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Olly Buckle
January 14th, 2013, 10:02 PM
As if I wasn't up to the ears in it, but I liked the set up too much to leave it, this is pretty much an intro, but I guess it gives a good idea where I am going. No title as yet

Mr Watkins was an elderly, retired gentleman, an ex civil servant, who had lived for many years in a cottage on the edge of the village. He had been important enough that he had been called upon to re-organise other departments, or some such thing, from time to time, and claimed responsibility for some major shake ups on the occasion of his return, but if you knew that you knew as much as most people wanted to. He said some of these episodes, which took him away for some time, were quite exciting, but nobody ever believed him enough to question him on it. Who needs to know about civil servants, who they sack and how?

Security still kept an eye on him; monitored his internet usage, recorded his phone calls and checked it out if his mobile went further than the nearest market town. They even made the occasional, random physical check, but they were not worried. After fifteen un-eventful years Mr. Watkins appeared to have achieved two things that very few in his branch of the profession did; survival and retirement. Mostly he was glad to have left it behind, there were aspects of his work that he enjoyed, but he had always disliked the actual killing. He maintained his detachment though, it tickled his sense of the absurd that the finality that repelled him was precisely what appealed to those who commissioned the killing for example. This detached attitude, and a not inconsiderable intellect, helped him side step the axe that claimed so many of his colleagues when they had ceased to be useful, and became a potential liability.

He bought the cottage early in his career, nothing remarkable in that. There had been a sweep of the neighbourhood by security at the time, that had turned up nothing but solid middle-England, as one would expect from the area. They were the sort of people who would respect a man’s privacy, and it was assumed that when he retreated here between jobs it was to peace, anonymity, and isolation. People in his line were like that, the casino inhabiting, high rollers were a work of fiction on the whole, and those who did turn up in real life didn’t last long. Professionally he was meticulous and successful, he gave no reason for further investigation, until it was done routinely when his employment ceased to be active, then they discovered a blameless double life.

This was far from a solitary retreat, he played whist, he walked regularly in the company of other gentlemen, he listened to the children read at the local school, he was a stalwart of the local dramatic society, since retirement, had started helping with the meals on wheels deliveries, and he was well known in the local pub and the village club. There was nothing that put his name at the top of any lists, or drew attention outside the community, but as he was watched going about his day, and don’t think he didn’t know it, they realised he played an essential part, everybody in the community knew him and greeted him; and why not? He had lived in the village for years; this was the life he had prepared for himself. No stashed gold bars, no distant, foreign retreats, no dodgy deals or exotic women, everything above board. He was a respectable gentleman, honest, honourable, if truth be told a little bit boring, but a paragon, part of a community that would miss him and might ask awkward questions if he disappeared, a solid middle class community of the type bureaucracy most feared. Promising no problems, he was left, almost, alone.

That could so easily have been the whole story if the old lady from the Cedars had not died. It had been a huge house, well back from the road. The driveway had once run along the back of Mr, Watkins house, but the main house had suffered a catastrophic fire, and a mean little bungalow had been built in the grounds with a new access following the footpath right of way directly to the road. This and the ruins of the old house had both been neglected, the bungalow wanted nothing more than knocking down, but the solid stone outer walls of the old house would provide an attractive exterior for a complete internal rebuild. This was far more than the inheriting relatives were willing to take on, and would have cost more than they had to spend, besides they lived miles away. It was sold at auction to a small builder turned developer. Having installed a mobile home and moved in he started work, mainly evenings and weekends, it went on interminably, and it was just across from Mr Watkins’ back garden.

Mr Watkins enjoyed his garden, he was meticulous with it, but unhurried. He loved to potter and had both a swing chair and a hammock, where he was inclined to doze or read after a long day. Not any more, there was always some sort of mechanical shovel operating, or someone using an electric drill, or skill-saw, at that time. However he was philosophical, Autumn was nearly here, being retired he had all the time in the world. He could garden mornings and afternoons, and retreat indoors where the double glazing cut out the noise when it began, live and let live, people need homes. It was when he casually mentioned the disturbance at the village club that Mr Watkins started to learn more about these ‘blow ins’.

