Slipshod by David M Cameron
Down on his luck, what could be better than a weekend partying in the country, until the first murder?
Life is not going well for Peter McAdam. Nicknamed Slipshod at school for his lackadaisical manner, the name has stuck. His life is drifting along investigating lost dogs, missing persons, unfaithful wives, and husbands until, out of the blue, he is employed to attend a weekend social gathering at Temple Heath House, the country home of Sir Reginald Potter.
He is tasked with acting as the boyfriend of Sir Reginald’s stunning daughter Rosemary, and discovering whether her father is being led astray by the clairvoyant, Mistress Kusoge. Out of place in a world he has no experience of, Peter finds himself at the centre of murder and intrigue, in the classic whodunnit style, but with a delicious twist.
Excerpt from Slipshod © Copyright 2023 David M Cameron
1 Three am
Like something from a gothic horror movie, the house stood silhouetted against an angry sky. The clouds were gathering, but the moon was clear, casting its spectral glare across the lawns in front of the building. Temple Heath House was impressive at any time, but in this setting, it was ominous, appearing almost alive. Cars were parked chaotically as the guests had left them. There were a few lights from the building, as it was well after midnight. The revelries were over and those in the house were in their beds. I had chosen to take some air after all that had happened, but I had the ulterior motive of checking the grounds for any intruders. I had seen things I could not fathom, and I wanted to see if I could deduce an explanation. What could be better than some fresh air?
The night was cool, but the coming storm resulted from the heat of the day, and even in my dressing gown, it was not uncomfortable. Being remote, the grounds were empty of the urban noises I was used to. The haunting cry of a fox, the barks and whistles of an owl hunting, occasionally cut the tranquillity, but otherwise, it was deathly quiet. Barefoot, I walked across the grass, thinking about all that had happened. I questioned what I had witnessed. It couldn’t possibly be true, but I had no alternative. I was a man of reason, or at least I used to think I was, and I had no time for superstition, new-age frippery, spiritual hocus-pocus or the like. But what I saw with my own eyes I couldn’t explain. There was no obvious trickery. In fact, it was a frightening and realistic example of the occult, and I had no answers.
The guests in the house had been equally shocked, and the mood changed instantly. They looked at each other with suspicion. Some tried to laugh it off, but that fell flat and they withdrew into their own musings. After that dampener, everyone quickly went to their beds, but not me. I went to my room to get ready for bed, but that was as far as I got. It was impossible to shake off the fear. What had they let loose?
I was going to take a short stroll and crossed the lawn towards the ha-ha. Luckily, the moon was still casting its light, or I might have fallen into it. I had remembered to bring my cigarettes with me and I fumbled getting one out of my dressing-gown pocket. I flicked the lighter, and the flame seemed incredibly bright, and signalled my presence to anyone about or looking out from the house. Shutting the lighter, only the red glow showed as a cloud shrouded the moon. It was as black as hell, and that was what worried me. Before I took another drag, the peace was rent by a bloodcurdling shriek!
I dropped my cigarette and ran towards the house. The scream tailed off and was replaced by silence. Lights appeared at the windows, as a roll of thunder added to the melodrama. It had happened. As foretold, someone had died!
From inside, crying and shouting and the clatter of feet could be heard, and then,
‘Oh, no! He’s dead!’
It was a woman’s voice, a voice I now recognised. I approached the French windows in time to hear a man state authoritatively, ‘Hurry, call the police!’
I’d made a start. My novel was now a thing, rather than an idea. A few hundred words is a definite beginning. I was a writer, instead of a would-be writer. I’d show the doubters. My friends, who had poked fun at my ambitions for years, would soon eat their words, as I typed mine out! Original? Well, maybe not, but, as they say, all will be revealed.
2 Everything Has a Start
Some days just start like any other, but turn out to change your life in either a good way or in a bad. This day was one of those, and as to which of the outcomes resulted, I will let the reader be the judge. At this time, I can’t say everything was a bed of roses. I was on my own. My latest girlfriend had given up on me and packed her bags and left, leaving me in no doubt what she thought of me, my situation and my future. In fairness, she was right. I really had little to attract and keep anyone, such as a regular, well-paid job. There was a lack of any prospects, and I lived in the proverbial pigsty. Even I couldn’t see anything positive about my status in life. This wasn’t new though, and at school I had earned the nickname Slipshod. It was so well-suited that some teachers started calling me it themselves. Most people would have complained, made a fuss, got upset, but not me. I just let it slide and, after a while, I became Slipshod.
