An Elephant

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Chapter 12: Billy Harrison

Chapter 12: Billy Harrison

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

- Hunter S. Thompson



I am r-e-a-l-l-y fucking spangled! Billy thought, exiting the cubicle and looking at himself in the toilet mirror, to make sure he had no white powder around his sweaty nostrils.

Lucky I’m leaving this smell in here as camouflage. No one’ll suspect a thing.

The image in the mirror shuddered and shifted as a succession of tiny jumps as he turned his head away. He felt drawn toward the door where he was headed - all his actions, even his thought processes, felt positive and easier than usual, buoyed by the mixture of ecstasy and cocaine.

Sledgin’!

He turned to leave the hotel toilet and saw that ‘LFC’ had been newly scrawled on the inside of the door.

Gary Swanson, you plum. All the gear we’ve got on us, and we’re having a line in the bogs every ten minutes… a low profile might have been a better idea than criminal damage.

Returning by way of the bar, Billy walked back out into the hot sun of the hotel terrace, sniffing and rubbing his coke-lined nose with one hand, while adjusting his underwear with the other.

“Me grapes have got a pulse of their own.” He was limping slightly due to the pain in his rear.

Pickles winced and giggled, but it was lost on Big Gary who was nudging past Pickles into the square, pointing at some lads wearing Manchester City tops, eating some sausages in baguettes. They looked like they were enjoying the experience. Billy’s mixtape could still be heard, although not as loud as he would have liked. A 1982 live version of ‘5.15’ by The Who finished, and a 1979 performance of ‘Monkey Man’ by The Specials began.

“I’m off to get a frog hotdog like those fellas” said Gary. “Want one?”

Billy shook his head, but Pickles surprised both of them by nodding and saying:

“Why not?” although he seemed to immediately regret the decision.

“I don’t know how he can eat when he’s charged up” Billy said to Pickles, watching Gary march off into the square. “I’ve got a stomach the size of golf ball.”

“For everything apart from Stella” came the reply. They both pulled fake intellectual faces and posed with their chins on their fists like Rodin’s Thinker.

“I’m surprised he’s following anything a Manc was doing.”

Pickles said “Gary was just telling me about when he went to the Eclipse in Coventry, back in about ’92. Barry Wang got caught with a bag of E’s by one of the bouncers and he got dragged into a private room. They held his arm down on a table and picked up a lump hammer and said: ‘If you’ve got more than twenty, they’re not all for you. You get to choose what happens: we do the arm or we call the pigs.’

“Shit! What ’appened?”

“Y’can’t have the bizzies involved! He couldn’t drive his fork lift with a broken arm, so he ended up losing his job.”

“Thank Christ we never get that kind of shit in Hoylake – just kids getting high and having fun, and we keep it outside the pub. Did you hear about The Coral?” said Billy, as he thought back to Hoylake. “They’ve just got a record deal!”

“And?” said Pickles. “No one from fucking Hoylake’s ever gonna make it big. They’re dead good like, but it’s not like they’ll ever sell loads of albums is it?”

“We got an Olympic gold medal thanks to our Chris Boardman. Newton Road. Number 48. What about John fucking Lennon! He lived with Cynthia in Trinity Road for a bit. Number eighteen.

“Lennon’s not from Hoylake though is he?”

“Glenda Jackson is. Alderley Road. Number ten. Not one but two Oscars. Just you wait…” he smiled mischievously “…We’ll have a James Bond from Hoylake one day.”

“Yeah right.”

“What time did Sean Connery go to Wimbledon?”

“Dunno.”

“Tennish.”

“Wahey!”

Trying to tap into unfamiliar football territory, Billy said:

“We’ll even score five goals against Germany at this World Cup.

“If we ever score five goals against Germany, I hope it’s in Berlin” said Pickles.

Big Gary returned, precariously holding three large merguez sandwiches in his hands with a can of coke jammed in one armpit. He was ranting something that was unintelligible, due to the three napkins stuffed in his mouth.

“Fuckin ’ell Gary,” giggled Billy, looking at the balancing act and turning to Pickles:

“With all that food and drink, he looks like the chef at the top of the stairs in Sesame Street. The fuckin’ lot’s gonna go everywhere… Gary! I thought I told you I didn’t want one.”

