Authors: Jessie Keane
To Cliff, who still has a lot to put up with…
The death woman was coming. Winston Collins’s senses were befuddled with ganja weed, but he knew
He thought he had done a bad thing, but he wasn’t too sure what the bad thing had been. His mama had told him he shouldn’t be bad, and he had always done his best to walk a good path. But now…he wasn’t sure what was going on. Only that they would
He was hyped on ganja and grief. But he could still smell blood and cheap nylon carpet, could still feel the heat of the sun being magnified by the big plate-glass window as he stood there, sweat-sodden back pressed tight to the wall. And he could still
He could see the crimson-soaked horror in the chair. And he could see…oh yes, he could see
just passing by the window, all unknowing, her blonde hair catching the sun like a bright banner, her walk quick, urgent, as she approached the door of Jack Rackland’s office.
It was her. The death woman.
Praise God and don’t worry, be happy…now how did
it go? He was so upset that he had forgotten the words of his favourite Bobby McFerrin song. Suki would know.
But Suki was gone.
There it was, nibbling away at the edge of his brain like a rat chewing on rotten meat. Suki was
and Bev was hovering between life and death; he might lose her too and he couldn’t bear it, couldn’t bear any of it; it was all
fault. Lily King had brought death into their happy home. Winston had always been peaceful, easy-going; but not now, not any more. Lily King and her sidekick had ruined his life, and they had to pay for it.
He saw it all again: Suki turning over the cards and her troubled gaze coming up to meet his, her sweet lips saying, look, this is Lily King’s card; it’s death. And him laughing, oh yeah, sure hon, and do you want this dinner edible or ruined? He didn’t give all that tarot crap a second thought. Give Bev a shout, the dinner’ll get cold, he’d said to her, brushing it aside, brushing that
in her eyes aside, that look of purest fear.
how he wished that he had taken her more seriously.
But Suki was gone.
He relived it. Suki turning away, saying yeah sure, but there was something in her eyes, a darkness, a terror. Because in her gut Suki knew about Lily King, she knew there was big trouble coming, and he shouldn’t have laughed at her all those times when he did, he should have given her more attention, taken more notice.
Too late now.
Suki was gone.
The pain of it hit him all over again.
All that was left was the death woman. Dealing out vengeance, dealing out a world of hurt to Bev, who might
even now be going about the hard business of dying, and Suki…Jesus, he’d loved that woman. Loved her to bits.
Now she was gone.
And all because of this woman, and her lust for revenge.
The fire. Oh Jesus, the fire.
Somehow he’d got Bev out, and he’d been going back for Suki, all the while heaving and choking, the smoke – the horrible, rolling black
– snatching the air from his lungs; but the flames had been too much for him. The flames had driven him back.
Well, now he was here, and so was she. Lily King was opening the door, pushing through fast, and then pausing, freezing as she saw what was sitting in the chair. Winston’s hand tightened on the bloody machete in his strong right hand. Now he was going to put an end to her evil ways. She moved in further, breathed out ‘Jack…’ and Winston was so close he could hear how fast and panicky her breathing was, and he thought,
Yeah. Now I’ve got you.
He surged forward, raising his hand to strike her dead.
She heard the movement as he pulled away from the wall. Turned, her eyes widening.
Here it comes for you, bitch,
She liked revenge? Well, so did he.
Leo King could never resist blondes. Ash, golden, strawberry, Nordic – he loved them all. Hell, he had even
one. Of course he loved his old lady, Lily. Of
he did. She was the mother of his children, he loved the bones of those two girls of his and he loved Lily too, but sometimes…well, he guessed it was a weakness, but sometimes he just got the urge to stick it in something
Like he was doing now. And it was being appreciated, too.
’ the blonde he was humping doggy-fashion in the hotel bed was crouching on all fours, moaning and gasping, clutching the French headboard with long, elegantly manicured nails.
She’s going to scratch the damned thing,
Which was okay, fuck it. But if this had been at home, in his own bed – and sometimes, oh yes, sometimes he did that, and he felt bad about it but he did it anyway – then scratching
the furniture was a no-no. Because he’d felt just lately that Lily wasn’t entirely in the dark about his little extracurricular bits of bedroom activity. Marks on the headboard would blow the whole thing wide open, and he didn’t want that.
