PO Box 1537
Burnsville, NC 28714
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or
locales is entirely coincidental. All person(s) depicted on the cover
are model(s) used for illustrative purposes only.
Wake Up Call
Copyright © 2017 by JL
Cover art: Garrett
Editor: Sarah Lyons
Layout: L.C. Chase,
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South London mechanic Devan Thompson
has gone to Porthkennack to track down someone he’s been waiting
all his life to know. But Dev’s distracted from his quest by Kyle,
a broodingly handsome local of only a few months, who’s already got
a reputation as an alcoholic because of his strange
behaviour—including a habit of collapsing in the street.
Kyle Anthony fled to Porthkennack to
escape from the ruins of his life. Still raging against his diagnosis
of narcolepsy—a condition that’s cost him his job as a barrister,
his lover, and all chance of normality—the last thing he wants is
another relationship that’s doomed to fail. But Dev’s easygoing
acceptance and adaptability, not to mention his good looks, have Kyle
breaking all his self-imposed rules.
When disaster strikes
Dev’s adored little sister, Kyle steps up to the plate, and Dev
sees a side of his lover he wasn’t prepared for: competent,
professional—and way out of Dev’s league. With one man determined
that they don’t have a future and the other fearing it, life after
Porthkennack is starting to look bleak for both of them.
With thanks to all those who helped with this book: Penelope
Friday, Pender Mackie, Kristin Matherly, L.C. Chase, and my fantastic
editor, Sarah Lyons. And especial thanks to Alex Beecroft for
creating the wonderful world of Porthkennack for me and my fellow
authors to play in, and giving it such a rich and inspiring history.
Wake Up Call
by JL Merrow
“You all right,
The bloke didn’t
answer, just carried on half-sitting, half-lying there on the bench,
eyes glassy behind his Aviator shades.
Dev glanced back at
the Square Peg Café. He’d been sitting outside drinking the
world’s crappest latte, wondering if he should’ve gone for the
cream tea, when he’d noticed the man on the other side of the road.
The bloke had slumped down onto the bench all of a sudden, and not
like his feet had been killing him and he couldn’t wait to take the
weight off. No, this had been jerky, unnatural—more like he hadn’t
been able to stand up any longer. After a split second waiting to see
if someone else was going to deal with it, Dev had jumped up and
jogged over the quiet street.
Now he was here,
though, he still wasn’t sure whether to call an ambulance or call
the bloke a wanker for pissing him about.
There were only two
other people who’d been daft enough to join Dev at the outside
tables under the cloudy skies, a middle-aged couple in matching
walking gear, and neither of them bothered to look up from their
phones. The skinny waitress stopped clearing tables long enough to
roll her eyes at Dev and make a scornful drinking-up gesture.
Great. That was
well public-spirited, that was. So what if Dev’s Good Samaritan act
turned out to be over the local alco? Even alcoholics got ill. Had
strokes and stuff, didn’t they? Like his mate Mal’s uncle, who
staggered around everywhere these days looking wasted even on the
rare occasions he wasn’t on the piss.
This bloke looked
way too young for that sort of crap, mind. Midthirties, tops,
although the full, dark beard made it harder to tell for sure. Pretty
fit too, with a lean build and broad shoulders. Dev reached over to
grasp one of them and give it a gentle shake.
Dev wasn’t even
certain if that was what had done the trick, but a second or so later
the bloke roused and blinked, life coming back into deep-blue eyes.
“Sorry,” he said, frowning up at Dev. “Did I . . .? Sorry.”
“’S all right,
mate.” Dev realised he was still hanging on to the bloke’s
shoulder and let go in a hurry. His hand felt cold, after, and he
shoved it in the pocket of his hoodie. “You okay now?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
His voice was clipped, like he was angry about something. “Sorry to
disturb your . . . Sorry.”
Dev couldn’t help
a laugh. “You’re gonna wear that word out, mate.”
For the first
time—at least, that was what it felt like—the bloke focussed on
Dev properly. He smiled, his lips twisting up in a mocking way that
turned him from some random bloke on a bench into a guy it might be
interesting to get to know. “Sorry,” he said again, laying on the
irony with a shovel.
grinned, then wondered if he’d gone too far. His foster dad was a
drinker, and that bastard’s moods could turn on a sixpence. He took
a step back without even thinking about it.
smile buggered off like the bloody Cornish sun had done ever since
Dev got here, and he stood up.
“Thanks for your
concern,” he said frostily. Then he strode off up the road without
even a backward glance.
Huh. There was
gratitude for you. Dev watched him stalk off for a mo, decided he
probably wasn’t going to fall over anytime soon, then shrugged and
went back to his table.
your time with that one,” the girl from the café told Dev as she
gave him back the mug she’d just that minute put on her tray. At
least, Dev hoped it was his mug she’d given him. “Don’t talk to
nobody, he don’t. Some posh bastard from the Home Counties or God
knows where, thinks he’s too good for the likes of us. Only come
here to drown himself in a bottle.”
Dev glanced up at
her sideways. “Yeah? Funny how he didn’t smell of drink, then.”
He took a sip of his half-cold coffee and wondered why he’d
“Give ’im a
good sniff, did you?” She straightened, hands on her back like
Dev’s foster mum had done when she was pregnant with the twins,
although this girl wasn’t carrying any extra weight around the
middle. She wasn’t carrying any weight around the middle. A
white girl—pale white, like she hadn’t seen any more sun lately
than she’d seen square meals—she looked a fair bit younger close
up. He could see there weren’t any lines around her eyes, only dark
smudges that could’ve been old mascara but Dev reckoned weren’t.
She was wearing a name badge on her Square Peg Café T-shirt that
Dev huffed out a
laugh at it, and her dark eyes narrowed. “Somethin’ funny?”
“Only that your
mum couldn’t spell neither. I’m Devan. With an a instead
of an o.”
“Is that Indian?
