Her voice woke him. It infiltrated his dream with a bad subliminal vibe. He pretended to be asleep, but he couldn’t tune out her strident tone.
‘Jack… I know you’re awake,’ she said. He opened one eye. The room was dark and he could only just make out her shadowy bulk. She was sitting on the edge of his bed, her arse pulling the duvet tight over his legs. He had to force himself from rolling towards her. He recognised her perfume – not attractive. But then again, when had he ever found his wife’s sister attractive?
‘You’ll loose her if you’re not careful.’ She was saying. ‘Don’t you realise what’s going on in her head? How she’s feeling? Don’t you care?’
That’s three too many questions, he thought. He’d never wanted to consider what was going on in his wife’s head and certainly not now, at god-knows o’clock. He sat up and switched on the bedside light. They both blinked at the assault.
‘What time is it?’ He asked. She didn’t look at him and she said nothing. They’d been out drinking, his wife and her sister and he’d fallen asleep before they returned home. He peered at the alarm – 2.45am.
‘Jesus, Steph, can’t this wait? I’ve got work in the morning.’
‘No it can’t wait, Jack.’ She said. He didn’t like the way she spat out his name, as if it tasted nasty.
‘That’s so typical of you,’ she continuued, ‘and that’s the crux of the problem… You always put work first. Your marriage is falling apart before your eyes and all you can think about is work.’
‘What makes you think there is a problem? Has Lucy got her period?’ He hoped the comment would irritate enough to throw her off course, wherever she was headed.
‘God… You’re insufferable!’ She said. ‘Of course there’s a problem. Lucy’s deeply unhappy.’
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He and Lucy had had sex… when was it? Last week sometime? Or the week before? Granted, they didn’t make love as often as they used to, but that was normal wasn’t it? They’d been married for years.
‘I think you’ve got that wrong, Steph.’ He said. ‘She’s not unhappy… I would know.’
Steph sighed, for dramatic effect he suspected. But he was aware of his wife’s sister’s capacity for argument – she was a lawyer after all. He fired up his brain.
‘Does she know you’re in here?’ He said, ‘Sitting on my bed, talking to me… In the middle of the night?’
‘Er… Yes…’ She paused. ‘Well no… Maybe not…’ He reached for the light switch signalling the end of their conversation.
‘I think you should go to sleep, Steph.’ He said. ‘And you should tell Lucy to come to bed. I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Thanks for the heads up though. Good of you to care so much about our marriage.’
Steph stood up and thumped across the bedroom. He lay back, spread his legs and kicked cool air under the duvet. She turned in the doorway and released her parting shot.
‘I mean it Jack. You’ll lose her,’ She swung her arm out in a sweeping gesture, ‘and everything else… all of this…’
Whoa, he thought. That’s heavy stuff. But he would save thinking about it until tomorrow – he’d have time while driving to the office. He switched off the light, turned on his side, closed his eyes and tried to sleep. He wondered if Lucy would come to bed. She’d probably wake him as soon as he fell asleep. He turned onto his back. He lay there for a while. He pressed the button on the alarm clock and the digital numbers gave off their sickly glow – 3.05am. He had to be up at six. God, she was a pain in the arse, that woman, – a bloody troublemaker. Just because her marriage had gone tits-up didn’t mean theirs would follow suit.
However, he couldn’t cease the barrage of questions hammering through his brain. What did Steph mean by – You’ll lose her? What on earth had Lucy said? Was she drunk? Was Steph drunk? What was going through Lucy’s mind? Did he want to know? Did he care? If he found out, would he be in a position to do something about it? Could he be bothered? He had so much on at work he really didn’t need anything else to worry about. Maybe it was just PMT? Did he always put work first? Didn’t most men? He was responsible for them all – Lucy, the kids, and every one of his fifteen hundred employees. That took up a great deal of his brain’s capacity. And his energy. Why did everyone always want more? Or was it just more than he was willing to give?