Lucy, who lived over the far side and kept her horses in the field behind The Cedars, had been so bold as to point out to them that the hours during which one was allowed to carry out building work were strictly controlled by law, and did not include Sundays at all. This had been badly received, threats had not been made directly, but things were said concerning the vulnerability of an open field, and said two inches from her face in an unpleasant tone of voice. Afraid for her horses, Lucy had withdrawn. Apart from the fact that Mr. Watkins approved of Lucy he also possessed a streak of old fashioned chivalry which made him protective of women generally. There had been professional exceptions, but even then he had gone for the quick and clean, he would not cause a woman suffering.

There were other similarly disturbing, if less serious, reports. She had been rude in the village shop, as much as accusing them of theft and giving her wrong change. They had shown her her error and gently put her right, but she had stalked out as though it was she who should be offended, failing to apologise. She was neglectful of her children in the eyes of some. Their sandwiches were always processed cheeses, or sliced, processed meat of the cheapest variety, just open the packet and put it in the bread, and unless sandwiches were specified, and insisted on as per Ofsted guidelines, everything came in a packet; and chocolate bars were always included. The children were often inappropriately dressed, with more attention given to a fashion that owed its direction to ‘Simply Essex’ rather than ‘Vogue’ and paid little attention to the expediencies of warmth and waterproofing. She was invariably late to pick them up, and it was invariably someone else’s fault if she were to be believed.

He was the sort of driver who never gave way, even when the parked cars were his side of the road, but drove his huge, black, four by four straight at you, as though it was a game of chicken. He would be the only occupant apart from the Rottweiler. This was confined in a steel cage in the hatch back, where it threw itself against the sides if anyone walked past the parked vehicle. The beast was so large and heavy it had a ramp to get back in after its walk, and other dog walkers quickly learned to go elsewhere if they saw the black four by four in the car park.

Mr Watkins knew a thing or two about the value of intelligence. Village gossip was relatively easy to pick up, one merely had to show some interest for the regular summer seep at the bottom of the ditch to turn into a mountain torrent. The degree of accuracy was not one hundred percent, but, although there was a tendency to give a dog a bad name and hang him, in a small community one could not wander too far from the truth. Of course for some truth didn’t matter, but everyone knew who they were. There was a core of truth to all this, and these people were certainly snotty, unpleasant, outsiders who showed no desire to integrate, probably worse.

Dwight unwittingly confirmed it; Dwight was the local community support officer, not a proper policeman, but he received limited briefings. He was very respectful of Mr Watkins, of course he had not the faintest idea of who or what he had been, but he knew it warranted lifetime protection and surveillance to a certain level. Not knowing the details of Mr Watkins’ career, and the need for secrecy that had been impressed on him, inflated Mr Watkins importance in his eyes. It had not been deemed necessary to tell him the protection was from, rather than for, Mr Watkins.

Proud to have him on his beat Dwight regarded Mr. Watkins as ‘one of us’, and someone he could talk to man to man. Mr Watkins had been careful broaching the subject, he had asked if any of the complaints he had heard had been made official, had someone else raised this.
“In my youth he would have been bound over to keep the peace, I expect he will get served with an ABSO nowadays”.
That was when he learned that if there was trouble at The Cedars Dwight should not respond. Instead he had a response number, that would bring a trained firearms unit, with guns in a locked container in the vehicle. The police it seemed had good reason to be suspicious of this person, and did not want to take the chance of another Kenneth Noye type incident, neither did Mr Watkins, nor did he want to wake sleeping dogs, if he did act he would tread carefully.

He decided to have a look for himself. At his suggestion he and his friends took their next walk along the public footpath that followed The Cedars driveway to the horse field beyond. He explained to his friends that, as a neighbour, he did not wish to become involved if the occupants were really as unpleasant as was claimed, but people should be given a chance, it was tricky. They understood, his curiosity was shared, even though they did not live almost next door.

