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‘Mum didn’t live to see the height of my success, but she saw the depths of my personal failings. As did Ben. Whenever I was in his presence my achievements became as weightless as air and my determination to prove myself as solid as stone.’

Time now for a contemporary thriller set in Edinburgh, which has at its heart that all too common drama: sibling rivalry. From The Outside is narrated from beyond the grave by the multi-millionaire businessman, Harry, who has died in a car crash. His brother, Ben, who has spent his life in Harry’s shadow is brought in to look after his charity, but he soon finds out the truth behind his brother’s success.

 

Extract taken from From the Outside
By Clare Johnston
Published by Urbane Publications

 

My life was, in truth, all about me. Everything I’d ever strived for had been one big shout for attention: ‘Look at me, look at what I’ve achieved.’ That’s how my business had started – with a small venture I tried my hand at as a student in an effort to impress my father.

Edinburgh University had been chock full of little rich boys and girls who were living in flats bought for them by mummy and daddy. They had been filled with old bits and pieces from home,
including vases, paintings, rugs and furniture that their mothers had long gone off. Some of these unloved items were actually pretty valuable. And that’s where I stepped in. I helped these cashstrapped students earn a bit of extra dosh by relieving them of the older furnishings, having agreed to a 50:50 split on whatever I got for them. Those bits and pieces that I reckoned were actually worth a bob or two I’d take to antiques dealers, and the rest I’d flog at my weekly boot sale in the university car park. These sales became legendary, with bargain-hungry customers scrapping over the old tat and the occasional genuine article. It was a perfect marketplace. And it was also the birth of the YourLot empire. Shortly after I left uni, Dad backed me in opening up my own antiques dealership. Then, when internet enterprises really started taking off, I realised I could sell an awful lot more stuff online. To begin with we simply traded antiques, but quickly opened it up to more modern pieces and then – six years ago – took the leap of allowing members to sell their own items via our site. The rest, as they say, is history. I was the eternal optimist, but not even I envisaged the level of financial success I would reap through the website. YourLot.com became a global phenomenon and I, in turn, a very rich man.

Dad was so proud. My achievements were a favourite topic of conversation for him, with my long-suffering mother taking the brunt of it in the early years. She always listened patiently and
smiled encouragingly in my direction, but I could have been a billionaire ten times over and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Material wealth never impressed her. She was only ever interested in our inner wealth; namely the talents she thought my brother had in abundance but never used.

Mum didn’t live to see the height of my success, but she saw the depths of my personal failings. As did Ben. Whenever I was in his presence my achievements became as weightless as air and my
determination to prove myself as solid as stone.

Ben took a deep breath as he prepared to enter his first Monday morning team meeting. Pushing the door to the office open, he found three faces staring at him expectantly from their seats behind the meeting table. This time he’d be more assertive he told himself. So he forced himself to look straight into the eyes of his new employees as he entered the room, but in doing so failed to spot the umbrella at his feet which sent him stumbling around the doorway like a circus clown. Once he’d regained his balance he returned his gaze to the three faces in front of him realising pretty quickly that it was too late to salvage his dignity. They were already desperately trying, and failing, to stifle their laughter.

‘I guess that’s what you call an entrance,’ said Ben, managing a smile. At this they all fell about laughing, but at least they were laughing with him, he hoped.

Ben sat down and reminded himself that he had to remain in control. He pressed on with the statement he had planned, clasping his hands tightly as he spoke so they wouldn’t see them shaking.

‘I want to meet as many of the kids as I can this week.’

‘No problem,’ said Dave.

‘I need to spend this week getting to know the place and everything that goes on here. Then, next Monday we’ll talk about how we move forward. If you have any ideas then that will be your
opportunity to raise them, and I’ll bring a few of my own too. Everyone okay with that?’

‘Absolutely,’ said Sonja, at last looking at him with something he thought could just pass for respect. He noticed for the first time that behind the tough facade, she actually had a nice, round,
kindly face – a face that was comforting to look at. Ben smiled at his colleagues and hoped this fleeting feeling of belonging might last.

He was about to tell them the meeting was over when Sonja cleared her throat. ‘Ben, we…eh, we’re not quite sure what to do with Harry’s stuff.’

‘What stuff?’

‘Eh… that filing cabinet behind you is full of his paperwork and files. We didn’t want to go through it without talking to you first.’

‘I see,’ said Ben, turning to look at the cabinet in question behind him. ‘Why don’t you give me the key and I’ll go through it this afternoon.’

Sonja’s relief was palpable. Clearly, she wasn’t relishing the idea of working her way through my secrets. Personally, I thought that showed a rather disappointing lack of adventurism, but then I
always was a nosey sod. Ben was certainly afraid of what he’d find in a locked cabinet belonging to his heedless twin. And there was a secret within that cabinet, one I longed to be uncovered but would only be done by the most astute of minds. Just as well then, that it was my brother unlocking it.

 

From the Outside by Clare Johnston is published by Urbane Publications, priced £8.99

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