Authors: Louise Wise
Charlie pulled her note pad out of her bag, keeping an eye out for traffic wardens as she was illegally parked, and made notes on how the prostitutes acted and dressed. She watched them for a while until one of them climbed into a car of a middle-aged man and was driven away.
Dropping her notebook on the passenger seat, she moved off and came alongside the remaining woman. She looked in at her curiously as Charlie wound down her window.
This might sound like a strange request, but I’m trying to find a woman for my, er, brother for his, er, twenty-first.’ Oh, Lord she sounded like a weirdo. ‘How much are you?’
I’ll do him for fifty. Straight sex; nothing pervy, that’s extra.’ Her eyes moved beyond Charlie, and back again, and Charlie had a strange notion that the woman knew she was lying and tittered as if to confirm it. ‘You can watch for free, love,’ she said, and Charlie’s face flamed.
Charlie rolled up her window and drove off as the woman laughed after her.
Skimming the A40, Charlie used the back streets to get to Camden Town. She got stuck behind a taxi in Monmouth Street, but was able to watch the women unhindered as they hung around lampposts or telephone boxes touting for illegal business. There wasn’t many. It was still early, she supposed, and checked her watch. Barely ten p.m., and most hookers wouldn’t venture out until much later. Tomorrow night, she promised, she would come back properly armed with recording equipment and get some interviews on foot. The idea seemed perfect. She would get a fly on the wall view of working women surviving in an already hostile world.
She drove slowly, probably annoying the hell out of other drivers, making mental observations to be jotted down later when she had her hands free.
She wondered if Andy had finished his ‘deal’. She checked her mobile, but nobody had called. Pulling over into a side street she texted Andy. She smiled when she remembered how desolate she had felt yesterday. What a difference a day makes! And to think Andy was going cold on her. He wanted them to have their own place. How cool was that!
Replacing her phone, the smell of deep fried something filled her nostrils. A few doors up, people were standing in the open doorway to a fish and chip shop. The smell of chips, sprinkled with salt and vinegar made her mouth fill with saliva. She checked her purse. She had a five-pound note, then looked to the fuel gauge on the dash. It was almost in the red.
Oh well, it’s the bus until pay day,’ she said, and climbed out.
It was after eleven when she pulled up outside her flat. She secured the wheel with its steering lock, and climbed out. She looked up to her flat window. Hers was the seventh floor, and all the lights were blazing.
She rubbed her eyes. She was tired, and all she wanted to do was have a long soak and fall into bed. She could always crash at Melvin’s, she supposed, if Andy hadn’t finished sorting out his ‘deal’.
Charlie went inside. Crude graffiti lined the upper walls in the foyer while dirt edged the lower. Charlie pressed the button for the lift, and a low hum of machinery told her the lift was juddering towards her.
Once outside her door, she placed an ear to the cool wood. All was silent. She placed her key in the lock and pushed the door open.
That man of yours is a bad ‘un,’ Mavis Davis said behind, making her jump.
Charlie turned. The old lady was clutching the edges of a well-washed pink dressing gown around her. She was Charlie’s neighbour; a well-meaning battleaxe who Charlie was secretly fond of.
Hi, Mavis. I’m sorry, was he playing music too loud again?’
That I can cope with,’ she said, waving a finger. ‘It’s the friends he keeps that’s the worry. He’ll drag you down with him, you mark my words.’ Still waving a finger she went back into her room and closed the door.
Half amused, Charlie closed her own door. Kicking off her shoes and throwing her handbag on the settee, she eyed her room. Crumpled lager cans littered the small coffee table and floor. Half-eaten kebabs in polystyrene containers lay on the floor with sorry looking salad. Fish and chip wrappers were dumped on the floor beside her bin.
Among the mess was Andy. He lay on the settee, dribble sliding out of his mouth, clutching a can of lager in one hand and kebab in the other. Instantly she knew he had made a fool of her. He’d coerced her out of the flat just so he could invite his mates around for beer and takeaways. She groaned. Man. City was playing tonight, and she remembered Andy talking about watching the game with a group of mates, only she hadn’t realised he had meant
watching it at
flat with a group of mates.
Fuming, Charlie went over and shook him awake.
Andy muttered and tried to turn over, still clutching the lager and kebab against his chest as if they were a duvet.
He opened his eyes and stared vacantly at her.
Was this part of the
’ Charlie’s arm swept the room. She glared down at him. His eyes had closed again. She tugged at the cushion beneath his head and pulled it out. As his head fell back, she whacked him in the face with it. The cushion, soft and furry, did no damage, but Andy yelped anyway.
Awright, awright,’ he shouted, waving her away. He struggled to a sitting position and looked at her with bleary eyes. ‘Charl? That you?’
She stood back, breathless and ready with the cushion. ‘Who else? I
live here? Or had you forgotten?’
His head wobbled in classic drunkard style. ‘I was waitin’ up for you, but you didn’t come home,’ he said, his Brummie accent more pronounced. He looked so forlorn Charlie’s anger deflated as easily as it started. She lowered the cushion.
He reached for the cushion and took it from her.
But why didn’t you text me so I knew when it was safe to come back?’ she said.
Stoopid varmit. You were s’posed to come home after three hours.’ He stood up – it took several attempts – but he eventually stood before her. ‘Had one pint, that’s all,’ he said, pronouncing pint as “point”. He staggered sidewards, righted himself, but then staggered the other way. He sat back down. ‘Think my drink was spiked.’