What Leo wanted was to carry on having his cake and eating it – this delectable little bit of fluff right here, who had been the first but who most certainly was not the last.
’ Adrienne screamed as he pumped away.
Actually she was a bit theatrical about sex, this one. Not like Lily, who was a real slow, sensual burn. He loved Lily, but this…ah, it was the thrill of the chase, the cornering of the quarry, the proof that he still had it, in spades.
Of course women never understood that.
They never appreciated that extramarital sex was simply
something a guy would do if he could, with whoever – the
scarcely mattered; it was just the doing of it that was the good bit.
he thought. That’s what it was. Forbidden, and therefore twice as desirable.
But now she was moving, he was slipping out. Fuck it, he’d just been getting into his stride there. She turned on the bed, great breasts, high and firm and brown-nippled, slim waist, brown pubic hair, so
a natural blonde, but who gave a fuck? She lay down on her back and clasped him with her wide-open thighs, smiling up at him dreamily.
‘Let’s do it this way for a change,’ she panted.
That annoyed him. He liked doggy-style the best. He’d thought about why over the years and had concluded that he liked it best that way because the woman in the bed could be anyone, anyone at all, you didn’t have to see her face, you didn’t have to tell her you loved her (that came later, or
earlier if she was proving resistant to all his other best lines), or have it rammed home to you that it
doggy-style, you could be shagging anyone or anything, you could be putting it in a hole in the
It was simple, and it was – nearly – guiltless.
Okay, he was nearly there anyway. He pushed back into her warm wetness and she pulled him in close, skin to skin. She was a fabulous lay and so he was willing to forgive the interruption – this time.
she was yelling in his ear now.
And now she was applying those nails that had marked the headboard to his back.
‘Ow!’ he complained as she ripped the talons down his flesh. ‘Jesus, take it easy…’
Marking him was completely out of order. She knew that. She knew the rules. No love bites, no tooth marks, no scratching. No evidence for Lily to find and start to complain over. Although Lily was a good girl, never really nagged. Lily wasn’t an in-your-face sort of woman. She was quiet. Restrained.
sprang into his brain.
No, not that. Was she?
here was this stupid bitch Adrienne, breaking the rules, flouting them in his
but oh Jesus, that felt so good, she was a fantastic lay; she was just the best.
‘Arghhhh!’ shouted Leo as he came.
He collapsed onto her, gasping.
‘Jesus, you’re heavy,’ she complained mildly.
Leo was a big bull of a man, dark haired and dark skinned and tipping the scales at eighteen stone. Considerately, he heaved himself off her and collapsed onto the bed.
’ said Leo, eyes closed, a broad smile on his chops.
‘Yeah,’ she said, and cuddled up to him, smoothing her hand over his chest hair.
Knowing what was required of him – this was what they
required, after sex, he’d found – he dropped a kiss onto her cheek and gazed deep into her eyes. ‘Love you, babes,’ he murmured.
‘Love you too,’ Adrienne whispered, her eyes intense as they stared back into his.
He groped around for something else to say. She was waiting for something. He came up with: ‘You’re something special.’
‘Hmm.’ Adrienne knew she was special. She’d been his mistress for over ten years now, even since before he’d wed Lily. But now…well, what she had begun to suspect had been proved to be the case. Jack Rackland had done a thorough job and dug up a whole heap of dirt. She knew that Leo had been keeping secrets from her. From Lily, too. But then – Lily was no concern of hers.
She cuddled in against his chest. Her face grew serious. ‘Do you really think that I’m special?’
‘Sure you are.’ Leo stifled a yawn. It always knocked him out, chilled him like nothing else, having sex.
‘I think you’re special too,’ she whispered, her fingernails circling on his chest, her eyes fixed upon the little whorls she was forming in his dark chest hair.
And I’m sick of sharing you,
she added silently.
‘Thanks, babes.’ Leo’s eyes were fluttering closed.
‘That’s why I’ve decided,’ she said.
Leo heaved a contented sigh. ‘Decided?’
