Monday, 1 April 2013

Wolf In Shadow Snippet 5: Chapter 3(b)

Rhian entered the Black Swan at around seven that night. Three or
four men leaned on the bar, and a mixed group of young people sat
around a table. Gary was the only person serving. She watched him
deal with the customers with polished skill, friendly with each one but
moving on to the next with minimal waste of time. When he was free
she walked up to the bar.
“What’ll it be, love?” he said, automatically, without really looking
at her.
“I’ve come about the job,” she said.
He looked up.
“It’s you, the Welsh girl who was in earlier. I wasn’t sure you’d come
back. You seemed a bit shook up.” He looked at her, head cocked on
one side. “I suppose I ought to interview you.” He got out an official
form and a pen. “What’s your name?”
“Rhian Jones.”
“Address? Oh, you can fill all this in later.” He put the form under
the bar.
“Have you had any experience serving in pubs?”
“No, but I’ve worked in shops.”
“Good enough, you’re hired. Welcome aboard.”
He shook her hand.
“We don’t send temporary staff on training courses but use the
mentor system. That means that you shadow another member of
the staff until you get the hang of it. As I’m the only person in the

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place tonight, you shadow me. Take your coat off and come behind
the bar.”
She did as she was bid, smoothed down her blouse sleeves so they
covered her arms. Gary had her watch him while he took orders and
served customers.
“I only carry a limited stock, and each item has its own key on the
till. Actually, it couldn’t be simpler.”
Rhian privately agreed. Some of the corner shops she had worked
in had old-fashioned tills where you had to put in the prices yourself.
She had a bit more trouble mastering the beer pumps than the till, but
she persevered.
“What happens if someone wants something complicated, like a
cocktail?” Rhian asked.
“A cocktail! Our customers?” said Gary, incredulously. “The people
we get in here think a light and bitter is the height of sophistication.
Allow me a word of advice, Rhian. If someone asks you for a Long
Slow Screw Against a Wall, tell him that you’re not that sort of girl.
They won’t be asking for a drink.”
Rhian blushed, to Gary’s obvious delight. She busied herself in the
work. Pretty soon, he let her serve the customers while he got on with
the paperwork.
One of the boys from the group around the table approached the
bar. “A bitter, please.”
She took a pint glass off the rack above the bar and held it under
the tap. When she flipped the lever, the beer spat into the glass with a
cough. She tried again with much the same result.
Gary appeared at her elbow. “The keg needs changing. I’ll just pop
down to the cellar.”
He pulled up a wooden trapdoor in the floor that she hadn’t
noticed and disappeared down some steps, flipping on a light at the
“I’m a student,” said the boy, engaging her in conversation.
“I guessed,” said Rhian. “You’re wearing a scarf.”
“I could have gone to York, you know,” said the boy, aggressively.
“I had the grades, but I wanted to be among real working people, so I
chose Whitechapel University here in the East End.”
The boy’s accent placed his origins from somewhere in London’s
rich outer suburbs in the western Home Counties—Surrey or maybe

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Buckinghamshire. A series of loud clangs from the cellar indicated that
Gary was coming to grips with the aluminium barrels.
“You’re Welsh,” said the boy.
“Yes,” said Rhian. “What gave me away?”
“I expect that your father is a coal miner, sheep farmer, or
something real. Mine’s a merchant banker,” said the boy, gloomily, as
if admitting to some terrible family secret.
Offhand Rhian couldn’t remember her father doing a day’s work in
his life, not that she had seen much of him lately, so she did not have
a ready answer to that. Fortunately, Gary chose that moment to
“The new barrel’s connected, but we have to draw off a few glasses
to clear the pipes,” Gary said.
He threw away the first two pints before trying the third. “Okay,
carry on.”
Rhian poured the pint and gave it to the boy in the scarf.
“One pound ninety,” she said.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” asked the boy a little desperately, while
handing over the exact money in silver.
“I do,” said Rhian, putting a smile on her face. “He’s a professional
boxer at the local gym.”
“Ah,” said the boy, picking up his beer and going back to his
A snort from the small office behind the bar indicated that Gary
had overheard the conversation.
Bar work turned out to be surprisingly easy. She sold drinks and
salted snacks, whose primary purpose was to make the customers
thirsty. Not that East Londoners needed much encouragement to tip
alcoholic drinks down their collective throat. She cleared away empty
glasses and washed them up when there was no one waiting at the bar.
The most difficult bit was talking to the customers. In a shop you
processed people through as fast as possible, but apparently
entertaining the patrons was part of a barmaid’s work. Rhian normally
found it difficult to talk to strangers, but it appeared that her main
function was to listen. It was astonishing how many men had wives or
girlfriends that did not understand them.
The evening passed quickly. Gary was soon ushering the last few
diehards out at eleven fifteen. He cashed up while Rhian made them

