Updated: Aug 13
Hello and welcome to my blog! So today is the publication day for the exciting looking 'The Camel and the Butterfly' by Micheal Whitworth. Congratulations to you Micheal!!
The blog tour began on the 6th November and although I am not taking part in that one with a review I will be reviewing this book soon! In the mean time I wanted to share with you an interview with the author and an excerpt from the book to get you excited!
So lets begin with a Q and A with the author Micheal Whitworth.......
What inspired you to write this book?
I am inspired by the older generation, who have experienced so much in their lives, yet so often fall under the radar, unnoticed and underappreciated. These are people who have set us an example, a high bar against which we should measure ourselves.
If you could set the scene for this book in one sentence, what would it be?
The everyday world of pubs and cafes, living rooms and shops – ordinary places filled with extraordinary people.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My son: always does his best, always positive and never has a bad word to say about anybody.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do for fun?
I like to do what many people do—I read, I exercise, and I spend time with my family. I also meditate each day: it helps me to relax, even though I’m not very good at it.
In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing or being an author?
Writing can be lonely and filled with self-doubt. I care about what people think, and I want them to enjoy what I write. Sometimes it’s hard not to be too self-critical.
Favourite quote from the book?
‘And that’s what he was to some people—a monster. Not a hero, as others had claimed. Every coin has two sides.’ This sums up the overarching theme of the book—we can be different things to different people.
What do you hope for readers to get out of the story?
First and foremost, I hope they enjoy the story. I hope they relate to the characters and care about the things they do and have done. And maybe in the future, when they see an elderly person, I hope they see not only who they are now but also their rich life history.
And now here is an excerpt of the book, I hope you enjoy this sneak peek! Lets me know if this inspires you to read the full book!
The story came out on October 29, 2014. It was a Wednesday. The Kingsley Echo always came out on a Wednesday. Thomas Mirren was a fraud, or at least that’s what the Echo said. He hadn’t served in the war, and in fact, he hadn’t even been in the army. Understandably, this came as something of a surprise to Thomas.
Chapter 1: Thomas and Ian
“Bloody hell, those boxes were heavy this morning.”
It was October 22, the day Thomas and Frank were due to start selling poppies. They’d brought the boxes from the Legion to the supermarket in Frank’s car. They always used Frank’s car now. Thomas didn’t drive anymore. Not at his age.
“I’m getting too old for this.” Thomas laughed.
“We’re getting too old for this,” corrected Frank. It had been raining earlier, so Frank had decided to wear his heavy winter coat. As usual, Thomas was wearing his blue blazer. Frank never saw that blazer any other time of the year. He’d asked Thomas about it once, but his friend had just shrugged, saying he liked to look smart. Frank had laughed at that; he certainly didn’t look smart for the rest of the year.
The supermarket had set up a table for the two men in the entrance area just before the tills but far enough away from the doors that they wouldn’t get cold. They’d also brought over a fan heater.
“They do this every year, you know,” complained Frank, pointing to the fan heater. “I’m practically melting.”
Thomas laughed. “I thought you served in the desert.”
Frank shook his head and smiled. “Not in this coat, I didn’t.”
After a few minutes, Jenny, the store manager, came over to see if they wanted something to drink. She’d had her hair cut but didn’t like it, so now she was wearing a large headband. Thomas didn’t mention the odd headband even though he wanted to, opting instead to request a whisky.
“I’ll see what I can do.” She winked and laughed before disappearing, leaving the two men to shuffle their poppy boxes around the table. When she returned, she was carrying a small tray with two cups of tea and a small cake on it. The cake had a candle in the centre with the sugary figure of a soldier next to it, its left side melted by the flame.
“Happy birthday, Thomas,” she said, handing him the cake. “How old are you, if I may ask?”
“Very old,” he replied. That was as much as she was getting. He thanked her for the cake, and she smiled before going off to check on the tills.
“Mustard gas,” whispered Frank, pointing at the figure of the soldier on the cake, but Thomas shook his head.
“Mustard gas produces blisters,” he replied. “This looks more like radiation.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t eat it then,” said Frank, though Thomas could see he was smiling.
“I think we’ll be fine.”
Very soon, the cake was gone, the injured soldier put out of his misery.
As Thomas wiped crumbs from the table, Frank rifled around in his coat pockets, pulling out a small parcel wrapped in plain paper and a little bigger than a packet of playing cards. “Here,” he said. “Jane and I got this for you.” He was smiling as he handed over the present, and it was so carefully wrapped that Thomas couldn’t help but hesitate before opening it.
