Historical Fiction: Walking Away from Midnight – Sample Chapters 1 – 2

Tom Kane's Walking Away from Midnight. A suspense filled thriller novel.

Last Updated on June 3, 2024 by ADMIN-TOM

Chapter One

The Midnight Lake, French Ardennes, May 1926

“It’s too dark. I don’t like it,” the little girl shouted.

The girl’s mother clucked as mother hens do. “You can do this, Jessie. It’s only dark water from the peat. It won’t hurt you.”

“It’s too cold, Mummy. And slimy.”

“But you’ve got your plimsolls on. And shorts and a singlet. You can’t be cold, Jessie. The sun is very warm.”

Ruth Fordham’s nine-year-old stood, hands on hips, defiant and not happy with standing in the cold, dark water.

“It’s not normal. The water’s black,” Jessie shouted.

“Jessie, if anyone is getting cold, it’s me,” Ruth Fordham said, a note of exasperation in her voice. She was beginning to shiver herself. She wore similar clothing to her daughter. She was knee deep in the Midnight Lake’s dark, peaty water. It was indeed cold but wouldn’t be if she could move around. Instead, she had spent the last twenty minutes persuading her young daughter to get in the water and learn to swim. But no. Jessie had made her mind up and there was nothing anyone could do now to change the girl’s mind.

“I’m going back to the house,” Jessie announced, turning, and running away.

“No. No, you’re not,” her mother shouted back. “Stay where you are, Jessie. Wait for me,” Ruth shouted, trying to walk out of the lake with frozen legs and slipping on a few slimy boulders.

She’s right about it being cold and slimy.

By the time Ruth had extricated herself from the lake, there was no sign of Jessie.

“Jessie. Jessie, where are you? Come here and we will walk back to the house together.” Ruth waited for a reply, but there was none.

***

Jessie had no idea why she ran and no idea where she was going. All she knew was that she desperately wanted not to go into the black water. It didn’t seem natural. So, she ran away. Although he wasn’t there, she could hear her father admonishing her.

“Always running away, Jessie. Never standing your ground.”

Jessie stopped running and looked about. The gardens round the house and lake were new to the entire Fordham family. It hadn’t been long since her parents had bought the property and this was only the second time they had been to the Midnight Lake. That fact, even at her young age, soon became very evident to Jessie as she realised, she had no idea where she was, let alone how to get back to where she wanted to be.

Even worse, it was getting dark. Jessie was not just a precocious child; she was also easily scared. She realised she was alone, in a strange land, with night falling.

Are there dangerous animals in France?

It was a rhetorical question that had no answer. Jessie didn’t even know if there were dangerous animals at home in England.

She realised she had to find shelter in case it rained and somehow keep warm. Shorts and a singlet were not going to keep her warm during the coming night. And it would be a long and cold night if her mother didn’t find her.

Jessie started walking with all these thoughts running through her head. She was paying little attention to where she was placing her feet, which accounted for her missing her footing and falling down a small gulley. Jessie came to a slithering halt as she hit her head on a rock and lost consciousness. Entangled in weeds, roots, and fallen leaves, these covered her slim body forming a natural barrier against the elements. Jessie didn’t know it, but if she had she would have found it amusing that she was as snug as a bug in a rug.

***

“She’s been out there for hours, Albert,” Ruth shouted down the telephone. “She’s only nine years old,” she added, weeping at the same time as shouting.

“I know,” Albert’s tinny voice came over the phone. “I’ll be there as fast as I can. But I’m in Paris for this important meeting. You know I cannot shirk this responsibility. There are those on high who have put a lot of time and effort into this. Me getting this job will be the pinnacle of their achievement.”

All Ruth could do was nod her head and whisper, “I know. I know what’s at stake. But Jessie…”

“Call the local police and the mayor. See if they can do something to help.”

“I will,” Ruth said, placing the receiver quietly on the telephone cradle. Ruth Fordham sighed, wiped away the tears and wondered how she could find the telephone number for anyone. She had no telephone directory and couldn’t speak French. No. it was up to her to find her daughter.

***

Ruth picked up the old rucksack, one belonging to somebody who once lived at their summer home and opened the clips. She looked inside and found nothing but a few crumpled French sweet wrappers. Crushed leaves and cobwebs. She turned it upside down and shook the contents out.

She then placed inside a battery torch, matches, candles, two boiled eggs, cheese, bread, and a small pottery flagon of water. If she were to get lost, or even find Jessie, but were both then lost, at least they would not starve and would have water.

