Sunday, 28 September 2014

Hissed as a Newt

Hissed as a Newt is finally out 
(With a Kick #2)

"All guys do emotional just in different ways. I eat ice-cream, you get drunk in the gutter…”
A drunk clown rolling around in the gutter is not what David Wright expects to find as he walks to With A Kick, his favourite ice-cream shop. David has had a lousy day. A literary agent has crushed his dreams and all he wants is the consolation of alcoholic ice-cream. He’s about to walk away when he realises the clown has been dumped by his boyfriend. On a whim, David takes the clown into With A Kick before he gets arrested. Underneath the smeared make-up, he meets Stan, who has just found his boyfriend and best friend getting more than friendly. Over ice-cream, David and Stan discuss their problems and discover maybe they can help each other


David kicked at an empty Coke can lying on the pavement. It bounced into the path of an oncoming car to be totally flattened and David took a grim satisfaction in the can’s fate. It felt like his life; kicked around by other people and crushed flat by circumstances. 
The meeting with an agent had been a waste of time. He’d foolishly pinned his hopes on Melissa Halpern wanting to represent him. David’s friend, a high-earning client of Melissa’s, had introduced them and David had been sure she would take him on after reading his crime novel. Hah! She’d torn it apart before David had finished his first cup of coffee. He’d sat there with a frozen smile on his face and, when she had finally completed her demolition job, he had got to his feet, thanked her for her time and walked out—ignoring her calling out his name. 
Melissa Halpern can shove her dangling modifiers where the sun don’t shine.
David needed his own special kind of comfort food, booze and ice-cream, to soften the blow. He could go to Tesco and pick up a six pack and a large tub of Ben & Jerrys, or he could be a grown-up and go to With A Kick, his favourite ice-cream shop. Financially, he’d be better off going to the supermarket but he needed comfort, booze and eye candy. With A Kick it was. He’d pretend to charge it to expenses and drool over the lovely young man behind the counter. Sadly, Lee—the lovely young man behind the counter—had never given him a second look, but David could still window-shop. He’d been reduced to a lot of window shopping recently.
As he turned the corner into Covent Garden he noticed a small crowd had gathered, obstructing his path to alcoholic heaven. He huffed as he negotiated kids, parents and tourists with their cameras snapping incessantly. A large crowd was assembled in one corner and he expected to see a street performer in their midst, juggling or miming—or whatever other crap they called art. David was curious enough to walk over and take a look. It was indeed a street performer, a clown in fact, but the bloke wasn’t juggling or miming, he rolled around in the road, arms flailing as he mumbled to himself. David’s lip curled as he realised the clown was drunk; absolutely paralytic in fact. Lucky bugger!
“It’s a strange show, Vera,” an old man standing next to David commented to his wife.
She sniffed in agreement. “Nothing like our day, Bert. They were true artistes.” 
The couple moved away, the woman still complaining.
The man in the road rolled over onto his side and vomited. A groan of disgust rippled through the crowd and they moved away en masse.
David was about to do the same when he caught the man’s words.
“I loved you, you fucking bastard. I loved you and you cheated on me.”
Bastard, not bitch. Huh. 
Cursing his impulsive nature, David knelt by the man, careful to avoid the puke. “Are you all right?”
The man mumbled incoherently. His makeup was smeared, and David realised he’d been crying. At the moment he looked more like an Allison Schulnik painting than a clown.
“You really need to get out of the road, man.”
“Leave me in the gutter.”
Oh Jesus, a drama queen. “Listen mate, you can stay here if you want but you’re liable to be nicked. Why don’t you get up and come with me? I want to drown my sorrows. We can cry on each other’s shoulders.”
The clown opened one eye. It would have been a pretty, blue eye if it hadn’t been so bloodshot. “A drink?”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
“Probably.” With David’s help the clown sat up then clutched his stomach. “Definitely. I’m going to puke again.” 
“Come on.” David hauled him up when he’d finished retching. He cut a miserable figure. “What’s your name?”
“Stan the Clown. Stanislaw Sojka. Polish dad, Bethnal Green mum.” Stan’s knees buckled and he would have fallen if David hadn’t been holding him.
“Well, Stan the Clown, I’m David Wright. London dad and Surrey mum. Let’s get you away from the puke and cleaned up.” David guided him towards With A Kick.
“You’re nice.” Stan slurred his words.
David wrinkled his nose. “Yeah yeah, very nice. Don’t breathe over me. Your breath stinks.” 
Stan turned his face away. “Sorry.”
“No worries. Here we are.”
Stan peered through the window. “Ice-cream? You’ve brought me to an ice-cream shop? I thought you were going to get me a drink.”
“Isn’t ice-cream meant to cure all ills?”
“I prefer booze.”
David pushed open the door. “I can see that.”
“I’m not usually like this.” Stan’s shoulders sagged. “It was just…”
David took pity on him. “You got dumped?”
“Eat an ice-cream and tell Dr Dave your problems.”
The young man behind the counter smiled at them as they approached, although his smile wobbled as he surveyed the mess slumped next to David.