“Two for me, one for Pickles.” Gary spoke the words while spitting the napkins out and immediately replacing them with a huge bite of the sandwich.

“Makes me wanna shit again just lookin’ at ya” Billy told them. “But I don’t think me ass could take any more o’ that fuckin’ sandpaper they’ve got in the bogs.

“Turns out those Mancs had a point about these merguez, they’re great.” He managed nearly two seconds of silence following a positive statement about Mancunians, before snarling:

“Fuckin’ Mancs. The only good thing ever to come outta Manchester is the M62 to Liverpoo-Wahaaaay!” screamed Gary, turning his disgust into elation, his eyes bulging.

“Fuckin’ love this track!” The next song on Billy’s mixtape was ‘Elephant Stone’ by The Stone Roses.

Billy and Pickles raised their bottles in approval - Gary immediately started dancing, violently waving one French hotdog in the air, while trying to put the other down on the table without dropping his can of coke.

“Fucking boss tune!” said Gary. “I went to Spike Island.”

Is there anyone you know you haven’t told? wondered Billy.

“You like Second Coming, don’t you” asked Pickles.

“Yeah, ‘Love Spreads’ is one of me favourites of theirs” came Billy’s absent-minded reply, he was watching Gary dance aggressively.

“It’s shit!” Gary bounced backward and said: “I think they’d have been fuckin’ better off dyin’, like Hendrix or Lennon. What about Gary fuckin’ Glitter? I used to like ’im when I was a kid, and now look at him.”

“He gets a lot of bad press,” said Billy, but I’ll always just remember him as a very affectionate babysitter.”

“You sick cunt” said Gary, smiling and slurping to the end of his first mergez after only a few seconds. “This is good shit, man” as he nodded toward to it, a combination of mustard, grease and spit dripping down his chin. He had been foaming at the mouth and gurning ever since they had left their room an hour or so earlier, and a chin dripping with orange fat did nothing to help his rabid appearance.

“Did you hear about Giggs’s stag do, the other week, Gary?” asked Pickles. Gary quickly shook his head, which led to a string of saliva stretching from his mouth to halfway round his left cheek.

“Hoppo organised this mod club to go to, in Finsbury Park. Remember?” Pickles looked at Billy.

“Ju Ju and his mate Piers took us out in Soho first ’cos they know The Smoke. We were all geared up in Ben Sherman, Harringtons, Fred Perry and Desert Boots and that. We walked past this bar that had some Janice Joplin playing, so we thought ‘Sound!’ and all went in for a pint and another quick line before the strip club.

“We were all off our tits, and we’d been in there for a couple of minutes, all getting served and then The Ace of Spades came on before we properly looked round. We realised everyone else in the place was in leather with long hair, and we were in a biker bar, but they were all looking at us funny and a few were raising their eyebrows and that. We were in Soho in a fucking gay biker bar, all dressed as Mods! Didn’t know whether to have a fight or a fuckin’ dance-off!”

“And remember when we got to the club and got searched? The bouncers took one look at us knew we needed a proper searching, but all our gear was well-hidden… They found nothing until the bouncer got hold of Beamer and started pullin’ all those German porn mags out of his pockets. Soho’s finest. Fucking hilarious. They gave ’em back on the way out.”

“The fucking gear they had on in the club, man - we were seriously under-dressed. We were dressed for going the YM, but it was like Austin Powers in there, proper authentic, retro 60s shit – fitted suits and cufflinks on the lads and the girls were all psychedelic, with five point haircuts and 60s make-up. Cool as fuck. It was called Blow-Up.”

“After, Big Toe lost his voice, and back at the B & B we were getting’ him to read out the phone adverts in the back of Beamer’s magazines.

“He was squeaking: ‘Filthy whore wants to suck you dry’” said Pickles with a rasping whisper.

“Have you seen Big Toe lately?”

“Saw him two days ago with Nick Damage. Did you hear about Nick Damage? He got home from work and thought he’d been burgled. Turns out his fridge had exploded.”

“Number eight. Yeah, saw the photos. Fucking lucky he was out.”

Forty minutes had passed since he had last taken a tablet, and the latest wave of MDMA began to take its effect on Billy’s metabolism. He ground his teeth together, then tried and failed to make his trademark popping sound with his mouth, due to the dehydration.

