Novel Excerpt

From the Open Books novel 
One To A Million  
 Tim Cole

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It all started, as so many crazy things do, over a couple of innocent beers. The White Hart pub was our regular haunt and, as ever, the conversation after several cold ones graduated toward a more serious and heated debate. Fat Dave had just aired some pretty strong opinions over the identity of the best Bond ever. The tail end of his fag sought escape from the rolls of skin at the lower right hand side of his mouth as he raised the dregs of his pint and squinted across the smoke-filled table.
    “Roger Moore,” he toasted proudly in his gruff drawl, “the Bond of choice.”
   “Yeah, right!” bleated Nadz (Edward to his parents), ever eager to put his significantly larger friend right.     “Who in their right mind could ever think that he was the best Bond? He just played the role for laughs!”
    “Look at the Bond films he was in…Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, A View To A Kill…all the best Bond films, basically!” exclaimed Dave, defiantly, “plus, you have to hand it to him for appearing in a film called Octopussy−I mean, how that got past the censors, I’ll never know!”
    “Yeah, yeah, all decent enough films, but he also appeared in Moonraker−I mean, come on, a shoot-out in outer space? He almost lost all Bond’s credibility with that one,” insisted Ballbag turning towards me. “What do you reckon, Charlie? Connery or Moore?”
    I always enjoyed watching these two go at it. On occasions, their verbal sparring can leave you with a dizzying feeling as they nonchalantly walk the tightrope between idiocy and lunacy. Just to be awkward I thought I’d really stoke up their argument. “Well, what about Timothy Dalton?”
    A duet of guffaws cut through the smoke cloud.
    “Timothy Dalton? What planet are you on?” laughed Nadz, sentiments echoed by his considerably larger sidekick. These old school friends were the very definition of the little man/big man partnership. Dave, a full six foot, five inches and umpteen stone (we stopped asking him his weight when he tipped the scales at seventeen stone in the final year of school); Nadz, barely five foot, four, and despite a freakishly oversized set of genitalia, as clear a case of little man syndrome as one could ever care to imagine. 
    “Dalton? Sounds like a type of plate!” responded Fat Dave, his intellect and wit further dulled by his demolition of a chaser shot of whiskey. He let out a bellow which stirred in his very bowels and roared upwards, culminating in a bawl, as if Sid James had been swallowed up and spat out by Luciano Pavarotti.
“Well, he’s often overlooked in these debates, but if you look at it logically, he’s actually the only rational choice,” I stated matter-of-factly. 
    “Yeah? How do you work that one out, Charlie?” asked Dave, his eyebrows beginning to meet in the middle of his forehead, as if the strain of comprehending my choice was bringing him to the edge of a psychological meltdown.
    “Well, he’s a classically trained actor−he did Shakespeare–so he’s got the right acting pedigree. Also, he had to resurrect the role after your man Moore had brought it to its knees with all of his crazy eyebrow movements and cheesy one-liners.”
    “Come on, surely you don’t need to know Shakespeare to play Bond?” responded Dave.
    “Maybe not… But Bond is a loner–just like Hamlet. He is a lover–just like Romeo. He is a fighter–just like Henry V. He is a cold-blooded killer–just like Titus Andronicus, and each of those other three Shakespeare characters, now that I think about it. Dalton played all those roles on stage and brought the lot with him to the Bond films−none of this body builder nonsense of Connery, nor the chap who played the first Bond, nor your pretty boy good looks of Moore or Pierce Brosnan. Dalton was the real deal, believe me.”
    “Yeah, but he only did one film, didn’t he?” interjected Ballbag between puffs of his cigarette.
    “Two, actually: The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill–two very underrated Bond films, and way ahead of their time in terms of plot lines. Also, he didn’t bleed the franchise, plus he was too proud to take the easy money like Connery and Moore,” I emphasised. “Dalton was the closest on-screen representation of Ian Fleming’s super-spy creation. Fact.”
    After a few moments pause for thought, Dave served his riposte.
    “Dalton was too much of a toff compared to the others; he was way too posh to play Bond.”