At nine o’clock, after Cheryl left, taking her belongings, which meant almost everything in the flat, I went back to bed. It was only when I got up at almost twelve and staggered into the kitchen to get breakfast that I missed her. To be precise, I missed her kettle, her toaster, and most of the items required to make breakfast or any other meal. Luckily, the fridge was mine and so at least the milk was there and there was half a packet of cornflakes. So that was what I had. As the toaster had gone, I had my first go at using the electric grill on the stove. This was a challenge, but eventually I realised I had to turn the bread over to toast the other side. Only half awake and feeling dreadful from too many drinks the night before, everything was a blur, but this wasn’t an uncommon situation. I knew it would eventually pass. It was a Thursday, but as Cheryl wasn’t there, I didn’t have to pretend that I was working. As it happened, I had a wonderful employer, me! The problem with that was there was no one chivvying me along. I got cases, just not many, and when it came to collecting the fees, I was just slipshod, as I found it embarrassing chasing payments and couldn’t be bothered.
I sat back and read what I had just written. It was a start, perhaps not the most innovative, but at least I had made that start. Like many things in life, taking the first step is always the hardest, and so I was a little pleased with myself. The difficulty with saying that you are going to write a book is that you have to actually do it. The world is full of people who are ‘gonnas’. They are gonna do this. They are gonna do that, but they end up doing nothing. Yes, I had said things before, but this time I was adamant. Over a thousand words, it was a good beginning, or at least I thought so. I sat back and reached for my packet of cigarettes.
Most days, I had to follow people, see who they were meeting, take photographs, and then write a report. The one thing I can do is write. It took me a long time to get round to it, but when I put pen to paper, it just came and it was the only thing the teachers couldn’t fault me on. They said I had a vivid imagination and individual style. It was a good job, as I had to use imagination. Sometimes I took shortcuts and used it to pad out my reports. I don’t think I ever caused a divorce that wasn’t warranted, but as long as I got paid, I didn’t care. It was Cheryl who insisted that I asked for the money up-front. Cheryl? Cheryl was too good for me. Everyone had told me that. ‘You’re punching above your weight,’ they told me. As if I didn’t know. She had everything: brains, beauty, but unfortunately, me. This last item was her Achilles’ heel. Despite her common sense, she kept coming back. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her. At least, I thought I loved her, but maybe I should have told her that. I don’t think I ever had, even after sex.
I hoped she would return by Sunday. She would need to settle back in before the working week. Oh yes, Cheryl had a good job. An up-and-coming solicitor in a major firm, Parker and Associates. She was the young star, but with only one blot on her resume. On the few occasions I had been allowed to attend one of the firm’s social functions, I got quizzical looks. They would stare at Cheryl, then me, and then do a double-take, leaving no doubts that I wasn’t good enough for her. The truth was, she loved me. They say love is blind and Cheryl had a major deficit in visual acuity when it came to me. As I have mentioned before, I wouldn’t fancy myself, so why should this gorgeous woman? For me, and many others, it will remain one of life’s major enigmas.
I needed some cigarettes, so I threw on the clothes that were lying on the floor. Giving the undies and shirt a sniff test, I nearly gagged and searched for other parts of my wardrobe, similarly arranged across the room. I found underwear that was at least passable and a t-shirt and trousers.
My mouth was still reeking like an old ashtray, but I couldn’t wait to brush my teeth. I’ll do it when I get back, I said to myself. I grabbed the keys, my wallet, closed the flat door, and headed to the stairs leading to the street.
The street was busy with Thursday shoppers, and the music store directly below my flat was full of would-be rock stars. I could hear one new axeman blasting out Smoke on the Water, Whole Lotta Love and finishing with Stairway to Heaven. Gazing in, I saw Ron, the real rock star. He looked out at me and raised his eyes to the sky. I smiled back with a look of sympathy and turned to check I had shut my outside door. By the bell was a very small, tarnished brass plaque which read: Maddox and McAdam, Private Investigators. Taking a step back, I gave its dirty surface a quick rub with my sleeve before I turned and headed for Sanjay’s Emporium. Emporium was my little jest with the owner. I had commented many times that whatever I wanted, no matter how obscure, Sanjay always seemed to have it tucked away in his store. It was only twenty yards along from the music store and the windows were full of a general mishmash of items. The glass was dirty and the paintwork peeling, so a window display was just one of his worries. His customers were mainly regulars, so this wasn’t an issue, but passing trade may have been put off.
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