Charlie sat next to him. ‘Sorry I yelled, love, I’m tired, that’s all. You could have asked me about having your mates here. I wouldn’t have minded,’ she lied. She always felt the need to count the cutlery after they’d been round.
Andy swallowed a belch and nodded.
She slipped her arms around his waist. ‘I’m not too tired for making love though.’
Need a piss,’ he said and pulled from her. Before he got to the bathroom, his fly was undone and he was pulling his penis from his boxers. He peed with the door open, and staggered back towards Charlie tucking it away. He wiped his hands on his jeans. ‘Let’s shag until morning,’ he said with a grin.
He tripped and crashed to the ground by her feet. He laughed, belched and fell asleep.
harlie stepped over the snoring Andy the following morning, and securing her dressing gown she headed to the kitchen where she flicked on the kettle. She rubbed her head; headache. She reached for the paracetamol and took two while watching the comatose Andy lying on the floor where he had fallen last night. It was the last two tablets, and she hoped his head hurt when he came round.
Making herself a coffee, she took it back into the bedroom not wanting to see the mess in her little sitting room. She could smell the kebabs and didn’t feel strong enough to add visual to her senses.
Putting the coffee on the side table, Charlie grabbed her bag laying on the floor where she dropped it last night and delved inside for her prostitute notes.
She didn’t have much; she only headed to the places she was familiar with during nights out with friends. She had jotted down the clothes the girls wore, their ages, how they acted etc. She read them back to see if they made any sense, and was pleased with herself.
The telephone rang, and as the phone was in the sitting room Charlie had to brave the smell and mess. It was Melvin.
Hi ya, doll. Wanna meet for lunch later?’
Sounds good.’ Clutching the phone between ear and shoulder she unlocked the latch on the window and slid it open to let in fresh air.
OK, I’m working as usual this morning so I’ll meet you in the
Rat and Parrot
at one thirty. Sound all right?’
It sounded great, and she had a lot to tell him. Treading over Andy she retreated back to the bedroom. She finished her coffee and shoved her notes back in her bag. In the bathroom she showered and dressed and armed with a bin bag she moved around her sitting room chucking in stale smelling food. Tying the bag up she put it outside her door ready to take down to the communal bins later.
Stepping over Andy, she grabbed the air freshener from the cupboard beneath the sink in the kitchen and began squirting it around the room. The cool air blowing in from the window was rousing him, either that or the Frebreeze.
He muttered something and rolled over onto his back. He giggled. ‘Lovely Susie…’ he said.
Charlie froze. His fidelity was always circumspect but she’d never had proof before. She could forgive him for using her flat as a social setting to watch football with his mates and even smoke pot in her presence, but not another woman. Not again. She nudged him with her foot. ‘Who’s Susie?’
Susie Sex. Sexy ... Susie,’ he mumbled. He was in the place between reality and unconsciousness. Charlie waited for the pain of his words to hit her, but anger welled in their place.
She nudged him again. Harder. ‘I said, who’s Susie?’
Huh?’ Andy half opened his eyes. ‘What…? Get that out of my face!’
Charlie was brandishing the air freshener like a gun. ‘Who’s Susie?’
Dunno what you’re talking about.’
Ugh… stoppit… Charl…’ Andy shielded his face and rolled onto his front.
Who is Slapper Susie?’ Charlie demanded.
Andy, on all fours, crawled towards the bathroom as quickly as he could. He closed and locked the door after him.
At least be man enough to admit there wasn’t an important deal last night, and the sole reason to getting me out of the way was the footie, your mates and this ... this
!’ she shouted, her mouth close against the locked door.
Taps in the bathroom were turned on full.
Charlie thumped the door.
The telltale squeak of the shower cubicle told her that Andy was in the shower.
Bastard,’ she said, giving the door one final thump.
When Camilla hadn’t returned by Sunday and her mobile continually went to voicemail Ben began to feel worried. He even rang his gran to check that Camilla hadn’t really gone back with them after all.
The elderly grandparents only attended the funeral and not the wake, so it had been easy to lie to anyone who asked saying that Camilla had gone back with them. Even Iris believed she’d gone with her grandparents to help her over the grieving process. But they hadn’t seen her, either.
His father was in the lounge watching golf on the TV as Ben entered.
The solicitor wants to see us today,’ Ben said. ‘Are you up to it? It’ll be contract signing and that sort of thing.’
It’s Sunday,’ Donald said. ‘Nobody works on a Sunday.’
They’re doing us a favour, Dad. We should have signed last week.’
Have they no consideration for the dead?’
Ben rubbed the back of his neck. ‘Yes, I guess that’s why they agreed to do it today instead of last week.’
Donald grunted. He pointed to the screen. ‘I think I’ll go to the driving range for a few practise shots today.’
Dad, you’ve got to take things easy –’
Like heading to the solicitors and signing documents that should have been done weeks ago? If they’re that important bring them back here for me to sign. Better yet, bring them up to the driving range. The girl back yet?’
Camilla’s not back, no.’ Ben turned away, and began to leave the room.
I could’ve been a better father,’ Donald said, and Ben stopped at the door. He turned wondering if he’d heard wrong but saw the look of helplessness on his dad’s face. It was suddenly clear that Donald had been sitting alone, aimlessly watching TV, while mulling over his devastated family.
What’s that, Dad?’
I’ve seen my friends bringing up their kids to be spoilt and soft, and I wanted it to be different for you and Cam. I pushed the pair of you thinking I was helping when in fact I was causing untold damage.’
Ben felt he should say something to comfort his father, but he couldn’t find the words. He came back into the room and sat down on the settee opposite.