Bar Fight, and a Renegade from Battle – First Chapters from River of Dreams
Here are the first two chapters from the book River of Dreams. The book tells about three characters in a young man’s dreams who help identify a murderer. The story is set in the university town of Durham, in northeast England, as well as in Paris.
Graham Keane did not appreciate winning the bar fight.
At eleven minutes past eight o’clock on a cool September evening, Graham pulled his blue Range Rover Evoque off the Newcastle Road. He parked in the lot of the Duke of Wellington restaurant and pub at the edge of the small, ancient city of Durham in northeast England. Autumn enveloped the land, and darkness had fallen.
Graham turned off the ignition, unfastened his seat belt, and let out a deep sigh. He knew other staff members at the University of Durham had noticed his recent dark moods. Seated alone for a moment, he felt the peace of solitude, of having to make no effort to mask his depression. For after twenty-six years of what he considered to be a glorious marriage, Professor Keane arrived home three weeks earlier to hear his wife Margaret confess to deceit, betrayal, and – worst of all – enrapture with a lover.
Graham opened the vehicle door and stepped into crisp evening air. He combed four fingers through mahogany colored hair and adjusted the dark collar of his oxford shirt. He tilted his head forward and looked down to inspect the symmetry of his black leather shoe laces, then raised his shoulders and marched into the Duke. Once inside, he relaxed and smiled. He relished the warm glow of orange lamps in the public house, the bright gas fire, the softness of thick carpet, and the hum of social banter. He paced with measured confidence to the bar and ordered a pint of Black Sheep bitter from a hefty bartender with a Union Jack tattooed across his left wrist. It was Thursday evening. The laughter of postgraduate students and the mumble of professionals and local families numbed Graham’s shaken spirits. He listened to dips and lulls of cackles and stories, comforted by the buzz of conversation that enveloped him in a cocoon of anonymity.
The bartender placed his pint on a green beer mat. Graham moved his right hand forward to take the drink. At that moment, another man slammed an angled shoulder into Graham’s back.
Graham winced at the sharp thud. Within seconds he realized that this muscled thrust was not delivered by accident and was not attached to any apology. Someone had inflicted pain for a purpose.
“S’cuse, guv!” the assailant said in a gruff, mocking voice. Graham wheeled around. He looked into the cold eyes of a bald man who looked prematurely aged. This man pulled back and lunged again, slamming his upper arm into Graham’s right shoulder. Graham recoiled. He squinted at the half toothless smile of a sneering stranger, a gloating bully who appeared to delight in harassing someone he did not know.
The stranger wore a collarless black shirt and a brown leather jacket. A silver chain with links the size of thumbnails hung around his neck. He reeked of whisky, tobacco, and petrol. Graham realized that the man fit into this family restaurant scene about as much as a football hooligan would fit in with a London opera audience.
Graham retreated. He took his drink and stepped away from the bar. Immediately, the stranger stepped into his path, knocking the pint out of Graham’s hand. It fell with a thud onto the carpet.
The stranger laughed. Graham realized the truth: this sadist had found his prey and would likely continue his taunts.
“Awww, sorry guv! Spilt yer pint did yeh?”
Graham wanted to retreat. Instead, he obeyed the inner voice of a man who had taken enough.
“Fuck you,” said Graham.
He reached into his pocket, then deposited three one pound coins onto the cotton bar mat. He nodded to the barman to pull another beer.
The stranger reached forward. He clasped a calloused, oily hand onto Graham’s right shoulder.
“Speakin’ to me toff? I’ll fuckin’ brain yeh.”
The brute squeezed Graham’s shoulder. Hard. Graham turned his body toward the man, wrenching away from his grip. He realized how determined this imbecile was to cause trouble. Graham’s thoughts also alerted him to a second, more important truth: the thug was no bigger than he was.
The assailant lost his grip on Graham, but smirked and rubbed his hands together. Seconds passed. Neither man moved. Graham glanced at the bar, then clasped his fingers around a fresh pint, this time a Worthington Creamflow. He gripped it, faced his enemy, and inverted the glass, pouring a stream of amber ale onto the jeans and mud caked boots of the oaf intent on ruining his evening.
“So sorry,” said Graham. He rubbed a hand through his hair and smiled at the bully.