Sounds Indian. And Ceri’s Welsh and so’s my mum, on her
mum’s side, so she spelled it just fine, which shows how much you
“Make a lot in
tips, do you?” All right, he hadn’t meant to say that out loud.
“Bugger all. It’s
all tight English bastards we get here.” She gave him a sharp look.
“So is your mum Indian or what?”
“No.” He knew
Dev shrugged. Like
he was going to tell someone he’d only known five minutes how his
mum had given him up for adoption before he’d drawn his first
breath and had never bothered to leave a single bit of info about his
Christ, when was
even thinking about it going to stop being like ripping off a scab?
cocked her head, not fazed by his lack of communication. “Your
skin’s not that dark, but your hair’s more black than brown, and
it’s not curly like if you were African or Jamaican or summat. And
you’ve got those big, dark eyes like a lot of Indian lads do. Nice
eyelashes too. Could be. You still gonna be here in half an hour?”
Dev bristled. “Why?
Not like you need the table, is it?” The place was three-quarters
empty, even inside, and out here there was room for half a coachload
more. Even the his ’n’ hers hikers looked like they were about to
She rolled her eyes
again. “That’s when I finish work. You want to get a drink or
Okay, he had not
seen that coming. Dev gave her a sharper look, taking in the tension
in the way she held herself, and wondered why he hadn’t noticed how
brittle that hard shell of hers was till now. Wasn’t like he hadn’t
seen that kind of thing before, was it? “Sorry, love, I don’t do
girls.” He tried to say it gently.
Ceri scowled at him
like he was something she’d scraped off the bottom of her shoe. It
was weirdly reassuring. “Like you were going to be doing me,
anyway. I said get a drink, not make a bloody sex tape.
Or do you only bother talking to people you’re hoping to shag?”
then.” Dev gave her a steady look. “But I’ll see you back here.
I’m not numbing my arse on this seat drinking cold coffee for half
I’ll see you at five. Or I won’t.” She swept away and started
clearing the tables inside.
Dev gave his coffee
a wry smile. Then he stood and left it on the table with relief.
He checked his
watch as he made his way along the street, not really heading
anywhere in particular. It was more like forty minutes until five
o’clock—must’ve been a bit of wishful thinking on Ceri’s
part. He wasn’t sure, if he was honest, why he’d agreed to go for
a drink with her, seeing as he’d never had a right lot of female
friends, and this one had a chip on her shoulder the size of the
Severn Bridge . . . Fuck it. He knew exactly why. This way, at least
he wouldn’t be drinking on his own, which was all he’d reckoned
he had to look forward to after Mal had bailed on him for a better
offer, the tosser.
When he knew bloody
well how much this trip meant to Dev. Christ. If Dev thought too much
about all that crap, he was going to end up like that sad
bastard on the bench. Dev wondered how it’d started with him—the
drinking and all. If that was what it was. Still, Ceri was the local
here. She ought to know if the bloke was a drunk or not.
Shame, though. Him
being so fit and all.
Dev grinned at
himself. Hoping for a bit of holiday romance, was he? Like that was
ever going to happen. He’d checked out the local gay scene online
before he came—just for something to do, because that wasn’t what
he was here for—and there wasn’t one. Oh, plenty of places that
reckoned they were “gay friendly,” but that was it.
Well, that and a
listing for a public toilet that was supposed to be “popular with
young dudes,” but that had turned out to be in Australia.
Porthkennack Street, Melbourne, to be exact. Dev wondered which
ex-pat had named that street in fond memory of the old place, and how
horrified he’d be to see what it was famous for these days.
If he kept walking
this way, Dev realised, he was going to run out of town. His feet had
carried him down towards the beach and a short way along the coastal
road that bordered it, sometimes closely and sometimes farther away,
like it’d been laid out by a bunch of drunk navvies. A sign up
ahead told him he was on the right track to get to Booby’s Bay and
the Round Hole—where did they even get these place names? Dev
amused himself imagining a gang of old Cornish smugglers and pirates,
all wearing tricorn hats and eyepatches, not to mention a parrot or
two, sitting round a barrel of rum and laughing themselves silly as
they marked up a map.
Of course, some of
them could have been his ancestors. Dev stopped smiling. Shit. What
was he even doing here?
Dev turned on his
heel and started walking back the way he’d come. He was walking
into the wind now, and it carried the fresh, briny scent of the
ocean. It reminded him of Southend, where he’d been taken for day
trips when he was little, except it was different, too. The air here
smelled cleaner. Wilder. A gull screamed overhead, white boys on surf
boards chased the waves in the bay, and an almost overpowering sense
of not belonging swept over him. For a moment he was fiercely
tempted to run back to the B&B, chuck his stuff in his rucksack,
jump on the Hornet, and zoom off home to London.
Then a trio of
girls in bright, summery hijabs and jeans walked past, one of them
flashing him a smile and the whole lot of them breaking into giggles
a minute later, and Dev felt somehow better. Yeah. Why the hell
shouldn’t he be here? This place might be a lot whiter than he was
used to, but it’d always had new people come in, hadn’t it? Like
all those Turkish sailors the tourist bumf had been on about, who’d
built Cornwall’s first mosque right in the centre of town.
Speaking of town .
. . Dev glanced at his watch. Shit. He needed to get back, or he’d
be late to meet Ceri. He quickened his pace into a half jog, dodging
round families dawdling on the seafront with their ice creams.
Slowing down at the
end so he wouldn’t be out of breath, Dev got back to the café dead
on five. It was just as well because Ceri was already waiting
outside. She’d changed out of the frumpy black skirt she’d worn
for work and pulled on a pair of skinny jeans that were living right
up to their name and no mistake. They could’ve been made for a
seven-year-old. Dev gave her a look. “Don’t they feed you at this
“Fuck off with
the body-shaming. Sexist bastard. I wouldn’t eat that shite we
serve to the grocks. And like you’ve got a leg to stand on, anyhow,
mister skinny fucking latte and no scones.”