    “Seriously, Dave?” I replied. “You need to do a bit more research, mate…the character of Bond was educated at Eton–the poshest school in the country. Is he really going to speak like a scouser? You’ll be telling me that Daniel Craig is the best Bond in a minute! Or what about Sean Connery−a devout Scot? No, better still, the Aussie–Lazenby! You’re killing me here, fellas!”
    “Yeah, well, whatever,” shrugged Dave, “I still think Moore is the best−he was certainly the Bond I grew up with anyway.”
    “Say what you like, mate–Connery was better–definitely!” yelled Nadz putting on a mock air of authority to mask his insignificance as regards this particular conversation. “If only for the reason that he was the only one of the lot that looked like he could handle himself in a fight. I mean, come on, you could’ve knocked that wimp Moore over with a feather!”
    “Don’t talk nonsense, and get the next round in!” Dave’s response clearly indicated that one way or another the Bond debate was getting away from him.
    “I got the last one!” insisted Ballbag, defiantly.
    “Did ya’?” Fat Dave turned his gaze toward me. “Did he get the last one, Charlie?”
    I grinned and nodded. “Yeah, and I got the one before that.” 
    “Fair enough, must be my turn then. Same?” 
    Two nods and he began his gradual sideward shift from the booth, legs first, as always, slowly building momentum for his bellies, then eventually those big labouring arms levering his mass upward from the solid oak table.
    “How’s work going?” I asked Nadz. He had been in and out of countless clerical positions since he’d left school well over a decade ago. After a disastrous relationship with an older woman left him nearly penniless, he was only now beginning to get his life back on track.
    “Not bad at all, mate,” he replied, as he surreptitiously lifted a cigarette from the packet which Dave had left carelessly on the table.
    “How long you been there now, Ed?” I asked.
    “Getting on three months now; yeah, I started in April so, no wait, actually almost four months.”
    “You enjoying it?”
    “Yeah, it’s alright…easy money, that’s for sure.”
    “What do you mean? It can’t be that easy selling houses–it’s not like they’re cheap or anything.”
    “True, true, but at the end of the day everyone needs one, don’t they? And here’s the beauty of it–prices have been going up and up. They’re never going to come down. Trust me, if you want to make serious money, get on the property ladder.” 
    Edward had recently taken a junior position at an estate agent’s office. My only personal dealings with estate agents had been negative ones. Well, I’ve only actually had dealings with one. He rented me the worst flat you’ve ever seen: cobwebs in the corners, dampness on the walls, threadbare furniture, creaky floorboards with dry rot, a bathroom that you had to walk through the kitchen to get to, a real hovel. For the first three months I had no central heating–and it was the middle of winter! Seriously, I had to have candles in the living room just to break the chill. You live and learn: I will never trust an estate agent as long as I live. “And your boss–what’s he like, Ed?”
    “He’s not too bad. To be honest, now that he trusts me more, he gives me the run of the place.”
    “What do you mean? You have to open up for him?”
    “Well, yeah, but not just that. I get a company car, and I show properties all over town.”
    “So you could show some newly-weds their prospective first home then just cut the rest of the day?”
    Edward smiled, “I could, I suppose, but there’d be no point.”
    Now this was a surprise. Nadz had always been work-shy. I encouraged him to elaborate on the breaking of such a tradition.
    “I get paid a basic salary, which is enough to live on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not much, but it’s enough to get by.” He took a long puff of his cigarette then allowed a plume of pollution to exit his nose, “But the real money is in the commission.”
    “If I sell a house, I get a cut of the price. That is where the real money is. Two weeks ago I sold a flat in Dallow Green – complete and utter dive–made an absolute packet on commission.”
“Not bad, mate. How many do you sell each week?” I asked, intrigued at this sudden upward fluctuation in my friend’s fortunes.
    “Well, not that many at the moment, but I’ve only just started taking clients out. Plus I have to give the firm its share.” 
    “Is that a lot?”