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both a coffee. The pub boasted a coffee machine that made a variety
of types, but the customers were not keen. She had not sold a cup all
“You obviously found a place to stay,” Gary said.
“I’ve taken a room just a few hundred meters north of the station,”
Rhian said.
“Can I order you a taxi?” he said, as she put on her coat.
“I like to walk. It clears my head,” she said, coming up with the first
thing she thought of. Truth was, she could not possibly afford taxis.
“You live above the bar, then?” she asked, as he showed no sign of
“The bits that are still habitable,” he said.
“Goodnight,” Rhian said and turned.
“Rhian!” he called her back. “I don’t want to frighten you, but there
have been some killings lately. Keep to the well-lit areas.”
“I will.”
Morgana’s brooch hung around her neck, mocking her reassurance
to Gary that she would be careful. It was far too late for Rhian to be
careful. She remembered finding the brooch in the mud on the
building site. Something made her palm it. She should have handed it
in to the archaeological dig coordinator. James had seen her and
looked puzzled. Rhian was not the type to steal, or do anything daring.
You never saw the stars in London, not even on a cloudless night,
what with both the murky air and light pollution. But Morgana’s moon
looked down on the city as it had for the last two thousand years.
The light was still on in the front room when she got home, so she
knocked on the door.
“Come in, Rhian,” Frankie said.
Frankie was sprawled out on the sofa watching TV with a generous
glass of wine in her hand. She waved the drink vaguely at Rhian. “Help
yourself, there are some glasses on the side, or have you already had
enough lubricant from drinking the tips?”
“I don’t think you get tips at the Black Swan, so a glass of wine
would be great.”
“Oh, you’re working at the Dirty Duck.”
Rhian poured herself some wine. She plonked herself down in the
swivel chair and took her shoes off to massage her feet. A theatrical
scream sounded from the TV.

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“What are you watching?” Rhian asked.
“It’s a late-night Hammer Horror called Night of the Wolf. Don’t
you just love those ridiculous old movies? Oh look, the witches are
going to raise the devil. If only it were that easy—bloody difficult job—
raising a demon—bloody dangerous as well.”
Frankie raised her glass to her lips and imbibed a generous sample.
The girl got the distinct impression that Frankie had already had more
than a few sips of the “oh be joyful.” The woman poured herself
another glass and settled down in front of the idiot box.
Rhian bounded along, covering the hard-frozen ground fast. The
prey’s smell was overwhelming. She could scent panic and exhaustion.
She rounded an ice block and had her first sight of her victim. It ran
ungainly, as if its legs were too long and bent in the wrong places. It
stumbled in a pool of snow and went down on one knee.
Rhian accelerated to a flat-out sprint. There was no need to
conserve her wind now. This was end-game. She covered the ground
fast, easily overtaking the animal. It changed direction, but all that did
was enable her to cut across the corner. She timed her spring to catch
its rear leg in her teeth, attempting to hamstring the beast.
Unfortunately, the icy ground betrayed her and she lost traction on
one rear paw. It was enough to spoil her aim, and she crashed into the
flank of her victim.
Momentum rolled her over twice before her scrabbling feet got a
purchase. She righted herself and took stock of the situation. The
impact had knocked the prey onto its rear hindquarters. She surged
forward again as her victim stood up. At the last minute the prey tried
to escape by twisting away. She jumped onto its back, her heavy body
pushing it to the ground. She could smell the fear oozing from its every
pore. She bit deep into the back of its neck, teeth crunching through
bone. She exulted at the tang of salt-flavored blood in her mouth.
She shook the beast from side-to-side ripping its body open,
almost disappointed when it went limp. She dropped the corpse and
stood triumphantly over it, laughing out loud. She raised her voice in
a victory paean over the moonlit arctic landscape. Her howl echoed off
the ice cliffs, an open challenge to anyone who might dispute
ownership of her territory. At some point the wolf ’s howl became a
very human scream.