David kept an arm around Stan. “Hi Lee. Two scoops of Hissed as a Newt for me and a chocolate for Stan. And a large black coffee.”
“Why do you get a boozy ice-cream and I get the kids’ version?” Stan grumbled.
“Because you’re already drunk and Lee doesn’t want to clean up your sick.”
“You can say that again,” Lee Campbell said. “You puke, you clean. Newt and chocolate coming right up.”
He handed over the ice-creams and David paid for them. He didn’t expect Stan to have any money on him.
Stan sat down in a booth and drooped over the table, licking the chocolate-covered spoon. 
“Good?” Even though the chocolate was a kids’ ice-cream it was one of David’s favourites.
“S’good,” Stan mumbled around another mouthful.
David took time to appreciate his Newt. Although it was just peach schnapps poured over sorbet it was the closest thing to heaven on earth. A couple of these and he’d be as drunk as Stan. He tried to stare at his companion unobtrusively whilst he ate his ice-cream. 
Stan furrowed his brow. “What?”
David blushed. “I was just wondering what you look like under the make-up.”
“I’d almost forgotten I was wearing it.” Stan touched his face gingerly. “God, it must look awful by now.”
David tried to think of a way to answer that question diplomatically.
Stan snorted. “Is there a gents here? I’ll wash my face.”
“Does it come off with water?” David had limited experience with make-up—and women—but he remembered the morning panda face of his sister when she forgot to remove hers the night before.
“I’ve got make-up remover with me. I’ll be back in a moment.”
“Don’t you want to finish your ice-cream first?”
Stan hesitated, then shook his head. “I won’t be long.”
He lurched off in the direction of the toilets as Lee came over with a large mug of coffee.
“Is everything all right?” Lee glanced in Stan’s direction as he placed the mug on the table.
“He’s fine,” David assured him. “Stan just wants to make himself pretty again.”
“I hope he’s not going to puke. I hate clearing it up.”
“I think the road got the worst of it.”
Lee gave him a speculative look. “Stan is a friend of yours?”
“Just met him, but I couldn’t leave him lying in the gutter. Poor bloke.”
“That’s decent of you. Can I get you something else?”
David dug out his wallet. After the day he’d had he deserved it. “Can I have another one of these?” 
“What was it? It’s on the house for being a Good Samaritan.”
“Hissed as a Newt. It’s been a bad day for both of us.”
Lee smiled. “Maybe it’s looking up.”
David didn’t know what he meant until he saw a young guy approach him dressed in jeans and a pale grey T-shirt and sit down in Stan’s place. 
This was Stan? Despite the wan cast to his features and the faint traces of make-up around his hairline, Stan was young and hot. David estimated Stan to be in his early twenties, a few years younger than his own twenty-eight. 
“Is that coffee for me?” At David’s nod, Stan grabbed four packets of sugar from the bowl and dumped them into his drink.
“I guess you like a little coffee with your sugar.” David was long past the days when he could take that much sugar and not have to suffer in the gym.
“If I have to drink black coffee.” Stan pulled a face when he took a sip.
“You could have milk,” David pointed out.
“I need it black.” Stan tipped another packet of sugar into the mug and stirred it.
David searched for something to say. “Where’s your clown costume?”
“In the bin. I never want to wear it again.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Stan shrugged. “Not really. I was an idiot.”
David waited but he didn’t say anything more. “Do you want to hear about my day?”
“Go on then. I bet it wasn’t worse than getting dumped, making a twat of myself in public and throwing up in front of a hot guy.”
“Well no. Wait. You think I’m hot?” David’s cheeks heated but to his relief, Stan’s attention was on his food. 
Stan scooped up the last of the runny ice-cream. “Tell me about your day, Dave.”
“I’m an author.”
“Oh?” There was a spark of interest in Stan’s eyes. “What do you write?”
“Crime. Set in the east end. I’m still trying to get an agent to take the book.” David sighed. “Today I thought I’d finally cracked it. I had an interview with an agent, a good one.”
“It didn’t go well, I take it?”
“She destroyed it.” David summoned up his best smile. “I guess I’m not cut out to be a writer.”
Stan stared at him blankly. “What? So that’s it? One woman tells you she doesn’t like it so you throw in the towel?”
“You don’t understand—”
“What don’t I understand?”
“It’s not easy to break into the publishing world.”
“So you give up after the first try?” Stan pushed away the bowl and picked up the coffee.
First try? More like fiftieth, and who was this kid to tell him he was a loser? Luckily, Lee came over with his ice-cream before he could let loose the heated words on his tongue.
“Sorry about the delay. It got busy all of a sudden. Do you want another ice-cream?” Lee looked enquiringly at Stan who shook his head.
“Do you do beer?”
“Coffee,” Lee said and from the tone of his voice that was all Stan was going to get.
David ducked his head to hide his smile.
“What happened to giving the customer what they want?”
“We give them what they need. And you need coffee, water and sleep.” Lee stalked off leaving Stan staring after him, his mouth open.
“He cut me off—in an ice-cream shop.”
“Patrick wouldn’t be happy if you made a mess. Patrick’s the owner. He’s big. You can taste my ice cream if you need a shot of alcohol.”
“Are you sure little Hitler over there won’t have us thrown out?” Stan asked snidely.
