Wednesday 30 November 2016

Excerpt: Hell is Empty by Conrad Williams

TITLE: Hell is Empty
AUTHOR: Conrad Williams
PUBLISHER: Titan Books

PUBLICATION DATE: November 25, 2016

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Private Investigator Joel Sorrell is exhausted and drinking hard, sustained only by a hopeful yet baffling note from his estranged daughter, Sarah. An SOS from an old flame whose child has been kidnapped gives him welcomed distraction, but the investigation raises more questions than answers. Then comes the news that his greatest enemy has escaped from prison with a score to settle. With Joel's life and the remnants of his family at stake, any chance of peace depends on the silencing of his nemesis once and for all. But an unexpected obstacle stands in his way...

Exclusive Excerpt from Hell Is Empty

I used to own a book of Irish jokes when I was a kid. You know, the kind of casually racist collection you’d be hard pressed to find on the shelves these days. And a good thing too. This one joke, though, has been preying on my mind.

Have you heard the one about (Paddy/Mick/Seamus) who fell down a ight of stairs while carrying a crate of Guinness but didn’t spill a drop? He kept his mouth shut.

I thought of that joke while I lay there, drifting in and out of consciousness for six months, tubes in, tubes out, stapled, stitched and – in all probability – superglued. I thought how much like Declan/Ardal/Liam I was, only I had spilled plenty, and it wasn’t Guinness but ‘claret’. And it wasn’t a crate but a body full. Two bodies full if you count the transfusions.

How did I survive?

I almost died, and I would not have been conscious to appreciate it. I was put into a medical coma. I suffered kidney failure and underwent dialysis. I lost weight. When I revived I was scared to check my body in case there were any limbs missing. All I could think about was the way Ronnie Lake’s blade slid into my thigh like a rat through a shitter.

Eventually, one night, when all the lights were out and my sheets were on for a change, and not soaked through with fear sweat, I took my fingers exploring. Everything present and incorrect, as usual. Plus added bandages and splints and scar tissue. I was building up quite a collection of scar tissue. It twisted and turned under my fingers like cooled molten plastic. It was me but it was not me.

Doctor, please, tell me how I made it.

I was visited often while I was in hospital. Romy, mainly, but Lorraine Tokuzo came to say hi too, as did Henry Herschell, sort-of friend, martial arts expert, flashy dresser, doorman (which was a bit of a surprise), and even Mawker popped his head around the door on occasion, to ask me how I was doing, and to tell me how easy policing was these days with me out of action. He ducked out before I could pin him down with questions. Everyone was doing that lately. Avoiding, evading, ignoring. Why was that? Did someone else die that night? Someone that I cared about?

Nurse, I was bleeding to death... did she save me? Did my daughter—

Strength returned, incrementally. I gritted my teeth through months of physio. Apparently Lake’s knife had sliced through any amount of nerves and ligaments as well as my femoral artery. Walking, I looked like newborn Bambi hobbling across hot coals while pissed. But things kind of improved. Physically, that is. I was taken off dialysis. I gained a little weight back. I found the strength in me to smile when someone displayed a kindness.

I was allowed home in December. The first thing I did was register with the supermarket and do some online grocery shopping. Here’s the list I compiled:

It turned up within a couple of hours. I signed for it and the delivery guy went off with a distasteful look on his face. It’s not as if I ordered a packet of butt plugs, I thought, and then realised I’d answered the door wearing only a T-shirt and my woolly bobble hat.

That first drink stole away any embarrassment, and scoured my innards clean of all the overcooked vegetables and claggy desserts that I’d forced down over half a year of horizontal life. I was home. I had another drink to celebrate.

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