“Cocaine?” asked Thomas, slowly untying the silver ribbon that was neatly formed into a bow. Each loop was of equal length, the bow itself precisely in the middle.
“Not far off,” said Frank with a smile, watching as Thomas unwrapped the gift before folding the brown paper and placing it into his pocket. It was a packet of cigarettes.
Thomas chuckled. Frank always bought him cigarettes. “The Camels are coming,” he said, more to himself than to Frank, turning the box over in his hands and remembering how soft the packet had felt all those years ago. Not like now with its square edges and pointed corners. “You know, more doctors smoke Camels than any other brand. At least, that’s what they used to say.”
“I know, but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.” Frank leaned over and shook Thomas’s hand. “Happy birthday, my friend,” he said. “Go easy on the Camels, though. I want another ninety years out of you.”
The morning went slowly. Frank said it was due to the weather, but Thomas wasn’t so sure. It had been like that the last few years, and he wondered if people were starting to forget. Not that he minded really. We forget everything given time. They decided to give it another hour before finishing and heading off to the Legion.
At twelve-thirty, Thomas started to pack up, carefully closing the boxes, making sure not to bend any of the poppies. Frank dealt with the pins and the metal badges. Things had picked up over the last hour, so it hadn’t been such a bad shift after all.
“Look at these two,” said Frank suddenly, tapping Thomas on the arm and pointing to a couple of teenagers who had just walked in, one male and one female. They went over to the far wall and stood by the chiller cabinet. “Here we go,” he whispered as the boy took two bottles of Coke from the display and put them into his pockets. “I knew it,” he said, turning to his friend. But Thomas had already gone. “For God’s sake, Thomas,” he sighed, setting off after him.
By the time Frank caught up with him, Thomas was deep in conversation.
“I bought them,” said the boy as Thomas stood there, arms folded with a stern look on his face. “Who the hell are you anyway?”
“It’s that old fossil from the poppy stand,” said the girl, and Thomas burst out laughing. The boy spread his arms and smiled.
“If you’re trying to intimidate me,” said Thomas, “it’s not going to work.” He paused for a moment, and Frank saw that he’d stopped laughing. “I’ve experienced far worse.”
The girl was about to say something when there was a noise nearby, and Thomas turned to find Colin, the store security guard, approaching. Colin was an extremely smart, tall man. He’d worked there for the last five years, and Thomas liked him, with his carefully ironed shirt and neatly pressed trousers.
“Everything alright?” Colin asked no one in particular. He looked at Thomas and Frank, then turned to the teenagers.
“Colonel Sanders here is trying to act hard,” said the girl. Thomas noticed the boy had slid the two bottles onto a shelf behind him. “Thinks he’s some sort of war hero when he hasn’t even got any medals.” She pointed to Frank. “Not like grandad there. At least he’s got a couple.” Frank had three medals which he always wore in the run-up to Remembrance Day. Thomas never wore medals. “Probably got them for folding blankets, though.”
The thought of Frank folding blankets tickled Thomas, and he turned to his friend. “Blanket folding, Frank?” he asked as Frank rolled his eyes. Frank had served in Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising. Not much need for blankets there.
Thomas didn’t mention the bottles, and in the end, the two teenagers were asked to leave. The girl, whose name was Shell, and her friend Jonesie were politely told they were no longer welcome at the store. Which was a bit of a problem, as that’s where they did most of their shoplifting.
“You’re looking at things from the wrong perspective,” said Brian to a somewhat downcast Ian. Brian had tried to break it gently, but it hadn’t worked. He was now attempting the more direct approach. “You need to write about things that interest people, Ian. Not just things you’re interested in.”
Ian nodded. He was doing that. At least, he thought he was.
“People buy the Echo to read about Kingsley. Give them that.” Brian paused to let the information sink in. “This is your last chance, Ian. If you can’t deliver what I want, I’ll find someone who can.”
His last chance.
Ian shook his head as he left Brian’s office. He wasn’t sure when his first chance had been.
The phone started ringing as he got back to his desk.
“Hi, love,” said the voice at the other end of the line. It was his wife, Debbie. “Can you pick up some bread when you’re out this lunchtime? I need some for your sandwiches.” Ian smiled to himself. She was always thinking of him. He loved that about her. He decided not to mention the conversation with Brian. He’d work it out, so there was no need to worry her. And she would worry.
“Sure,” he replied. “I’m going out in a minute, so I’ll head over to the supermarket. See you normal time.” Debbie blew a kiss down the phone, then hung up.
