To go along with this month's promotion of Nowhere To Go, throughout September I'm going to write a little about the eleven stories that make up the collection.
I've written a number of stories that grow out of a place, rather than an idea. A Walk In The Park and Nowhere To Go in this collection are both stories like that, as are the stories The Circular Path and Through The Window in my collection of weird/horror stories, Ice Age. A disused chapel, an empty rented house with an open window, part of a wood where the birds seem to suddenly hush and the silence is that of something terrible about to happen, the image comes first, and then the character and plot come out of that.
In the case of A Walk In The Park, the place was where I spent a lot of my life between eleven and eighteen. When I was eleven we moved to a small village in the Kent countryside, at the start of a long lane through the woods. If you followed the lane, the houses stopped after twenty yards, and the trees started. The lane ran under a disused railway viaduct, and past a small pumping station that to an eleven year old was a mysterious, blank-faced, humming place.
If you kept following it along the road for a couple of miles - and I did, a lot, because roaming the countryside on foot or on bike was how I spent a lot of my time - you passed a house set back from the road. The walls were topped with barbed wire, there was a security camera, and two Dobermans prowled the yard, going batshit crazy whenever you passed. Not your average house round those parts. Village rumour has it that the person who lived there was something to do with the Great Train Robbery. To this day, I have no idea whether this was true or not.
A Walk In The Park came from wondering who might live in a house like that, and who might want to pay them a visit. The characters came very quickly, and with them the plot. Not Dobermans though, in my story. Something different.
Mason's typical of the sort of character that I find interesting to write about. In the story, a London crime boss has brought in a hitman from Newcastle to pay a visit to an old acquaintance who is now hiding out in the Kent countryside. Mason's given the job of driving him down, keeping him company, and keeping him happy. I could have made him the boss' right hand man, his enforcer, a seasoned hard man himself. Nah. Far more interesting to make him the gang's accountant.
"My job," Smith said. "So my rules. You stick it somewhere safe. You keep it there. You don't mess with it, you don't play around with it, you just keep it there in case I need a backup and ask you for it. You understand?"
"Sure, whatever you say. It's your operation."
"That it is. And one more thing." Smith still hadn't moved his face away. Mason could smell the coffee on his breath.
"You point it near me--anywhere near me--and I'll kill you. You understand?"
Mason swallowed. "Yes."
Mason thought about just leaving the gun in the car, but he didn't want Smith to think that he was afraid, so he got out of the car and leaned in the back door. He pulled the gun from under the seat and put it into his jacket pocket, trying to handle it as if it were something that he did every day. When he turned back, Smith was standing by the side of the road, as motionless and dark as one of the trees, holding his gun down at the side of one leg. In the darkness, it looked as if he was pointing an accusing finger at the ground.
At first as they walked down the road the silence pressed in on Mason like a weight. After a few moments though, he realised that it was not silent at all. He could hear skittering in the undergrowth to the side, rustlings in the trees as if their footsteps were disturbing whatever was sleeping there. From a little way off into the woods came a noise somewhere between a grunt and a cough that made him jump; he looked at Smith to see if the other man had seen but the killer was walking ahead now, with cautious, quiet steps. They had reached the house.
The two men slunk across the road and into the shadow of the fence. Mason noticed that when they moved, Smith held his gun up high to the side of his head, as if he were listening to it, like people do in films. He loves all this, Mason thought. I bet he's got a bookshelf full of books about special forces. They waited at the fence, peering into the darkness of the garden, listening.
"What you reckon then?" Mason whispered. "Dog?"
Smith took hold of the fence, rattled it gently, waited. Then shook his head. "Would come running," he muttered.
"Might be in the house."
Smith just held the pistol up, then pointed it into the darkness and mimed a shot. Mason looked away. Killing a man was one thing, that was business, but killing a dog was just cruel. He'd always had a dog when he was little. He remembered how he'd cried when his red setter Rusty, as dumb as a plank but his best friend in the whole world, had run into the path of a delivery van. Smith climbed over the fence and into the garden, and Mason followed him. As he went over, the fence creaked, and to Mason it sounded like a tree falling. They hesitated for a moment, but no lights came on in the house, no doors opened.
Smith waved towards the side of the house. They were going to go in round the back. The two of them stepped cautiously through the shadows, following the edge of the garden around the house, walking silent on the soft grass.