Leaning back to drink from his bottle of beer, he felt like he might physically lift off the floor. It reminded him of Wobble, his favourite nightclub. In Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, there was an all-nighter based in an old dance studio, with a sprung floor that had everyone bouncing up and down the moment they walked in. The place was literally jumping. He laughed as he remembered his last visit; Deee-lite’s DJ Dmitri had played a storming set of percussive US techno, which led to a major session and the following forty-eight hours without sleep. Eyes still open, he had dragged himself to work at the Post Office sorting room, where he had found a quiet corner, wrapped himself in bubble wrap off the floor to keep warm, and got some long-overdue sleep.

“What about Lenny’s stag ‘do’?” said Pickles. “With Karate Mark, Stumps, Big Roger, Robbie Clarke and the rest, all on that longboat on the canal. We got so twatted we were gonna Eskimo roll the barge at one point. Absolute carnage.”

The collective mirth was interrupted by Gary:

“What’s he staring at?” He was shamelessly and aggressively staring at one of the local guys sitting at the next table, who immediately turned away.

He’s probably staring at you. Another bout of myxomatosis for the pilled-up nose-hound. That greasy chin and the foam in the corners of your mouth… one eye off to the shops and the other coming back with the change.

“What’s the difference between a Frenchman and a piece of toast?” asked Gary, deliberately abrasive. “You can make soldiers outta toast.”

War’s ‘Me and Baby Brother’ started playing.

“…Fucking French are dirtier than Mancs.”

During the last hour, Gary had spouted a stream of reasons to hate Germans, gays, Pakistanis, and Tunisians, among others, to a long-suffering Billy and Pickles. Now it was even affecting Billy’s ability to enjoy the funk he was hearing, so it irked him even more than usual.

“Careful Gary, look where we are, man”

“What the fuck’s gonna happen to me here, especially with all these English everywhere? It’s not like anyone’s pointing a gun over ’ere, is it?”

Can’t tell him a thing when he’s on one, like this.

Billy watched Gary slurp to the end of his second mergez, just as Pickles was finishing his first, then he wiped some of the grease from his chin.

“Same again?” Gary said, pointing a greasy finger at the empty beers, more a statement than a question. He dropped his two slimy serviettes on the floor where he stood and, still chewing, headed purposefully past the bar, shouting “Three cervezas por favor”, then moved toward the toilet, for another line of coke.

Billy heard him shout “Can anyone else smell garlic?” just before he left earshot. Billy shook his head and tried and failed again to make a popping noise with his mouth.

You can tell he’s from the roughest bit of bit of Birkenhead, he’s not old school Hoylake at all. He’s angry and thinks he’s right about everything… that all French - or whoever - really are idiots, and if you can’t see it then you’re the one who’s missing something. He knows best, and his opinions about the French are worth listening to, despite the fact that he’s hardly even spoken to one, other than to order beer, in Spanish.

He thinks these people are here for his amusement, that this whole scene is here to prove his point, and help him prove to himself what a big man he is. He doesn’t see that most of them don’t even know he exists…

Billy watched the French guy at the next table angrily stub his cigarette out and get up to leave. … that’s probably best for a lot of them.

Gary had been talking himself up, but apart from one or two dodgy groups of lads they had seen earlier, Billy found that most of the people around looked far from violent, whether they were English, French, Tunisian or anything else.

It’s a lot safer than Birkenhead.

Three innocent-looking England fans walked past and smiled broadly at him.

Footy smiles are a bit like E smiles when you’re clubbing Billy thought to himself. Even all these straight-heads seem in the same mood. Everyone’s on form and having a laugh - a bit like festivals and big gigs… any major event I s’ppose. Apart from me ass, I feel fucking great… Mind you, all the coke and Mitsubishis are probably helping.

While Gary was still inside, Billy suddenly heard what he thought to be a car being overturned a street away, hinting at the trouble that Big Gary was probably hoping for. There was some shouting, and even within the confines of Place St George the mood changed suddenly. It was kicking off nearby - there were sirens, and the sound of more glass breaking, somewhere downhill.

Shit. It’s been dead nice all afternoon and now it’s looking like it might go off.