“Eff you, Brian,” muttered Ian, looking around to see if anyone had heard him. He didn’t like to swear. “Making me lie to Debbie.” He knew it hadn’t really been a lie but he told Debbie everything, so it still felt bad. And that was Brian’s fault.
The gravel crunched under his feet as he walked the short distance from his office to the supermarket. It looked like it had been raining. Ian had his new shoes on—a brown leather pair Debbie had bought him. She’d said it made him look the part; he didn’t really know what she’d meant by that. There were a few specks of mud on one toe, so he stopped by a bench in the small park by the supermarket, taking a paper tissue from his pocket and cleaning off the dirt. As he was about to leave, he noticed two people on the next bench, sharing a cigarette and swearing. The kids always seemed to swear, and he didn’t like it. He wouldn’t say anything of course. Not every battle was worth fighting. But Ian had never fought any battles. He was too afraid of what might happen.
“That old fart’s going to pay for that,” said Jonesie, taking his phone from his pocket and flicking at the screen. “Who the hell does he think he is?”
Shell took a long drag on her cigarette, then passed it to her friend. “I told you, I bet he’s not even been in the army. Making out he’s all that when he’s just a fraud. Not a single medal. And they all got medals.”
Jonesie laughed, an idea forming in his head.
Inside the supermarket, Ian took off his coat and slung it over his arm. It was unusually stuffy, most likely due to a fan heater he noticed in the corner blasting hot air across the entrance area. There were two old men by a table, clearing away some boxes of poppies. He hadn’t bought one yet, so he went over and asked if he could have a metal one. One of the old men shook his head, but the other one smiled. He seemed the older of the two, but he looked strong as though he’d been quite something in his day. A little over six feet, he was taller than his friend and had the most amazing blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, son, but we’re all packed up for the day,” he said, fumbling around in his jacket pockets—a smart blue blazer. Finding nothing, he reached for his lapel and unclipped his own badge. It was small with red lacquer on the front and gold-coloured plating on the back. Handing it to Ian, he said, “Take this. You can pay for it next time you see me.” And with that, the two men took their boxes and left.
After getting some bread and picking up his usual bottle of water and a small salad bowl, Ian went to the supermarket cafe. It was an excellent way to kill thirty minutes over lunch with the added bonus that it kept him away from Brian and his constant complaints. All that Brian was interested in was gossip. He ran a newspaper but had no interest in news. Ian wondered what had happened to make him change. By all accounts, he’d been a good journalist in the past; inquisitive and fearless. But not now.
Jenny came over and said hello. She was a friend of Debbie’s. He’d known her ever since she’d moved to the area and started working in the supermarket some years ago. She’d met Debbie at a yoga class at the leisure centre. Or was it Pilates? Something like that. Back then, she’d worked the tills, but pretty soon she’d made her way up to assistant manager. Then, when old Mr Jessop had left, she’d taken over. Brian suspected something sinister, of course, and had asked him to find some dirt. For once, he’d refused. Not a good career move in hindsight.
“What’s the name of the old guy selling poppies?” he asked Jenny. “The one with blue eyes.”
Jenny smiled as though remembering something good. “That’ll be Thomas,” she replied. “Thomas Mirren. The nicest man you could wish to meet. Why do you ask?”
Ian shrugged. “He gave me his poppy earlier. Said I could pay him later. Can I leave some money with you?”
Jenny thought about it. “Best you give it to him if that’s what he wanted,” she said. “He’ll be here every day for the next week or two.”
Ian nodded and thanked her. He’d bring the money the next day.
The remainder of his lunchtime consisted of the side salad and the water. Debbie made him sandwiches every day, but he liked to eat those when he got back to the office. It killed a few extra minutes and made him feel as though he’d had an extended lunch break. He’d tried the mixed salad recently but hadn’t like it much: too peppery and not enough tomatoes. Today, he’d opted for the Mediterranean Bowl which was much better.
The two teenagers were still sitting on the wooden bench when he left, still swearing. The boy was laughing hysterically and pointing to his phone. The girl was laughing too, though her laughter sounded cruel. Ian took the long way back to the office, past the swings and round the carved animals so that he wouldn’t have to walk past them.
Ian was relieved to find that Brian was in a meeting all afternoon. He leafed through the cuttings on his desk as he ate his sandwiches: snippets of social media mainly, sourced by the press desk. ‘Press desk’ sounded grand. In reality, it was just Anna and George, the two trainees, who sifted through social media all day, printing out stories which might be of interest. That day, there was nothing.