    “Yeah, that’s where the profit is, mate. I tell you, my boss has it made. What a business: the homeowners and landlords come to him; he sells or rents their properties and takes a percentage of the sale. You have to be a bit slippery to deal with some of the clients–I mean, some of these dumps won’t sell themselves, you know? What I intend to do is set up my own firm and make money off others. It’s the only way.”
    “Sounds better than some of those other crappy jobs you’ve had, anyway.”
    “Damn right it is! That last one at the Gas place was horrendous!”
    “I thought you got off with that secretary there, though?”
    “Yeah, she was fit–place was horrendous, though.”
    Fat Dave returned, his paws competently cupping three pints of lager. “Nine quid for three pints! What the hell is the world coming to?” He eyed his change–one solitary gold coin−through squinted eyes as he lit another cigarette. “How cool would it be to turn this one pound coin into a million?”
“What? A million one pound coins?” Nadz chipped in, never one to miss an opportunity to upstage his larger friend.
    “Just imagine it: no more having to work for some geezer who has about as much respect for you as a speck of dog muck on his shoes; no more stressing over choosing which bill is the most worthy of being paid because you don’t have the money to pay both; no more having to go without meals…”
    “Come on, Dave, we all know it’s been a long time since you went without meals, mate!” I noticed a look in his eyes that I hadn’t ever seen before; I couldn’t really place it, but I must emphasise that I had never seen it before. He had always been the very definition of a gentle giant−a real larger than life gentleman. He saw the good in everything and everybody. He never showed disappointment or allowed himself to get upset. I thought back to the first time I’d met him some twenty years ago. In truth, you didn’t just meet Dave–it was more of an experience−you saw him first, then instantly balked at the very size of him. Most eleven-year-olds are skinny little runts, but Dave looked like no kid I’d ever seen before. He must have grown used to people’s reaction to seeing him for the first time, but he never let anyone know that it bothered him. I remember the first day of secondary school. Forgive the pun, but it was a feeding frenzy: the court jesters, too small and insignificant to make an impact in any other way, queued up to take pot-shots at him.
    “I can see you found your way to the Canteen, fatboy!”
    “Bloody hell–I didn’t know that King Kong went to this school!”
    “Did you eat all of the teachers, you fat idiot?”
    One lad actually ran up to Dave and launched himself shoulder first before bouncing back onto the grey concrete playground floor. I felt sorry for him. I myself was quite skinny as a kid and there’s absolutely no way I’d have been able to take this sort of unyielding onslaught on my first day of ‘big school’. Dave, though, stood steadfast–resolute, even. He was going nowhere. It was almost as if he had been preparing for this moment over the long hot summer holiday between the end of the innocent days of primary school and the beginning of the secondary school of hard knocks. There was a sense that he knew exactly what to expect. He shrugged off the verbal attacks with visible ease, and I think that some of the crowd that had gathered who, like me, were just grateful that it was this freakishly oversized first year being picked on and not themselves, were even beginning to side with him.
    Then the menacing mass of the toughest kids in the school– the ‘hards’–began to (forgive the pun) weigh him up. I could see the rusty cogs in their heads cranking into gear: ‘Who is this fatso?’ ‘Is he hard?’ ‘Is he a threat?’ and finally, ‘Let’s see if he can fight’. Clayton, a full four years older than his potential prey, shifted regally through the crowd that had gathered, his broad shoulder muscles apparently locked in their own physical battle to burst through the blazer on his back. He scowled at the timid boy-mountain in front of him and, without uttering a single word, cracked him with an overhand right to the cheek. Dave didn’t even flinch. We all looked at him in awe and amazement. He had taken the hardest punch of one of the toughest kids in the school–and this was not a posh school by any stretch of the imagination–and still he just stood there. He looked at Clayton, now stunned himself, and said, “Is that all ya’ got?” Clayton looked at the man-child before him, then at his swelling right fist, then back at Dave again. By now at least half of the school could see the power visibly draining from the lout with each passing second. This was the stuff of schoolboy folklore. Clayton, reduced to a person now only too aware of his own limitations (the rest of us would have to wait until early adulthood for that honour) could only return with “Nah, you’re alright, freako’–just stay out of my way” before he slunk off a lonely, emaciated shell of a teenager, unsure of his place in the world–again, something that the rest of us would be delayed rather than denied over the course of our formative years.
