Charles Dickens is one of my heroes, his books are good, but they were never designed to be read as they were published… At least not all of them. They were serialised and published seperately. I am, of course, talking about The Pickwick Papers. Well, this blog is my version.
This is a serialised novel. If you are starting to read please use the categories to find the first chapter and start at the first post. If there is an audio file then please play it when prompted. Think of it as a free multimedia book.
All the characters are fictitious and are no based on anyone. The situation is also fictitious and not fact. All the writing in copyrighted to Kate Murray 2014.
You need the prologue… The premise…
The tall terrace buildings crowd around the plaza making what should be a large open space seem somehow dark, but nothing can temper the quaint ambience that permeates every brick and paving stone. At one end stands a large church-like building which always appears surrounded by tourists, not that they know what the building is, just that it epitomises Italian stereotypical architecture. A pair of roads runs either side of it, one coming from the Italian countryside and the other from the centre of Genoa.
As if choreographed two men appear from the separate roads, one on the rural path and the other from town. Neither takes any notice of the other, nor acknowledges that they are only separated by a few hundred yards, but then the square is full of bustling tourists and locals. The noise is like a low hum punctuated by a muted horn from a car, for although the plaza is pedestrianised the other end is a crossroads and busy. Here there is a crossing and it appears that the two men are walking towards it on separate paths and that these paths will eventually meet.
On the left the man holds a red jacket over his arm. This is not strange except that he is smartly dressed in slacks and already wears a jacket. Whereas his attire screams money and Armani, the jacket slung over his arm, though carried carefully, is a throwback from the eighties; of red plastic material with the waist and wrist elasticated. Before starting across the square he stops and, without looking around, moves to walk the perimeter. When walking through a pedestrian area it is usual to take the most direct route, yet this man appears to decide upon the longest route possible. Perhaps, to look around and see the architecture. Instead he keeps his eyes straight forward, not acknowledging the views or his fellow tourists, if he is a tourist? As he passes one family a child looks up and points,
“Look, Mum, red!”
Briefly the man glances down and the girl recoils, perhaps from the pale blue eyes or his icy demeanour, but by the time she seeks comfort from her mother the man is gone.
From the other road, and at the same time, the second man also pauses, not to alter his path but to stub out his cigarette. Unlike his friend, and they do know each other, this man is carelessly attired in jeans and, despite the warmth of the day, a jumper. This man ought to see the flash of red through the crowd yet he does not look anywhere but straight ahead. Although the men have not seen each other for five years or more, there would be recognition. Yet they do not wave a hand or call out a greeting, instead they stubbornly ignore each other.
The second man shivers despite his jumper and wipes a hand across his forehead. For a moment he stares at his damp hand as if not realising the greasy sweat is his. Using the same hand he reaches into his pocket and pulls out an old fashioned handkerchief. In one corner an elaborate B is embroidered, probably hand stitched by a mother or wife. In one clumsy stroke he wipes the majority of the clammy dampness from his face, glances at the cloth and seems unsurprised at the faint pink stain that now permeates the white cotton. Coughing, he fails to cover his mouth with the cloth and scowls as an acrid odour hits him.
His other arm hangs at his side, slightly extended from his body and immobile. The constant movement as he shivers and coughs is made more obvious by the stillness of his arm and hand. The hand itself is clawed like a flesh cave of fingers and in this natural prison sits an opened pack of cigarettes. It appears normal yet the man holds it as if it were a precious jewel.
Coughing and stumbling a little the man takes a more direct route through the square, although his line is sometimes changes so that he appears to want contact with tourists. He weaves across the plaza veering from one group to another as if joining dots in a massive puzzle. In his wake people part as if repelled by the man’s presence. As he moves his gait becomes more sluggish and clumsy, he appears to deteriorate rapidly so that by the time he reaches the crossroads he looks somehow shrunken and old. His eyes stream, his nose is constantly running and his shakes are so violent he can no longer hold the cigarettes still.
The other man approaches him and the friends, one with cigarettes and the other a jacket, make their swop at the crossroads outside Genoa and part, Francis beginning to walk toward Nice. The man left at the crossroads stumbles as he struggles into the jacket, its cheerful colour highlighting his ashen pallor. Turning in a slow circle he walks back to the plaza now bowed as if weighed down by his sudden illness. Almost instantly the bright crowds swallow him.
Francis looks back stiffly and relaxes slightly as the man he had once known disappears. Only now does he alter his shallow breathing to deeper, more prolonged breaths. Holding the cigarettes carefully he slowly opens the packet and counts, seventeen. He had expected to be second and briefly wonders where the cigarettes have been. Shrugging, he cages the pack in a parody of his friend and starts to walk. Turning down a dark side street he steps over a man’s legs. Another homeless. Inside he sneers but on the surface no emotion shows. The legs stir and the man, if it is a man or had been a man, lifts a dirty hand.
“Hey. You got a cig?” He rasps in guttural Italian. Francis continues to walk and then, ten yards down the road he stops and turns.
“You really wouldn’t want one of these,” he says in perfect, if stilted, English, his voice carrying in the stillness of the afternoon. With a small cold smile he allows his icy stare to settle on the man’s grimy face. Finally he turns and walks away.
The homeless man releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding. On the streets you get a sixth sense about danger and the man whose back he watches anxiously, in case he turns and comes back, is probably one of the most dangerous he has ever come across. Silently the vagrant rises, sad to leave his comfortable and dry doorway, but knowing he does not want the man to have any idea where he is. With more agility than his appearance would suggest he moves away, fading out of sight in the dingy alleyways that intermittently open out onto the road.
At the car park that is his destination Francis stops and looks back, pleased that the man is gone. He had chosen this place for its lack of CCTV and he has no wish for anyone to match him to a car. Walking to the farthest corner he tries to avoid the worst of the puddles in the yellowish grey mud. The sleek black town car flashes a brief welcome as he slides inside. Carefully opening the glove box Francis reaches inside. Lifting the lid of a container he places the cigarette pack into a foam coffin. It fits perfectly. Closing it he places it back in the glove box, satisfied that the pack is now safe. Sighing, he relaxes for a moment before starting the car and pulling out of the car park. Driving carefully he turns the car towards Nice, noting as he reaches the crossroads near the square that the child who had noticed him is crossing. He stops, obeying the traffic signals, and watches. The little girl sneezes and snuffles, her father picks her up and places a hand on her forehead. The girl coughs and lays a listless head on his shoulder. Francis gives a small wave and a genuine smile. The girl doesn’t react but stares unseeing out of dim eyes.
In the quiet of the car he pulls away, making sure that the windows are firmly closed. Behind him the bird song is punctuated with sounds more suited to a doctors’ waiting room. Laughing, he relaxes into the drive, turning on the CD player and humming along to Sinatra.
“Well, Frank,” he says, his voice rich and warm. “Now it begins.”
The car joins the summer traffic and is soon lost in the crowds.