“Yeah, well, I
hear they’re shite here. What’s your problem? You’re off work
now. Cheer up.”
“I’ll cheer up
when you get me to that bloody pub and buy me a drink. And no, not
the sodding Slug and Lettuce. That’ll be full of grocks all
thinking they know me from somewhere and that it gives ’em the
right to grope my bum.”
“You ain’t got
no bum to grope. So where are we going, then? And what’s a grock
when it’s at home?”
“You are. Bloody
“You’re unbelievable, you know that? It’s bloody tourists like
me what pay your wages, remember.”
tippers, the lot of ’em.”
“Maybe you should
try smiling once in a while, yeah?” Dev held up his hands to ward
off her poisonous look. “Oi, just a suggestion. Done it meself,
ain’t I? Waited on tables. Punters like service with a smile. The
end of my shift, my face used to ache like I’d been deep-throating
King Kong, but I made a packet in tips.”
“Bet you did. Bet
you got your bum groped a few times too, you with your dark eyes and
because yeah, he had. Mostly by girls drunk off their heads at hen
parties, but still.
They walked in
silence for a bit, because they were going right through town and the
pavements were too busy with dawdling tourists to make conversation
easy. Ceri dodged round them with tight-lipped impatience, making Dev
have to hurry to catch up.
It was a flipping
long way to go for a drink for someone who’d been on her feet all
day. It wasn’t like they hadn’t passed any other pubs, either.
There’d been a tearoom, too, that’d looked way nicer than the
Square Peg Café, and Dev thought he’d caught a glimpse of the
mosque, but Ceri had dragged him onwards before he could be sure.
They were right out the other side of Porthkennack now, and if they
went much farther they’d end up in the sea. Maybe that was Ceri’s
plan. Maybe she was the local serial killer and was bringing him all
this way so she could shove him off a cliff unseen.
She’d be out of
luck, then. There were still plenty of tourists swarming the streets
like ants at a picnic, even this far away from the main beach, and
family cars idled past them as they walked down the road.
“So where are we
going?” Dev asked as they rounded a sharp corner and headed down a
side street. “You still ain’t said.”
stopped abruptly and pushed open a door.
according to the flaking sign that creaked as it swung in the cooling
sea breeze, was the Sea Bell, and first sight of it wasn’t
promising. Dev hadn’t visited any of the pubs in Porthkennack
yet—he’d only got here this afternoon—and he hadn’t had a
clear idea of what he was expecting, but this dingy place, with its
threadbare carpet and walls and ceilings still tobacco-stained from
before the smoking ban a decade ago was definitely not it. Didn’t
they want to catch the tourist trade?
One of his mates,
Baz, had been joking last week about how it wasn’t safe to go to
these remote places—anything west of Middlesex being remote in his
book—because they probably sacrificed newcomers to the sea gods or
burned them in wicker men or something. Right now Dev could believe
it. A few heads turned towards them as they walked in, then turned
away again, clearly unimpressed.
Ceri didn’t even
seem to notice. She led the way to a corner table. “Sit down there.
What’re you having?”
“I’ll get ’em,”
Dev said quickly. “You’ve been on your feet all day.”
surprised and a bit suspicious at that, but she sat down. “Vodka
and Coke, then.”
Dev marched up to
the bar, a bit of extra swagger in his step for the benefit of those
tossers giving him the evil eye. At least he got served quickly,
probably because most of the other punters had been scared off by the
bad vibes. “Vodka and Coke, please, mate,” he said to the
miserable old git behind the bar, who grunted and nodded. “Tell you
what, make it two,” Dev added a moment later. He’d planned on
having a pint of something local to blend in a bit better, but sod
it, he was paying. He didn’t give a monkey’s what they thought of
his choice of drink.
And it saved him
having to work out how the hell he was supposed to pronounce Chough’s
Nest. If it was how he thought . . . Well, he’d never been one
for anything that came from that area, ta very much.
The barman plonked
the drinks on the bar. He didn’t offer ice or lemon. Dev flashed a
smile he’d been told was deeply annoying and said chirpily, “I’ll
have ice with ’em, yeah? Cheers, mate.”
Dev might have been
imagining it, but he reckoned there was a glimmer of respect in the
old bloke’s eye as he lumbered over to get the ice.
Ceri wasn’t on
her phone when he got back to the table, which was weird, because
that was what you did when you had to sit around on your own
for a bit in public, wasn’t it? Get onto social media sharpish. It
was like holding up a sign saying Oi, I got mates, they just ain’t
here right now.
“Here you go,”
he said, putting the cleanest-looking glass in front of her, because
he was a proper gent, he was. He sat down. “So, you come here
“No.” She took
a sip, then blinked. “You got ’im to put ice in it.”
“Yeah, but no
slice. Didn’t wanna push me luck. Cheers, love.” He raised his
glass and took a gulp, surprised to find the Coke wasn’t flat and
didn’t taste like shite. “So how long you lived around here,
“All my life.”
“What, and you
ain’t found nowhere better to drink than this shithole?”
“Fuck off. I like
it in here. Food’s good too. They have a folk night, Thursdays. My
grandad always used to come down with his violin.”
Her mouth went sort
of tight and wobbly, so Dev reckoned he’d better not ask what the
old bloke was up to these days.
“Hope they have a
few more punters in then. I’ve seen roadkill with more life in it
than this place.”
expect, half past five in the afternoon? Everyone’s still finishing
work, aren’t they?”
took a thoughtful sip of his drink. “So are all your family from
round here? Like, generations back and all that shit?”
She nodded. “Well,
on my mum’s dad’s side. She’s an Ede. Well, was. Till she
married my dad.”
s’posed to mean something, is it?”
fishing here long as anyone can remember. They’re one of the old
picked up. “Like the Roscarrocks?”
