Chapter 2, Changeling

26 03 2011

Chapter Two

She was aware of a vague feeling of disquiet as they walked across the Square.  She wasn’t quite sure where she was going, what time it was.  Fumbling, she looked at her watch, to be met in turn with his smile and those eyes.  She forgot why she had wanted to know the time, returning his smile and wondering if she was boring him with her chit chat.  He seemed so relaxed in her company and she responded to his confidence.  He hailed a taxi and she found herself staring at the West End as it passed.  She felt warm, rested, secure.  He smiled and nodded at her, patting her hand, caressing her shoulder.  It was all so very wonderful, so very exciting.  To find such a companion by sheer accident, to have such a relaxing evening in the face of the earlier disappointment.  She studied the lights as they passed, wondering if perhaps she’d had a bit too much to drink.  There was something niggling at the back of her mind, something uncomfortable.  She tried to put it away from her as the cab stopped, she didn’t want to lose him for lack of giving him her attention. 
They were in the sudden quiet of a back street.  She smiled as he opened the cab door, inviting her out with a dignified flourish.  He was so romantic.  She thrilled inside, a secret smile of pleasure at the thought.  In the shadow of tall buildings the air was cooler, cleaner.  As he paid the taxi driver and his face bent away from hers, she felt her mind once more straying.  There was something she was worried about, what was it?  It was lost as he smiled again, encouraging her to walk with him.  He opened a door, ushered her in.  There was the faintest scent of citrus, something tangy.   Small, enclosed, yet neither intimate nor comfortable.  Where was she?  It was a lift, moving silently up.  She giggled as she watched the lights on the panel flicker.  Oh dear, she had better not have any more to drink.  She didn’t want to appear sozzled, leave a bad impression.  The disquiet returned as she stood outside a heavy wooden door, her companion pressing buttons on a glittering steel panel.  Something about what he was doing made her realise how expensive the door was.  Expensive doors were heavy, solid: immovable.  That door was expensive. 
She turned, to look back for the lift, see if she could work out where she was.  His hand reached down and touched her chin, pulled it gently towards him.  He kissed her then, for the first time, and the ground swayed under her feet.  Oh yes, this was it, this was it!  He was the one, the one she had been waiting for, longing for.  She smiled, leaned into him, felt his clothing against her.  Smooth, sensual.  The door opened and she was walking inwards, his hand gently covering the small of her back.  She could feel his coolness through her dress, excitement flooding her.  She took a step forward, hesitated, stopped.   Something was wrong, something was very wrong.  It was dark where they were heading.  She turned, to move back, but his hand was on her shoulder, cool and demanding, what was it she wanted to say?  She opened her mouth to speak, and he was there again, kissing her, swallowing her up.  There really wasn’t anything wrong; it was all rather exciting.  She was as light as a feather, dancing, being carried through the air by his charm.  Pale colours flowed around her, lights moving as they walked.  The stars above her head were swirling, dancing with them as they moved.  Dark green splashes of colour whizzed by.  Her head lolled back, losing contact with his body.  He tipped her forward again, and she snuggled onto his shoulder.  This was so very fine, so very very fine.

