WiP: Oakfield – chapter seven

Work in Progress

Just finished this one this morning. Again, apologies for typos. Straight off the machine.  Oakfield. It’s a cyberpunk / horror story set in the South West of England and is a direct prequel to the epic novel God Seed.  Enjoy!

Start from the beginning: Chapter 1 here

Chapter Seven

James left with a 1.5 metre long painting of a desert landscape under his arm. Hiram had refused to take any money for it.  James was genuinely flattered and grateful, but also wary that in some way the painting represented a bribe. He liked Hiram, but for reasons he couldn’t define he didn’t trust him.

It was a little past nine o’clock in the morning.  The fog was lifting and once he walked up and over the ridge onto the wide expanse of moorland, he had a clear view of the house. He wasn’t impressed to see the sleek shape a familiar sports car parked outside; the matt black carbon bodywork soaked up the emerging glare of the daylight.  Approaching, he saw there was nobody inside. Which meant Josh McKenzie was somewhere within the house.

His jaw became rigid. He walked through the front door, which was unlocked and ajar, into the porch and then into the great hall.  He heard the sound of Annabelle laughing, her voice coming from the kitchen; another voice, not one he recognised.

Stepping into the large, open-plan kitchen he saw the goblin-like figure of Josh McKenzie sitting at the wooden country farmhouse table supping on a cup of tea. Annabelle sat nearby, at the end of the table, dressed in a pale summer dress that showed off her figure.  His sister had a child-like body but it wasn’t petite; big-boned, the proportions gave her almost squat, solid build. She would have made a first-class rugby player.  That always earned him a painful thump every time he mentioned it.  This wasn’t one of those moments.  He didn’t like Josh seemingly trying to ingratiate himself like this and made sure his face showed the displeasure; despite Hiram’s words about showing politeness and courtesy.

“Tea’s in the pot,” Annabelle told him, as if Josh’s presence wasn’t a matter for his interest. “Unless you want coffee then Robert has something awful bubbling on the hob.” She looked at Josh. “The man make’s coffee so strong you can stand a spoon upright in it.”

Josh grinned but his gaze was fixed on James; registering the near-to-hostile expression and then moving down to the painting James held, unwrapped, beneath his arm. There was a tangible moment of recognition in Josh’s eyes followed by cold, cynical look of understanding. Josh McKenzie made a show of looking disappointed: he knew Hiram had spoken with James.

James felt a moment of uncertainty. His wariness of Hiram surged to the surface.

Damn. He turned away towards the hob.  The smell of coffee was intense.

“You’ve been enjoying the work of our local artist, I see.” Josh called after him. Keeping it friendly.

“Local artist?” Annabelle asked, intrigued.

James nodded, put the painting down, face-up, on one long bench and began hunting for a clean mug.

Josh continued the conversation through Annabelle. “Your neighbour. Hiram Sykes.”

“Oh. Really? I suppose that fits.” Annabelle didn’t hide her dismay from her voice.

James rolled his eyes. His sister could be such a fickle bitch sometimes.

“You don’t like him?” Josh oozed the question.

James cleared his throat loudly and turned around, fixing Josh with a hard stare.  “She doesn’t know him yet.” A glance towards her. “Where’s the others?”

Annabelle hadn’t noticed the tension building up between him and her visitor. She looked at her tea cup.  “David’s out with Robert. They’ve gone for a walk down into town. Anthony’s out-”

“Yes. I know where’s Anthony’s gone.” James cut in sharply.  He didn’t want Josh alerted to the fact his brother was trespassing, and looking to jump off a bloody great big stack of rock on McKenzie property.

Annabelle wiggled her head as if to say: what’s got into you?  “Well excuse me mister know-it-all.” She turned her attention back to Josh. “He’s an army boy, through and through.”