    Now though, in the lucid present, even across the smoke-filled table in a dingy pub in Greyton, a nothing town in a nothing region of a once great nation, his eyes betrayed his true feelings. None of that schoolyard banter had ever really mattered to him–he’d always shrugged off the insults and learned early on how to cope with the trials and tribulations of adolescence. For the first time, though, there was a clear glimpse of his reality: Dave was very much an adult. Ten years ago we only moaned about struggling to get into nightclubs and tearing ourselves up about the girls that weren’t going to sleep with us any time soon. Now the harsh truth was that work, bills and futile arguments over trivial debates were all we had left. Even Ballbag sensed the gravitas of this moment. Unknowingly, he had dented Dave’s bulky exterior in a manner in which Chad had so miserably failed all those years ago. An uneasy quiet hovered in the smoky booth as Ed and I held our breaths and waited for Dave to continue. He stroked the coin with his oversized thumb as he recommenced.
    “One million pounds.”
    “Yeah, that’d be mental,” Ed said, now also aware of our mutual friend’s shift in mood.
    “A cool million,” I felt obliged to add. A silence overcame us as our three pairs of eyes were transfixed upon the coin. 
    “Do you reckon it’s possible?”
    Dave immediately snapped out of his hypnotic trance and glared at Ed. “Oh, it’s possible–it’s definitely possible. Anything’s possible in this life. It’s got to be possible.”
    Ed and I nodded in forced agreement. Unsure of what to say, though, we sipped delicately on our beers and the night drew its predictably usual conclusion: three lads leering impotently at the young barmaid and wasting money on flat beer, overpriced fags and the fruit machine. We each returned to our respective homes that night with the same dreams floating through our alcohol-infused minds. However, unlike every other night, this night felt different. A seed of intrigue had been irrevocably sown. One million pounds from a single one-pound coin. Impossible. How could anyone make a fortune in such a way? I mean, you hear about these old men who win a few hundred grand on outrageous racing forecasts at the local bookmakers, but these guys have been at it for years, diligently staking their fifty pence accumulator bets on the daily race card. Some of them have been throwing that stake down for over twenty years–if you play anything that long eventually the numbers have to come up trumps. As for the lottery–well, the lottery is, well, exactly that–they say you’ve got more chance of bumping into Elvis than you have of your numbers coming up. And does anyone actually know anyone who has won the lottery? I mean, it’s been going for a few decades now yet nobody I know personally has won a bean. 
    And the football pools are dated: the irony of relying upon players who earn in a month more than the average man will earn in a complete lifetime for good fortune is just too much to bear. When I was a kid my parents used to play Spot The Ball. I remember my father using a meticulously arranged array of rulers, pencils and set squares to try to work out which way the players were looking–honestly, it was like watching Pythagoras at work. However, I don’t think they even have Spot The Ball anymore, and even if they do, it lost its appeal when they introduced rubber stamps, thereby bringing a premature halt to the satisfying days of slavishly marking in by hand five hundred and forty crosses.
    All that being said, the dreamer in me, Charlie Spinner, nodded off with the same questions swirling around my brain: Could it be that Fat Dave was on to something? Could there really be a way to turn a solitary Queen-headed quid into a cool one million pounds? 

Tim Cole was born in Enfield, Middlesex, UK in 1977, and took an interest in literature and writing from a very young age. Raised in Solihull, West Midlands, UK, he went on to study English at university and, after a brief stint as a journalist, taught creative writing in colleges and academies in the Midlands for just over a decade.

A talented musician, magician and poker player, Cole’s debut novel, One To A Million, is an inspirational tale for modern times. The character-driven story combines friendship, relationships, love and dreams all blended within a fresh and free-flowing narrative.

The follow-up, A Million To One, shows Cole’s writing flexibility in a darker tale tracking the perils and pitfalls of wealth and fame.

Cole has also written many short stories which champion the plight of the poor, the underdog and the average man on the street.
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