They had stopped to take in the building work when the man appeared, with the dog, heavily collared, straining and slavering at a leash, man one end dog the other, demanding to know what they wanted with a precise economy of words. It was explained, politely, that they were curious about the origins of the noise, and pointed out, mildly, that they were on a public right of way. This was met with a tirade, which included the words ‘nosey bastards’, and an assertion that the dog might escape if they hung about provoking it. His respondent said they had no wish to invade anyone’s privacy, they would be on their way immediately, but as a retired barrister he felt he should point out that having foreseen the possibility if he then allowed the dog to escape it would not just be them who would not have a leg to stand on.

They then, according to who later related the tale, continued on their way, retired gracefully, or beat a hasty retreat. It left a sour taste for the rest of the walk, and decided Mr. Watkins.

He considered; theoretically there was not the technical or information back up he could have called on at work. There were ways round that, but he had never used them. One had to be very careful, any of those pathways could be a trap, it would not do for his former employers to suspect one had become ‘active’ in any way. The cautious corporate mind would see layers of motive that did not exist, especially if it concerned someone already known to them; and ‘forward projection’ would not allow them to consider this a ‘one off’. Knowing they were already interested upped the game considerably, for a bit he was tempted to simply back away and let events take their course, except that, knowing officialdom, they were as likely to do nothing or achieve an almighty cock–up. A nudge in the right direction would not come amiss, so long as no-one was aware of it.




“Flustering opponents means acting in such a way as to prevent them from having peace of mind.”
Mr Watkins was reading Musashi. He would be pre-emptive from a state of suspension, attacking an opponent on his own initiative, but he would not be able to strike suddenly and quickly, getting the jump on his opponent. He must always be aware of the third force in the field, one that he might be able to manoeuvre outside its awareness, but which could destroy him with a swat of the hand. His past meant he was not accorded the legal protection afforded a common criminal and, if suspected of certain ‘crimes’, the death penalty still existed. So far he had managed to prove himself innocent, but he was well aware his file came under periodical review, and he could be declared ‘active’ at whim.

‘Flustering’ was a good weapon, the thwarted grow outrageous and make mistakes. Mr Watkins continued reading. He would not be fighting a number of opponents, but he would be fighting a number of battles. When opponents are numerous one should chase them around in such a way that they line up and can be defeated individually, it is no use chasing randomly and exhausting oneself, he would be careful to fight on his own terms and finish each battle separately.

‘Upset’ can happen through pressure, a feeling of unreasonable strain, surprise at the unexpected, disturbance of routine. Under normal circumstances an upset opponent would be taken advantage of , not letting him relax but seizing the moment then and there to strike a killing blow, perhaps under these circumstances it could be used to unobtrusively tip him whilst unbalanced, certainly he should not be allowed to relax, but seizing the moment might be fatally obvious.

‘Threat’ means ‘being frightened by the unexpected, by sound, by making the small seem large’; ‘becoming the opponent’, ‘letting go’, ‘sticking tight’, ‘crushing corners’, there were so many good tactics, they all held promise. He must choose carefully for appropriateness and continuity, there must be a rhythm to his attack, but first he would try ‘infection’, or possibly he should call it ‘entrancement’, they were similar. The enemy must see him as he wished to be seen, not as he was. Mr Watkins smiled; there was promise of considerable strategic and tactical interest. Mr. Watkins was no mindless psychopath, he was well read and had a high IQ and a good chess rating, he was well educated and highly intelligent, but he did have some psychopathic tendencies.