Hot silence, thick with Steph’s heady perfume, settled over him. Fresh air was what he needed. He padded over to the window and tugged the cord to the roman blind, grunting as he lifted the sash. He groped for the mildewed Chaucer he knew would be on the chest of drawers and slotted it between the window and the sill. The breeze teased the hairs on his stomach to attention. He stood for a while gazing out of the window, his right hand cupping his balls, his left rubbing the back of his neck. Wrought-iron railings and an electric gate barracaded his sweeping drive from the empty street. A movement caught his eye and he watched as a sinuous fox sashayed down the white line as if it were a catwalk. He envied the beast its unaccountability, its freedom to be the hunter/gatherer it was born to be, its ability to wander at will. Fantastic Mr Fox had no wife demanding he be someone he was not, no workers forever moaning about pay and conditions, no teenage daughters constantly growing and changing. His world was in the grip of females at the mercy of their pituitary glands and he was fighting a losing battle. He could feel sorry for himself if he had the time.
The alarm woke him at six and he pressed snooze. He willed himself back to sleep, but a dull ache behind his eyes denied him further rest. He reached behind him and his hand met cool linen. He turned over – the pillows on Lucy’s side of the bed were plump and smooth. He remembered his conversation with Steph.
He showered, dressed, walked down stairs and opened the door to the sitting room. There was Lucy, curled up on the sofa, a blanket covering her. He closed the door and carried on to the kitchen, made a pot of coffee and opened his laptop – three hundred and twenty six emails vied for his attention. He shut it down with a shudder, knocked back his coffee and left for work.
The details of his journey passed him by. Contrary to plans he couldn’t make sense of his thoughts and he arrived at the office disgruntled. Last night’s conversation battered his temporal lobes blocking out everything else. Nodding a greeting to the employees he passed on the way to his office, he shut the door behind him and sat down at his desk. He opened his laptop and stared at his screen saver – two majestic hippos wallowing in their muddy watering hole. Margaret, his PA, brought him a mug of coffee and he sat back, cupping it with both hands, wallowing in his own weary confusion. He wasn’t used to feeling like this. His instinct rarely let him down and he’d always been able to rely on his decisiveness.
Steph was wrong. The crux of the matter was not whether or not he put work first. It was whether or not Lucy was ‘deeply unhappy,’ as her sister claimed and if so, how did it affect him? He thought back over the last few months. Had he registered any change in her attitude or her moods? She’d been quite distracted by her writing lately and less keen to organise evening excursions. He was more than happy just to eat and watch crap TV when he got home from work, so he had seen it as a bonus. A leisurely stroll round the golf course on a Friday afternoon, a couple of pints in the club house, home matches down at the Tiger’s ground and a curry with the lads were all he required by way of a social life. There’d been a time when she’d moaned constantly about their lack of cultural stimulation, but he thought she’d given up – she rarely had a go at him these days. Anyway, she was always off on jaunts with friends and colleagues to various concerts and exhibitions. He was relieved she no longer expected him to tag along; most of her arty-farty friends bored him silly.
Her evenings were usually spent in the study, hunched over the computer with a glass of wine clamped to her lips. She’d announced she was writing a novel a few months ago. He’d laughed and asked her why – he seemed to recall that particular discussion ending in tears. Perhaps that was the key? Perhaps her writing had brought on some kind of a depression? Perhaps her subject matter would provide a clue? He could ask her. Or he could just investigate. The latter would require less effort on his part. He had no desire to become embroiled in a lengthy exchange, and even less to be forced to read the tosh she was writing. It would be women’s stuff: love, shopping and kids, with a few anti-male rants thrown in for good measure. No… it would be easier to investigate. Tonight when she was out with her writing group would be as good a time as any.
He sat up and smiled to himself, feeling a lot better now he had a plan.
‘Back to work,’ he said, to no one in particular and clicked the email icon on his desktop.