“I’ve got another one in lads, but don’t worry about it, business is good” said Gary, putting another three bottles of Stella Artois on the table with obvious satisfaction.

It was your round anyway, you spoon.

Gary picked up on the change in atmosphere and robotically motioned with both hands as if to zip up the pockets of an invisible jacket.

At home he needs to make sure his drugs aren’t fallin’ out his pockets when there’s any action.

Billy thought that, in very rare circumstances, there can occasionally be a need for violence - self defence and all that - but not like this. Here, if it went off, it would be violence for violence’s sake. He looked at Big Gary and questioned his assumption that he was the hardest man in the vicinity.

Gary patted the pockets of his Armani shorts and fastened the one at the back. He wore a lot of expensive gear and looked the part, but he had a cushy job as an electrician with a council contract. He also earned a bit from his small-time dealing and annoyed everyone by generally being the luckiest man in the betting shop. This mediocrity didn’t stop him acting as if he was some kind of major high roller when out - he was ostentatious at the bar, and often had a dig at Billy’s job as a postman.

Gary was actually remortgaged up to the hilt to pay for his car and holidays, but Billy had collected music memorabilia since he was a kid. In a secure storage facility in Brombrough, was a huge collection of rare records, posters and other paraphernalia, enough to pay his house off and have cash to spare.

“It’s fucking great being a bit out of the way here, innit?” said Gary. “I’ve had a text message. It’s fucking well on top at the beach: riot police kitted out in Darth Vader mode everywhere.”

Billy didn’t like this. Innocuous as it sounded, Billy had heard Gary talk in the past about how it was often better to avoid the crowds, and try and find five or ten of the opposing fans on their own.

“It’s shit down there, as usual. In England, the police always protect the away fans, but it’s fucking every man for himself when we go abroad – the other team’s firm, the locals, even the pigs themselves, they’re all out to get you. It’s a fucking disgrace.”

“Look at the size of that bloke there!” whispered Pickles as he saw a trio turn the corner, just beyond the terrace where they drank.

“D’you mean his chest or his gut?” asked Gary.

“You can talk, Gary” said Pickles, while Gary just grinned, revealing a mustard seed stuck between his two front teeth. Then he looked up with a start at the sound of more shouting and breaking glass, not far away. Suddenly focused, Gary’s smile remained unchanged, but his eyes narrowed. Gary had lots of experience and could smell trouble, even above the greasy odour of the merguez stall and the Gauloise smoke.

Billy gulped as he looked at the biggest chest he’d ever seen, bursting out of the green Lacoste T-shirt in front of him.

Look at all those tats. He’s totally covered. Even in his face. The monster was looking all around him, but his eyes appeared focused. Thank fuck he’s English at least. Billy saw that he was with two others, and the skinny one with purple hair wore an England top.

The huge tattooed Englishman took a large black holdall with his enormous right arm from the one with purple hair and unzipped it. He turned to his right, and walked right past them. His two companions followed him, heading down the hill. Billy thought they all looked prepared for some kind of action, although the one with the purple hair wasn’t looking forward to it.

Unsurprisingly, Big Gary was suddenly very quiet when the massive one walked close by him. He was wise enough to avoid eye contact with one so imposing. When it came to trouble, Gary only liked good odds, and this giant was obviously a force to be reckoned with.

Preparing himself for any action that may come his way, Gary ceremoniously took off his Hugo Boss sunglasses, put them in their slim case, and slotted them into the pocket of his Armani shorts. He put a finger on the left side of his nose and snorted inwardly through the open right nostril. He finished his bottle of Stella and needlessly put it on the adjacent table, ignoring the two French locals sat at it. Then he stood, pushing his chest out, trying and failing to flatten his stomach, and looked at his watch, ready for action. He was ready to enter the fray - probably right behind the huge tattooed guy, once the opposition had scattered.

Just behind the tattooed guy, Billy had brief eye contact with an Arabic-looking lad heading around the corner after him. He had an unwashed look about him, and seemed like he was probably up to no good. Focused and potentially aggressive, Billy wondered if he might be an opportunistic Tunisian fan. Billy had heard about England fans in Italy getting slashed with blades by passing scooters. The local Tunisian element, which might include this kid, may want to pick on English fans for sport. He tensed a little.

Could I take him? Billy thought to himself as the lad came within a few feet of him.

