Trevor Dickinson was hungover and bad-tempered when he turned up for work on Monday morning. His mouth tasted like the bottom of a birdcage, his head was throbbing like the speakers at a heavy metal concert, and his stomach was lurching like a car with a dirty carburetor. He had already drunk half a bottle of Milk of Magnesia and swallowed four extra-strength paracetamol, with no noticeable effect.
When he arrived at the site, Trevor found he had to wait until the police had cleared away the last of the demonstrators before he could start work. There were five left, all sitting cross-legged in the field. Environmentalists. One was a little gray-haired old lady. Ought to be ashamed of herself, Trevor thought, a woman of her age squatting down on the grass with a bunch of bloody Marxist homosexual tree-huggers.
He looked around for some clue as to why anyone would want to save those particular few acres. The fields belonged to a farmer who had recently been put out of business by a combination of mad-cow disease and foot-and-mouth. As far as Trevor knew, there weren't any rare pink-nippled fart warblers that couldn't nest anywhere else in the entire country; nor were there any ivy-leafed lark's-turds lurking in the hedgerows. There weren't even any trees, unless you counted the shabby row of poplars that grew between the fields and the A1, stunted and choked from years of exhaust fumes.
The police cleared away the demonstrators -- including the old lady -- by picking them up bodily and carting them off to a nearby van, then they gave the go-ahead to Trevor and his fellow workers. The weekend's rain had muddied the ground, which made maneuvering more difficult than usual, but Trevor was a skilled operator, and he soon got his dipper shovel well below the topsoil, hoisting his loads high and dumping them into the waiting lorry. He handled the levers with an innate dexterity, directing the complex system of clutches, gears, shafts and winch drums like a conductor, scooping as much as the power shovel could hold, then straightening it so as not to spill any when he lifted it up and over to the lorry.
Trevor had been at work for well over two hours when he thought he saw something sticking out of the dirt.
Leaning forward from his seat and rubbing condensation from the inside window of the cab, he squinted to see what it was, and when he saw, it took his breath away. He was looking at a human skull, and what was worse was that it seemed to be looking right back at him.
Alan Banks didn't feel in the least bit hungover, but he knew he'd drunk too much ouzo the night before when he saw that he had left the television on. The only channels it received were Greek, and he never watched it when he was sober.
Banks groaned, stretched and made some of the strong Greek coffee he had become so attached to during his first week on the island. While the coffee was brewing, he put on a CD of Mozart arias, picked up one of last week's newspapers he hadn't read yet, and walked out on the balcony. Though he had brought his Discman, he felt fortunate that the small time-share flat had a mini stereo system with a CD player. He had brought a stack of his favorite CDs with him, including Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Schubert, Walton, The Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin.
He stood by the iron railings listening to "Parto, ma tu, ben mio" and looking down at the sea beyond the jumbled terraces of rooftops and walls, a cubist composition of intersecting blue and white planes. The sun was shining in a perfect blue sky, the way it had done every day since he had arrived. He could smell wild lavender and rosemary in the air. A cruise ship had just dropped anchor, and the first launches of the day were carrying their loads of excited camera-bearing tourists to the harbor, gulls squawking in their wake.
The foregoing is excerpted from Close to Home by Peter Robinson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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