The feel of the bed coming up from under her sent the warnings ringing out again.  That was what was wrong, had been wrong since the restaurant; those damn bells.  When were they going to stop that damned clanging?  She tried to sit up.   A mouth fastened over hers, drew out her breath, pulled at her, tugged something from her.  What was she doing?  All she could focus on was the cool mouth that was draining her of warmth.  No, that wasn’t right, she was enjoying this.  His mouth on hers, drawing, sucking.  Imagined so many times before, she knew it was to have been warm, comforting.   Not cool.   But this mouth was cool, almost cold.  Her surprise at that thought almost surfaced, but at the same time a hand started a soft, circular caress on her right breast.  Joanne found her senses slipping into the heat and drive of the man floating somewhere above her.  There was that cool mouth again, his salty taste, his hands, rough but welcomed, so very welcomed.  His mouth lifted away from her, leaving her empty.   Disappointment shook her body, she moved to follow after him.  A tongue rested lightly on her neck, teasing, a hand moving over her stomach, rubbing downwards, pushing her back on the bed.  Her trembling intensified.  She had never imagined it could be like this.  Back car fumblings and quick passions in parents’ beds, hurried to make sure they weren’t caught, had never been like this.  This was what she’d waited for, dreamed for.  This is what she’d known was in her path, one day.  No silly stationary cupboard humping for her: no office tensions had yet caused her to drop her standards.  Her body caught fire, the sharp, contracting pain in her groin catching her by surprise.  The pain was intense, as she curled around the thought of loving him, being breached by him.  She groaned and arched her back, truly slipping beyond her own awareness.  There was only that tight, cutting pain, the burning in her breasts, the need for more.  Her legs opened. 
Although it had been a long time since Dreyfuss had loved physically with a woman, he had not forgotten the art of seduction.  On whimsy, he excited the young woman beneath him, pulling out from her responses she had not known were hidden within her.  He could feel her awareness, her excitement; it was this that served to pleasure him.  He stroked and petted her, kissed and caressed, till the fire that was upon her, was upon him.  Her complete physical acceptance touched him, was pleasing to him.  She was an open book, and he could read her language with ease.  There was a vulnerability that teased at him, made him feel protective and paternalistic.  He had wanted to play, and in her trust found a game of innocence and beguilement.  An odd taste for the evening, but the palette responded well to change.  He waited until she was almost sated, when the scent of her salt and musk flooded him: then he moved.  Centring his mouth along the vein which coiled around the base of the neck, he kissed her hard, sucking, biting, bringing her blood up to meet him.  The sharp piercing pain as he opened her was lost in her climax, in the sudden hot flush to his mouth.  Salt and heat as he filled himself.  The first rush of pleasure over, he drew slowly; swallowing: savouring.   All ceased to exist apart from his mouth, its convulsions, the endless stream that he drew up into himself.  Her blood was incredibly rich, loaded with the earlier meal.  The alcohol he had pushed upon her coming back up to meet him, warming him.  Soon, all that she was would be his, and it would be a fine moment for them both.  She would die in ecstasy, a rare gift in this world, and he would live by her sacrifice, satisfied with what she had offered.  He fell into her blood and drank.
Fire exploded all through her.  There was nothing but heat and flame and the enveloping waves that pulsed from her groin.  Everything was washed ahead in the wave of pleasure, so intense it was akin to pain, ripping through her.  She felt herself cry out, her spine convulsing, her legs jerking, her throat tightening.  There was nothing; nothing but the long, slow flow of blood pulsing through her.  She throbbed in its wake, the heat subsiding.    She longed for rest, for safety.  Everything in her wished to relax and give herself up to that binding, to the warmth that filled her.  To fall into the sleep offered her.  That sated, resting sleep.  To heal herself upon its joy.  She sought the sleep, sought the rest.  Reaching out with her mind, she tried desperately to pull it down with her, bring it with her into her dreams.
She shivered.  Shivered again.  Somewhere, somehow, she was cold.  She could feel the cold.  It fell upon her, swallowing her.  Swallowing her heat, eating her dreams.  She fought the cold, tried to move back to that feeling, that feeling of belonging and completion.  It slipped away from her. She moaned, muttered, moved, protested.  She wanted the feeling back, and she was not going to go until it came with her.
Movement jolted him, impinging upon the scent in his nostrils.  Under him, the body had tensed, was trying to throw him off.  How amusing; that had been the least expected of reactions.  Remedy was swift and effective.  He felt a surge of power as he further opened the wound, her essence flooding him, sending him flying into the night, soaring through the darkness.  He could hear her heart falter as pressure dropped, veins beginning to slurry.  There, teasing in the back of his mind, he could sense her death, waiting for him to finish his pleasure.  He pulled her closer, eagerly awaiting her final gift.  Then, from nowhere, as the life’s flow was at its sweetest, he was without blood: without source.  His vision cleared and the dreaming fell from him.  He blinked, bringing the room back into focus.  She was standing there, pale, beside the bed.  Blood flowed freely from the gash that the leaving of him had torn across her neck.  She was shaking, not from fear, from fury.
Her eyes blazed at him: how dare he, how dare he! 
Dreyfuss sat up and stared at the being who had defied him when he was in full feed.  He looked at the girl, her life flowing from her neck, oozing onto the floor.  She was a pale and empty little thing, not even fully aware of her own needs.  He smiled into her shaking eyes, lifted his hand to her, inviting their reunion.  She took a step back, so fast she almost stumbled and fell.  It was his turn to stare, to wonder.  It was slow to build, lost as he had been in the feeding, but anger at her defiance entered the game.  He shook his hand again, repeating the invitation, a warning about refusal openly given.
She stared at him, horror growing in her eyes: she was breaking the thrall.  His eyes narrowed in annoyance.  Open panic filled her features, she turned to flee.
His hand snaked out instinctively, grabbing her by the hair, yanking her back to the bed, back to his embrace.  She whirled round and slapped him across the face.  The tide of his own anger lit out from him, fast and bright.  Releasing her hair he pulled back his arm, the blow sending her away, to land heavily against the wall.  She crumpled and lay still.  To defy him, at the moment of their shared ecstasy?  To raise a hand to him?  She would die in pain for reward. 
Catching her up, he fastened again on her throat, intent on sucking her dry.  His hands held her fast, fingers dug deeply into flesh too spent to bruise.  The torn throat gave him easy purchase and he set to devour all she had, all she had ever been.  Even then, almost dead, wrung like a cloth, she groaned, moving against him.  He felt the bitterness of her rebellion on his tongue.  He pulled back, spoiled for her.  He reached for her neck, a quick snap and she would be gone forever.  His hands enclosed her, seeking to find the right spot, where vertebrae would be easiest pushed apart from vertebrae. Still she protested, fought his actions.  Her hand had risen to weakly push him off, fight him away.  He grasped it and pulled it away, back under her own body.  What strength was left in her was used to arch her back, giving off her message: fight, no matter how trapped you are; fight.  He smiled and leaned down to kiss her.  Somewhere, in the haze of her dying, she noticed him, and whispered up to him.
‘Fuck you.’