“Yeh’ll hurt for that,” said the bald assailant. He coiled a fist and shot it, knuckles clenched, into the side of Graham’s head. He then darted his left hand forward and began choking his victim’s throat. Graham’s eyes bulged. The light atmosphere that reigned throughout the pub only minutes earlier turned dark and silent. The barman reached for a phone to summon the police. Customers fanned back from the dueling pair.
Jake McGiles, thirty-four years old, felt sudden glory as he began squeezing the life out of the worm who dared dribble ale on his clothing. Jake bared his teeth, absent of dental care, and spoke in a throaty rasp.
“Yeh Durham bastard.”
Jake planned his next moves. He would knee his prey in the crotch and send him to the floor. He would then walk outside and ride his motorcycle northward, arriving at his aunt’s home in the city of Newcastle-on-Tyne in time for a late dinner.
Jake squeezed harder. The barman yelled. Forty-seven year old Graham started to slump. A customer shouted. Jake bared more of his rotten teeth as a gesture of defiance to those before him, a crowd he perceived to be academic wankers and snooty families.
He squeezed harder. His smile turned to a grimace. He was ready for his prey to buckle.
“Fuckin’ wanker!” he called aloud.
A mother screamed. The bartender shouted again. Customers pulled out cell phones to dial the police. Then, from where no one expected, Graham landed a single kidney punch that made Jake wince and loosen his grip. Graham recoiled, gasped, and sent another punch upward to Jake’s head. And another.
And one more.
His final well aimed punch sent the assailant to the carpet.
Jake McGiles never breathed again.
The soldier huddled behind the trunk of a stout oak tree. He heard at least two horses. No more than four. They moved too fast for riders out hunting for deer or renegade Scottish troops. After the sound had passed, the soldier stood. He squared his broad shoulders, then stepped to the edge of the thick wood. Wet leaves clung to his wool socks and bare calves. The riders must have been farmers, he concluded – likely riding to the market in Durham.
The tall, black bearded soldier was about to retreat into the woods again when his right eye caught a glint. He looked ahead. A sudden blast of white light filled the space before him, radiating from a single point within the soggy green field. Brightness filled his eyes, like a tavern lantern swung too close. The soldier lifted his calloused left hand to shield the view. He was surprised that his senses, which snapped even at the sound of mice rustling through leaves during recent days, reacted with neither fear nor alarm. He considered this truth as unusual. After all, he had spent every moment of each recent day alert and poised for danger.
In less than a minute the fiery white glow tapered off and vanished. In the silence that followed this hardened young soldier named Angus felt a sense of serenity.
A cold wind hushed. Angus stared ahead to the open meadow beyond trees. A man now stood where the light had shone, staring at him from less than twenty paces away. Angus saw that this stranger’s body was that of a timid youth. His chin was free of stubble, like the head of a bald elder. He wore smooth, untarnished clothing and his face lacked guile. The adult appeared tamer than even a shepherd boy. Angus realized that he could see through the stranger’s clothing into the field beyond, as though the garments were fashioned from mist.
Seconds later, this apparition vanished.
Angus dropped to one knee on the damp soil.
“Spirit,” he said aloud. “You’re not of my time or world. Forgive my sins, God, and keep me unharmed,” he whispered.
The wind picked up and rustled upper boughs of nearby oak trees. Bruised clouds scudded in from the northwest, while goose bumps erupted across the soldier’s bare arms.
Angus exhaled, slowly. He knew the presence was not an enemy. The vision was unearthly – a lad who evaporated before his eyes. Yet he felt no awe or reverence, and doubted he had witnessed the presence of anything Almighty. The youth who materialized for a moment did not appear to be a god, saint, or angel. Angus shook his head at the ludicrous truth about the situation: the stranger had appeared to be lost.
Angus knew that the bizarre apparition imparted no lessons, bestowed no wisdom, and wielded no justice in his savage world. He reached down. He clutched a handful of soggy brown leaves and rubbed them on his forehead to be certain he was awake. He then recalled the eyes he had seen. He had glimpsed into a troubled face. Intuitively, Angus suspected this ghoul of bright light was like himself – a traveler, a lost soul seeking a pathway home.
Angus stood. He walked out of the woods, this time unafraid.
“You’ll return,” he said to the empty, verdant countryside.
He laughed, hard and loud, and shook his long black hair. For the first time in weeks, he felt magnificent. Angus gripped his sword, rubbing his right thumb along the straight guard before plunging it back into its black, leather scabbard.