Before leaving the house, Ruth made sure her twin sons were asleep and ensured the housekeeper and cook, Madame Noaire, knew what to do. She looked about and wondered which way would be the best way to go. Madame Noaire’s husband, Maurice, was already out looking for Jessie. She hadn’t asked him to help and had no idea where he was looking, but she had no choice but to go and look herself. Sitting and waiting was not something she could do.

Ruth Fordham walked down the cinder patch from the front door, turned toward the lake, and tried to retrace her steps.

***

Jessie woke up, slowly opening her eyes to let in the watery light of a misty Ardennes late evening and screamed. She was looking directly into a skull. She had seen skulls before, in a pirate themed picture book, but this was something else, something real.

Jessie pushed herself backwards, away from the grinning skull, and realised she was surrounded by at least three gravestones. Gravestones meant more skulls; more dead people and a place where Jessie didn’t want to spend any time. She screamed and then screamed again when a large hand pressed down onto her shoulder.

***

“I cannot thank you enough,” Ruth Fordham said as Maurice Noaire handed over a limp, but alive, Jessie to her tender care. “Where was she?”

“Near the burial site of the original owners. The couple who created this paradise, along with their little boy, all died from an outbreak of plague. They were buried close to the lake. Sometime later, many years later, headstones were added.”

Ruth took Jessie and placed her on the sofa in what was to become her husband’s office.

“How are you feeling, Jessie?”

Jessie looked up at her mother through half-closed eyes. “I’m cold, tired, and hungry. More hungry than cold and tired.”

“What would you like to eat?”

“I have chicken soup with lentils and beans in the kitchen. Would you like a large bowl, with fresh bread and butter?” Madame Noaire asked.

Jessie, a big fan of Madame Noaire’s cooking, nodded her head, giving the cook a look of desperation.

“Very well,” Madame Noaire said, turning to leave.

“And ice-cream.”

Madame Noaire looked over her shoulder and winked at Jessie.

After the Noaire’s had left, Ruth cradled her daughter’s head and looked at the wound at the rear, close to where her ponytail started.

“Looks sore,” she said.

“It is,” Jessie said.

“Well, there’s a bump forming but no skin breakage. You’ll make a good recovery.”

“I like it here,” Jessie said in a matter-of-fact way, sitting up, ready to receive a large bowl of soup.

“We still need to teach you to swim. You’re not getting out of that,” Ruth said.

“I know. I was being silly, running away. And I got frightened by the skull. Who was it?”

“Maurice said it must have been one of the original owners. Maybe a wild dog or cat dug it up. They had been dead a long time.”

“How long?”

“Hundreds of years, Jessie. In the 1600s I think.”

Jessie was not certain when the 1600s where, but it certainly sounded a long time ago.

The door opened and Madame Noaire walked in with a large tray holding two bowls of soup, a plate of freshly cut bread, a plate of biscuits and two small bowls of ice-cream.

“That looks delicious,” Ruth said.

Jessie said nothing, but picked up one bowl of soup, a piece of bread and dipped one in the other, pausing to take a big bite, and winked a thank you to Madame Noaire.

Madame Noaire smiled and winked back.

The door closed and Ruth and Jessie were left alone.

“You must promise me you will never run away again, no matter how bad the situation is. You must stand up, do what needs to be done and do not run away from whatever it is you fear.

Jessie dipped her bread in the soup again and took a large bite. “I wump, mummer. Pumis.”

“And another thing.”

Jessie stopped eating.

“Don’t talk with your mouthful. It’s rude. Now move over, my turn to eat before it all disappears.”

Chapter Two

A Death in the Mist

Ledbury, England May 1926

He cut the engine to his Riley Brooklands and coasted to a quiet stop. It was three in the morning in a misty, fog-bound village square in the Gloucestershire market town of Ledbury. His car creaked as the man got out and closed the door as quietly as possible.

Quietly! That’s a laugh.

He pulled up the collar to his black gabardine mac and pulled his black fedora down low on his head. The black theme was completed with black trousers and shoes. He wiped a finger and thumb across his black moustache, looking at the mist crawling between the wooden beams of the centuries old Market House. It was bitterly cold, and he hated being cold. His normal environment was somewhere, anywhere, where the sun shone and winters were not so inclement as here in England. Somewhere warm, exotic, inviting and with plenty of watering holes were high on his wish list. But England in the 1920s had no such inviting places, and he was loath to even be in the country, despite having been born only a few miles down the road from his current location.