He left it a couple of mornings, then turned up in the lane as the man from The Cedars was coming out to his car.
“Good morning”, he said greeting him by name, “I think we might be able to do each other a favour.”
The builder turned developer was cautious, people did not often offer him favours, and they were usually being deceptive when they did.
“How?” he asked.
“I notice your skip has a considerable amount of timber mixed in, if you allow me to bring round my wheelbarrow and remove it I can burn it in my fire.”
“Why shouldn’t I burn it myself? What’s in it for me?” was the surly reply.
“A lot of work and dirt if you sort it and burn it yourself in my experience,” said Mr. Watkins, cheerfully, “Coal is so cheap it is barely an economical proposition. If I weren’t a retired civil servant living on a fixed pension I wouldn’t be proposing it myself.”
The builder considered, what Mr Watkins said was true, but that was not necessarily the basis for concluding a bargain.
“Give me twenty quid and you can have anything out of the skip,” he said, then seeing Mr. Watkins hesitate added, “There are the roof beams from the bungalow to come.”
“Anything?” said Mr Watkins, “I could use some old bricks to make a step for my shed.”
“So long as it’s in the skip,” was the reply, “Touch our materials and I’ll skin you alive.”
“Fair enough” said Mr. Watkins, “Don’t worry, I’m not a thief.” Taking out his wallet he handed over a twenty pound note and they solemnly shook hands.

Mr Watkins had a legitimate, if limited, access to the site and had established his status as a harmless, retired, civil servant; a vaguely despicable old man. The builder turned dismissively towards his car, then had an afterthought, “Don’t try and come in when the gates are shut or Mycroft will tear you to pieces,” he said indicating the dog in the back.
Mr. Watkins liked the name ‘Mycroft’, he felt a brief regret about what he had planned for him, it wasn’t the dog’s fault.

jedellion
January 20th, 2013, 04:53 PM
I.... Love... this

This is so juicy and so delightfully English. The subtle nods to his (MI6 I presume) past, his solid, quiet ways. I as dying to know what Mr Watkins has in store for the awful neighbours. Ironiclaly we have a set just like them down the road, so maybe your story will give me some pointers :)

I can't offer a lot of critical comment here as the eis not that much wrong with it. i am not one for nit-picking grammar and will leave that for worthier, more capable people to help on that score.



Mr Mitchell was reading Musashi.


Mr Mitchell?


All I can really ask is that you write more of this!

Please?

Olly Buckle
January 20th, 2013, 06:35 PM
Ooops, mustn't give his real name away :) I think that happened when I had a break and came back to it, Watkins was never something I was committed to, simply a useful name for the moment.

Seriously, so glad you liked it, after almost a week without raising a comment I was begining to think it must be awful boring. The problem now, of course, is to come up with things that won't finish him off but have some amusement value, I have the odd idea.

bazz cargo
January 21st, 2013, 09:22 PM
it tickled his sense of the absurd that the finality that repelled him was precisely what appealed to those who commissioned the killing for example.


This detached attitude, and a not inconsiderable intellect,

Hi Olly,
Fan-tas-tic.

Some of the language is, to me, a little obscure. I feel like you blended Mrs Marple with Smiley. I don't know why I never thought of that. Every now and then I come across something that makes me go, WOW! That would make a great book/tv series. This little bit has pushed that button.

Does Mr Watkins have a military background? Before his Civil Service career? If so, maybe a hint could be worked in.

Thanks for a great read.
Bazz

CharlieParker82
January 24th, 2013, 03:06 AM
Really nice. I can see Mr Watkins as a popular character. Its a little twee but in a good way, in that you have this character with quite a dark past in the quaint English countryside. The mix of those gives some interesting possibilities for where ever you want to take the character.

Olly Buckle
January 24th, 2013, 10:33 AM
Thank you for the comments, most encouraging.

Stephanie1980
January 25th, 2013, 10:33 PM
When and where did you get the inspiration to write this?

Olly Buckle
January 26th, 2013, 12:39 AM
It is a mix of things, a rejection of the Bond stereotype combined with a scepticism about the Smiley alternative, reading 'The Gentle art of Monkeywrenching' or 'Workshop receipts' and realising that the processes described are potentially applicable in other scenarios. Then there was a friend who kept raptors and was an ex-para. ex-mercenary, a lot of Mr Watkins' 'field behaviour is based on him. Everything sort of comes together with a bit of imagination and turns into the story. Actually the beginnings of the story, I am still thinking up new developments and twists.


Oh, and I live in a small village, every small village has an objectionable person, if not a Mr Watkins to deal with him.