Nothing like those bastards.”
It came out so
harsh Dev stared at her in amazement. Her face was flushed.
“Why? What they
done?” he asked, a prickle of unease making his drink roll
uncomfortably in his stomach.
She looked down.
“Nothing you’ll need to worry about.” She said it with a flat
kind of certainty that didn’t make Dev feel any better.
He was glad of the
interruption when a couple of men in their thirties or so barged into
the pub like they owned it, one white and one with skin darker than
Dev’s, both of them calling out loud greetings to people already
there. The barman and the other miserable tossers who’d given Dev
and Ceri the evil eye now broke into smiles and cheerful insults for
the newcomers. Dev listened for a mo to their soft, rolled r’s
and thick vowels. Ceri sounded a bit like that when she talked, but a
bit different too.
“You’ve got a
funny accent, you know that?” he said without thinking, and braced
himself for the fallout. “I mean, different to that lot.”
For once, Ceri
didn’t take offence. Dev half thought she was doing it to mess with
his head. “My mum’s half Welsh, like I said. And my dad’s from
Brizzle, and I grew up here, so.”
Don’t you know anything?”
“I know you ain’t
winning any popularity awards with an attitude like that.” Dev
grinned as he said it, meaning no offence meant or taken, but her
eyes flashed like warning lights and she put her glass down so hard
it must’ve dented the table, not that you’d be able to tell.
“Yeah? What about
you, then? Coming on holiday all on your lonesome, Mr. Billy-No-Mates
“Oi, I got
mates.” Dev shrugged. “S’posed to be here with one of ’em,
ain’t I? We had it all planned.”
“So what happened
Dev thought about
lying for a brief moment, but sod it, it wasn’t like he had
anything to prove to her, was it? “Got a better offer, didn’t he?
Fortnight in Portugal with some of the lads from work. They had a
place in a villa come up, so he only had to spring for the flights.”
still sounded pissed off, but not at Dev any more.
He laughed. “Yeah,
that’s what I said. Ah, shit. Can’t blame him, really. Wasn’t
like this trip was ever gonna be a barrel of laughs.”
He should have
guessed she’d ask. “I just . . . got stuff to do here, that’s
all right?” Dev huffed, exasperated. “Family stuff. Okay?”
She frowned. “You
got family round here?”
“You know you ask
a fuck-ton of questions, right?”
me for making conversation.” She curled her lip and nodded at his
glass. “Same again? Or is that another question you don’t
want to answer?”
“Yeah. Ta. Uh,
that was to the drink, right?”
Ceri rolled her
eyes and stood up.
Dev was ready with
a change of subject by the time she got back from the bar carrying
their drinks plus a couple of packets of crisps, one of which she
chucked at him when she’d got the glasses down safely onto the
table. Dev caught it inches from his face and opened it up. “Cheers,
love. So what’s the deal with the bloke on the bench? He the town
“Told you, didn’t
I? He’s new. Moved into one of the old cottages up on the cliffs a
couple of months ago. Dad reckons he’s a drinker, and so does Mrs.
Hammet, my boss, but I dunno for sure. Could all be talk.” She
flushed for some reason, then gave Dev a sharp look. “Why, fancy
him, do you?”
“Not if he’s a
pisshead, I don’t.” Dev wasn’t going to end up like his foster
mum, jumping every time the front door opened on a Saturday night in
case it was his foster dad coming home in a drunken rage—and then
lying her teeth off about it all to Dev’s case-weary social worker
when she came round for a visit.
“I told you, I
dunno if that’s true. He’s too good-looking, anyway. Well, you
know. For his age. Good-looking men are bastards.”
Dev laughed. “So
is this you insulting my looks, or my personality? ’Cos from what
you just said it’s gotta be one or the other.”
“Trust me, it
ain’t that different.” He chucked a handful of crisps in his
mouth and crunched noisily.
She shrugged, like
she didn’t believe him. “So do you fancy him, or what?”
Dev almost choked
on his ready salted. He washed the crisps down with a mouthful of
vodka and Coke, buying time, but there didn’t seem any harm in
telling her. “Maybe. He’s interesting, you know?”
when it’s at home?”
Different.” Dev shifted in his seat. “Like, not the same as all
the blokes I know at home. And I reckon he’s got a sense of
“You could tell
all that from the way he was lying on that bench, could you?”
“Shut up. Maybe I
just like a bloke with a beard, all right?”
Ceri half laughed
at that. “You ever think about growing a beard? I reckon it’d
suit you. Even one of they bushy lumberjack ones.”
“Nah, get real.
Dark-skinned bloke with a full beard? All I’d have to do would be
to get on the Tube with me rucksack, and someone’d be calling the
cops before you could say Daesh.”
been some of that round here and all. Muslim girls getting picked on
for wearing headscarves. Not a lot, but still. It’s grocks and old
Dev nodded. “Tell
me about it. Well, not the grocks ’cos believe it or not, we don’t
get a right lot of tourists round my neck of the woods. But yeah. Old
folks, defs. My boss, Masood, he reckons it’s a lot better now than
when his mum and dad came over from Pakistan in the sixties.”
would be, at that. What do you do, Devan-spelled-with-an-A?”
in a garage. Do a few odd jobs on the side, you know how it is. How
about you? Is the caff it for you, or is it just a summer thing?”
“It’s just for
the summer. Dunno what I’m gonna do come autumn. Go on benefits,
most like. Or move away. Where are you from?”
tell? South London. Got a flat in Balham. Arse end of the Northern
“On your own?”
“Nah, I share
with me mate, Mal.”
“What, the one
who’s not here?”
him.” Dev glared halfheartedly at his half-drunk vodka and Coke,
then downed it in one. Which wasn’t a good move seeing as the Coke
here was well gassy. Dev belched loudly, just glad he hadn’t got
bubbles right up his nose.