‘I’m going to tell Matt. Then you can leave Lily, and we can be together.’
Usually Lily King loved a little me-time, a little girly pampering, but on this particular Monday to Friday break she realized that she wasn’t in the mood to be relaxed and soothed at her favourite spa with her mates; she had too much on her mind.
She hadn’t wanted to let the girls down, but by Wednesday she was pacing the grounds of the super-deluxe spa like a caged animal, and by Thursday she could see that it was hopeless. She couldn’t just lay about any longer, fulminating over what the hell Leo had been up to, without a thought for good old Lily; dependable, quiet,
Even a worm turns eventually,
she thought, hurling her stuff back into her Louis Vuitton suitcase.
You could only heap so much shit onto a person’s head before they finally came spluttering to the surface and said okay,
And – finally – here she was, a very domesticated and dull little worm, turning around at last. Going home.
‘Miserable mare,’ Becks had said with a cheery grin through a wad of chewing gum. Becks
chewed gum. Tall and lanky and sporting her usual blonde bouffant up-do, Becks had been swathed in a thick white towelling robe when she’d knocked on Lily’s room door and found her dressed and packing her things. She swept Lily into a hug. ‘You’ve had a cob on all week,’ she said, pushing Lily back a pace and staring into her eyes. ‘Anything you want to talk about?’
Lily shook her head.
She couldn’t talk about it. She was sure that her husband was shagging around and it was painful even to think about, much less discuss. This break had been a mistake. She wanted to go home and have it out with Leo. They had things to discuss.
things. She’d tried before, but he’d just said she was crazy, she was imagining things.
she wasn’t imagining things.
Sure, the marriage hadn’t been perfect. They both knew it. But they’d both
to make a go of it, after the first flush of lust had worn off. Well, she’d tried. Obviously Leo had been trying out
things, playing other games. Like hide the sausage.
‘Well take care,’ said Becks, and hugged her again. ‘I’ll have to make do with Hairy Mary for company, won’t I? She’s always in that pool. She’s
in the bloody pool; she’ll look like a prune by the time she climbs out. Pity Adrienne couldn’t have come along. Or Maeve.’
Lily forced a laugh. Hairy Mary was in fact their good friend Mary, who was married to one of the East End’s biggest drug dealers. She was a stunning little dark-haired hottie who went in for ultimate waxing; the only hair she had on her body was on her head. Maeve was Lily’s sister-in-law, married to the middle King brother, Si.
Leo, Si and Freddy – they were a set; inseparable: brothers in arms.
As for Adrienne…well, Lily thought that Adrienne was probably busy. And she knew what she was busy
‘I think Mary does it to be streamlined,’ grinned Becks. ‘Less water resistance.’
So, Lily went home.
Home was a 1930s art deco mansion in deepest Essex, with both an indoor and an outside pool. Leo had fallen in love with the place when they had seen it up for sale. He liked the fact that Si’s place – equally palatial – was just up the road. Lily had been pregnant at the time with Oli, and Saz had been a bumptious two-year-old, whining with boredom as they house-hunted. This was the thirteenth house they’d viewed, and Leo had said ‘we’ll take it’ without hesitation, and promptly renamed it The Fort.
‘How about The White Elephant?’ Lily had joked with a tinge of acid in her voice, because it was huge, it was white, it was the
house they’d looked at, and wasn’t that meant to be unlucky?
Besides, she was throwing up all day every day –
sickness, what a laugh – and she was worried that she was going to heave all over the estate agent’s suit if they didn’t get a move on.
After they moved in, Leo saw to the installation of a new security system to turn The Fort into a modern-day fortress. Leo owned, ran and understood the security biz and had installed a security system so watertight that if a mouse so much as farted in the grounds, he’d know about it. It was a double system: if you cut the phone lines, he proudly told her, it would still function. It had everything – sensors both
inside the house and out, a secure entry system, and Leo added a high wall around the perimeter of the grounds. It was, truly, a fortress.