Johnathanrs
January 26th, 2013, 08:24 AM
For a summarized critique: This is more of a personal preference thing, but as a writer I am impressed, as a fan of reading good stories however, your intro doesn't really catch my attention enough. Your first six paragraphs, for example, are eloquently written, but the plot doesn't push through. If the paragraphs were condensed together and a few others shifted about this would really be enjoyable to me. I prefer even a different opening.

Even so, like I said, your writing is top notch. Your main character is also interesting and everything else is very well done. The story pace/development is my only issue, but what do I know. I am just giving you my honest feedback.

Olly Buckle
January 26th, 2013, 10:21 AM
Thank you for the feedback, Jonathanrs, I can't ask more than honesty, and let's face it, most readers are not experts at critique, yet it is their opinion that will make or break a book, over 50% of sales are on personal recommendation. That certainly makes any honest reader's opinion worth consideration, as I say it is a new project I am just starting on so it is not too late for changes; I suppose it never is really, but at the moment it doesn't even feel too late, thank you for the timely comment.

dolphinlee
January 26th, 2013, 12:26 PM
Once again I have enjoyed reading your work. I had a broad grin of anticipation on my face by the time I reached the end. There are a few minor points that merit being looked at again.

Mr Watkins was an elderly, retired (1) gentleman, an ex civil servant, who had lived for many years in a cottage on the edge of the village. He had been important enough that he had been called upon (back ?) (2) to re-organise other departments, or some such thing, (3) from time to time, and claimed responsibility for some major shake ups on the occasion of his return, but if you knew that you knew as much as most people wanted to. He said some of these episodes, which took him away for some time, were quite exciting, but nobody ever believed him enough to question him on it. Who needs to know about civil servants, who they sack and how?


I would prefer retired, elderly. Putting elderly first makes the work retired redundant. Putting retired first leads us to the next bit of information that he is elderly and has probably been retired for a long time.
I think you are talking about being brought out of retirement.
Not necessary and it detracts from the flow


Security still kept an eye on him; monitored his internet usage, recorded his phone calls and checked it (4) out if his mobile went further than the nearest market town. They even made the occasional, random physical check, but they were not worried. After fifteen un-eventful years Mr. Watkins appeared to have achieved two things that very few in his branch of the profession did; survival and retirement. (5) Mostly he was glad to have left it behind, there were aspects of his work that he enjoyed, but he had always disliked the actual killing. He maintained his detachment though, it tickled his sense of the absurd that the finality that repelled him was precisely what appealed to those who commissioned the killing for example. This detached attitude, and a not inconsiderable intellect, helped him side step the axe that claimed so many of his colleagues when they had ceased to be useful, and became a potential liability.
4) Not sure it is the right word.
5) I really like this sentence – it tells the reader so much in so few words.

Paragraph that begins “This was far from a solitary retreat…..” Some of the sentences could do with being broken up. This applies to sentences in other paragraphs.

Mr Watkins enjoyed his garden,……………………………………... It was when he casually mentioned the disturbance at the village club that Mr Watkins started to learn more about these ‘blow ins’. (What is a blow in? This phrase has appeared out of nowhere.)

Lucy, who lived over the far side and kept her horses in the field behind The Cedars, had been so bold as to point out to them (6) that the hours
6) Previously you wrote “Having installed a mobile home and moved in he started work, mainly evenings and weekends.” So who is the them that Lucy spoke to?

There were other similarly disturbing, if less serious, reports. She (7) had been rude in the village shop, as much as accusing them of theft and giving her wrong change.
7) She who? Because she suddenly appears out of nowhere I was jarred away from the story. At first I thought you were writing about Lucy.
I think if you named the family and used Mrs X and Mr X if would clear up these and later problems caused by the use of pronouns.

Dwight unwittingly confirmed it; Dwight was the local community support officer, not a proper policeman, but he received limited briefings. He was very respectful of Mr Watkins, of course he had not (8) the faintest idea of who or what he had been, but he knew it warranted lifetime protection and surveillance to a certain level. (9) Not knowing the details of Mr Watkins’ career, and the need for secrecy that had been impressed in him, inflated Mr Watkins importance in his eyes. It had not been deemed necessary to tell him the protection was from, rather than for, Mr Watkins. (10)

8) Maybe change ‘had not’ to ‘did not.’
9) Maybe change surveillance to a certain level to a certain level of surveillance.
10) Just love this sentence. Again you tell so much in very few words.