The words barely made it out of her mouth such was her weakness.  My, he thought, such language from an innocent!  He let her loose, grinning at her stubbornness.  Some things were eternal, after all.  Spirit such as this was rarely found, never mind uncovered so surprisingly.  A part of him was pleased to have found a little savage in a cheap white dress.  Without much thought for it he picked her up and tossed her back on the bed, the action more to do with an innate sense of tidiness than anything else.  In the roots of his mouth an ache was building.  He had been roused by her, his instincts kindled.  Nothing would substitute for a full life, not now.  The thirst was upon him, and he would quench it.  He changed quickly, abandoning her gore for cleaner clothing.  She would probably bleed to death before he returned. 
The catching was easy, there were many who walked the streets in search of love, or death.  When he raised his head he realised that her anger was still upon him.  There was no throat left to the boy who had courted him, thinking only to find food for the night.  Well food was what had been found, if not to his precise liking.  He dropped the empty flesh onto the rails of Earl’s Court tube station.  Another suicide, or fumbling mishap.  London was used to that.
He returned home on foot, enjoying the night air and sense of freedom.  The scents from the park beguiled him as he slipped past the shadow of the Albert Hall, disappearing out of the streets as effortlessly as he had emerged.  After washing he retired, falling into a deep and dreamless sleep.  When he rose in the middle afternoon he felt surprisingly rested.  Light and alert.  Active.  As the coffee percolated, he went to check on his guest.  To his surprise, she was still alive.  The bruising on her jaw was minimal as there had been little blood within her to damage.  She and the bed were splattered with dark brown splodges of dead blood; a shocking waste.  What to do with her?  Strangely, he had no instinct on the matter.  Dreyfuss was mostly instinct.  To survive as he survived, he had to be.  He mused upon his own lack of immediate direction: a Dreyfuss without purpose was a strange and curious thing.  He returned to his own bedroom and studied the matter.
As he showered, it occurred to him that the decision may be taken out of his hands.  Returning to her room, which was a curious way for his mind to put it given how many had occupied it before her, he checked her pulse and blood pressure.  A choice had to be made.  To let her die, and end the matter, or allow her life?  That was a nonsense, for she was meat as he looked at her.  Dead was dead.  The issue was when, not if.  But something about that stubbornness had surprised him.  Surprise in a life such as his was precious: unexpected bounty.  Perhaps he’d kill her tomorrow?  Regardless, she would die when he said so, not before.
He made a quick phone call. An hour later a courier delivered ten units of basic saline, plasma and sterile equipment.  He set a drip, inserting the valve into the back of her hand quickly and cleanly.  He refrained from polluting her with any drugs: if she’d been going to go under it would have happened before now.  Wary of leaving her unconscious with a needle in her arm, he phoned his apologies through to the golf club; someone else would have to deliver the after dinner speech.  Thinking that through, he contacted his second in command: things would have to run without him for a few days.  He’d attend to any urgent mail that came into his study but apart from that, he was not to be disturbed.  Well used to this, Gerald signed off in eager anticipation of a week in which he could call the shots. 
Filling a bowl with tepid water and antiseptic, Dreyfuss attended to her neck.  With all the gunge off, the tear was less than he had thought.  Pressing the ragged edges together long enough to stop the fresh weeping, he carefully applied four paper stitches, sealing the mess with his own blood.  Then he cut her dress and knickers off, sponging her down with cool water, remaking the bed around her.  Rechecking her pulse and respiration he adjusted the flow of the drip and switched the light off as he went.  He made a light snack of steak and eggs, settling down to watch a movie in peace.
Her dry coughing woke him from the rather pleasant slumber that he had slipped into.  He had been dreaming of Eléan; which was unusual, for he had not dreamt of her in years.  In the dream, she was calling to him, with that wicked half grin on her sly face.  The call in the dream became the cough of his guest: he roused himself.  She was half conscious, drifting in the way of those lost in the fight to waken.  He gave her a few sips of water, checking her vital signs.  She was fine, more or less, and he took out the drip.  He needed to sleep, and she would be in the way, so he filled her veins with sedative.  He went to bed and dreamed another dream of Eléan.
Looking in on her the next morning he was satisfied to see she had responded well to the enforced slumber.  Her fatigued body was slowly recovering from the added stress of their encounter.  Her mind wasn’t happy with the arrangement, her twisting and turning had pulled the sheet out from under her, but her skin tone was improved greatly.  He shot her through once more with enough sedative to keep her under for a few more hours.  His body ached from lack of activity and he felt in need of more work out than could be achieved on his home equipment.  It wouldn’t do to have her up and around, screaming and pathetic when he returned from the gym.  Without thought of it, his hands drifted over her body in more than a clinical assessment of injury.  He hesitated over her breasts, slowly dragging his fingers over her left nipple.  It sprung to life, reacting to his touch.  He smiled, that sense of complete possession as sweet as ever.  For whimsy, he brought the other to attention by the merest of touch of his breath.  Sensing his invasion, she pulled away, a frightened moan escaping her lips.  His smile deepened as he reached once more for the sedative.  He pushed her so far under he heard her heart slow, her breathing hesitate, before settling into shallow swoops.  He pinched her hard, on the fold under her arm: nothing.  Lifting a lid he touched her eye: nothing.  The smile that slipped from his lips as his hands travelled down to her groin was nothing short of a gloat: it was always so easy.  The pleasure in digging his fingers deep inside her was not the pleasure of invasion, for that was a pleasure that palled all too quickly.  It was the complete absence of awareness in her slack face, the total surrender of her limbs that enthralled him.  She had no clue as to what was happening to her.  He dug around, pushing the dry warm flesh this way and that, until it filled with moistness and expanded.  He stabbed his rigid fingers into her cervix: nothing.  All that was in her world, now, was his will.  Even when she was unconscious, all she was, was his.  Satisfied, he cleaned his fingers on the bedding and left.
He enjoyed the walk through the back streets to the gym he favoured for swimming.  Most of the weights and running equipment was too light-weight, but the pool was almost perfect.  He mulled the situation over as he pushed himself endlessly through the water, length after length ripped in two and left behind him.  Which was the more sustained pleasure, the subtle yet silent power of the invisible, or the more immediate involvement of fear and struggle?  It was an eternal question, one that he never truly managed to answer.  For as he indulged in one, the other would entice his mind, beguiling him with the promise of more: a longer lasting satisfaction, a sharper and sweeter joy.  It was a dilemma that shaped much of his life, that pushed and pulled at many layers of his living.  Even now, as he changed back to the butterfly, it teased at him, took his mind off the rhythm of his stroke.  For strength, he preferred to work out at home, where prying eyes could not react to the dead weights he could so easily conquer.   He could pile the pressure onto his body, fighting his own limitations, testing out his mind’s strength in complete secrecy: no awareness of watchful humans to slow his responses and advise caution.  Stamina however was always a public sport.  No pleasure there unless observed, no triumph unless the bested stood in front of him, wheezing and shaking in their defeat.  Five of the gym’s finest had slowly watched as he turned again and again, each length timed exactly to match the previous.  In stamina he was only slightly more than they, each turn meting out as much punishment on him as it did them: yet he never lost.  Three had taken his silent challenge today, and two were spent and useless, fighting for breath at the pool’s edge.  He gloried in their weakness, their lack.  The one still struggling on and on with him, ploughing a now straggly furrow in his wake, was going to drop out soon: the switch to butterfly had seen to that. 