By the time he returned home that evening Lucy had already left for her ‘group therapy’ and the girls were on one of their boarding nights at school, so he had the house to himself. He unearthed a chicken dopiaza, pilau rice and a couple of nans from the bottom of the freezer and while they were heating in the microwave he poured himself a beer.
He carried a tray upstairs and ate his supper straight from the plastic containers while he browsed. He knew Lucy of old – she was even less computer savvy than he, so he didn’t expect to come up against a great deal of security. He searched her browsing history and found a G-Mail account. Her password was easy to crack – an amalgam of their daughter’s names, Martha and Joanna. It took all of ten minutes to work out the numbers that went with it – their daughter’s birthdays, 27th July and 30th March. Bingo – Martanna2730. She was so transparent. From there he discovered her Friends Reunited account, her Facebook and her Google Docs repository where she stored all her pathetic drivel. In less than an hour and a half he had uncovered the whole dirty trail.
He read everything. He understood nothing.
She’d been writing to some bloke for just over six months. He’d made contact with her through Friends Reunited. They’d been at school together and had been a couple for a while, although a couple didn’t mean a lot when you were only seventeen. They’d shagged, but he wasn’t her first lover, although lover didn’t mean a lot when you were only seventeen. But he’d given her her first orgasm… And an orgasm was an orgasm, partcularly your first, whatever fucking age you were.
He came downstairs and opened a beer. He paced the kitchen. He found a crumpled pack of cigarettes at the back of the kitchen drawer and smoked two. He felt sick. He paced the patio. He downed another beer. He crushed the beer can. He wanted to crush her. And he wanted to crush the northern-oboe-playing-poetry-quoting-art-loving-bastard-doctor. Who did he think he was? Muscling in on his marriage… Forcing him, Jack Williams, into the position of cuckhold.
The bedroom was in darkness when Lucy opened the door. He feigned sleep. She crept in, slipped under the duvet and lay still on her side of the bed. He waited for her breathing to relax into a slow rhythm. He waited for an hour. He watched the minutes pass on his mobile, which he hid beneath the duvet. He kept glancing at it like a nervous fucking kid on his first camping trip with the cubs.
He tiptoed onto the landing and headed straight for the kitchen – he wanted her phone. He didn’t switch on the light, preferring the cold blue glow of the cooker timer to work by. Her handbag was sitting on the worktop next to the kettle. He rummaged through its gritty depths and felt cold metal in one of the pockets. He thought he’d found it, but it was her iPod. He didn’t even know she owned a bloody iPod. He turned the bag upside down and tipped its contents onto the table. It wasn’t there.
He slept down stairs on the sofa that night and got up early. For the first time he appreciated the value of a separate dressing room. He would be in the office before she woke.
At six thirty he was at his desk scrolling through his diary. He cancelled his appointments for the rest of the week. As soon as Margaret arrived he called her into his office and asked her to clear his internal schedule for the next four days. She gave him a puzzled look – she’d worked with him for seventeen years and had every right to be surprised,
‘I hope you manage to sort out whatever it is that’s come up, Mr Williams,’ she said, before closing the door behind her and doing as she’d been told. What a gem, he thought. He wished he could clone her.
He logged on to Lucy’s Facebook and took another look at the Doctor: Middle aged, obviously, in OK shape, but balding, with a bit of a tonsure and a short sandy beard, country tweed, tasteless ties, loud socks and comfy shoes, plump wife called Melanie, twin boys called Joshua and Adam, rambling country house near Harrogate, successful – a consultant at Jimmy’s Hospital in Leeds. He and Lucy had watched the documentaries on the TV, Lucy, with a box of tissues to hand. The bastard was probably some kind of do-gooder hero. If not, what the fuck did she see in him?
He re-read their private messages: soppy rubbish, a lot of reminiscing and childish flirting, nothing of consequence. Then he re-read their emails: more of the same. But that wasn’t the point. The point was, his wife had been writing letters and texting and talking to another man: a man who wasn’t him, a man who had, on a number of occasions, spent his slimy load inside her. And it mattered not a jot that it was decades ago.
