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The Cult of Following, Book Two

The Cult of Following, Book Two

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The Cult of Following, Book Two

Length:
319 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 21, 2017
ISBN:
9780995530805
Format:
Book

Description

After stepping far beyond the warm-beer and soggy-chip comforts of England, Percy Field has finally accepted his lot. While the move to Singapore was everything Percy expected, finding joy in this new place was both inexplicable and unexpected.

But life for the disagreeable expat is not destined to be easy. When providence plays an unlikely hand in the form of a manipulative elderly resident, Percy finds himself sliding towards trouble. Like it or not, there are people who think a great deal of him, but how far can friendship be pushed?

Publisher:
Released:
Mar 21, 2017
ISBN:
9780995530805
Format:
Book

About the author

Life has so many possible outcomes. From the simple question what if? a thousand stories can evolve. This is how novelist, Barbara Jaques, finds inspiration, through questions of coincidence, uncertainty, superstition and faith. Born in a tiny town in Alberta to wandering parents before their return to Bristol, Barbara has also wandered a little, although is now settled in Wiltshire with her family, close to her childhood home.


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The Cult of Following, Book Two - Barbara Jaques

1. FIVE CARD FLUSH

Percy Field sighed. What was apparent to everyone was that he was bored of Norm asking them all to repeat the rules. ‘We’re not placing bets,’ he said for the fourth time, ‘just winning hands.’

‘But what about the dealer? What does the dealer do?’

‘Everyone is dealt a hand of seven cards, and after that, the game begins.’

Norman Sullivan’s focus shifted from studying the remainder of the pack in his hand, to meeting his hero’s weary gaze. ‘So it’s the same for the dealer?’ he asked, shuffling his chair closer to the table and away from the edge of the swimming pool. Though it was after dark, two young families were playing a game that occasionally sent plumes of water everywhere.

‘Precisely what I am saying, Norm; it’s the same for the dealer. You deal, just as you have, then you join the game like any other player.’ Scowling now, Percy’s sour gaze briefly visited the faces of others sitting around the table, shadowy in the low light.

‘That’s it?’

‘For Christ’s sake, yes! Exactly like life, Norm, a random deal then off you go. Except life is harder than Rummy.’

‘You’re saying that life’s a game and a tough one?’

The frown deepened.

Norm watched as Percy began organising his cards into some kind of order. ‘Is that what you’re saying, Percy?’ he pressed.

Without raising his gaze, Percy responded to Norm’s repeated question with barely a grunt.

‘I like that,’ Norm declared, brightly, ‘we’re dealt a random hand and have to make the most of it.’

Percy silently slipped his cards into different positions, within the fan pinched between his fingers, visibly assessing and reassessing his hand.

Norm enjoyed the pleasant sensation flooding across his chest, as if the warm hands of the God he had always loved were caressing him. He considered that in his own morose way, Percy so often picked truth from circumstance, drawing metaphors that helped others rationalise the difficulties of life. He did it succinctly and with total confidence, Norm felt, brushing aside the frivolity of discussion. At that moment, with good friends gathered around the lovely pool that served his welcoming condo, playing cards – something he never dreamed he ever would – Norm felt change leaning upon him like never before.

While he’d been thinking, the game had begun and his turn had come.

‘Norm,’ Percy prompted.

‘Hmm?’

Percy nodded to Norm’s hand.

‘Oh. Oh, hang on. One more moment. I haven’t worked out what to put down… so I need… what was it? Oh, I have it. A five card flush?’

‘That is the wrong game, Norman,’ came the patient voice of Joyann Tan. ‘We have moved on to something simpler.’ She smiled kindly, pretty brown eyes twinkling. ‘Perhaps if we take a short break, to refresh our glasses or use your bathroom, you might permit me to explain it again for you? Okay?’

Norm nodded in agreement, ‘But I feel a fool,’ he said, dully, ‘it’s probably very straightforward.’

‘It is,’ interjected Percy.

Joyann admonished him, ‘Percy, anything is straightforward once you know how.’

Without replying, Percy left the table and stretched his legs, reaching for a wine bottle as he did so.