Josh seemed to note this with interest. Nodded. Looked at James.  James bit down on his lip, cocked an eyebrow and went back to looking for a cup. He found one in a cupboard nowhere near the hob. Annabelle had gone on to talking about the delight of being in the countryside after so much time confined by concrete in London.  Josh suggested that the joy of the countryside was short-lived.   Josh McKenzie remained in his peripheral vision and his mind’s-eye. James realised the overly red colour of his face was very different to Robert – who was just old and unfit.  Josh was most likely a heavy drinker.  The skin of his face had hardened ridges around the laughter lines and small circular welts that made him think of small worms trapped beneath.  Far from attractive, yet James sensed a sexual attraction coming from Annabelle.

Weird.

He got some coffee inside of him then extracted a crumpled packet of Sunder Smokes from the front pocket of his jeans.

“I hope you’re not even thinking of lighting one of those inside here?” Annabelle glared at him with more aggression than a reprimand. James grinned, cold and unfriendly, even though he could empathise with her jagged emotion.  Smoking had killed their mother.  Well, cancer had killed her – blocked off her gullet so that she was forced to choose between starving to death or a poor quality of life – but smoking had been the root cause.  He slipped the cigarette behind his ear and nodded at Josh. “I’ll smoke it whilst he and I talk outside.”

Josh narrowed his eyes.

Annabelle jerked her head back at the affront. Glanced at Josh. “We’re not finished talking here.”

James levelled a firm gaze at Josh. “Talking about the buying the house, again, I bet.”

Josh said nothing. Waited for Annabelle to sweep in.  Or maybe that’s what he was hoping for. But Annabelle was quick to pick up on her brother’s display of instincts.  She responded cautiously, her body posture changing to show a closing of previous openness.  “Yes, he was.  What’s the problem James?”

James smirked.  Josh’s features compressed and James suspected he was seeing the man’s true character starting to seep to the surface.  He held out a hand, fingers spread. “Tell you what Josh. Why don’t you tell my sister and I about the year you spent trying to convince our grandfather to sell you this place.”

Annabelle shot James a look of profound surprise and then brought one of concern to bear on Josh.

Josh rolled his lips together, gazing into some middle-distance. He looked like a man who had been caught in the act.  A weary sigh slid from his nose, his shoulders lifted as he took in a breath.  He explained: “Your grandfather drove a hard bargain.  He wanted a price that was utterly unreasonable. We spent many months – not quite a year – negotiating and discussing the offer with him.”

“And he said no.” James pressed, keeping back hot anger rising up through his temples.

Josh shook his head. “No. He died before he said yes.”

James snorted, “That’s quite a statement.  Did you make that up yourself?”

“James.” Annabelle berated.  Focussed on Josh.  “I wish you’d told me this from the start.”

“I’m sorry. I just thought…”  Josh seemed genuinely lost for words. Frustrating robbed him of his voice.  “I’m really sorry. I just didn’t want to bring up a whole load of history. I had hoped to start with a fresh slate.”

“Did you threaten our grandfather?” James asked bluntly. Annabelle frowned at him but she was also keen to see how Josh responded.

Josh seemed pained by the question. “I take it that’s what Hiram Sykes told you.”

“Hiram?” Annabelle snapped an angry look at James. “Hiram told you this?  Is this where this is coming from?”

James held out a hand, placating. “The man was Eustace’s best friend.”

Josh snorted, amused.

“He would know.” James finished, looking at Annabelle meaningfully, then challenged the McKenzie: “Why the laugh?”

Josh visibly sneered.  “That man is not somebody you should be taking opinions from.”

“He used to own this house, right?” James pronounced. Another glance from Annabelle. James ignored her.

“Yes,” Josh answered. “And he was a bloody nightmare. Pardon my French. Kept trying to expand the perimeter up onto our land.”

“Your land?” Annabelle got her words in quick.

Josh looked at her. “Yes. We own all the land behind this property.  Hiram seemed to find that offensive. Some kind of hippy dippy rights thing. I don’t know.”