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Rhian came awake with a rush. She sat bolt upright, disorientated
in the strange room. Light filtered in around the yellow curtains,
lending a warm, friendly tint to everything. She sagged back on the
pillow, willing her muscles to relax. She was covered in sweat, and the
state of the bed suggested that she had been thrashing around in her
sleep. Oh God, suppose she had really screamed, waking Frankie. She
liked it here and it would be upsetting to have to move. She lay quietly
listening. All she could hear was the water heater clicking on and off
and the roar of the gas boiler. Maybe she hadn’t yelled. Or maybe
Frankie was a heavy sleeper?
She got up and crept quietly to the bathroom, closing the door
carefully with a slight click. When she had finished washing, she
removed the blade from her safety razor. Tongue resting on her lip in
concentration, she ran the sharp edge transversely across her arm. It
drew a red line across her skin. Blood welled from the wound.
James used to check her arms to make sure she had stopped selfharming.
To please him, she had. But James was gone.
As usual, there was little immediate sensation, the stinging pain
coming afterwards. She relished it, accepting it, welcoming the
punishment. She was a bad person. She deserved to pay. Blood ran
down her arm, dripping into the sink. She watched it spatter on the
white porcelain. She washed the cut, wiping it dry with a length of
toilet roll.
Rhian had finished breakfast when Frankie stumbled into the
room in her dressing gown. Last night’s wine had clearly taken its toll.
“Hello, honey,” the woman said, peering at her shortsightedly
through bleary eyes.
Rhian had just made herself a second mug of tea, but she handed
it straight to Frankie, thinking that the woman’s need was greater.
“Yuk,” Frankie, said, taking a sip. “You forgot the sugar.”
Rhian hastened to correct the omission.
“Have you anything planned today?” asked Frankie. “Because I
thought you might like to help me. I have a commission to carry out
an office job. I could do with a hand pushing the furniture around. I
could knock something off the rent in payment.”
Rhian’s first reaction was to refuse, but she forced herself to be
sociable. She was very unlikely to find a comfortable home elsewhere

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and she wanted to keep her landlady sweet. The rent reduction was
also an attraction.
Frankie had been very vague about what she actually did, and
Rhian had assumed that she was some sort of management consultant.
Every second person in London seemed to work as a management
consultant these days, the rest being mostly in public relations or
“Yes, of course. You take commissions on Sunday?”
“Best day of the week for stinking out an office with burnt herbs,”
Frankie said, chewing on the piece of cold toast that was left over from
Rhian’s meal.
Rhian put another couple of pieces of bread onto the grill pan and
triggered the gas lighter on the oven. She had heard of management
consultants who ran canoeing holidays, acupuncture classes, scissor
and paper games, paintball combat, yoga training, and psychometric
testing. Burning herbs was a new one. Anything was possible; it was
rumored that some management consultants even offered advice on
management, but that was probably an urban myth.
“I am out of mint,” said Frankie, waving the cold toast about for
emphasis. “You should come with me to get some. You might find it
“I do need to go to the shops,” said Rhian. “I could do with getting
some more toothpaste.”
“Shops?” Frankie laughed. “I need fresh mint, Rhian, not mint jelly
for lunch. We’re not going to the shops but to the cemetery. Is there any
more tea?”

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