“I’m willing to take the risk if you are. Here, this spoon is clean.” David pushed the spoon over. “Dig in.”
Stan hesitated then he took a mouthful and moaned. David was hard put not to fidget at the obscene sound. He was aware of Lee’s frown from the counter but he couldn’t bring himself to care too much.
“What’s in this?”
“Peach schnapps over vanilla sorbet.”
“It’s an orgasm in a bowl.”
“Tastes better though.” David smirked at him. 
Stan smirked too, briefly shrugging off the despondent attitude he’d had since David had picked him up out of the gutter.
David took another mouthful of sorbet before he spoke. “Going to tell me what happened? You were mumbling something about being cheated on and then you said he dumped you.”
Stan dropped the spoon. “My boyfriend—ex-boyfriend—fucked my best friend. Now they’re happy together.”
“I’m sorry, Stan.” It had been a while since David had been in a relationship but it always sucked when it ended, particularly if you were the dumpee.
“Yeah, me too. I really loved the bastard. I thought he was my one and only. Turns out I was just one of many.”
“Are you going to shoot me if I say you’re well rid of him?” David asked cautiously.
“Yes. No. You’re right.” Stan slumped even lower.
“Why were you dressed as a clown?”
“It’s my job. I’m a kids’ entertainer. I had a job this morning, came home, and discovered him fucking Matt. He threw me out before I had a chance to get changed. I hit the nearest bar and went on a bender.”
“You got that drunk that quickly?”
“Empty stomach. I don’t eat until lunchtime. Mind you, I don’t usually work in the morning. This was a one-off job for a friend.”
“So you’ve had nothing to eat all day except ice-cream?” David asked.
Stan nodded.
“Guess you feel pretty shit at the moment.”
“I do.”
“Where’s all your gear?”
“In my car. I’d better not drive.”
“Where are you going to sleep?”
“Fuck knows,” Stan said moodily. “Probably in my car.”
“Don’t you have a friend you could go to or your mum?”
David saw the colour spread across Stan’s cheeks. 
“She told me if I was going to live with that tosser not to bother coming back.”
“I’m sure she didn’t mean it.”
“That was five years ago. I haven’t spoken to her since.”
“Okay, so your mum’s out. What about friends?”
Stan pressed his lips together. “What’s it got to do with you where I sleep?”
That stung, although David guessed he was being nosy and persistent. “Nothing. I just don’t like to think of you sleeping in your car.”
“It’s okay. I guess I’ve got to get used to standing on my own two feet.”
“You could stay in my spare bed for the night,” David suggested.
“You know dick about me, mate. I could be a thief or a nutter.”
“Are you?”
“A thief or a nutter?”
“Neither. Well, maybe a bit of a nutter. I do dress up as a clown for a living.”
David laughed. “You’re probably right there. Would you like something else? More ice cream?”
Stan rubbed his temples. “I could do with coffee and water.” He scowled at Lee, presumably for being right.
“I’ll get the drinks. Then we’ll go back to my place and you can sleep it off. What about your car? Are you going to get towed?”
Stan winced as he shook his head. “I’ve got a resident’s permit. It’ll be fine until tomorrow. Where do you live?”
“Notting Hill.” David frowned. “You really need some food inside you.”
“I’ll stick with the coffee for now.”
“’Kay. I’ll cook you a fry-up when we get back to my place.”
Stan tilted his head. “You’re a nice bloke, Dave.”
David grinned at him. “Yeah, make the most of it. I’m not usually so nice to people. Most of the time I’m a miserable git.”
“I doubt that. You had a shitty day and still looked after me.”
“Compared to yours it wasn’t that bad. You were right. There are plenty more agents out there.”
Stan’s eyes brightened. “Now you’re talking.” 
Basking in the warmth of Stan’s approval, David went over to the counter to get the coffees. 
Lee quirked an eyebrow at him. “More ice-cream?”
“Two coffees this time please.” David frowned. “Make mine a latte and… hold on.” He jogged back to the table. “How do you want your coffee this time?”
“A mocha please.”
David went back to place the order and pay up. He said hello to Patrick Reilly, the owner of With A Kick who had appeared from the back of the shop. He was serving two teenage girls who were dressed in the smallest amount of clothing that could still be called decent. The girls glanced at David and then turned away. He felt like he’d been dismissed as old and irrelevant. Then one of the girls spotted Stan and nudged the other one.
“Jaime, look at him.”
Her friend followed her gaze. “Nice! We could join him—seeing as the place is busy. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind sharing the table.”
Lee rolled his eyes at David. The shop was half-empty and there were plenty of free tables. He handed David the coffees.
David smiled at the girls, giving them the benefit of the doubt. “You’re welcome to join us, ladies.” 
They looked at him and then at Stan, and their eyes widened almost comically. David nodded and leant forward as if he was about to impart a great secret. They mimicked his action, holding their breath as they waited for David to speak. 
“Better luck next time.”
He sauntered back to the table, feeling a little high and ashamed at his pettiness but triumphant as well. The nerd was sitting with the cool kid. Of course the girls didn’t know the cool kid was having a major pity-party and David had no idea if Stan even liked girls as well as guys. Please God let him not like girls.