There were four other journalists in the office but none of them were around. The only people in that afternoon were the administrators and the finance team. There was a lady who did all the HR too but Ian couldn’t see her. As a result, it was pretty quiet, and that was how he liked it. It gave him time to think. He tried to concentrate on the papers in front of him: complaints about the council and the terrible state of the roads, but by four-thirty, he’d had enough, so he decided to pack up for the day. All he wanted to do now was go home.
The journey from the office to his house was no more than twenty minutes on a good day, double that if traffic was bad. He’d bought a new car recently, all-electric and with as many gadgets and gizmos as you could possibly want. Brian had called it a waste of money; said it was the Chinese who were destroying the environment, so one person over here made no difference. But, as usual, he’d missed the point. Ian couldn’t change what other people did but he could do something himself. Every journey starts with a single step, isn’t that what they said? Well, Ian’s family was a first step.
Besides, Brian always blamed foreigners. Truth and the facts never bothered him.
Because it was still early, he decided to take the long route home. He enjoyed driving his new car, which had cost a small fortune. It was exciting to drive along silently, feeling like James Bond with all the computer readouts flickering on the dashboard in front of him. He didn’t know what most of them meant but they looked impressive, all the same. When he asked for some classical music, a lady’s voice came out from the speakers:
“Okay, here’s a station you might like—classical music for a relaxing bath.”
Ian laughed. Fantastic. Odd but fantastic.
As he was passing the Legion Club, he noticed the two poppy sellers from earlier. He thought about stopping to give them the money for the poppy but it was warm in the car and the music was good, so he didn’t. He’d give it to them tomorrow.
“Not a bad morning all told,” said Frank, taking a sip from his drink. They always went back to the Legion after a morning at the supermarket. They’d stay a couple of hours, then head home. Frank did most of the talking while Thomas listened. “And what about those two we caught shoplifting?”
Thomas shook his head.
Derek from behind the bar leaned over and asked what had happened, and for the next few minutes, Frank regaled him the story of the two teenagers and their pitiful attempt at stealing.
“One of them called Frank a blanket folder,” said Thomas, laughing. “So, they were pretty sharp.”
“She called Thomas a fossil,” added Frank to even up the score.
“Like I said”—Thomas smiled—“pretty sharp.”
The three of them were still laughing when the door opened and in walked the Colonel, looking as spritely as ever despite his ninety-plus years.
“Colonel,” said Derek and Frank in unison. He nodded and then turned to Thomas and smiled.
“Thomas,” he said simply. “Happy birthday.” Looking back at Derek, he added, “These drinks are on me.”
The Colonel had served in the war at the same time as Thomas, though he had been injured. As a result, he’d returned home early while Thomas had stayed until the end.
“A word if that’s okay?” he said to Thomas as he made his way over to his usual chair. Thomas nodded and went to join him. The two of them moved to a small table in the corner where there were several large leather armchairs, and the Colonel sat, indicating to Thomas to join him. The chair’s leather felt cold against Thomas’s back, making him wince as he pushed firmly against it.
The Colonel stared at him, his concern evident. “Back playing up?”
Derek came over, placing two large whiskies in front of the men. The Colonel handed one to Thomas, and raising his glass, he smiled. “To you.”
A minute later, Frank arrived. He was carrying three more drinks—two whiskies and a beer—and was struggling with his choice to not use a tray. Thomas got up to help, but Frank shook his head. As they sat there, Frank watched as Thomas rubbed at the back of his shoulders, his long fingers digging in so that he grimaced. It wasn’t long before Frank had seen enough.
“Get that sorted, Thomas,” urged Frank. “For Christ’s sake, it’s painful to watch.”
“I will,” agreed Thomas, though they all knew he wouldn’t. Frank and the Colonel had watched him for years, hands working at his shoulders and back, but not once had either of them heard him complain. Thomas had never been the sort to make a fuss.
The three of them chatted for a long time that afternoon, Frank filling the Colonel in on the first day of their poppy sales. Neither he nor Thomas mentioned the two teenagers, and by four-thirty, they were beginning to feel drunk. As they got up to leave, the Colonel asked Thomas what his plans were for the evening.
“More of this.” He laughed, finishing off his drink. “Though at home, of course, with Ellen.”
The Colonel left first, Frank and Thomas following soon after.
Outside, it was a lovely afternoon, so the two men decided to walk home. Frank left his car at the Legion. It would take him ten minutes to get back to his house, double that to Thomas’s. The roads were beginning to get busy as people made their way home from work, and the sun had come out. Not for the first time that day, as a trail of sweat made its way down his back, Frank regretted his choice of coat.