He phoned up the car-hire company he had an account with and arranged to pick up a Range Rover Sport at eight thirty the following morning. He wanted a comfortable drive up to Harrogate, but didn’t want the Doctor getting wind of anything untoward, or be able to identify his Cayenne at some later date. He booked a room at The Radisson Blu in Leeds. It was smart. It was expensive. The only room available was a suite. He took it.
He returned to Facebook and was pleased to find the Doc had been tagged on plenty of photos, no doubt posted by his wife, and the nifty new timeline made it child’s play to locate him. He keyed the place name into Google maps and went for a virtual stroll around his village. In less than a minute he was standing at the Doc’s front gate. His car was parked outside – he knew from Facebook that the bloke had just bought himself a lovely new navy blue X5. He sat back in his chair and thought about what he’d like to do to the Doc when they finally came face to face.
Margaret’s knock ended his reverie. She appeared laden with sandwiches, fruit and juice. They exchanged a smile and she left him to eat his lunch in peace. If only she was young… and pretty…
After lunch he answered a few emails. He couldn’t concentrate on anything important, but he was confident the business wouldn’t go under if he took his eye off the ball for a couple of days. He called Margaret back in.
‘I’m off out now. And I’ll be out for the rest of the week. I may pop in on Friday morning, but I’m not sure. Need to play it by ear. Text me if you need anything urgently. I’m sure you can hold the fort…’ He began to pack up his laptop and sort the piles of paper and scrawled on post-it notes strewn over his desk.
‘Yes. That’s fine, Mr Williams. Where shall I say you are?’
‘You can say what you like, Margaret. I’m sure you’ll come up with something plausible. Oh, and can you call Lucy and tell her I’ve been called away and won’t be home tonight. Probably not tomorrow either. And that you’ll keep her posted.’
‘Tell me it’s none of my business but, are you all right, Jack? He looked up, surprised to hear his first name. He couldn’t recall her ever addressing him by anything other than Mr Williams. When he first employed her he’d asked her to call him Jack, but she’d refused.
‘Yes, Margaret. I’m all right. Or at least I will be once this week’s over. And thank you.’
‘For what? I’m just doing my job.’
Jack drove to the gym. He spent an hour working out. He pushed himself hard. In a further attempt to sweat out his rage he sat in the sauna for half an hour. He drove into town, had his hair trimmed and Jim, his barber for over twenty years, gave him a proper shave with hot towels and a cutthroat razor. He shopped. He spent the best part of a grand on shoes, a jacket, pants, a couple of shirts, underwear, socks, all Paul Smith – classic with a twist – a phrase he’d happily purloin for his own epitaph.
He dropped a lawyer friend a text and asked if he could overnight in their carpark. On receiving the OK, he parked up and wandered into a bar nearby. He was on his third pint and whisky chaser when a familiar face appeared in the doorway. It was Suzy, his newest recruit: graduate designer, young, fresh, talented and very, very pretty. She sidled up to him.
‘Hey.’ She said. ‘On your own?’ He stared into her doe eyes and felt embarrassed that he was.
‘Er… No… Well, yes, actually… Now I am. Just sealed a deal. Needed to unwind, I guess.’
‘You work so hard… Jack.’ Suzy let out a breath before releasing his name. He liked the way she made it sound. He liked her soft, little-girl way of speaking.
‘Can I offer you a drink girls?’ He turned to include her two friends.
‘Oh, thanks, Jack. I’ll have a vodka coke and so will Josie and Allie.’
He bought them all doubles and himself another pint and a large whisky. They moved to a booth at Suzy’s suggestion. He sat on the end, next to Suzy and they talked and they drank and she returned his gaze with those big dark eyes and was genuinely interested in everything he had to say. He felt a little tipsy, not having eaten since Margaret’s sandwiches, but he was enjoying himself. They stayed for three more rounds and he told her all about Steph and Lucy and the Doctor. Suzy was righteous and angry on his behalf and he felt better for having shared his story. He was pretty sloshed by the time she said,
‘Let’s go back to my place. I’ll make you a coffee. You deserve someone who appreciates you, Jack.’ If she’d told him to buy an aeroplane and fly her to Mars, he’d have agreed. They left the bar at nine o’clock, hailed a cab and stumbled out onto her street, opposite the first house he ever owned. He’d always liked terrace houses: cosy, neighbourly, safe.