Norm remained seated, waiting for Joyann to begin, wondering if it was the Singaporean way to offer such gentle patience, or simply the person she was.

‘May I look at your cards?’ she asked. ‘That way I might better demonstrate my meaning.’ She paused thoughtfully. ‘Actually, no; we can use mine, then you will be able to play your own cards as you see fit.’

*

The card session had begun shortly before dark. It had been arranged for some time and hung over Norm as a guilty cloud. Though his faith was loosening at the seams, he wasn’t entirely comfortable engaging in what he had been raised to believe was a sinful pleasure. In some ways, rather than freeing him, his growing doubt of the Mormon faith was making his approach to life all the more difficult. There was no longer a clear-cut division between behaving sinfully and acting piously, just a fuzzy non-choice that felt entirely alien. Being one thing or another had been easier. But it was too late, because Norm had discovered already that temptation was a key in a lock turning in one direction, and one direction only.

In essence, temptation might be considered to have no variants, representing a single state: desire. Whether carnal desire or desire for guidance from a higher being, the longing for something more is the same. But in the unforgiving actuality of real life, temptation comes in many shapes and sizes. The temptation to which Norm was succumbing, however, was straightforward: to shake off the poorly justified rules which had always bound him.

Avoiding the dangerously fuzzy middle ground was something Norm had always done but never before viewed it that way. His private life had witnessed a precise choice between sin and piety, Norm regarding any slip into fantasy as a reminder of the importance of spiritual strength. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he didn’t meet and marry his wife – all the while burying the fact of his homosexuality – expecting anything other than for his character to grow in strength.

Norm’s wife, Verity, had shown little patience for the guilt that he felt over the card game, saying, ‘For goodness sake, why would playing cards be a sin? What God would look down upon Man and choose to deny him Snap? What next, Top Trumps?’

He’d been hurt by this, because she had chosen to mock the one game that meant something to him. He had played Snap secretly as a child, with a non-Mormon friend, until they’d been caught by Norm’s mother who’d told her weeping son that Snap really wasn’t all that sinful, providing he didn’t try to win. Snap lost its pleasure, and Norm his one childhood vice. The subject of the card evening was soon dropped in the Sullivan household, Verity bored by Norm’s angst and he by her flippancy. He carried the uncomfortable feeling privately, the sense that even intention made him somehow dirty, until the card evening was upon him. Much to his surprise, he discovered that any sin present was not easily detectable.

‘So you enjoyed it?’ Verity asked, once the final guests had gone and she’d hefted her large frame onto a breakfast-bar stool. She sipped prosecco, while watching Norm make herbal tea.

‘It was fun. Nothing like I imagined and not as hard as it first seemed.’

‘So you won’t be struck down tonight then?’ It was said softly, kindly, as if Verity was apologising for her Snap remark.

Norm smiled. ‘Honestly, I don’t know why I was so bothered. No one played for money and no one seemed very interested in winning. In fact, they were more excited when I won something than when they did.’

‘Even Percy?’

‘Especially Percy; he seemed very happy every time I made my choice and put down my cards, or picked some up, or whatever. It’s so hard to choose what to do at first. Anyway, it was nice.’

Verity asked Norm to top up her drink. He obliged. ‘When are you seeing him next?’ she asked.

‘Percy?’

‘Yes.’

‘We’ve a Discussion Group meeting on Monday.’ He took a moment before continuing; knowing he did not mean the invitation he felt obliged to make. ‘If you’re around, you could join us.’

‘That’s so sweet of you, Norman, but no. I’m away, and as I told Percy, I’d never be a reliable member.’

‘You and Percy talked about you joining The Discussion Group?’

‘Only in passing.’ She paused, inspecting Norm’s expression. ‘Don’t worry; it’s your thing. I won’t tread on your toes. But why not invite some of them here for dinner one night? They’re a nice bunch, and though I don’t want to join the group, I quite enjoy their company.’

Norm was unsure what to say. He knew she got on well with them all, particularly Percy, and so it could be a fun evening. But something niggled, jealousy perhaps; or a sense that he’d be losing control of the only thing in his life not influenced by his wife.