At the end of the road, the two men shook hands.
“See you tomorrow,” said Frank.
“For another tough day at the office,” Thomas added.
As Thomas walked home, the old terraced houses lining the streets looked cold and deserted, not at all like the house he’d grown up in as a child. He smiled at the memory: the tiny front room with the crackling coal fire, his parents, the meals, the comfort and warmth. Another world altogether, now long gone.
He returned home to his cold house. Turning on the central heating, he went into the bathroom and took off his shirt. His back had been much worse than usual today, and as he looked into the mirror, he traced the latticework of scars with his fingertips. Across his shoulders and down his back, white welts burned angrily, his skin resembling that of melted, scored plastic. It was just a flare-up, he told himself, a small price to pay for what he’d done.
He changed out of the rest of his clothes and put on his suit. He always wore his suit on this day of the year. In the kitchen, he fetched a glass and a bottle. It wasn’t every day he turned ninety. And today, it was a double celebration.
Standing in front of the electric fire, fake flames swaying gently, Thomas gazed adoringly at the photograph on the mantlepiece. It showed a young man, strong and handsome, laughing. Next to him was a woman around the same age with brown hair, shoulder-length and wavy, held back at the sides by two clips. She was holding a red rose.
Thomas felt the breath catch in his throat. Just like it did every time he looked at her.
“Happy anniversary, Ellen.”
Chapter 2: Nicole and Michel
Nicole Moreau was out of bed at six-thirty. The same time every day. The exact time she had risen every day for eighty years in that same town, that same house. Give or take a few months during the war and a couple of years she wished to forget. She would set the fire, then brew a fresh pot of coffee. No day should start without warmth and coffee. A little later, she’d wake her brother, Michel, the lazy one of the two children, or so her parents had always joked. He could easily stay in bed until half past seven, sometimes later. But not today.
“Is some of that coffee for me?” asked Michel, rubbing his eyes sleepily. His hair was dishevelled, but he was dressed, his old grey suit faded but still smart. Nicole liked him in that suit. He’d ironed a white shirt, and a dark blue tie hung loosely around his neck.
Nicole snapped her fingers. “Top button, please, Brother.” Michel saluted, tidying himself up at once. Nicole laughed. “Perfect.” She smiled as Michel walked over to embrace her.
“I suppose you were expecting to wake me?”
Nicole shook her head. She never had to wake him on this day of the year.
Handing him a cup of coffee, the two of them went to the table by the window. They stared outside at the warm autumnal morning, the rolling green fields spreading out before them, and in the distance, the small town of Saint Martin.
“They’ll be expecting you in town today, Mr Mayor,” said Nicole after a while. “As they always do.”
Michel laughed, putting down his coffee for fear of spilling it on his suit. “It’s ex-Mr Mayor,” he said. He looked at the small buildings of Saint Martin across the fields, like tiny black boxes with the old church at the centre, and for a moment Nicole recalled another time. But then Michel looked at her, and he was smiling, that mischievous smile he’d had since they were children.
“Besides,” he said, “they know what today is, so they should never have arranged the meeting as they did. I won’t go, and they know it.”
By mid-morning, they had completed their chores, and it was time to start the preparations. Each year, Michel went into the loft but it was always Nicole who unwrapped the figure. It had been that way for over fifty years.
The nerves were getting to Nicole as midday approached. Michel kept a close eye on her to make sure she was okay. He was nervous too, of course, but he couldn’t let Nicole know. It was his job to look after her.
“What time are the others arriving?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
Nicole didn’t look up as she fussed about the room, straightening chairs and plumping cushions. “Lunchtime,” she replied. “Same time every year.” Michel nodded, then helped Nicole move the large table into the centre of the room. Very soon, everything was done.
“You should go and get it now,” said Nicole. Michel rubbed his hands on the front of his shirt, then quietly left the room. He looked at his hands in the dim light of the narrow hallway, making sure they were clean. Satisfied, he went upstairs.
The bedroom was large. It had been Michel and Nicole’s when they were young, and little had changed save for new wallpaper and a carpet where it had previously been bare boards. Now, it was Michel’s. Nicole had moved out many years ago but was soon back, daughter in tow and husband long gone. She had needed her brother’s strength, and he had given it without question. But Michel had never left, even when he’d married Jeanne. They’d had a son, Jean-Luc, but then Jeanne was gone too; a short illness followed by a long mourning. So, Nicole had become a mother of two. Michel had needed her strength then, and she had given it. Without question.