Ceri looked like
she was about to say something, but she turned as the street door
opened and a noisy crowd of newcomers lowered the average age in the
place by ten years at a stroke.
There was a mob of
around half a dozen of them, all in their late teens at Dev’s
guess. Fresh out of their first year at uni, maybe—they had that
student look about them, the lads in Jack Wills shirts and the girls
with minimal makeup and unfussy hair. Not like the girls—and some
of the lads—he was used to back home, all done up like pop star
wannabes. Plus they had that relaxed, lazy air you got when you had
three months of freedom, not the desperate overexuberance Dev was
used to from his own mates, who only got two weeks off in the summer
and were going to have fun if it bloody well killed them.
The uni mob were
all looking right at Dev and Ceri. And not like they were pleased to
“Mates of yours?”
Ceri flushed and
turned her head away. “No.” Her voice had an ugly, harsh tone.
“You know, we
could head off somewhere else. I ain’t had me tea yet,” he
“No. We was here
first, and they never come in here.” She sounded furious
that they’d dared change their routine, and now she mentioned it,
Dev could see a few of the regulars sending the uni mob dark looks
too. “You stay where you are. I’ll get another round in.”
Like Dev was going
to let her go up to the bar with that lot there. “I’ll get ’em,”
Dev said, standing up. “It’s my round anyway.”
“So? I got paid
“Yeah, but I’m
on me hols, ain’t I? Got money to burn. Same again, right?” He
swept off without waiting for an answer and headed to the opposite
end of the bar from Ceri’s not-mates.
The old git had
disappeared somewhere, to change a barrel or maybe to drink one, so
the bar was now staffed by a middle-aged-to-elderly barmaid who
looked like she’d run out of fucks to give a week ago last Tuesday.
Dev wondered if she was Mrs. Old Git. It’d certainly explain why
she looked so bloody fed up. Standing there trying to keep one eye on
Ceri to make sure no one bothered her while simultaneously trying to
catch the barmaid’s attention with the other, Dev supposed he
shouldn’t have been surprised he didn’t notice the redheaded girl
sneaking up on him.
she said right in his ear and nearly made him drop his wallet. “How
long you known Ceri Harper?”
See, that sort of
crap got Dev’s back right up. He spun to face her. She was a pretty
girl, and he reckoned she knew it, with her carefully natural makeup
and her off-the-shoulder top that showcased creamy pale skin. With
her red hair falling in waves over her shoulders, she looked a bit
like that actress who’d played Demelza in Poldark (shut up,
he only watched it for when Aidan Turner got his shirt off), and Dev
reckoned she knew that too. Her accent wasn’t right for the part,
though—it was local still, but a bit on the posh side for Demelza
the kitchen maid. “What’s it to you, love?”
“Just here to
give you a friendly warning.” She smiled, and it was good. Almost
as good an imitation as her French manicured fingernails and those
stencilled-on eyebrows. “You want to be careful with that girl.
She’s not right in the head. Imagines things. You’ll end up in
trouble if you hang around with her.”
“I can take care
of myself, ta very much. And if you ask me, it ain’t Ceri who’s
going around causing trouble.” If anyone wasn’t right
around here, Dev reckoned it was this girl, with her dire warnings
like she’d walked out of some gothic romance.
shrugged her bare shoulders. “Suit yourself. But if you ask me, a
good-looking lad like you could do a lot better.”
Half-turned away, she glanced at him over her shoulder, and what got
Dev then was that her expression seemed real, genuine. Concerned. “I
mean it about the trouble. The bad kind. Police trouble. You’d
better watch yourself.”
Dev snorted to show
her what he thought of that, and turned back to the bar because
Christ, he was never going to get served at this rate. Luck was
finally in, though, as the barmaid glanced his way almost
immediately. Dev ordered and paid for his and Ceri’s drinks, took a
gulp of his own because he needed it after that, and started to make
for their corner table.
It was now occupied
by a trio of spotty lads sipping their pints with furtive looks and
an air of triumph that said all too clearly the barmaid hadn’t
bothered to ask them for proof they were over eighteen, which it was
also pretty clear they wouldn’t have been able to provide. Dev had
been there, done that. But where the hell was Ceri?
nipped off to the ladies’? Except who in their right mind left a
table in a quickly filling pub until they had someone to hold it for
them? Dev leaned against the wall anyway and drank his vodka and
Coke, feeling like a right tool, with the uni mob glancing over his
way every now and then.
appear. Dev started on her drink, having finished his own.
put down her glass and looked like she was about to come over, Dev
He’d had enough
drama for one night. Time to hit the chippy.
Where exactly was
the chippy, from here? And how the hell was he going to find his way
back to his B&B without Ceri? Dev got out his phone and stared at
the pitiful number of bars, trying to will the signal strong enough
for him to actually use the GPS.
Like that ever
worked. You’d think Cornwall was Outer flippin’ Mongolia as far
as his network was concerned. First thing tomorrow he was going down
the tourist information place and getting a map.
From his house on
the cliff, Kyle gazed out at the darkening sea, its waves at this
distance no more than ripples on an endless, featureless pond. The
sky’s sunset bloom was muted by the lowering clouds, their silver
linings a lie. He waited for the sense of relaxation he usually got
from the view to wash over him. Calm him.
It was slow to come
For God’s sake,
just when he thought he’d settled in here. Had got himself enough
of a reputation that people would leave him alone.
Of course, he
probably shouldn’t have come somewhere with a continual influx of
tourists, then, should he?
Like the young man
from the café this afternoon.
The attack had come
on suddenly—Kyle barely had time to get to the bench before he was
out like a light.
He’d come round
to the sound of a concerned London accent. When he’d opened his
eyes, he’d half thought he was still asleep and dreaming. There’d
been a young man bending over him, his brown eyes impossibly large,
staring right at Kyle from only inches away. His hand had been on
Kyle’s shoulder, his grip firm. Warm.
breathtakingly handsome. Light-tan skin—genetic, not from a tanning
bed or out of a bottle. Black hair, cropped aggressively short at the
sides and gelled up on top. Casual clothes. Here on holiday, of
course, although he didn’t seem the sort to be a family man.