James caught the exasperation but thought it sounded contrived. Annabelle did too. Her features darkened with suspicion. “Well I appreciate the visit, Mr McKenzie. But I’ll have to ask you to leave so I can talk this through with my brother. Quick frankly, these revelations leave me a little wrong-footed.  I want to see what else he’s managed to find out in the few seconds he’s been here.  And then I want a few days to think things through and talk the matter over with my family. I don’t want you coming back here until I’ve made up my mind. Do you understand me Mr McKenzie?”

Josh rose to his feet.  A heavy sadness had crept into his face, weighing down his features. “I do. But I have to ask. I have to insist, that you give me a decision by the end of play today.”

“What?” Annabelle stood up.  Her body rotated and she stepped around him, clearing the way for him to exit.  “No. I don’t think that’s how it’s going to work here.  You don’t tell me how or when I make a decision like this.”

Josh broke his hands apart in an open gesture, his head dipping down. “I’m sorry to apply pressure. But I’m conscious of the fact you’ll be gone in a few days and I want to deal directly with you – and not some agent who may come here to represent you.”

“That’s not the reason,” James stung.

“It is one reason.” Josh responded patiently, lowered his hands. “But my father.  He is making decisions tomorrow, with a lawyer, about the business, and about the family house we own. Decisions based on not having this house.”

James shook his head, not understanding. Annabelle folded her arms, unimpressed.

Josh continued, “Having this house would allow a lot of personal… history, to be swept away and would allow my family to move on. It’s complicated. I really don’t want to go into the details. But if you could agree to give me a decision by the end of tonight then I will be able to influence the decisions made tomorrow.”

Annabelle levelled a callous look at him. “And you’re assuming I would say yes, tonight. That I would want to sell.”

Josh said nothing.

James glanced at Annabelle. She met his gaze for a moment, nodded. James stepped forward, explicitly telegraphing his intention to grab Josh’s arm if he didn’t move. Josh twisted away, palpably reading the emotional shutters rolling down in their faces.  His mouth opened, his lower jaw jutted out to reveal an uneven row of teeth long in need of a dentist.  He was angry and he was disappointed.  Personal failure?  An inability to sell the proposal (again)?  James wasn’t certain of what Josh McKenzie was feeling but he was sure he didn’t like the man.

“Time for you to leave, Josh.”

Josh span round and strode away.  James followed as far as the front door, and then stood and watched the McKenzie climb into his sports car and tear up the gravel drive as he looped around and sped away, spindles blurring.  The sky overhead was crystal blue. Almost all the fog had burned away. It was going to be another hot clear day.

Annabelle appeared beside him after the sports car plunged through the twin stone gate posts and vanished down the hill.

“Not such friendly neighbours, after all.” James quipped dryly.

He could sense Annabelle’s fury and was prepared for an argument to flare up, but to her credit she kept her emotions in check.  She twisted her shoulder sideways and looked up at him.  “I think you should tell me everything Hiram said to you. And then I’m going to go over there and have a little chat.”

James nodded absently, gazing across the wide expanse of moorland. The last tendrils of fog hazed the edge of the view.  “Did you find the keys?”

“For the basement? No. Why?”

“Curious.”

“Actually I didn’t really find anything of anything. The study’s barely been used in years judging by the dust and the age of the paperwork in there.”

James frowned and pulled himself upright to look down at her.  “What do you mean?”

Annabelle gave an imperceptible shrug. “I don’t really know. But it’s strange. It’s as if anything of real interest is gone.”

“Removed? Taken away by somebody?” His gaze flicked back to the ridge, beyond which lay Hiram’s house.

She was shaking her head. “I don’t know. But no.  It’s like… it’s like the room just hasn’t been used.  Where’s grandfather’s files? Where’s his computer? What’s he been doing all these years he’s been living here?”

James had no idea. But he wondered if it had something to do with what was locked away in the basement.  “Beats me sis. But I’m starting to think this place has some secrets it would tell, if it could.”

# # # END CHAPTER

Got a day of Yellow Dawn RPG ahead so no more progress on this until tomorrow now, at the earliest. Depends what state my brain is in after running an all day session.

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