It was a house she shared with three other girls, but her bedroom was large, clean and girly with a kingsize bed dressed in rose-print linen and a pink silk scarf draped over the lampshade. They fucked twice. He was pleased with his performance and Suzy seemed satisfied. His cock had been nowhere other than inside Lucy or the palm of his right hand for over twenty-five years. It felt strange, but not unpleasant. He wondered why he’d never tried it before. It was so easy, this infidelity malarky. He slept well, better than he had in months.
Waking at six, he reached for Suzy and began to fondle her breasts. She responded without any protest and was soon riding him like a cowgirl. She really was very, very lovely. They breakfasted together eating cereal standing side by side in her tiny galley kitchen and he called a cab for seven thirty. He was reluctant to leave, but Suzy had to be at work and he had his business in Harrogate to sort out, so they parted with a promise to meet up soon. He couldn’t believe his luck. He was surprised such a girl would be interested in someone like him. Even though he’d always kept himself in good shape there was still a slackening and a thickening that no amount of exercise could hold at bay.
He was on the road by nine, enjoying the smell of new beige leather. The car had only clocked up three hundred miles. He keyed the Doc’s address into the sat-nav and turned Chris Moyles up loud. At home it was always Radio 4. The drive was uneventful and he was sitting outside Shallow House on Swinburne Lane by eleven thirty. The Doctor owned a nice property – almost as nice as his own. Not worth as much probably, but nice all the same. He enjoyed a sandwich and a pint of excellent real ale in the village pub, played a couple of games of darts with two farm-hands who had recently found themselves on a short week, and learned a little more about the Doc. He was quite well thought of by the locals, ran a Well-Man’s clinic in the village hall once a month and had taken part in three marathons raising more than half a million for Prostate Cancer research. Do-gooder Twat. His wife was the deputy head of the school in the neighbouring village. Their twin boys were eight, so either his wife was younger than him and he’d got married late, or they’d had trouble conceiving and had gone down the IVF route. He hoped it was the latter.
He parked up in a field gateway between the school and Swinburne Lane and listened to Steve Wright while he waited for Mrs Doc to emerge. They drove past just after four, her and her kids. They were laughing and chatting. He wondered if she’d still be smiling if she read the emails her husband and his wife had exchanged. He set the alarm on his phone for five thirty, reclined his seat and shut his eyes. He imagined Suzy giving him head. He was tempted to have a wank, but dozed instead.
The alarm woke him and he drove down the lane to the other side of the village. He hoped the Doc would be coming from Leeds. If so, he would definitely pass him on the way home. He just needed to find a spot where he wouldn’t miss the Doc, but no one would notice him, loitering. With intent. He found the perfect spot in another farm gateway a mile from Swinburne Lane. And he waited.
The navy blue X5 came down the road at twenty-five past six. He pulled out and followed it, slowing down as he passed Shallow House. The Doc was climbing out of his car. He stretched, opened the back door, took out a briefcase and walked up the path. At the front door he turned around. Jack wound down the passenger window and called out,
‘Hi. I’m a bit lost.’ The Doc set down his briefcase and walked towards him.
‘Is there a pub round here called The Oak and Black Dog?’
‘Aye. You’re in the right place. Carry on down the lane, turn left on Main Street, fifty yards further, first right onto Back Lane and it’s there on your right.’
‘Cheers. Thanks, mate.’
‘Yeah, you could say. Heard it’s a good pint they serve up?’
‘That it is. You’ll get no better round these parts. I’ll see you in there later if you linger. They deliver a good supper if you’ve an appetite.’