He smiled as he tucked under once more, kicking softly against the edge, unwilling to allow his strength to gain him advantage.  The victory would be his fairly; there was the joy.  The only pain was that it would soon be time to move on, find new territory.  Few accepted the silent challenge anymore, too much defeat etched in their faces.  A new club with a well sheltered pool would have to be found.  New meat to be taunted with his pale and slender body.  New muscle bound fools to pitch against him, to be fired up by his feet kicking dust in their eyes as he passed.  He mused on the pleasures in his life as he dried, aware that today’s prize had been bought for him by his sleeping playmate.  The joys had once more begun to drain out of his life, slowly, almost unnoticed.  The taste of her defeat had awakened him, brought life back to a jaded palate.  A few days off work to play, to sport: that was just what he needed.  What a gift he would give her, letting her final days serve his greater needs.

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Chapter One          Chapter Two        Chapter Three   Chapter Four

Breastfeeding Picnics 2011 – June 18th & 19th

18 03 2011

Freedom, Fairness and …. Equality

As we announced last year, we’re changing the time of the Breastfeeding Picnics, from a weekday to the weekend.  We had run them, concentrating on Westminster, during the last week of Parliament before the Summer Recess.  This was to allow members of both the Commons, and the Lords, to attend.

However, we found that most MPs reported they’d be more likely to make a local picnic, in their area, over the weekend.  And that many Mums felt they couldn’t attend mid-week.

So we moved the dates.  🙂

This year’s Picnics will run over the Weekend on June 18th and 19th.  It is up to the local organiser, if they go for the Saturday or the Sunday.  Most will run for 3 or 4 hours, with a very fluid drop by between x and y, times.

Breastfeeding picnics, are just that: a picnic, usually in the park.  You choose a spot, tell everyone to turn up, and go have fun in the sun.  You also invite your local MP, and tell the local media.  The point of the picnic is to raise awareness of the need for proper protection in England & Wales, for breastfeeding (and bottle feeding) babies.  Scotland has excellent protection, and we want that protection extended to the whole of the UK.  Despite comments that England & Wales, Northern Ireland, The Isle of Man etc, cannot possibly bring in legal protection as civilisation as we know it will end… Scotland doesn’t seem to have experienced any problems at all.  Everyone know babies and infant get fed, when they are hungry: end of.  Any baby, any milk, any caregiver.  Simples.

So, keep out for a list here, on the picnics running in June, and ask yourself if you want to run one.  Running one couldn’t be easier.  Just decide the place, and let us know.  We’ll send you a couple of information sheets, giving tips on what to do.

All you really have to do, is join Yahoo, so you can join in the Yahoo group.  It’s very low maintenance, with just some discussion around setting up one a year.  You can also download the So You Want To Hold A Breastfeeding Picnic and tip sheet, from there.  It’s moderated, so just give your name and where you want to hold one, and you’ll be let in:

You can also join the Facebook Page, and hold your own ‘even’t page from there:   but the help to set up comes from the yahoo space.

It doesn’t matter how big, or small, a Breastfeeding Picnic is.  All that matter if that Mums and Kids get together in the sun,and have fun, and raise the awareness that breastfeeding is a perfectly normal OUTDOOR activity.  We’d especially like some more in Scotland, as it is about everyone having the same rights.

So you there!  🙂

Interview With Me

18 03 2011

Another interview, if you’re interested.  Sibel Hodge writes romantic comedies and mystery. I think she conducted a lovely interview and am very pleased how well it’s come out.  Do click the link, even if you don’t read it all, to say ‘thanks’.  🙂

Vampire Quiz – Win an ecopy of Changeling

17 03 2011

Fangopedia, a vampire news and review site, is hosting a vampire quiz for Changeling.  Answer all five question correctly, and you go into a prize draw.  On April 10th, launch day, 5 lucky winners will receive a coupon to download Changeling.  It doensn’t matter if you don’t have an ebook reader, such as a Kindle or a Nook, as you can download to a PC with an add-on.

Pop over to Fangopedia, and have a look, here.

Here are the 5 questions:

  1. What was the name of the ship that carried Dracula to Britain, and crashed into the foreshore at Whitby?
  2. Which US author wrote the 1954 novel “I Am Legend” about a disease that mimicked vampirism?
  3. Which French actor played a sexy and compelling Count Dracula in the 1977 BBC television production of “Dracula”?
  4. Which vampire is this: “Allow me my significance! I am the symbol of evil; and if I am a true symbol, then I do good.”
  5. Which vampire-kicking human heroine beds Jean Claude, Master Vampire of St. Louis?

How many did you get?

Chapter 1, Changeling

17 03 2011

As we’re now in the run down to publication, the next thee Sample Sundays will be the first three chapters.  Whole.  Enjoy.  🙂