Lily learned to love The Fort too. She furnished it lavishly. They had a cleaner in twice a week, the man came and attended to the pools, and the gardener called on Thursdays to keep the grounds in pristine condition. It was only later,
later, when the girls were in primary school and Lily had begun to suspect that Leo was indulging in a little extramarital lechery that she started to think that her ‘white elephant’ crack had been closer to the mark than either of them could have known at the time. Grandly appointed and heavily secured though The Fort was, Lily came to believe that they were not really owning the house,
Or her, anyway. She felt trapped here – trapped, and unloved.
Oh, Leo had been fair about it. He’d put the deeds to The Fort in both their names, and she appreciated that. But increasingly she felt like a bird in a gilded cage. Leo was free to fuck around all he wanted – she had only recently become certain of the fact that Leo was playing around with Adrienne, wife of the firm’s accountant Matt Thomson – but
exactly, did that leave her?
She sighed deeply as she steered her Porsche 911 through the remotely operated electronic gates. She drove up the winding approach and there was The Fort. Lily looked ahead at the well-lit courtyard in front of the huge house and felt ridiculously proud of the place. All her friends were envious that she lived here.
Yeah, but then there’s a downside,
She and Leo had been married a
time. Leo had started out a small-time crook, twocking motors, creating mayhem
on the football terraces and running errands for the local crims all around Essex and the city. He had been her first real lover.
But not her first real love,
she admitted to herself.
That prize had gone to Nick O’Rourke. Leo’s closest friend. She had been hotly, obsessively in love with Nick as only a very young girl can be. Then Nick had turned his back on her. She had pleaded with him,
What’s wrong? What did I do?
He had been cold as ice. ‘It’s over,’ he said.
That had hurt so much, pierced her to the heart.
But then Leo King had kicked in the door of her quiet little world, collecting her in his souped-up car from the school gates, impressing Lily no end and making all her gawky little school friends nearly shit themselves with envy.
Back then, Leo had seemed so grown-up, so exotic. He was a bad boy and–like Nick–exuded a potent, violent charisma. There was Greek way back in Leo’s family somewhere, and that came out in his dark, bulky good looks. Leo was charming and brutal in equal measures, always with cash to spare and attitude by the bucketful, and Lily’s strictly boring, law-abiding parents–her dad a postman, her mother a cleaner–had clamped down on the budding relationship almost immediately.
But not soon enough.
Decimated by Nick’s rejection of her, Lily had sought solace in the arms of Leo. And Leo had wasted no time in popping Lily’s cherry and giving her a little something to remember him by. After that, Leo–being young and stupid, just as Lily was even younger and even stupider–had proposed. Lily’s parents had softened towards him after that. There had been a white wedding–well,
anyway. Lily had forfeited the
right to wear white on the day she let Leo King deflower her in the back of his hot-rod car, as her sour-faced mother never tired of reminding her.
Nine months later, after twenty-four hours of agonizing labour, a little bundle of joy arrived and was christened Sarah. Three years after
by which time Leo was making a big name for himself in criminal circles and they were living the life of Riley, another daughter turned up. Olivia. Oli.
Lily half smiled as she thought of her two precious girls. Yeah, there were downsides–being married to the-ego-has-landed Leo King was one, who by the way farted like a fibre-fuelled wart hog in bed, emitting smells that could almost lead a person to think that a rat had crawled up his hairy great arse and died there–but hey, here was an upside.
Her two lovely girls. Sarah–or Saz as she was known to everyone–getting very grown up at just nine years old, and Oli who was just six. Saz was a stately little girl, prettily blonde and dainty, very much daddy’s princess. Oli was the tomboy, the wild one, dark-haired like her dad and always faintly dishevelled. Lily adored them both, and so did Leo. He’d do anything for his girls.
Yeah–anything except give up chasing skirt,
Lily parked the car, turned off the engine and got out. The sensor came on above the front porch, further illuminating the drive where she stood in cold, bluish light.
Ain’t it funny?
Crooks always expect other people to be crooked too.
There were lights blazing out from the upstairs windows, a few left on downstairs too.
‘Hey Leo!’ she called out when she stepped into the hall.
Fallen asleep again with the telly on,
thought Lily irritably.