Other Books in the Series from Clare London

Book #1: A Twist and Two Balls
Blurb: Eduardo Mancini is going to be a star of the London stage and screen. Or that was the plan. His alter ego Eddy March hasn't got further than the chorus and a bit part in a TV series. His parents aren't supportive, his agent can’t place his particular skills, and he's finding it hard to hang onto his young dreams. Things go from bad to worse when he's late for an important audition, hasn't got enough money to pay the taxi fare, and is chased across the streets of Soho by the irate driver. 

Eddy reaches what he believes is sanctuary - With A Kick, a store where ice creams are blended with alcohol and imagination, and where his friends can help him. But Nuri the taxi driver is persistent in his steady pursuit, above and beyond the money he’s owed. Despite their very different characters and background, Eddy and Nuri’s relationship goes from a complete unknown to a wary balancing act. There are still mistakes to be made, and hurdles to clear. And both of them have to admit that their life so far hasn’t gone the way they planned. 

But maybe being caught by Nuri was just what Eddy’s career needed – both for his job and his heart. 
 Book #3: Slap and Tickle by Clare London, will  be out on Oct 29. Blurb: Bryan is an accountant who admires order  and self-discipline. When he literally bumps into  Phiz outside With A Kick, Phiz’s lifestyle and  behaviour appear totally chaotic. But they each  recognise something in the other that they need.  Bryan needs a lover who welcomes his secret  desire, and Phiz needs a firm hand – in every  way. They both agree that Bryan may be just the  man to provide it.

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