ve been here–I just spoke to you a minute ago."

"No. I meant actually staying here, at Duckworth Hall?"

"Three weeks, of course."

"Three week–? Don’t move," I said. "I’ll be right back."

I stomped back into the drawing room, where the Duck was still lounging on the card table, enjoying his spliff.

"You, have done something!" I said, jabbing my finger in his face.

"Moi?"

I grabbed him by the lapels of his frock coat and shook him. "She has been here three bloody weeks! When we got back from your last little prank she’d only just arrived–what happened to my three missing weeks? I lost them somewhere between here and the bedroom."

He pulled my hand away and jumped down. "Get off me–what’re you on about? You’re rambling."

"Yeah, I’m not rambling, mate–but you will be in a minute–rambling straight through that window–if I don’t get some answers!"

"All right–all right," said the Duck, straightening his coat and then holding up his hands. "I’ll tell you the truth."

"And I want the whole truth. Every detail. Not the Duckworth version–with all the dodgy bits left out. I might be able to repair some of the damage you’ve done."

"All I did was give her a little time to think. I could see she was upset and I just wanted the two of you to step back and have a cooling off period–"

"Cooling off? She’s iced over!"

"I was only trying to help."

"Yeah, you helped all right–helped her into the arms of that smarmy French Casanova! I want to know exactly what you did and said–and why–the real reason this time–you scheming little rat!"

"Well, that’s the last time I try to play matchmaker. In future, you can sort out your own love life."

"What love life? You have single-handedly destroyed my love life. She’s in love with Travis De Generate out there–he’s had three weeks to work on her–three weeks to break down her defences and worm his way into her pant–affections. If I’ve lost her, I’ll–"

"You haven’t lost her," said the Duck. "Don’t be wet–she’s expecting your kid. She’ll come to her senses. What you see out there is just a–just a wild, passionate fling–the mere overture to a mad sex romp–when the fires of his ardour have been quenched, he’ll soon lose interest and move on to the next one. Mark my words. And you’ll be there to pick up the pieces."

"Have you finished? I don’t want to pick up the pieces–she’s pregnant for Pete’s sake–what kind of a man preys on a pregnant woman?"

"Some men find it a turn on," said the Duck, suppressing a smutty grin.

"Well, you’d better turn him off, because I know you started all this, you’re trying to pull one of your devious little strokes–and you’re not going to get away with it!"

I barged him aside and rushed out to rescue Emma from the clutches of her French seducer.

"All right–break it up," I said. "This has gone far enough." I dragged Emma out of De Quipp’s arms and pushed him away. "Emma," I said, looking her square in the eyes, "this gigolo is only after one thing, he’s getting some perverted kick out of all this, and I am not going to stand by and watch you make a complete fool of yourself."

Emma brought her knee up sharply into my groin and I doubled up and turned away on my toes.

"Bloody Nor-"

"Don’t you dare speak to me like that!" she cried. "I don’t want anything to do with you ever again–come, Travis."

I shuffled round and saw the disgustingly handsome Frenchman gallantly offering Emma his arm. It was all too much to bear.

"You are the pits!" I shouted. "The lowest of the low. You pervert!"

"What doze hee say?" said my rival.

"Don’t listen to him, Travis," said Emma.

"I said you’re the pits–you piece of dog turd!"

"What ees thees bitz of docteur?" said De Quipp, with a Gallic shrug.

"Just ignore him, my love," said Emma. "He’s only jealous."

To hear her call him ‘my love’ knocked the breath out of me.

"Vous merde de chien!" I gasped, in my best Franglais.

De Quipp merely laughed when he realized what I had been calling him. They both turned their backs on me and walked towards the steps, which led down into the formal garden.

"He doesn’t love you, Emma," I called. "He’s lying through his teeth, just to get in your bed! He’s a dirty rotten liar!"

The Frenchman suddenly froze to the spot and then slowly turned to face me, with an expression of injured disbelief on his face. He retraced his steps the half dozen paces and looked me up and down.

"What deed you call mee, seur?" he said.

"Dog turd?"

"Non, not thee docteur–thee otheur," he said, holding his chin and looking at me sideways.

"The pits?"

"Non-non." He clicked his fingers. "Thees otheur thang."

"Liar?"

"Ah! Mon Dieu! I thought that was what I heurd." He reached inside his little tailed jacket. I thought he was feeling his mortified heart–but he pulled out a card and snapped it against my chest, letting it fall to my feet. "My card, seur! My second wheel call to make the necesseuree aurrangemaunt. I shall have my sateesfaxsheon. Do not disappoint mee, seur."

And with that, he gave me a curt bow, turned smartly on his heels and marched back to rejoin Emma. I picked up the card. There was just his name printed on it.

"Yeah, and up yours!" I said. "I’ll be having my satisfaction and all, mate!"

The Duck stuck his head out of the door to see what all the shouting was about.

"What’s up, man?"

"That guy’s right up his own arse," I said. "One dark night he’s going to hear something go bump–right on the back of his head."

"What you got there?"

"His card." I tore it up and threw the pieces down on the ground. "I am going to so enjoy punching his lights out."

"What did he give you his card for?" said the Duck, pulling a face.

"I don’t know. The ponce. But I do know he’s going to come to a sticky end the way he’s carrying on," I said.

"What did you say to him?"

"Oh, I let him know I was onto him all right. And he says: I shall have my sateesfaxsheon, seur –who does he think he is–Mick bloody Jagger!"

"Oh–no!" cried the Duck.

"What?"

"He’s only gone and challenged you to a duel."

I laughed–a bit nervously. "You what?"

"With shooters–pistols at dawn, mate," said the Duck.

"Yeah, well, bring it on–that’s what I say, I’m not afraid of him."

"Well, you should be, mate. They say he’s one of the finest shots in all France," said the Duck.

"Now he tells me!"

"Don’t worry," grinned the Duck, "I’ll give you some coaching."

"Oh great!" I said. "First I get dumped, now I’m going to get shot. You’ve done it to me again!"

"Believe me, man," said the Duck, hand on heart. "I had nothing to do with any of this. Honest."

Reader, I hit him.


END OF SAMPLE


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