“Have you brought the money?”

The voice came from under the Market House, between the pillars of the ancient structure in the town’s high street.

“Come out where I can see you,” the man in black said.

The clip clop of riding boots was unmistakable. Someone was walking towards him from under the building. A figure emerged, swirling fog around his body made it hard for the man in black to discern if he knew who it was. A brief gust of damp air suddenly cleared the fog.

“Well,” the man in black said, “I never expected you.”

“It seems, in our line of work, we least suspect those closest to us.”

“Isn’t that the truth?”

“Have you got the money?”

“Of course. Do you think I’m stupid? Have you got the package?”

“No. I know you’re not stupid, just a little careless. Yes, I have the package, including the wheels from the device.”

“Wheels? From the machine? From an Enigma machine?”

That’s worth a lot more money to my buyer.

“Yes, wheels from the machine.”

“Show me.”

The man in the shadows fumbled in his jacket pocket and pulled out a small package. “They’re in here, along with the microfilm of the manual.”

“Microfilm. I’ve heard of that.”

“I hope your buyers know what to do with the microfilm. As to the device, if they have a working machine, things will fit into place now. It’s worth the money you’re paying us. This German code can only be broken by experts, and people with an engineering background. You will have to build a machine.”

“Paying us? Who is us? I thought you worked alone.”

A sudden echo of footsteps, heavy in the foggy air, could be heard moving closer.

“Into the alley, quickly,” the shadowy man said.

The street was quiet except for the footsteps, the owner of which walked slowly past the alleyway.

Footsteps receded, and the man in black stifled a laugh.

“This is ridiculous.”

“Not if you are as deadly intent on gaining a lot of money… as I am, my friend.”

“I’m not your friend. Never was. You take too much on yourself and make yourself too important. You’re a nobody.”

“This gun in my hand says otherwise.”

“Snap,” the man in black said.

“But…”

A gun fired, and the echo boomed in the alleyway as another shot rang out, the bullet finding its mark. A long groan and another shot fired.

Out of the alleyway, a man stumbled, crashed against the sports car, pulled himself to the driver’s door and fumbled to open it. He stopped, realised his black fedora was lost in the alleyway. He thought to retrieve it, then thought better of the move. A police officer’s whistle sounded in the distance and it made up the man in black’s mind. He pulled the driver’s door open. With a groan through gritted teeth, he dropped into the seat of the car, slammed the door shut and started the engine. Putting the car in gear, he drove away at speed, away from the Market House and onto the Worcester Road.

The alleyway swirled with a foggy sheaf as an overweight local police officer arrived, breathless from his brief run, attempting to blow his police whistle as much as possible. The effort was too much; besides, it was more to scare assailants away as he was sure he had heard at least three gunshots. As he approached the alleyway, shining the light from his battery torch, he saw a pale hand sticking out from the alleyway. The police officer stopped and pulled out his truncheon, just to be on the safe side. The heavy piece of wood felt reassuring in his hand, but he knew it would be useless against a gun. He slowly approached and saw the body lying in the alleyway on his back, his face lit in a ghostly panorama from the policeman’s flashlight and the grey glare of the fog. Next to the hand was a black hat. He assumed it belonged to the man lying in the alleyway. The officer knelt next to the prone man and felt for a pulse. There was none. The officer stood up and tutted.

“Oh, this will not do, not on my watch. Nothing like this has ever happened before. He shone his flashlight on the man’s face and craned his neck to get an unobstructed view of the face. “Good god,” the officer blurted out, as he recognised the man. “It can’t be. Lord Hallan?”

Copyright © Tom Kane 2022

Download a sample or read for FREE on Kindle Unlimited.

Chapters 1-2: http://fictionbooks.online/walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapters-1-2

Chapter 3: http://fictionbooks.online/historical-fiction-walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapter-3

Chapter 4: http://fictionbooks.online/historical-fiction-walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapter-4

Chapter 5: http://fictionbooks.online/historical-fiction-walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapter-5

Chapter 6: http://fictionbooks.online/historical-fiction-walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapter-6

Chapter 7: http://fictionbooks.online/historical-fiction-walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapter-7

Chapter 8: http://fictionbooks.online/historical-fiction-walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapter-8

Chapter 9: http://fictionbooks.online/historical-fiction-walking-away-from-midnight-sample-chapter-9


 

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