‘Cheers. Later maybe.’ He drove off. He could see the Doc in his rear view mirror, his right arm raised, saluting his departure.
He carried on driving, not caring where he was headed, the headlights illuminating endless drystone walls and trees and fields and grey villages. After an hour he pulled over and turned on the sat-nav. They called them ‘Don’t-get-Losts’s in Seattle. He liked that. He’d liked America – the vastness of it. He felt lonely. He felt very alone. He keyed the address for The Radisson Blu into the sat-nav and set off.
He was there in under an hour. He checked in and was shown up to his suite. It was beautiful, spacious, luxurious and he felt even more alone. He had a quick wash, cleaned his teeth and wandered down to the bar. He chose a seat in the corner. The place was buzzing, but tonight he wasn’t in the mood for company. He looked at the menu. He had no appetite. He ordered a large whisky and a packet of Marlborough Gold. As soon as they arrived he took them out onto the terrace, found a seat, sipped his drink and smoked. He watched Leeds go by, drinking, smoking and thinking.
The fact that the Doc seemed to be a decent bloke didn’t make him want to change his plans. He still wanted to hurt him. More than ever. If he let him get away with it he’d only regret it. He’d always regretted letting his mother get away with it. He’d known for years that she was seeing someone else. Every one knew. The knowledge wore his father down: that, and the years of humiliation, the years of begging, the years of abuse. Most people thought marital abuse was about men beating up on their women. He knew a different story.
The day he’d found him hanging in the garage had been the worst day of his life. Nothing could ever be as bad as that. But he’d made a vow that day – no one would ever get to him like that. No one would ever make him want to take his own life. And if anyone tried – God help them. He called the waitress over and ordered another double.
He passed out some time after midnight and woke with a thick head at half past ten. He ordered room service and dragged himself into the shower. He felt like shit. He was drinking too much – the hard stuff had never agreed with him. He’d need to cut back, after this week.
Breakfast arrived. He ignored the eggs, which had seemed like a good idea before he saw them, and stuck with the coffee. He turned on his phone. There was a text from Lucy.
Jack. Where are you? We need to talk. Steph called last night. She told me she spoke to you. Said she told you everything. God. I’m so sorry. Really. L x
Told him everything? He may well let her believe that. He scrolled through his contacts and clicked on Diego. The only wise words he’d ever heard his old friend come out with were,
‘The key to your success is, you’re a bloody good delegator. You’ve got no other skills, and believe me, I should know, but you’re bloody brilliant at the art of delegation.’ It had always stayed with him. Deg picked up immediately,
‘Jack… Mate… It’s been months… How’s life at the top of the pile?’
‘Huh… All good, all good, thanks. Listen, remember that light-fingered partner of yours… Neil?’
‘Ex-partner, haha. Niall. Irish twat. I’m still trying very hard to forget the bastard. Kind of you to remind me…’
‘Sorry mate… It’s just that, you know those guys you sent round to…’
‘Help him understand the error of his ways?’
‘Yeah. Them… Are you still in touch?’
‘Someone done the dirty on you Jack?’
‘Uhuh. You could say that.’
‘Sure. I’m in touch with a few of the guys from the Baby Squad. Unlike some others who’ve sold out with their lah-di-dah golf and ruggah…’
‘Yeah… Ok. Easy on… Look, can we meet for a jar? It’s not really something I want to discuss on the phone? You free tonight? Tomorrow?’
‘Tonight’s good for me. Where? Clarendon? For ol’ times…?’
‘Right you are. Seven? Lounge bar?’
‘See you then. Keep tidy.’
‘And yourself. Cheers Deg.’
He replied to Lucy.
OK. Catch up later. J
Who said men couldn’t multi-task? He checked out at twelve and drove back to Leicester. On the way down he called the gym and booked himself a massage. He drove straight there. He worked out, swam, and spent two hours being pumelled to within an inch of his pain threshold. He ate a light supper, drank two glasses of wheatgrass and headed off to the Clarendon to meet Deg.