He’d be laid out on the bed in his underpants, mouth open, snoring:
a pretty sight. She sighed and dumped her case on the hall floor. She put her handbag on the consul table under the big Venetian mirror. Her reflection stared back at her. It gave her a bit of a turn, looking at herself caught unawares. She saw not the happy girl she’d once been, but a woman weighed down by troubles. Yes, she was blonde and she looked good. Slender, dressed in designer clothes and wearing foot-fetish shoes, buffed to bronze with fake tan, sporting long acrylic nails and a lot of expensive make-up. But her face said it all. An unhappy woman stood there, her mouth turned down and her eyes, brown with tigerish flecks of gold, lacking any spark of life.
Lily looked behind her reflection at the vast hall, at the chandelier she’d sourced so carefully, the cream marble on the floor, the watered silk Dupioni drapes that had cost a bloody fortune, and she thought:
Hey, guess what? It’s true. Money doesn’t buy you happiness.
Lily moved away from the mirror, not liking what she saw. She felt a huge sense of emptiness eating at her guts, a sense of complete futility. Tonight she didn’t even have the comfort of Saz and Oli to relieve it. They were staying over nearby at Si and Maeve’s for the week. If Lily was away, then that was just the way it had to be–Leo King didn’t babysit kids, even if the kids were his own. That was women’s work, not men’s.
‘Leo!’ she called again. She couldn’t hear the telly going in their huge lounge, or up there in the master suite. Maybe he was in the games room. He wouldn’t be in the heated indoor pool: Leo was a morning swimmer.
No, it was late. He would be upstairs, asleep. Nice and
peaceful, the bastard. Lily gritted her teeth and thought again about the things she’d found over the last few months. The receipts for jewellery. A gold bracelet from Tiffany, a Patek Philippe ladies’ watch that
had never received. Expensive bouquets of flowers that she’d never seen hide nor hair of. And a bill from a classy restaurant–
the sort of place he’d take his hoodlum mates to.
She’d phoned the number on the bill, saying she’d been there with Leo King on that date, and she thought she’d left her scarf behind. Had it been handed in? They told her no, but it was the manager’s day off, they’d check with him tomorrow–and she’d be coming in as usual with Mr King, wouldn’t she, next week? If the scarf was found, they’d put it aside for her.
‘Thanks,’ said Lily. She’d hung up and checked the calendar. Leo had last been to the restaurant on Wednesday lunchtime.
The following Wednesday, she drove there and sat outside in her car and waited. And there he was, walking into the restaurant–with Adrienne Thomson, wife of the company accountant.
Leo was taking the mickey, making her look a bloody fool. And now she’d had enough. Now the games were going to
She was going to lay it out for him, spell it out plain: either he stopped, or she was walking away, and she was taking the girls with her and he was going to pay, pay and pay again for making her look like such a total
Grimly, Lily started up the stairs.
All right, marriage to Leo had for her always been a compromise. But she had worked at it, made a life, a family, a home. But this was the final straw for her.
Lily had never been the confrontational type. She had always felt she’d struck lucky, marrying a bloke who could
keep her in style. She lived well. Lunches with the girls. Spa breaks. Holidays in Marbella and Barbados. The works.
She’d grown up poor, with parents who’d been forced to penny-pinch to get by. She knew it had scarred her. This life–
life–was so different. Her mum could never quite believe it when she called–and being Mum she was always quick with the snide remarks, the ‘getting above yourself’ lectures, all that sour inverted-snobbery stuff. What did she want, the miserable bitch? That her daughter should have to scrape along through life, cleaning other people’s lavvies like her?
‘Pride comes before a fall,’ Mum would sniff, glaring disdainfully about at her daughter’s opulent lifestyle. ‘Salt of the earth, the working class, don’t you forget that, my girl.’
Lily ignored her. She knew that she, Lily, had never changed, that she never had and never would put on airs and graces. She was still herself, still true to her roots–she was still quiet, awestruck Lily Granger, who had been painfully dumped by Nick O’Rourke and then been amazed that his pal Leo King fancied
and not any of the other, more exuberant girls in her circle. She was the same Lily Granger who had become Lily King, the biddable, reserved and faithful wife of Leo King.