They called the room next door ‘the loft’. It was small, too small for anything practical, and attached to the bedroom by a door. Nicole and Michel had played in there as children, the two of them hiding in the dark and spying through the floorboards at their parents below. They could see everything, but now the floorboards were covered by an old rug. One day, they had seen too much.
Turning on the light, Michel went over to the door and slid back the bolt. The hinges groaned, and a plume of dust escaped like a ghost rushing from the darkness, making Michel cough as he fumbled along the wall for the light switch. As the light flickered on, he stepped inside.
It was the first time he’d been in the loft for exactly a year. And after today, it would be another year before he was in there again. It was empty save for the rug and a large leather chest in the corner. He couldn’t remember what was in the chest, but on top of it sat a small wooden box. Their father had made it for them, a strong place in which they could keep their most valuable things. Nowadays, it contained only one item.
Michel carefully took the box and exited the room. He wanted to spend as little time in there as possible. Turning off the light, he bolted the door and quickly left the bedroom. With both hands gently holding the rough wooden box, he made his way down the stairs, wondering to himself what would be worse, falling or dropping the box? His body would mend, albeit slowly at his age, but he could not afford to break what he was carrying. He smiled to himself at the answer. There had never been any doubt.
Nicole was waiting for him when he returned. She had removed everything from the mantlepiece, and on it, she had placed two candles with photographs of the family to either side. There was one of their parents standing together in the field outside the house, smiling and with the town in the background. Another showed Michel and Jeanne on their wedding day, the happiest day of his life. Next to that was a faded picture of Jeanne with Jean-Luc. Jeanne was ill at the time, clearly noticeable in the picture, and had died shortly afterwards. It was the only picture he had of the two of them together. The last picture showed Michel and Nicole. It was taken in 1942, precisely seventy-two years ago. Nicole was wearing a dress and Michel had on shorts and a white shirt with braces. They were holding hands, and they were smiling.
In the middle was an empty space.
Without saying anything, Michel handed the box to Nicole. She stared at it, gently stroking the rough wooden surface. Carefully lifting the lid as though anything more forceful might destroy what was inside, she looked at Michel, and he nodded.
Nicole slowly lifted a tiny figure from the box. The two of them walked together to the fireplace, where Nicole placed it in the space between the two candles. It was a toy. A small figurine made of lead, with chipped paint and a reddish-brown mark on the base.
Chapter 3: Ian
Ian was up at eight o’clock. He’d had a couple of drinks the night before which had left him with a headache. Debbie had opened a bottle of wine guessing him in need of it when he’d walked in, and as usual, she’d been right. They’d sat up until late, and by the time they’d gone to bed, a second bottle was well on the way to being finished.
As a rule, Ian always sought Debbie’s advice when he had something on his mind. She invariably had the answer. Or at least an answer. The previous night had been no different. He had explained the situation at work, listing off Brian’s shortcomings with well-rehearsed precision, and Debbie had listened. He was being pushed in a direction that made him uncomfortable, more towards gossip and further away from news. Debbie’s advice, as usual, had been straightforward.
“Don’t do what you’re uncomfortable with, Ian,” she’d said. “If you don’t like it, you can always find somewhere else. We don’t need the money anyway.”
But that was the problem: they did need the money. There was no escaping that fact.
As he sat at the table that morning, playing with his toast while Debbie tapped away on her phone, he couldn’t help but focus on the problem that he didn’t want to go to work. And that wasn’t like him. Not like him at all.
To take his mind off things, he asked Debbie what she was looking at.
“Facebook,” she replied.
“On Facebook?” She laughed. “No, the usual rubbish.” She scrolled down, where she came across a post on the council’s page. “There’s even someone here trolling an old guy. Something about him being a war fraud.” She put down her phone and took a sip of her coffee. “I don’t know why I bother looking at it, to be honest.”
Ian shrugged. He wasn’t sure why anyone looked at social media but they all did. It was a bit like looking at an accident: you knew you shouldn’t but you just couldn’t help yourself.
At nine o’clock, he left the house.
“What time do you call this?” shouted Brian from his office as Ian walked through the door. He was grinning as he looked at some papers. Before Ian had time to answer, Brian waved him into the office.
“Here you are,” he said, handing Ian a sheet of paper. “Don’t say I don’t do anything for you.”
Ian looked at the paper. There was a mark in the corner—grease from one of the pastries on Brian’s desk. He groaned inwardly: a Facebook printout.
“It seems we have a military imposter,” declared Brian, delighted by the possibility.
“How do you know?” asked Ian.