They chatted about nothing much for a while untill Deg said,
‘So… What trouble’s come your way, mate?’
‘Man trouble. Woman trouble.’
‘Lucy’s not been playing away from home, has she? Never thought she was the type.’
‘Me neither. Doctor up North. Old flame. I want him scared. I want him to leave her alone. I want him to know – he doesn’t mess with Jack Williams… You get me?’
‘Sure. I get you. It’ll cost you.’
‘Name it, mate.’
‘OK. I’ll have the money tomorrow. First thing.’
‘Twentys. Used notes. Will you drop it round?’
‘Sure. As I said. First thing. And Deg. He’s a surgeon. So… don’t damage his hands…’
‘What the fuck are you on about? Don’t damage his hands? I’m not seeing to your Doctor in person. These guys – they’re nutters. They’ll do anything for a couple of monkeys. You can’t pick and choose which body parts they mangle. You go with the flow. You ask them to do a job and you leave them to it and you give it no more thought… Jack? Understand?’
‘Yeah. Yeah. I understand.’
‘You sure? You wanna change your mind?’
‘No. No. Go ahead.’
‘OK. The job’s as good as done.’
They spent the next few hours going over the details. He passed on all the info he’d gleaned over the last 48 hours: a full description of the Doc, his environs, his wife, the car and its number plate. He arranged to drop the money round at eight the next morning.
He drove home. Lucy was up and called to him as soon as he opened the door. He walked into the kitchen with a sinking heart. Her face was puffy, her eyes red.
‘Jack. Where’ve you been? Margaret called. She wouldn’t give me any information… I got cross with her.’
‘You shouldn’t get cross with Margaret. She does as she’s told. You now that.’
‘I know. But I was worried.’ She looked at him. He said nothing. He wasn’t going to make it easy for her.
‘Jack. I’m sorry. He means nothing. Really. I don’t know why I did it.’
‘You tell me.’
‘Not much.’ She looked down at her trembling hands and began picking at her cuticles. He said nothing.
‘I wrote some letters.’ She said.
‘We spoke on the phone a few times.’
‘He was interested.’
‘No. He was interested. In me.’
‘So. Is that what it all boils down to? I’m not interested?’
‘Well are you?’
‘Of course I’m bloody interested. Do you have any idea what you and your sister have put me through?’
‘No. Tell me?’
‘You’ve no idea… And you’ve no idea what I’m capable of.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Mmm. That’s got you interested now hasn’t it?’ He got up and paced the kitchen.
‘It’s not all about you, Lucy. Since when have you been interested in me, my life, what makes me tick? It works both ways you know.’
‘Yes. That’s true. We need to be nicer to each other. Spend time together. Start doing things together.’
‘But we don’t like the same things. Are you going to take up golf? Have you suddenly developed an interest in Rugby? Am I going to start quoting poetry and typing up my memoirs?’
‘Well… surely there must be some common ground. I still love you.’
‘Love? I don’t have a clue what that word means. All I know is how I’ve felt over the last two days. If that’s love you can stick it wherever you like, as long as it’s as far away from me as possible.’
They went to bed. Lucy came on to him. She wanted sex, but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t. He couldn’t sleep either. He got up leaving her crying quietly in the dark. He sat in the kitchen drinking tea. At three thirty he sent a text message to Deg.
I’ve changed my mind. Call the guys off. The Doctor gets away with it. This time.
He took Lucy a cup of tea at six. He sat on her side of the bed and he told her what he’d done. He told her everything – everything except Suzy. He told her he’d read her mail, been on her Facebook, driven up to Harrogate, sat outside the house, saw the Doc’s wife and kids, met the Doc, talked to him, spent the night in Leeds. He wanted her to know he meant business. He wanted her to stop all contact with that northern twat. So he told her about his meeting with Deg. She was quiet until he told her what he’d asked Deg to do. Then she became quite hysterical, but he calmed her down by showing her the message he’d just sent.