Chapter One

The door slammed shut with the deadened finality that comes with the emptying of a living space.  Silence filled in behind her, flooding the rooms with despair.  The air in her bedroom, thick with deodorant, hairspray, floral shower gel and perfume, settled into scented layers around the debris of her work clothes.  The cat, nonchalant about her absence now it had been fed, climbed onto the front room window sill, looking out on its domain of kebab shops and off licences.  Endless traffic piled the corners, hooting and groaning as it snuffed along, pouring stink into the already sickly late afternoon air.  It felt more like the middle of September, than that of April.  The cat preferred the view over the back windows, endless roofs, tantalising birds and other cats to snarl at.  It would wait until the acrid chemical smells in the other room faded, before proceeding to settle in its usual spot, angled out to the inner square of the backs of the houses.  It would mewl and scratch fruitlessly on the glass at the outside wild life: desperate to be free to attack, to chase.  Or so it thought.  Once, a pigeon had settled on an open window sill in the summer’s heat, and the poor cat, comfortable and safe in its window glass world, had hissed in fright.  It was so big, so aggressive, compared to the small fluttering victims of its day dreams, tiny and fragile on the roof spars opposite.  The bird had eyed him coldly, without fear.  The cat had hissed and growled its warning, but it had had no effect.  It was a stand off until the bird flew away, unruffled.  Since then, the cat went into a frenzy any time a bird landed on the other side of the window.  The other side of the closed window.
Had she known it was the last time she’d abandon both the cat, and her flat, she might have washed the dishes.  As it was, she had rushed around the flat, ignoring the smell from the sink.  That morning, as she’d fallen out of bed to find that only her best suit was wearable, she’d planned to come in tonight and clean, ridding her life of the guilt the week had scattered around her.  The resolution had been spurred on by the blissful thought of a Saturday morning lie in.  A pristine flat all around her, requiring no effort on her behalf.  Her change of plans, however, had left her with less than twenty minutes to bathe and change: she had once more ignored the chaos. Stopping only to throw some biscuits in the bowl (tinned food stank the place out) she vowed her allegiance to the hum drum of living; tomorrow.  She’d do it all tomorrow.  Clean out the cat litter, empty the bins, do the laundrette run and find her bedroom carpet under the skin of peeled off clothes that she kicked out of her way to find a matching shoe. Tomorrow would be good enough, and Sunday morning would be the sweet spot, as she lay in bed wondering how to fill a lazy day.  She grabbed her keys and ran, heading off down the stairs at full pelt.
After four days unexplained absence, during which all answer phone messages had been ignored, her boss finally called the mother of her erstwhile assistant.  Mrs Maitland, to the embarrassment of all concerned, exploded into tears at the thought of her only child’s fate.  A day later, after some hemming and hawing, the police were called, forcing open the flat in absence of anyone with a spare key.  They found the dishes partially in the sink, partially on the floor, courtesy of an exceptionally hungry cat.  The cat took its revenge on the probationary policewoman, leaving a trail of claw marks across her cheek.  The sergeant, who had cautioned against such inappropriate action, handed a clean handkerchief over and called in the RSPCA.  Their elbow length leather gauntlets would handle the animal, which had conveniently hidden itself inside the fold down couch in the living room cum kitchenette.  He had never had any truck with people who took free ranging creatures and locked them into tiny fourth floor flatlets, or patted them as if human sentimentality could mitigate a completely empty stomach.  He left his charge dabbing at the blood and had a good look round.
There was a strong whiff of cat in the air.  Cat sick, and well developed litter tray.  Having scoured both rooms of what little food there was, the cat had evidently chewed through the motley crew of long suffering pot plants scattered awkwardly around, subsequently throwing up with abandon.  Splotches on the carpet and furnishings tracked its comings and goings, mostly goings.  It was a very annoyed cat, he had no doubt of that.  The smell was one that the sergeant could easily stomach, was greatly relieved by, given what else there might have been in evidence, both of the girl’s disappearance and the cat’s subsequent hunger.  As it was, there was no sign of the girl.  The usual clutter of single living met his eyes; the fridge testament to the overall lack of care, or comfort, this young woman had afforded herself.  Diet drinks, weeks’ dead salad, a dehydrated lump of cheese, rancid low fat spread and half a mouldy loaf.  Two bottles of white wine and half a carton of milk, long turned to cheese.  The bin, before it had been dragged around the floor, had been stuffed with various take away containers and two empty bottles of wine.  She preferred Chinese, apparently, as the Chinese was six doors down, after the chip shop and the kebab house.  On the other hand, the Chinese was first if you were walking back from the tube.  The cupboard had several packets of fat free powdered soups, all well past their sell by date.  The usual collection of tins and half a bottle of cheap vodka.  The vodka had dust on the edges: no clues there then.  The bread bin was stuffed with chocolate biscuits and crisps.  The cramped and musty shower room gave evidence of the usual obsessions with creams and lotions, all feminine in nature.  Nothing in the cabinet to suggest any other bad habits, not even the pill.  The toilet bowl itself was clean and shiny, which confirmed his opinion.  Make up was scattered out over the tiny table that served for a make shift dressing area, but that could have been the cat.  The bed was single, unmade and rented out old.  The sheets looked clean and the duvet was brightly coloured and newish looking.  The clothes spread out on the floor were the formal side of business casual, the shoes impeccably heeled and well cared for.  All the used knickers were in a laundry basket, but the bras were spread around.  She used panty liners.
An ironing board filled up the tiny space on the other side of the bed, with an expensive iron on the floor beside it.  Not the cat this time, as it had been carefully placed to cool out of harm’s way.  For all the chaos in the room, an expensive jacket in dark blue hung impeccably on the back of the door.  A matching skirt had been hanging in the shower room, obviously left to steam out its wrinkles.  The tiny fragrance bottle by the bed was pricey but affordable enough to have been a present to herself.  A secretary, the report had said.  The flat screeched up and coming PA at him; with three daughters of his own, he was wise enough to know the difference.  The probationer sniffed around after him as he called in the details, heeding his warning to touch nothing.  She crumpled her nose in disdain at the mess, and smell.  She’d learn.  She’d learn bloody fast.  A double duty of nights in the riot months of summer and her no doubt currently pristine room back at the police house would look the same.  He logged the time and complete lack of evidence in any direction.  Her suitcases were on top of the wardrobe, and the drawers filled with underwear, clothing and two sex toys.  A vibrating egg and slim finger sized vibrator.  This made it extremely unlikely she’d just walked away.  He finished his report and sighed: this didn’t feel a good one, not at all. 