Billy listened to the sirens and commotion downhill at the bottom of Rue des Pecheurs. He couldn’t tell if it was the police doing the shouting or not. Gary’s phone bleeped with the arrival of another text message.

“This could go off like Dusseldorf in ’88” said Big Gary, who was psyching himself up, ready for action. He was failing to incite Billy, and Pickles didn’t seem any keener. He checked his phone again.

“There’s a load of Tunisians about, especially at the beach – fuckin’ camel-shaggers… but there’s loads of England, and d’ya see those flags hanging out those windows before? We’ve even got local support. If we have to, we can kick their heads in on the street now, and we’ll kill ’em on the pitch later on.”

I can’t believe people wanna kick off on Es thought Billy. I just don’t get it. It’s like the whole rave thing never happened. All the football heads and criminals that used to get territorial and nasty, getting pilled-up and learning to pass each other a spliff and have a hug instead of damaging each other. Real progress. Now there’s too much Charlie and not enough good quality E’s in clubland, and the whole scene’s going backwards.

The loved-up effect of the Mitsubishis meant he couldn’t stay negative for more than two seconds.

…But at least we’ve got good ones for this jolly up!

The song finished, leaving a moment’s silence on the tape, the music was replaced by a loud bang and screams from the bottom of the hill. Two local women ran into the square like spooked horses.

He finally made a popping noise with his mouth, and thought how all mention of peace and love was totally lost on Gary, who spontaneously turned and shouted at the American tele-journalist in the centre of the square who had already taken a few needless taunts.

“Oi! Fucking Wonder Woman!” He cackled aggressively at the woman holding a microphone, interrupting her as she and her cameraman were trying to make a recording, talking about France ’98. She turned to look toward them and frowned, showing a wholesome, television-friendly face that likened her to Linda Carter.

“You know fuck all!” shouted Gary. Billy suspected he followed Gary’s twisted logic: What would a woman, especially an American woman, know about the beautiful game, or anything else for that matter?

Highly embarrassed, Billy looked at Gary, who was beaming insanely, and then at Pickles, who frowned in embarrassment at his step-brother’s attitude. Billy knew what Big Gary was thinking: Americans are foreigners, and therefore wrong. For Gary, being American was tantamount to being a Manc most of the time. At times Gary could relate to a great many people…

…as long as they don’t turn their nose up at the shit bingo he sells, that is.

Gary viewed the world through distaste and distrust, and he identified people, things, even the weather, and framed them by what he didn’t like about them. ‘I don’t like the hot, sunny weather, it makes me sweaty and me drugs stick together.’

A group was forming just by them, all looking downhill at what seemed be a proper riot starting. Two English fans ran down the hill, but most just stayed and watched.

It’s going off down there. Right now. Shit!

As the spectre of violence reared its head nearby, Billy saw the scruffy, long-haired Tunisian-looking lad come back round the corner. He’s coming back! He’s definitely on edge. Is he gonna kick off? Fuckin’ hell he could try and stab me or anything. He’s looking straight at me, or is it through me? He looks terrified. He’s ignoring Pickles and Gary, is he scared of me?

The lad was walking directly toward Billy.

I’m not gonna wait until he just goes for me. It’s now or never….

If Billy had channelled his coke-fuelled edginess toward confrontation, he could have probably mustered up a mindset to defend himself against the lad, but digging deep he decided he didn’t want to fight him, and certainly didn’t want to be the one to incite violence. He thought that he would either win and hurt the scared-looking lad, or just lose and get hurt himself.

Billy stayed alert and simply stepped out of his way, and the lad walked passed him with glazed eyes, in a world of his own. Billy let him walk, and checked to make sure he wasn’t coming back, then wondered about what had just happened. Did this make Billy less of man? Had he bottled out? Did not attacking the skinny lad mean he was weak? Did not fighting the stranger mean he couldn’t fight if he really had to?

He didn’t know whether it was fear, survival instinct, or any moral judgement, but then he smiled as he noticed the title of the Stevie Wonder song that was playing. Just as Billy had impressed girls by saying he had chosen not to follow football in order to avoid violence as a twelve year-old, so he had taken the same decision as a twenty five-year old in Marseille. The song was Stevie’s ‘Higher Ground’. The anecdote would be cheesy, but he hoped that it just might get him laid.