His face had looked
somehow familiar. Not in itself, but in its lines, its features.
Maybe his mixed-race ancestry included some Turkish blood, like a lot
of the darker-skinned residents of the town.
Not that it was any
of Kyle’s business.
The young man had
laughed and joked with him, as if Kyle’s humiliating collapse was
nothing to worry about. For a moment, it almost hadn’t been. For a
moment, Kyle had almost believed it was something that could be taken
in stride. Just another part of him. Something to joke about.
He hadn’t felt so
normal, so light since he’d come to Cornwall. No, since he’d
been diagnosed and realised he wasn’t ever going to get better.
Then it had all
gone wrong somehow. Something Kyle had said, something he’d done,
had made the young man take a step back, his face suddenly wary. The
weight had settled on Kyle’s shoulders once more.
He’d left as soon
as he could marshal his wretched, treacherous limbs to carry him.
The young man had
had an interesting face, though. A strong jawline, almost
belligerent, that was at total odds with those soft, dark eyes of
Kyle reached for
his sketchbook and pencils almost before he knew what he was doing.
He frowned, very deliberately sat down and, with a soft pencil,
sketched out the scene before him, devoid of all human life.
Then he tore out
the page, crumpled it, and threw it blindly at the bin behind him.
actually managed to find the place again, Dev slept all right that
first night in the Spindrift B&B. If he didn’t count the dreams
where Bench Bloke somehow turned out to be his long-lost dad and Ceri
was his mum, for Christ’s sake, which was rich seeing as she
had to be younger than he was. And everything was pink, but that was
a direct result of the room. The B&B advertised itself as gay
friendly, which was why he and Mal had chosen it, despite them not
being actually a couple or even mates with benefits except on nights
they got really wasted. Or lonely, or horny, or all three.
Which was great, yeah, but for some reason the owners had decided
that meant the whole bloody place had to look like an explosion in a
Barbie factory. Dev wondered if Mrs. Quick would be offended if he
started wearing his Ray-Bans indoors.
She’d dished him
up an awesome cooked breakfast, described as “full Cornish” but
which seemed pretty identical to a full English to Dev—there was
fried egg, bacon, sausage, beans, and grilled tomato. The only
difference seemed to be potato cakes instead of fried bread, and
something called hog’s pudding where you’d normally get a slice
of black pudding nobody in their right mind would touch with a
bargepole. Dev ate the lot, including the hog’s pudding, which the
lesbian couple from Glasgow he’d got talking to over breakfast told
him tasted a lot like haggis. Dev had never had haggis, and he’d
always reckoned it was one of those things everyone hated but ate
because it was traditional, like Brussels sprouts at Christmas, but
this stuff was actually tasty.
Huh. Maybe he’d
pick up a haggis next time he saw them on offer at Tesco. Of course,
he’d have to find out what neeps and tatties were if he did that,
seeing as Val from Glasgow had said they were the only proper things
to eat with haggis and then changed the subject before he could say,
“And what will
you be up to today?” Carol, the younger and prettier one, asked
him. She was small and blond and talked a bit different from Val,
like maybe she hadn’t always lived in Glasgow, but Dev didn’t
know enough about Scottish accents to tell for sure. “Will you be
doing a wee bit of surfing?”
Dev patted his
belly with a grimace. “After eating this lot? I’d flippin’
sink. Probably cause a bloody tsunami on me way down and all. Nah,
thought I’d take a wander up to Big Guns Cove and have a look
around. What about you two?”
Carol glanced at
Val and smiled. “We’ll be paying a visit to the Round Hole and
the castle up on Caerdu Head. It’s steeped in Arthurian legend
there, you know.”
Val snorted into
her tea, although she somehow managed to make it sound fond. “Black
knights and sea serpents, I ask you. When you know full well that
castle was nae built till long after Arthur’s time. You stop your
havering, and we’d best be away now, or we’ll not get anywhere.
You have a good day, laddie, and we’ll see you tonight.”
Dev watched them go
off smiling and hand in hand, and felt a bit melancholy for some
reason. Of course, he was disappointed he hadn’t got to hear more
about the black knights and sea serpents. Had they meant, like, black
knights, meaning Turks or Saracens or whatever the fuck they’d
called them in those days, or was it just a saying, like they’d had
black hair or black flags or black hearts or something? And sea
serpents were well cool, obviously.
Dev had half a mind
to run after Val and Carol, say he’d go with them—except what
kind of a git barged in on someone else’s couple time? No, he’d
stick to his—hah—Big Guns and head off in the opposite direction.
At least he’d
feel he was getting somewhere. Sort of.
First, though, Dev
decided as he headed down the drive of the B&B, he was hitting
the Square Peg Café. Not for another shite cup of coffee. To find
out what was going on with Ceri. It’d make the round trip far
enough to think about taking the bike—but sod it, it’d only be a
couple of miles or so. And he really needed to walk off that
breakfast. His jeans were tight enough already.
As he made his way
through the town, Dev could hear church bells ringing, although they
sounded a fair way off. For some reason, he’d forgotten it was a
Sunday. Funny that. Second day of his hols and he’d already lost
track of what day it was. That’d be St. Ia’s, then—the tourist
info had mentioned that as one of the attractions. Maybe he’d find
out where it was and pop in sometime, but not today. Dev wondered how
he was supposed to pronounce it. Saint Eye-yah? Saint Ear? Why did
they have to have all different saints around here anyhow? Most of
the churches he knew back home were called Balham (Insert
Denomination of Choice) Church, but even the sainted ones had names
you recognised and knew how to say, like St. Mary or St. Anselm. He’d
never even heard of a St. Ia, and he wasn’t that
unreligious. Okay, so he never went to church except when someone he
knew was getting hitched or had popped a sprog and was getting it
christened, but he’d done years of RE in school.