“I don’t,” said Brian. “That’s what you’re going to find out.” He picked up the calendar from his desk and pointed to a date. “I need it by Friday if it’s going to get into next Wednesday’s edition.” Ian watched as he skittered around the room like an overexcited child. “This is potential dynamite.” Brian laughed. “It’s Remembrance Day soon and it’s a big one—a hundred years since the start of the First World War. And someone’s going around pretending they were in it.” He was shaking his head. “Disgraceful.”
“I think you mean the Second World War.”
Brian waved his hand. “Whatever. Just get me the story.”
Before Ian could say anything more, he was shooed unceremoniously from the office.
Ian had only glanced at the printout in Brian’s office but he was pretty sure it was the same thing Debbie had mentioned that morning. If Debbie was correct and it was just another person being nasty, it would be cleared up in no time. But where to start?
He was sitting at his desk, pondering what to do, when Amanda, one of the other reporters, came over and glanced at his printout.
“He’s got you looking into that, has he?” she said. “I’ve not seen him so excited since that train crash a few years ago.” Ian remembered it well. Nothing much had happened: a train had derailed, and Brian had thought there could be fatalities. When it had turned out there were none, he’d been in a bad mood for days. It would probably go the same way this time.
“I hope he’s wrong,” said Amanda. “He’s such a nice guy.”
“Who, Brian?” asked Ian, raising an eyebrow.
Amanda giggled. “No, stupid, the Facebook guy.” She looked at Ian, cocking her head as if expecting him to say something. He didn’t. “You know who it is, don’t you?”
Ian shook his head; he hadn’t got that far.
“It’s the guy who sells poppies at the supermarket.” She sighed. “Well, one of them. His name’s Thomas Mirren. Lovely guy.” Before she could say anything more, her phone rang. She disappeared, leaving Ian to read the piece of paper more carefully.
Ian knew the story must be false. He’d seen the man many times over the years. He’d even seen him coming out of the Legion yesterday. A quick online search should clear things up, then he could tell Brian and get on with some proper work. Job done.
But he couldn’t find Thomas Mirren anywhere. Thinking he must have made a mistake, he went over to Jean, the office manager, who was making a cup of tea in the kitchen. Jean had lived in the town her whole life and knew everyone. She was humming to herself as he approached.
“Hi, Jean. Quick question.”
Jean looked up from her tea making and smiled. They’d always got on well, and while she was quiet around most of the people in the office, she often chatted with Ian.
“Do you know the guy who sells poppies in the supermarket?” he asked.
“Which one?” replied Jean, and Ian smiled to himself. Of course, she would know.
“Striking blue eyes.”
Jean nodded. “Thomas Mirren. And before you ask, yes, he did serve in the army.”
“So, you know about that, do you?”
Jean explained to Ian that Thomas Mirren had sold poppies for as long as she could remember, which was a very long time. She hadn’t spoken to him—he seemed relatively quiet—but she was confident he’d served in the war.
“World War Two,” she added loudly, looking towards Brian’s office.
Ian laughed. “Do you know which regiment?”
“Do you know where he served?”
“The thing is, Jean, I can’t find any record of him online. Bit odd, don’t you think?”
“Not really.” Jean shrugged. “Just because you can’t find something doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Her tea had finished brewing by this stage, so she rinsed the teaspoon and refilled the kettle. She left, leaving Ian to wonder what his next move should be.
Back at his desk, just in case he’d made a mistake, he tried the military records website again. There was no Thomas Mirren. There was Marron, Marino, and Marney but no Mirren. He widened his search to cover the post-war period. Still nothing. Very odd, he thought. Maybe there was something to it after all.
As Ian was leaving that evening, Brian waved him into his office. He was speaking on the phone, so made Ian wait by his desk. He was grinning broadly. From what Ian could glean, he was talking to someone from one of the nationals, though he couldn’t imagine what interest they would have in the Echo. After five minutes, Brian put down the phone.
“This could be big. Very big.” He walked around the large wooden desk and stood next to Ian. “That was Jacqueline Chambers from the Chronicle. They’re doing a series on Remembrance Day. I happened to mention we have something in the pipeline, and she seems quite interested. Of course, I didn’t give any details. Not yet.” He paused. “So?”
“So, what?” asked Ian, much to Brian’s irritation.
“The military imposter…”
Ian was still far from comfortable with the whole situation, but he told Brian what he’d found—very little. Brian, of course, seemed delighted.
“I knew it,” he said. “Nothing in the records.”
“Nothing that I’ve found,” corrected Ian.
“Like I said, nothing in the records.” Brian moved back to the other side of the desk, where he busily scribbled something into a small notebook next to his computer. He tore out a page and handed it to Ian. It was a phone number.