A week of searching saw Joanne Maitland’s neatly typed details logged and filed, the case unofficially closed.  She was lost somewhere in the mystery that the city became at these times, her disappearance overshadowed by a sensational libel case and another marital dispute over at the House of Windsor.   Mrs Maitland, crumpled and creased from the jostled and chaotic trip South, shed her tears for the camera, wailing a little at Fleet Street’s seeming indifference.  Had a paparazzo photograph of a distraught Princess of Wales not stolen the morning headlines, a little more might have been made of her one shot appearance on the evening news.  As it was, London lifted its head in grief for a split second, returning to business as usual by close of trading.  Jo, oblivious to the future of her good name, left behind a less than fitting epitaph in the form of her last confirmed sighting.  Breathless, half in her jacket, red from the run, she had stood and watched the tube she had just missed hurtle down into the depths of Archway station. 

‘Shit!’ is what she had said, loudly, as she stalked up and down the platform. ‘Shit!’

It had been another vile day.  Too much work, not enough time.  Fridays were always her worst day, not the usual Blue Monday of office worker fame.  Friday was the day she’d be in such a rush that she would skip breakfast completely, her Monday good intentions on sensible eating abandoned sometime around Wednesday.  Friday breakfast usually joined Thursday dinner as a non-event.  Friday break would find her stuffing chocolate biscuits down her throat as quickly as she could, her now up and running body desperate for anything that looked and acted remotely like a calorie.  If she was lucky, and this Friday she hadn’t been, lunch was a sandwich and a doughnut, washed down with lukewarm coffee.  Every Monday she began a perfect routine of fruit for breakfast and break, with peppermint tea to wash her virtue down.  She would smile sweetly at the others as they moaned about the coffee machine being broken again, as she waited for her tea bag to infuse.  By Wednesday she was beginning to think maybe she should phone through for a new machine herself, as she waited for the damn thing to gurgle out more tepid caffeine.  Friday always found her deciding that she’d damn well put the order through as urgent as soon as she had a minute on Monday, as she sent out an order for a massive triple mocha from the coffee shop on the high street. 

Minutes were Friday’s real problem: there were not enough of them.  Work that had not seemed too important and could be put back for a day or two, suddenly had to be cleared and logged out of the office before the weekend.  Logged and cleared by her, for she’d learnt, as had her boss, that if she didn’t do it personally, it sometimes wasn’t done.  Friday nights usually saw her pegged on the couch, having missed the soaps again, picking the topping off an extra large pizza, a bottle of plonk for company and a tub of ice cream melting in the sink, awaiting her pleasure.  Fridays she was fit for nothing but collapse and retreat. 
This Friday had been a Friday from hell.  The end of financial year accounts about to be closed and set.  She hadn’t even got to the chocolate biscuits ‘til after 2.  The phone never stopped, the fax machine had over spilled twice and her boss had looked at her with one of those looks.  The ‘I know you are so very busy and you are so very competent, but can I please have the report on my desk now’ looks.  Yes, she loved the bustle.  Yes, she was good enough to do everything well, no matter how busy it got.  Yes, it was great fun.  Sometimes.  But it wasn’t really her job to do all of it and it was about time someone recognised that.  They’d almost had words, Jo backing down at the last moment when the phone had rung once more, embroiling her in another minor crisis in the photocopying room.  She had sent out for coffee and a sandwich, but either they had never arrived, or she hadn’t noticed them in the mêlée.
She had felt defeated when it was all sorted out, not exultant so, when the usual shout had gone up about where and when the office was congregating for party mode, she’d listened.  She rarely joined in with the Friday night extravaganza that the bosses actively encouraged the staff into.  She was always late, always tired, and found getting it down and boogying with the others a waste of time.  Today, however, had been different.  All she wanted to do was go out and get absolutely smashed out of her skull.  Forget it all and start the weekend in bed, too past it to care about anything.  She may even get laid, or try to.  The safety of getting drunk in the company of her fellow workers stood against her managing a little horizontal jogging.  Embarrassed encounters over work areas on Monday mornings were not her idea of fun.  Not that she’d ever had such an encounter, but it might happen yet.  There was a Northern chill to her backbone that usually saw to it that nothing squidgy happened, despite her fantasies.  Perhaps tonight, she’d shuck off the puritanical streak she hadn’t realised was part of her until she moved to London.
Unprepared for a night out, she’d made the decision to leave some of the work undone and rush back home to change.  With luck and the right connections, she would meet up with the others as they made their way across London to catch a boat that was going to let them drink themselves sick as it drifted along the Thames.  Experience had shown that this was very convenient, both for throwing up discreetly, and for controlling who had access to you in a ‘fragile’ state.  With the train now hurtling away from her into the darkness, there was a good chance she was going to be late.  Thankfully, the next train popped up quickly, although she was going to have to change at Leicester Square, which suited her well enough as she didn’t have that much cash on her.  Her temper had cooled as she stopped off to pick up money from the hole in the wall.  Folding the notes into her purse, she allowed the chiming of the nearby Swiss Centre to register the time with her, bursting the bubble of her self-delusion.  It was too late.  She had missed the launch, they’d be heading downstream by the time she got there.  She didn’t have one jot of a clue as to where it was picking up along the route, should have listened better as they all chattered about who was wearing what, who was gunning for whom. 
She fought back the irrational prick of tears that threatened to engulf her, concentrating on what she wanted to do now.  She was dressed for fun, she was in the right part of town.  She had money in her purse and the night, if not the evening, was still young.  She couldn’t face returning to her flat so soon after rushing out of it, all caught up with the idea that she had somewhere to go.  Unnoticed by the crowds she slipped into the first decent looking pub she found.  A quick glass of wine, some time to calm down.  A meal, maybe a movie.  Something of the evening would be salvaged.  Besides, she’d be so much safer on her own.