Then again, he had
failed his GCSE. Mostly due to arsing about during lessons, which had
been a bit of a feature of his school career if he was honest. He
hadn’t really got his head screwed on straight until he’d left
the place and started at college, where they’d actually treated him
like an adult, not a really dim, annoying toddler they’d be glad to
see the back of.
Ceri was back in
her frumpy skirt at the Square Peg Café, dishing out coffees with a
surly grunt before moving on to clearing tables.
straight up to her. “Oi, what was that all about?”
didn’t even look at him. She just carried on stacking plates.
Dev picked up a
knife that’d skittered off a plate and onto the ground, and handed
it to her. By the jam-smeared blade, because he was a gent like that.
“You. Blowing me off last night.” He licked strawberry-flavoured
sticky stuff off his fingers, and tried to ignore the sniggering
coming from a couple of twin lads aged about twelve sitting round a
table with Mum and Dad.
He briefly thought
about explaining he hadn’t meant blowing me off in the sex
sense, but decided it’d probably make them snigger even worse. Then
he saw what they were eating and did a double take. Seriously? Dev
liked a clotted cream tea as much as the next Brit, but not at ten
o’clock in the flipping morning.
No wonder Ceri
didn’t think much of tourists.
you’d want me around no more, did I?” Ceri muttered. “After
what she said to you.”
whoever she is, she can go . . . stuff herself.” Dev glanced
guiltily at the kids, which nearly made them piss themselves. Dad
carried on stuffing himself with his over-laden scone,
oblivious, while Mum heaved a pointed sigh. Dev looked away again
quickly. “You off at five again, yeah? I’ll see you then, all
“Want to hear my
side of the story, do you?”
“No. Far as I’m
concerned, there ain’t no story. Just some ginger bi—bit of fluff
stirring up sh—stuff, that’s all. I’ll see you later. And oi,
smile a bit, yeah? I want two bags of crisps tonight.”
She did smile at
that, so yeah, job done. Dev strolled off to reward himself with a
cup of coffee from somewhere decent.
Not that he
actually deserved a reward, seeing as he hadn’t done the first
bloody thing about the whole reason he’d come here yet. But, well.
He had three weeks, didn’t he? Plenty of time. And, yeah, this was
his holiday, wasn’t it? Only one he’d be getting all summer. So
he deserved a bit of relaxation, right? It’d put him in a better
frame of mind for . . . stuff.
Dev found a place
near the tourist information office that served him a proper Turkish
coffee, thick as used engine oil but way tastier. Trouble was, all
that caffeine left him keyed up and jumpy as he walked out of town on
what he later realised, looking at the map the lady at the tourist
information place had given him, was the wrong path. He’d come down
the same way, he reckoned, that Ceri had taken him to the Sea Bell
last night, but before he got as far as the pub there was a fork off
to the right leading back the way he wanted to go. Dev took it, and a
few minutes later found himself looking across a broad, sandy cove.
There was a
lifeboat station with a weird, curved roof directly below him, which
according to the map made this Mother Ivey’s Bay. The sea stretched
out forever in front of him. Under the clear skies—so different
from yesterday Dev wouldn’t have believed it—the water was a
rich, deep blue it hurt to gaze at. Salt-laden air ruffled his hair,
which he hadn’t bothered to gel, and drenched his lungs, so fresh
it made his chest catch.
The beach looked
better than Dev could ever have imagined for somewhere in Britain. If
the weather kept shaping up warm, he was going to be back here later
with his trunks on. There was a broad stretch of golden sand on which
a few families had already staked their claims, loomed over by dark,
craggy cliffs. There wasn’t anyone in the water yet, except a
couple of toddlers paddling with their dad at the water’s edge,
shrieking and running as the waves broke gently on their little legs.
Dev wandered along
the narrow road that hugged the contours of the cliffs, its edges
bordered by scraggy little bushes that might have been gorse or
heather or something. He wasn’t all that good on plants, all right?
The beach ducked in and out of sight with the bends in the road, but
the view was never less than seriously awesome.
He’d heard places
described as “unspoilt” before, but he’d never really got what
it meant until he saw this cove. All right, so up top where he was
right now, there was a road and a car park and stuff—a few odd
shops and a pottery, it looked like—but down on the beach there was
nothing except what nature had bunged down there. No public lavs, no
kiosks, not even anyone hiring out pedalos or windsurfers.
Dev was used to a
beach being somewhere you went to muck about and have a laugh with
your mates, or sleep off your hangover after clubbing all night. This
place, though . . . It was about as different from Magaluf as, well,
Porthkennack was from Balham.
And maybe this
place really was in his blood, because for a moment the thought of
going back home to the dirt and the smells and the endless, soulless
brick, concrete, and tarmac of London seemed almost unbearable. Even
the cries of the gulls overhead seemed less earsplitting today, more
just part of the scenery.
Then one of them
shat on his bare arm, the droopy-beaked bastard.
Christ, that was
gross. And he had sod all to wipe it up with. Fucking marvellous.
Dev glanced around—any mums up here with young kiddies? A baby wipe
would be magic right now, ta very much.
No such luck. They
were all either on the beach already or still in their holiday homes
spooning goo into tiny mouths. Dev did see someone up on the cliff
with him, though. Was it . . .? He blinked. Yeah, it was him all
Bench Bloke. The
drunk from yesterday. He was standing on the cliff a hundred yards or
so ahead, round past the end of the beach where the cliffs climbed up
to the Big Guns place. And he was too bloody close to the edge for
Dev’s liking. For Christ’s sake, there was a warning sign and
Of course, if you
were planning to jump . . .