“This is my mobile number,” he said. “Don’t give it to anyone else. I want that story by close of business tomorrow. Give me a call if you have any problems.”
That was Ian’s cue to leave. It looked like tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
Before heading home, he decided to go to the supermarket. He needed to pick up a couple of things and it wouldn’t do any harm to ask the odd question about Thomas Mirren while he was there. It wasn’t exactly investigative journalism but at least it gave him something to do; something which Brian approved of anyway. He couldn’t care less what the man thought of him but he could do without losing his job. He tried to convince himself he was doing the right thing, but in reality, he knew he wasn’t.
It was five-thirty by the time he arrived at the supermarket, and it was already busy with people picking up last minute bits and pieces before heading home. The poppy table was there but there was no sign of Thomas Mirren. Ian imagined he had left and that he’d missed him, and he felt a strange sense of relief.
Picking up a basket, he made his way along the fruit and vegetable aisle, then turned to pick up some detergent. The next aisle housed a vast array of wines from all over the world, although mainly France and Australia. Most of them were too alcoholic—fourteen per cent or more—and it took him several minutes to find one which was both drinkable and within his budget. He and Debbie liked a glass of wine with dinner, but yesterday had been excessive. He promised himself he’d stick to the one glass that night.
“Can I check you’re twenty-five, please, sir?” said a voice from behind him as he placed the wine into his basket. He turned to find Jenny, hands on hips, grinning beneath her headband.
“Is the thinning hair proof enough?” he asked with a smile.
“It’ll do,” she replied, laughing.
Jenny was usually finished by five o’clock, so Ian asked her why she was still at work. It turned out there had been some trouble with a couple of teenagers earlier; known shoplifters who’d tried to get into the store even though they’d recently been banned. Ian shook his head sadly. His daughter, Ellie, was eighteen. He couldn’t imagine her doing something like that.
The two of them chatted for a few minutes, and Ian asked Jenny what she knew about Thomas Mirren.
“Why do you want to know?” she asked.
“It’s nothing really,” he replied. “It’s just that after he gave me his poppy yesterday, I was kind of curious. Do you know much about him?”
“Not really. Just that he’s nice,” she said. “Oh, and that he sells poppies.”
“But do you know where he served, or what his regiment was?”
“No,” she said flatly. “He doesn’t talk about the past, and I can’t say I blame him.”
It was clear he wasn’t going to get any information here, so making his excuses, he said goodbye and headed towards the checkouts.
Just as he was about to join a queue, he noticed Thomas Mirren and his friend entering the store. Thomas Mirren was carrying an old umbrella and laughing at something his friend was saying. The security guard said something to them, and Thomas Mirren’s friend smiled and nodded. He was wearing a large grey coat. Thomas Mirren was pulling at the coat and laughing as his friend slapped at his hand. Ian felt a sudden surge of guilt, and all he could think about was getting home. Away from this place, from Thomas Mirren, and from what Brian had asked him to do. He needed to talk to Debbie again.
“Don’t do it,” advised Ellie as she sat at the kitchen table that evening, the three of them surrounded by empty plates. “It’ll just be some idiots messing about.”
Debbie agreed. “Even if he is making it up, what harm is he doing anybody? There’ll be reasons. He’s doing something good selling the poppies, isn’t he?”
Debbie had made pasta that evening. Ian had eaten too much, and with his fullness mixing with the glass of wine he was drinking, he could quite easily have fallen asleep. Ellie was involving herself in their mealtime discussion for once, her phone remaining off by her side, where normally she would have been tapping away. It was their opinion that he shouldn’t write anything about Thomas Mirren. The reasons were threefold: firstly, it wasn’t thoroughly researched save for a few internet searches and the odd bit of gossip; secondly, he was one of the good guys, raising money while most people couldn’t be bothered; thirdly, Brian was an arse.
It was hard for Ian to argue against that, especially the third point. However, since he’d been home, he’d already drafted a piece. It was good, and he hadn’t mentioned Thomas Mirren by name. Instead, he’d written a balanced article about why people might invent a past life—loneliness, insecurity, wanting to fit in—and whilst he’d included the rumour of a local poppy seller pretending to be a war veteran, he’d been careful not to say who it was. But it was obvious: ‘with his blue blazer and gentle manner’.
Sitting at the table in his nice house, drinking his nice wine, he looked at the two people he loved most in the world. And that’s when he knew it: there was no question of him losing his job. He couldn’t let it happen. He really didn’t want to write the story. But he had to.
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