Restlessness had brought him out onto the streets earlier than usual.  The day had been hot; sticky and close.  There was a fine drawing of his nerves building; a faint twitch.  He cruised the bars from Soho down to the Square, scanning the eager young faces he passed.  It was too early  for the true desperates to be abroad.  He wondered where they went in the city centre bustle between the hours of the commuter’s rush and the emptying of the bars.  The young and helpless, tricking the night away to fill their bellies and their veins.  The air was grey and stale, not heavy enough to call with it rain.  Deep and dark enough that it lay in layers around him.  The scents caught by each step forward drummed the sense of city into his bones.  Sweat, concrete, cheap perfume.  The sharp and noxious odour of urine, splashed carelessly behind bins and crates.  Dark alleyways completely overlooked by the tourists.  Rotting vegetables and rubbish caught in the trap of the gutter, wind brushing all to the corners of the streets.  Noise assailed him from the edges of Chinatown, ancient spices and herbs drifted out to him from the apothecary’s shelves.  Tonight was not a night for easy prey, swift endings.  Tonight, he was in the mood for fun.

The pub was packed and she’d found her way to both the bar, and an empty table, with a lot of pushing and jostling.  The table was crowded with bottles and had an overflowing ashtray.  She edged it away, wrinkling her nose in distaste.  The table was tiny, a fake hardboard top over a fake beer barrel.  There was only one stool but she’d be nearer the door where there was a sense of fresher air to be found.  Squeezing into a gap in the heaving bodies around her she settled into the seat, ruefully reflecting that the fresher air from outside was just as cloying, if somewhat drier than the sweat and lager laden fug around her.  She scanned her somewhat sketchy memory of the area for rememberings of a good restaurant.  One with air conditioning.
The street was a small one, lined with pubs and wine bars.  The prices in each varied greatly.  He’d learnt that such a range offered interesting possibilities.  He took his time, savouring the appearance and demeanour of everyone around him.  There was a tow-headed young man, a boy really, sitting on one of the cheap plastic seats outside a cafe.  He looked as if he’d just been jilted, his eyes staring intently at the label of the bottle he held.  He almost didn’t fit the new jeans he was wearing, his shoes scuffed and rather more worn than looked cool.  Promising.  Next door, a wine bar with pretensions of glamour.  The woman taking advantage of the dim light of an alcove was in her late forties.  High quality make up sought to cover the lines and wrinkles of excess, powder clogging her pores, eye shadow making pretence of much younger looks.  Good clothing, bag and matching shoes.  Expensive perfume barely masking stale body odour.  Dark roots just peeping into view.  There was a harshness, a nervousness about her.  Eyes constantly roaming, searching, eager.  Her hands were never still, the rings surrounding her fingers twisted and turned this way and that.  She brought her hand up to her face regularly, hiding, entreating.  He savoured her plight, how easily she would be caught.  He shook his head, not for this evening, although he may return at a later date, not doubting that this was a favourite haunt. 
The boy had gone when he returned to the street, his place taken by three giggling girls, their almost skirts not quite matching their almost tops.  Make up applied with more enthusiasm than skill, their flesh tones lost in a jumble of clashing shades and colours. Long gangling limbs embraced in cheap bangles and bracelets, shoes all bought in a sale.  A vestige of some shared shopping spree no doubt.  He smiled at them as he passed, evoking shrieks of delight and raucous comment on his intentions.  The smile was genuine as he savoured the raw scents they spread around him.  Musk, heat, and the fresh tang of just washed flesh exerting its own perfume over that of soap and deodorant.  He mellowed into the chase, thoroughly enjoying the pace and selection the evening had so far offered.  He tipped them a wink and moved on, relishing the sounds as he passed them by.

Jo found her glass of wine soothing.  It had a sour taste, kept overlong in a bottle behind the bar, but the alcohol warmed her blood.  It was a stupid thing to do, get so frazzled, just for another pointless office party.  She studied those around her, making guesses at who they were and what they did for a living.  The main performer in a tightly woven pack of young men looked over at her and winked.  She smiled, dropping her head to look at her glass.  When she looked up he was engaged in another tall tale, his mates well on the road to joining him in a night of excess.  A small part of her was disappointed that she’d been dismissed so easily, laughing the slight off with a quick toss of her head.  A gesture for a mythical companion who was at the bar buying the next round, or weaving his way back from the Gents.  A clear signal for the one who’d passed her over so quickly.  It didn’t make her feel better; it made her feel worse, more aware of how vulnerable she was feeling.  It was stupid to take it to heart, she was alone after all.  No matter the attraction, the guy who had winked would have only broken ranks to approach her if she had been surrounded by her mates.  Something for them all to get their teeth into.   Shares for everyone, that was the pack rule.  As she drained the glass her stomach announced its immediate rebellion.  She must eat, must fill the void.  Collecting her jacket and bag, she rose to leave.
The glimpse of white caught his eyes as he scanned the packed pub from outside.  Too many people was as dangerous as too few.  He preferred to analyse the opportunities from the large display windows theme pubs were beginning to build into their decor.  She was in her early twenties, fading tan bought from a machine.  Hair an untidy mop of curls, a better perm than it looked, dried with less care than the style demanded.  She’d had it trapped up all day, released it without washing, the ridges from the clasps still evident.  Her hair and eyes were the same warm colour of earth.  Nothing too exciting, but a nice complement to her facial skin, which was paler than the rest of her.  She read the magazines, this one.  Knew to keep sun away from her face, even as she allowed it domain over her body.  Make up had been hastily applied, the dress showed signs of a recent hanging in a crowded wardrobe.  The single ring on her right hand was no more than a cheap silver memento of a Greek package tour. There was a drowsiness around her: fatigue.  Her head came up and eyes made contact with someone else in the crowd, her smile warm and inviting.  The movement of dropping her head to coyly study her glass entranced him.  She was both naive and aware, testing her way along the path of the evening.  Her face hardened as she realised she’d been overlooked, her head shaking away the slight.  Look what you’ve missed, she was saying, look what you passed up.  He smiled.