Ah, sod it. Dev
looked at his arm. The bird shit was already starting to dry in the
sun. He crouched down, wiped it off quickly and ineffectively on one
of the least scratchy-looking bushes, and jogged on over to Bench
Bloke. With all this good karma Dev was storing up, he was going to
come back as a bloody billionaire in the next life.
mate?” he called out.
The sea-blue eyes
seemed a lot more alert today as they swung round to focus on him. A
frown formed a crease between them. “You’re . . . from yesterday.
He didn’t look
like an alcoholic. He didn’t have the bloodshot eyes, the reddened
complexion, and the broken veins Dev remembered from Mal’s uncle.
He just looked tired. He’d trimmed his beard since yesterday. Dev
was relieved to see it. He couldn’t be that far gone if he’d
bothered to get out the trimmers. Anyway, the more groomed vibe
suited him, and weirdly, didn’t make him seem any less at home here
on the wild, craggy clifftop.
Listen, mate, you wanna step back from the edge a bit? I’m getting
vertigo just looking at you.”
fall?” He sounded bitter.
worried the sea spray’s gonna mess up your hair.” It came out a
bit sharper than Dev meant it to. “Course I’m bloody worried
you’re gonna fall,” he added in a softer tone, then ruined it all
by adding an automatic, “you tosser,” on the end.
Shit. Then again,
maybe not, because the bloke actually smiled at that, the half smile
Dev remembered from yesterday.
Then he stepped
away from the edge, thank Christ. “Happy now?”
“Over the fucking
moon.” Dev had meant it to sound sarcastic, but it came out mostly
relieved. “I’m Dev,” he added quickly before the bloke could
pick him up on it. “From London. Here for a few weeks. You?”
The bloke blinked,
like he hadn’t been expecting conversation. “Kyle,” he said at
last. “From Epsom in Surrey, although I live here now.”
Dev nodded, then
realised that’d look a bit odd. “Yeah. I heard.”
Aaand there went
the smile. Fizzled out like a ciggie in a urinal, and Dev had been
the one who’d chucked it there. Bugger it. “Heard a lot about me,
have you?” If Dev had thought Kyle sounded bitter earlier, his tone
now could curdle clotted cream.
Dev forced a cheeky
smile. “Yeah, mate. Didn’t you know? You got your own page on the
Tourist Info website.”
Result. The smile
was back. Except it was a bit more twisted than Dev would’ve liked.
“On display for a limited time only: the incredible collapsing
“Hey, we all got
our problems. Listen, do you wanna go for a—” Dev broke off.
Shit, had he really been about to offer an alcy a drink? He
stared at Kyle, appalled. “Shit, sorry, no, course not—”
Kyle stared back
for a mo, eyes wide—then, which was weird as fuck, burst out
And fell over.
Dev was too shocked
to even catch him on the way down.
Kyle had just sort
of crumpled from the knees, exactly like a puppet with its strings
cut, which Dev knew for a fact because he’d had to take his foster
sister, Tasha, to a kiddies’ party once, and they’d had a puppet
show there, and it had been boring as fuck until the villain puppet
actually got out a big pair of scissors somehow and cut the strings
on the hero puppet and half the kiddies started crying, and Christ,
why was he remembering that now instead of doing something
Dev shook himself
and dropped to his knees beside Kyle. Recovery position, right? Kyle
was pretty much in that already, the way he’d fallen. Maybe he’d
had a lot of practice. Falling. Shit. Focus. Was he breathing? Dev
bent close, and he’d have sworn on his life there wasn’t a hint
of alcohol on Kyle’s breath, which seemed to be coming just fine,
thank God. Was he epileptic? Christ, was he likely to swallow his
tongue? Dev pulled down Kyle’s slack jaw, hoping he wasn’t, like,
tearing muscles or dislocating joints or anything. Kyle’s tongue
was exactly where it ought to be.
Sitting back on his
heels, Dev took a deep breath and pulled his phone out of his pocket
to call 999—but even as he did, Kyle blinked and stirred.
said with feeling. “You all right? You nearly gave me a bloody
heart attack. Shit—did you just have a heart attack?”
struggling up to a sitting position on the grass. He shook off Dev’s
offered hand and said something that came out way too garbled for Dev
to make out. He closed his eyes for a long moment, rubbed his jaw,
then tried again. “I’m fine.”
Christ, he sounded
tired. “You’re fine? Does that word mean something different
around here? ’Cos last time I looked, fine didn’t include
collapsing on the bloody ground with no warning.” Ice flooded Dev’s
veins. “Shit, if you’d still been standing on the edge . . .”
“I’d have . . .
I’m fine.” Kyle’s voice was angry. Frustrated.
“So what was it?”
heard?” Kyle made the same drinking-up gesture Ceri had made
“No. No way.”
Dev shook his head slowly for emphasis. “Mate, I’ve seen
falling-down drunk—fuck it, I’ve been falling-down
drunk—and that is not what this looks like. So what is it?
Again the eyes
closed, like Kyle wanted the world to go away. Or maybe just Dev.
“Cataplexy,” he said at last.
narcolepsy with cataplexy. I fall asleep at odd times during the day.
And sometimes I just fall.” Kyle spat out the words like foul bits
of gristle from a cut-price supermarket’s value-brand pack of
“Shit. You know,
you oughtta have one of those medical bracelets or something.”
Dev trailed off as
Kyle held up one hand. On his wrist was a chunky black leather band
Dev vaguely remembered noticing yesterday. He’d thought it was a
fashion statement. It had a stainless steel plate engraved with a
symbol of . . . Dev frowned. “A pole-dancing snake? What’s that
mean when it’s at home?”
“It’s the Rod
of Asclepius.” He pronounced the weird word with annoying
precision. “The international medical symbol. The information’s
on the other side.”
wrong with the flippin’ red cross? Everyone knows what that means.
And, mate, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that
symbol could get seriously misinterpreted in certain company.” Like
Dev’s, for instance. First sight, he’d thought it looked well