‘Up to you,’ she smiled, carefully sliding from the stool and heading for a sofa. Gathering her long skirt, she sat down and curled up. ‘I’ll be in Jakarta all week, but then I’m around for a while. Organise it, if you’d like to. Sounds like your card evening was a great success, so I’m sure they’ll be keen for a nice supper.’

‘Cards weren’t my idea. That was Percy.’

Verity laughed, knowingly.

‘What?’

‘What do you think? He’s a naughty man, is all.’ The huskiness of Verity’s soft welsh accent made her sound seductive.

Hoping this was not how she was feeling, Norm took his tea and settled on the sofa beside her, feeling her toes moving beneath his leg. He sensed her looking.

‘What?’ he asked again, trying not to smile at his wife and her apparently amorous mood. It wasn’t something he would choose, but he enjoyed her interest; he liked to think he and she made a good team as husband and wife.

Verity smiled back, her beautiful face glowing. She wiggled her toes again, the movement shifting the fabric of his shorts to touch his bare leg. She laughed, her hand reaching for his.

Norm put down his tea and with an indulgent smile, braced himself.

2. PERCY

Percy threw his keys into the chair and made for the kitchen, where he drew a glass of chilled water.

As he passed by the wastepaper bin, he observed it had again been put back into the sitting room, which meant the maid, Mila, had been to clean at some point that day. He visualised her big face and shuddered, thinking then of his new nickname for her: The Kraken.

While glugging the icy drink, he returned to the sitting room and moved the bin back to his preferred location near the stairs. By his reckoning, this was counter manoeuvre number fifty. He may have to kill The Kraken, he thought, before deciding he couldn’t risk it. He’d have to leave that particular job to Godzilla. Percy smiled as he thought; was Godzilla his own wife? Was Sal a giant lizard-gorilla-like creature wreaking havoc wherever she went? No, she only wreaked havoc in Percy’s life, and since she’d filed for divorce he supposed she wouldn’t be wreaking havoc too much longer. Besides, Godzilla was the good guy, and Sal wasn’t. Or was he? Percy realised with great satisfaction that Godzilla would turn on his allies without a second thought, meaning Sal and the great beast were exactly alike.

The gathering at Norm’s had finished reasonably early. Percy wasn’t ready for his evening to end, so after finishing his water he opened the fridge and took out a bottle of Tiger beer. Cap removed, he pushed open the sliding glass door separating the dining room and back balcony, before sitting down outside to enjoy the peace. Though hot, the air felt soft, and with a sigh of satisfaction, Percy put his feet up on the small concrete-top table that he and Sal had got from a local manufacturer.

They’d bought it much reduced in a sale, without noticing the sag in the middle, a depression filling with water every time it rained. There was water in it now, he observed, and so Percy made sure to keep his feet to one side. He would have to clear it off, and felt a little miffed that The Kraken hadn’t done it earlier. Some government department or another, known to Percy only as the Mozzie Police, had already ticked him off about standing water. They’d turned up unannounced, as was their directive, and gained access to the property by right. The two men easily spotted the pool of water, and began a fingertip search of all small spaces where water might collect. After the two had satisfied themselves that Percy’s table was the only offence, all three stood staring at the little pool, teeming with life; more specifically, heaving with mosquito larvae. The table was tipped and the water poured off. After receiving friendly advice, Percy was issued with a warning. Sometime later, the inspectors returned to check that everything was still in order, which it was.

But Percy always worried they would come back. As time trundled on, so it seemed to drag complacency with it, and increasingly the little pool was left full. It wasn’t that he wanted mosquitoes, far from it. Percy appreciated Singapore’s status as malaria-free thanks to previous efforts made. He also understood that the presence of dengue fever in its various forms was a real threat. Sal’s many lectures on all things Singapore had made this very clear. But the fact was, he couldn’t be bothered clearing the water after every downpour, because the storms came so frequently. And, he’d noticed, often the pooled water was displaced by heavy rain, in any case, which, he decided, meant the resulting puddle was fresh and therefore free from larvae.

The table would have to go, he decided, not for the first time.