The air was slightly clearer as she left the bar, although it was still too warm, too old.  As if it had been used too much that day, been dragged in and out of many sets of lungs.  The greying light was losing its unequal battle with the electric lights all around, the street leached of its colour.  It left a chill on her, made her feel transient, transparent.  She really had to get some food.  She perused a series of windows, ostensibly checking prices, really having a good look inside to see who was sitting down, what sort of feel the place had.  Too many places were packed, overflowing with good cheer and heated bodies.  Almost in desperation she headed for the Steak House on the other side of the Square.  It was a tourist place, overpriced and stuffy.  It would not be cool to have admitted eating there from choice but the green velvet booths would give her some space, the air conditioning respite from the now expected early summer.  There was a small queue, which she didn’t mind.  Other places had far larger queues and she quite enjoyed the wait, watching the life and colour return to the Square as natural light retreated and the neon took over.  As she reached the head of the queue the maitre’d raised his head and smiled to the right of her.

‘For two, sir?’

Startled, she turned to find a man standing slightly to one side.  His face registered his own confusion at the question.  Flustered, he looked first to Joanne, then back to the maitre’d. 

‘The lady is not with me.’ He caught her gaze again and smiled at her. ‘Unfortunately.’ 

She grinned back at him in thanks for the compliment.  He raised his arm, to allow her full access to the head of the queue and the now impatient staff. 

‘A single, madam?’ 

The voice betrayed his feelings on one of his precious tables being given over to a single occupant on a Friday night.  She nodded.  He looked past her again, to the gentleman whom he’d mistaken for her companion.

‘And you, sir, a single also?’ 

The second nod of the head sent him in a scurry of disdain as he searched through the room for evidence of two small tables about to come free. 

‘It may be some time… unless…?’

The maitre’d allowed the word to hang in the air, hoping the two dim and sad people cast upon his restaurant on a busy evening would come to their senses.  Joanne started to fidget, unprepared to deal with such complications.  The man stepped into the breach, silencing the sighs of exasperation that were beginning to make their way up the ever lengthening queue.  He stood forward, side by side with her, acting as if both the maitre’d and the queue had disappeared. 

‘I would be honoured if you would join me for dinner.’ 

His smile won her, the touch of self deprecation in his humour, the secret he was sharing with her that anything was worth getting out from under the eyes of the officious man whose evening they were disrupting.  Even so, she hesitated. 

‘I promise I will not bite,’ he whispered to her, as she looked around for good reason to turn him down, ‘not unless you ask me to.’ 

The humour in his voice reached her again.  She looked at the crowding room, the maitre’d, the queue.  She was hardly at risk.  Smiling what she hoped was gracious acceptance, she allowed them to be seated together.  Where was the harm?

She soon came to see that harm might have been preferable to the uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment that settled between them as they sat opposite each other.  The sensible solution that appeared so practical in front of the maitre’d soon gave way to confused silence.  They each studied their menus in mock concentration.  Joanne was aware that the man was probably more embarrassed than she, wishing he had not been so gallant.  She racked her brains, trying to think of something witty and interesting to say.

‘You live in London?’ 

God, what a trite thing to say!  She swallowed hard, sweat breaking out on her palms. 

‘Yes, yes I do.  And you?’

He had smiled in relief at her, obviously pleased she had opened up the communication.  She felt a little better.

‘Yes, oh yes.’  She nodded too enthusiastically. ‘For a few years now.’ 

She trailed off, out of even trite things to say in response.  He smiled at her again, reassuringly.  He had nice eyes she mused, a light brown, not dissimilar to her own. 

‘Uhm, pardon?’ 

She realised he had spoken to her and she had missed it.

‘Drink.  Would you like a drink?’ 

With a start she realised that the waiter was standing next to her, order book in hand.  He was looking at her with the disdainful sufferance of one dealing with the doltish.  Had he spoken?

‘The lady would like a glass of white wine.  No, bring a bottle, let me see…’  He rifled through the wine list. 

She was relieved he had spoken up, taken charge; it was nice to be taken care of for a change.  The waiter wrote the order down with a sigh and hurried off. 

‘I hope you do not mind my presumption?’ 

He was looking at her again with those eyes, those beautiful dark brown eyes.  She smiled back, shaking her head. 

‘No, no, not at all.  I must… I must be more tired than I thought.’ 

She fumbled to unfurl her napkin to cover her confusion.  Had they ordered yet?

Oh, it was going to be a fine night.  He studied her with pleased indulgence.  His original assessment of exhaustion had been wonderfully proven by how easy she had been to enthrall.  After he had ordered the food, enjoying the opportunity of filling her up with all the enticing scents and aromas of alcohol, she had prattled away, filling up the table with her chatter and youth.  She was a delight.  Half little fox, working away cannily at her job, sorry, her career, half a total innocent, lost in the big wide world.  Her loneliness intrigued him, made a joy of her catching.  She was so utterly childlike, unable to guess that she could have had many of those around her if she had only played a better game at being chased, and caught.  He even liked her voice, which was soft and rhythmical, a legacy no doubt of the voice lessons she had taken to rid her of her working class tones.  It was going to be a fine night, a slow and even one.  As she finished her dessert he asked for the bill.

‘Oh no, of course not, I’d be delighted.’ she stared into his eyes as he paid.  ‘Just don’t expect me to be able to dance much.’ 

She laughed, entranced by the darkness in those eyes.  It was so flattering, after all, for him to keep looking at her in that way.  As they rose, collecting their things, she wondered if she’d ever seen eyes that dark, almost completely black.  Yet they glimmered so, were so very seductive.  She smiled as he opened the door to her, sweeping her out into the street, oblivious to the blast of heat that enveloped them.

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Chapter One          Chapter Two        Chapter Three   Chapter Four

Interview With Me

17 03 2011

Author Jerry Hanel kindly interviewed me earlier this week.  Please click the link, even if you don’t have time to read, just to say thank you.  🙂

And The Winner Is…. redux

15 03 2011

Click Once to Enlarge.