‘Jack. Are you sure he’s got that message?’
‘I’ll go round at eight, as arranged. But I won’t take the money. They won’t do anything without the money. It’ll be all right. I promise.’
He was knocking on Deg’s door at eight. His mate was not pleased. He’d received Jack’s message, but had been too angry to reply.
‘You’re seriously fucking with me, Jack. My credibility’ll be shot to pieces after this. I’d engaged your men already. They were all set. Makes me look like a complete cunt. They’re not people you mess with. Understand?’
He apologised, many times, and left.
He drove into work and spent all morning trying to catch up, but he kept being interrupted. Suzy knocked at eleven. He told her to come in, and shut the door. He’d not thought about her since yesterday and hadn’t even said hello when he walked through the office. She wasn’t very happy. She began lecturing him about how it wouldn’t be in his best interests to think he could just pick her up and then drop her when he’d had enough. He lost his temper. He told her it wouldn’t be in her best interests if she started lecturing him and it wasn’t as if he’d forced her into anything. She’d been more than willing and she’d been the one to come on to him, inviting him back to her flat. She stormed out, turning a few heads. He could see a small group of women gathering. They huddled around her. What a bloody mess.
At two he got a text from Lucy.
Jack. You need to come home now. I MEAN NOW. THIS MINUTE.
He called her but she didn’t pick up. He called home and there was no answer there either. He re-read her text. That was no way to talk to him. Who the fuck did she think she was? How come everyone was getting so uppity? He was the one in charge.
He arrived home at five. He turned his key in the lock and pushed open the door, but it met with some resistance. He shoved harder and it opened six inches. Through the gap he could see piles of clothing in the hallway. He rammed it with his shoulder, opening it just enough to squeeze through and found himself standing amongst a mountain of shirts, jeans, shoes, underwear, suits. And they were all his. He raised his head and saw Lucy sitting halfway up the stairs, a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette burning in an ashtray at her side. She hurled something hard and black at him. It flew over his head and crashed into the lamp on the hall table, breaking the glass shade. It was a large roll of black bin bags.
‘What’s going on, Lucy? Where are the kids?’
‘What the fuck’s going on?’
‘It’s your stuff, Jack. You’re packing. And then you’re leaving.’ Shit, he thought, Suzy… the little bitch…
‘What?… What do you mean? Leaving? But…Why?’ He stuttered.
‘You promised you’d spoken to Deg.’
‘I did. You saw the text.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Lucy. Why would I lie?’
‘You bastard. You said you’d called them off. You said you’d called Deg. You promised me.’ She began to cry. He clambered over the clothes saying,
‘Hey? What’s up?’
‘Don’t come near me you bastard. Stay where you are.’
‘Lucy. I saw Deg. I did. I swear. I went round. I spoke to him. I told him. Why? What’s happened?’
‘I’ll tell you what’s happened, Jack. I was trying to call Graham all morning…’
‘Graham?’ Jack interrupted. He was confused.
‘Jeezus… Graham… The guy I’ve been writing to. He finally got in touch. He was in a right state. Last night Melanie was on her way to pick him up from the station.’
‘Who’s Melanie?’ he interrupted again.
‘For fuck’s sake, Jack… Melanie is Graham’s wife. Are you with me?’ He nodded.
‘It was late. And dark. It had been raining all day. Two Hell’s Angels on motorbikes began chasing her, terrorising her. She was driving Graham’s car. She tried to shake them off, drove too fast, shit-scared no doubt. The car was new and she wasn’t used to it. She lost control. Came off the road on a bend. The local bobby had been parked up just outside the village. He heard the bikes and tailed them for a couple of miles. He called for back up, not keen to pull the guys over on his own, but they were too late. He saw it happen, Jack. And they caught them. They’ve got the bikers in custody…’ She paused and looked at him.
‘I don’t understand…’ He said.
‘She’s dead, Jack. Melanie’s dead. And you fucking killed her…’