He took a long slug of beer and thought about the evening at Norm’s. It was painful. Norm wrestling with the rules was bad enough, but watching him decide which cards to play was like watching a lump of meat choosing which shoes to wear. Still, Percy was forced to admit Norm’s persistence had to be admired. Eventually, even he, Percy, had stopped himself sighing in frustration and allowed Norm extra time. A few kicks under the table from Joyann had aided this decision, of course. Afterwards, Joyann had said that he’d been cruelly sarcastic the whole evening, but Percy couldn’t agree. For the occasional round, he’d even been encouraging, but then it wasn’t difficult to sound pleased when Norm actually managed to play something.

By choosing to extend his evening, Percy had not intended to ponder anything other than the beer in his hand, nevertheless, as he sat and thought, so he found himself contemplating some of the others playing cards. There were five in total. Himself, Joyann, Norm, and two women that Norm seemed very keen for Percy to know.

The younger one reminded him of Sal, for she clearly shared a love of surgery and Botox, having achieved the standard face of most women pursuing an extension of youth. Her name was Trudy, which jarred with Percy because this was the name of his mother, a practical woman whose idea of plastic surgery was nothing more extensive than using super glue to fix her frequent vegetable-knife cuts. She’d learned through a radio broadcast of its surgical origins and from then on fully embraced it. As far as Percy knew, she would have glued on her own severed arm, given half a chance.

This Trudy – his Trudy – known as Gertrude only until she carried the influence of an adult, bore a bright and expressive face, a smiley woman who found humour in everything, including her son. Norm’s Trudy was not nearly the same. Her manner spoke of insecurity, and in messing about with her face she had achieved only that which others of her kind had also managed, a fixed expression that Percy felt could only ever be manmade: one of impassive shock.

Trudy had looked at him a lot, Percy recalled. He’d caught her eye so many times he had stopped looking up. She had come across as a quiet sort of woman, but Percy wondered if in fact she simply struggled to communicate physically. To create a face not displaying any emotion, at least not without a good deal of cranking and groaning, seemed to be a kind of sabotage. Trudy was deliberately crippling her chances of ever being understood, which for Percy meant no one should pity her. However, she’d made one hell of a poker player, and thrashed every one of them hands down, including the older lady named Hester.

Hester, for her part, had proven mildly entertaining but nothing more, and as Percy contemplated, so his mind moved on to one who was not playing cards. Verity.

He’d been disappointed to find she wouldn’t be joining them, especially since she was not away but sitting inside the apartment. Norm said she was getting ready for a business trip and had some work to do. She hadn’t appeared at any point during the evening. It was a shame, because Percy felt he would have enjoyed a flash of those bright blue eyes.

He finished his beer, and after tipping the table went to the fridge for another bottle before returning to his seat. He felt sweaty, and decided that once he’d finished he would head off for a cold shower and bed.

*

Percy awoke with a start. An enormous clap of thunder had shaken the house giving him such a fright that his mouth seemed to have developed a frantically beating heart all of its own.

He threw off the thin sheet covering one leg and went to the open window, drawing back the curtains. As he stood there, naked, another crash roared overhead, lightning flashing simultaneously. Percy enjoyed the storms though not as much as Sal. With something this big, she would have been at the window with a video camera, or maybe her phone, waiting for the next explosion. Percy thought about some footage she’d taken, where her old camera had shaken with the force of the thunder. She’d been so pleased with it she’d excitedly shown anyone who would look. At last, she had captured that elusive power, the awe-inspiring intensity that ordinarily was not clear on playback. And, Percy recalled, the recording had picked up the depth of the almighty bang.

Unlike Sal, Percy was inclined to live for the moment and had no intention of trying to record a single second, though he thought his friend, Art, would probably enjoy the images. He’d certainly appreciated Sal’s. This was a measure of how proud she was of her film, because she was the one person who had never warmed to Percy’s closest friend, yet she had emailed him regardless.

Percy peered into the darkness. Another flash came, but still no rain. Then he heard a voice, and made out the shadowy shape of someone standing on the path below his window. It was the Indian-Singaporean guard he always seemed to be at odds with. What was he doing up at this time of night? Why wasn’t he lounging in the security box? In fact, he never worked nights anyway. The guard yelled something, but the few words were drowned out by thunder. Then Percy realised he was pointing at a particular part of Percy’s anatomy. It seemed he had accidentally exposed himself again.