That was when he learned ………………………………….did not want to take the chance of another Kenneth Noye type (11) incident……………………

11) Who is Kenneth Noye?

From this point on there is nothing that I felt needed to be pointed out. It felt like you had gone into the zone.

Olly Buckle
January 26th, 2013, 08:45 PM
Thank you for your comment, Dolphinlee; numbering them in that way is a useful system. Not all your assumptions are correct, however the fact that one can read something in a way that was not intended is itself revealing, I obviously could be clearer.

I was aware of the names issue, I find my characters develop names as I write and I don't really have one yet for the builder. You may have noticed from an earlier post I mistakenly called Mr Watkins Mr Mitchell at one point, and I have caught myself typing Watson several times, that is how it should be in my mind, I don't think he uses the name he was born with, and he would have chosen something commonplace and forgettable, or easily remembered wrongly, I am almost scared to give him a Christian name, too personal, but I think he might need one at some point.
1. One can be elderly without being retired so I think that retired qualifying elderly is the right way round. However, I don't want him ancient, he is going to be quite active at times, I think another adjective is called for, elderly was not greatly considered, possibly 'sprightly'?
2. No, I was not, I was talking about his work before he retired, that was why the 3. 'some such thing'. he described what he did in ambiguous terms, such as 'Ridding departments of disruptive elements', perhaps I should be more explicit.
4. Yes, something is needed, possibly 'Checked the locations if ...'
5 & 10 I am so glad you noticed these, it always gives me a little burst of good feeling when I manage one like it.
6 Good point, the working evenings and weekends was worrying me as well as he is employing a carpenter, I promise this sort of thing gets tidied up before I reach a final version.
7 I think I addressed this, the family will get a name some time.
8 Sorry, but I think you 'have' rather than 'do' an idea, 'did not have an idea' maybe, but I prefer only one verb.
9 No, because the 'certain level' applies to both protection and surveillance.
11. Google is your friend, If you had been in England at the time you would have known, he was a gold bullion robber who stabbed a surveillance policeman to death and got away with it because the policeman was masked, armed, and not in uniform. Then he killed another man in a motoring quarrel and got life.

Thank you very much for your comments, but what is this? "It felt like you had gone into the zone"

Oh, and 'blow ins' is small village talk for the sort of people who have recently moved in, are not related to every one else, and not lived in the village for ten generations, people like me who have only been here about eighteen years :), I thought it self explanatory, but maybe I should put it in inverted commas at least.

Olly Buckle
January 26th, 2013, 08:55 PM
Does Mr Watkins have a military background? Before his Civil Service career? If so, maybe a hint could be worked in.No, that's 'Commander Bond' stuff, he is more specialist than that, not simply a hired killer. In a way he is an allegory for society. His interest is in the constructive things, the drama club, school, all that stuff that makes the best side of culture, remember he hated the actual killing. But, just as society does, and he did in his career, he has to resort to the destructive and punitive to protect the constructive and positive. This is intended to become something of a theme, complicated by the fact that he actually enjoys the conflict and danger, even though he feels he shouldn't.

dolphinlee
January 26th, 2013, 09:18 PM
Blow-ins = incomers. I understand now.

In the zone is an Americanism. A golfer having a good round is in the zone.

In the zone = everything comes together and flows naturally.

I had a few problems with the earlier paragraphs. After the Kenneth Noye paragraph I didn't have any problems. It was like you started writing, warmed up and then got into the zone where what you wrote was perfect.

Thank you for answering my points. That must have taken time.

I like retired sprightly gentleman.


I find my characters develop names as I write and I don't really have one yet for the builder


We are so different on that score. I cannot proceed until I have a 'working' name for a character. It doesn't matter what it is each character has to have a name. Later in the editing stage I will 'Find and Replace' the name if I decide it isn't suitable.

I really like this story and am looking forward to the next part.