The intermittent shouting and banging from downhill had united into a sonic assault on Billy’s ears as the frenzied shrieks, crashing and sirens overcame his Ecstasy-fuelled sense of peace and well-being. He recognised English, French and what he guessed was probably Arabic. Not fighting that kid left him with a feeling of relief, but also sudden emptiness. He had avoided a scuffle and did, in a tiny way, feel let down; he had missed out on the excitement of a fight, but he’d also missed out on injury and guilt.

“I’ll fuckin’ show these Tunisian cunts what it’s like to meet an Englishman” said Gary, as he mentally prepared for battle.

I’m sure the Queen’d be dead proud.

His mouth felt horribly dry, all moisture suddenly sucked from it, so he took a long swig from his bottle. It worked for a few seconds, but the parched feeling quickly returned, so he took another swig, and held it in his mouth. He closed his eyes and faced up toward the sun, his eyelids becoming gold-spotted, bright red, and darkest black, all at the same time. His mouth still felt dry, despite actually having beer still in it.

How is that possible?

He clenched his jaw, unable to wipe the perpetual smile from his face. Empowered and confident within himself, he felt drawn to those around him. The time flew past.

Or is it going slower?

His vision stammered and shook as his eyes darted amongst a group of four England fans that walked passed, keen for eye contact. Two smiled back and nodded, and he felt genuine empathy and compassion for the total strangers. He thought how every one was connected in some way, and amongst them all, he had found his place in the universe.

Pickles clinked Billy’s bottle with his own, and he felt a surge of electricity, starting at the clink of glass and shooting up his arm, then lingering, pulsing along in time with the music.

Next on Billy’s mixtape was Hot Rod Poppa by Marsha Hunt. He started jigging up and down as it began playing, rotating his shoulders to the vocals and wondering if he should try and grow an afro with his curly hair.

“Rude tune” he said to no one in particular, as the sun beat down overhead and he wiped his Stella Artois bottle over his right cheek.

God it’s hot.

He had lost all of his previous awkward feelings and paranoia, even as he thought about Gary’s casual bigotry. He danced energetically then slowed down, almost to a stop, grinding until his heartbeat threw him off balance and he lurched backwards.

Regaining his balance as Pickles laughed, he wondered what held him up in the air.

“Antigravity” he said to Pickles, who was gurning as he danced. Billy thought back to old black and white footage he had seen of Nazis sitting on spinning disks: mini flying saucers hovering a few feet off the floor.

The Philadelphia Experiment… Project Rainbow.

“Professor! The antimatter machine is broken!” he blurted out.

“Set phasers to stun.”

“You’re brand new, you’re retro.”

“You’re drunk, Sue-Ellen.”

“Telegram for Mongo.”

“Secret agent?” They finished the quote in unison: “On whooooose side!?” both roaring with laughter.

“This week, I have mostly been eating… Mitsubishis.”

He had a fleeting urge to stand still but couldn’t. He kept his eyes shut, focused on Marsha Hunt’s booming vocals, clasped his beer tightly with one hand, threw the other hand in the air, and shook his ass to the music.

He returned to the moment just as Gary was quickly passing a small plastic bag with some coke and tablets to Pickles, and a second, smaller one down his sock, and pressed it under the arch of his foot. Now superficially clean of drugs, and just about to leave and head downhill toward the trouble, Gary hissed:

“Look at that big fucker with the tats!” with utter disdain. “Him and his mates are leavin’ and coming back now, away from the trouble downhill: bottlin’ out.”

All three stared, open-mouthed as the big tattooed English Guy paced past them and walked back to his left, onto the square.

“Look at the size o’ those arms, man” marvelled Pickles. “Dangerous.”

“So what if he’s got big arms?” spat Gary, once he was sure the man was out of earshot, and leaving yet another dribble of orange merguez fat dripping down his chin. Again, he cosmetically pushed his chest out, and tried and failed to suck in his stomach. “Dangerous my ass! I fuckin’ knew he couldn’t fight, the fat cunt. They’ve probably got his lunch in that big bag.

And with that, wielding an empty bottle of Stella, Gary ran around the corner toward the shouting downhill, shouting “E-n-g-e-r-l-a-n-d!”

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