‘Cover up!’

Percy took a length of curtain and did as he was told. He did not need reminding that it was an offence to be naked where people might see, since the guard took great pleasure in telling him every time there was a digression. At least it wasn’t his annoying Chinese neighbour complaining again, Percy thought. She had moved away and not a moment too soon.

‘What are you doing?’ Percy called back. ‘Is there a problem?’

The guard gestured for Percy to be quiet, and waved his hands as if to confirm there was nothing wrong. Then the first heavy drops started to fall, and the guard hurried away.

Percy waited for a few moments and watched as the rain quickly turned into a downpour, which soon became so torrential that the few dim streetlights were entirely obscured. He slid the window shut; when the rain was this heavy, it needed closing. Besides, Percy had not forgotten how destructive the wind could be when it gusted through the house. He thought there would probably be no wind tonight, though; it would have come by now. He had followed Sal’s night-time routine of open window, ceiling fan on and curtains pulled shut, ever since she had left. He’d tried only once to use the air-conditioning – that longed-for luxury denied him from the moment they’d arrived in Singapore – but it was too late; despite resistance, he had acclimatised.

With the rain falling hard upon the flat roof of the house, Percy climbed back into bed wondering how he was ever going to sleep. Feet pleasantly cooled by the splashes that had been bouncing in from the narrow balcony, he closed his eyes. There was something reassuring about the sound of heavy rain. Suddenly, another clap of thunder cracked overhead, by far the loudest. Percy again threw the sheet to one side, before stomping downstairs to make himself a drink. He planned to come back up and sit on the edge of the bed with it and watch the storm. He might as well do something, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to get any sleep.

The air downstairs felt clammy, as it always did once the doors and windows were shut for the night. The price of not using air-conditioning was constant humidity, which meant mouldy furniture and wood if it wasn’t cleaned often enough. Tonight, it felt particularly sticky, and so while he waited for the kettle to boil, Percy opened a door and allowed the cooler air to rush in, along with the sound of the rain and the constant spray. He waited by the open door, anticipating the next flash or bang. Magnificent storms really were one of the bonuses of living somewhere tropical, he felt, and what was the loss of one night’s sleep to a man without a job? As he watched, the rain began to ease marginally, and he noticed someone rushing by on the other side of the slatted wooden gate, along the communal path. It was the guard again, with a sheet of something protecting his head against the deluge. Immediately, Percy cupped a hand over his penis. Once more, he had forgotten to cover up.

The kettle whistled and Percy returned to the kitchen, wondering what it was his sometime-nemesis was up to. He was probably one of the most annoyingly smug men Percy had ever met, he concluded, as he searched for teabags. With his polite smile and irritatingly professional manner, his matter-of-fact tone of voice nagging the average person about everything from draped towels to bare bottoms, the guard was the bane of Percy’s life; Percy, a man simply trying to scrape by whilst suffocating beneath the unwelcome presence of neighbours.

Unable to find any teabags, he began rummaging about to see if The Kraken had hidden any, because monstrous beasts were prone to peculiar behaviour. Then he saw it. A Christmas card, pushed to the back of a drawer filled with odds and ends, left where it had been stuffed in a moment of frustration to stop The Kraken putting it up every five minutes; left there by Percy himself because he hadn’t the balls to throw it away. It was from Sal, the Japanese mountain scene that had so irritated him.

3. THE DISCUSSION GROUP

‘Morning, Percy.’

‘Morning, Joyann.’

‘Beautiful day today, isn’t it?’

‘Indeed it is. Big storm last night.’

‘It was. And so, no better place to meet than here, in the Botanic Gardens, when it feels this pleasant. As you can see, I have laid out some blankets already; if anyone wants a chair then hopefully they will bring one.’

Stopping beside Joyann, Percy smiled. ‘Won’t the blankets get wet? The ground is soaked.’

‘No. They are all plastic-backed. Proper picnic blankets. I had quite a lot left in the shop taking up space. I cannot send them back so we may as well use them.’

‘Are we expecting a big turn out today?’

‘I am not sure, but no, I would not expect very

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