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Authors: Mark Billingham

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BOOK: Rush of Blood
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‘We’re on holiday,’ he says.

Angie slides her glass across and says, ‘I’m not arguing.’

‘So, who fancies going on somewhere afterwards?’ Ed asks. ‘There’s a fantastic little bar a bit further up towards the beach.’

Dave looks at Marina and says, ‘I’m up for it if you are.’

‘I’m not sure,’ Barry says.

‘Why don’t we just play it by ear?’ Sue says.

‘Suit yourself.’ Ed nods towards the corner, where the guitarist is taking his seat again and tuning up his guitar. ‘There’s
a proper band on. Dancing if you fancy it.’ He bites down on his lower lip as he shows off a few moves in his seat. While
Angie and Dave are laughing, Ed looks across at Sue and his eyes narrow. He says, ‘Some people just don’t know how to enjoy
themselves.’

From:
Marina Green [mailto:
[email protected]
]

Sent:
18 May 20:36:42 BST

To:
Angela Finnegan

Cc:
Susan Dunning, Ed Dunning

Subject:
Re: Dinner!!!

On May 16, at 17:31, Angela Finnegan <
[email protected]
> wrote:

<<
So, me and Barry would love it if the four of you could come to dinner on Saturday, June 4th
>>

Angie,

What a brilliant idea, and thanks so much for getting this organised. Dave and I will be there with bells on. Not sure the
bikinis are a very good idea though (nice try, Ed!) Still trying to shift a few pounds after all those fries and crab cakes.
Might have to make an exception for your bread and butter pud though. Sounds delicious.

Can’t wait to see everyone.

See you soon and let me know what you want us to bring.

Love and snogs,

Marina XXX

FIVE

On Saturday mornings, Dave drove them across to Brixton. He would drop her off at the little theatre tucked away behind the
town hall, then park the car. He would pick up fresh fruit and veg on Acre Lane, read the papers over coffee in a bar on Atlantic
Road, then be back in time to pick her up when her class had finished. They would walk back to Brixton market together and
mooch around for a bit if the weather was nice. Once in a while, they might buy cans of Red Stripe and takeaway jerk chicken
from one of the market stalls, but more often than not they would have lunch in a little pizza place in one of the arches.

That was what they did on a Saturday morning. What they had done for the best part of a year, since Marina had started the
course. Both of them liked the routine.

In the small dressing room they all shared, Marina took her time changing out of her tracksuit bottoms and trainers. She said
goodbye to some of her classmates who were heading off for a drink together. They didn’t ask her to join them because they
knew she had other plans, same as always. She said she’d see them next week. As it happened, she was hoping to grab a few
minutes alone with Philip, their
acting teacher, before Dave came to collect her, so she was happy to let the others drift away.

She leaned in close to the mirror, wondering why nobody ever did anything about the fact that two of the light bulbs around
it had gone. She teased out a handful of hair and held it to the light. It was definitely time to get the tips dyed again.

‘You going to stick with red?’

Marina saw Trish, one of her fellow students, move up behind her and lean down so that she could share the mirror.

‘Not sure.’

‘The red looks great,’ Trish said. ‘But you could always try something else. Purple, maybe?’

‘What about blonde?’

‘That would look amazing,’ Trish said. ‘You know, with your colouring and everything. Really original.’ She ran fingers through
her own hair, then said that she needed to run. She kissed Marina on the cheek and left.

Marina continued staring at herself. She wasn’t altogether sure about the idea and was even less convinced that Trish gave
a stuff about whether her hair looked any good or not. They had done quite a few improvisations together in recent weeks and
Marina was starting to think Trish was hogging things a bit on stage. That she was trying too hard to draw attention to herself,
which was absolutely not what it was supposed to be about.

She had toyed with saying something to Philip, then thought better of it. She did not want to seem whiney or competitive and
besides, he would have seen exactly what was going on.

Actually, blonde
might
be an interesting idea, she decided. Something different. She wondered if she could get an appointment for that afternoon,
have it done in time for the big reunion dinner in the evening. She rooted in her bag for her mobile, flipped it open, then
tossed it back in again. Even if the hairdresser could fit her in, a style and colour would cost the best part of a hundred
pounds and that wasn’t fair, not when she and Dave were supposed to be saving up.

Looking to get something better than two bedrooms in Forest Hill.

Dave would tell her to go ahead and get it done, she knew that. He would tell her that it didn’t matter. He would say, ‘Actresses
are supposed to get noticed, aren’t they, Maz?’ He would squeeze her hand and say, ‘Anything that makes you stand out is good,
isn’t it?’

In the mirror she saw herself smile, thinking about him. About
his
smile, and his voice; the faintest trace of a stammer when he was nervous or excited. Perhaps she would mention the hair
thing casually, when they were walking to the market.

‘It might be fun for tonight, that’s all, but I know it’s ridiculously expensive …’

See what he thought.

Thinking about the dinner, she realised that they hadn’t yet talked about what they were going to wear. A lot would obviously
depend on how much of an effort everybody else was going to make and there would be no way of knowing that until they all
turned up. She guessed that Angie would dress up a bit. That she would badger Barry into doing the same. Ed wouldn’t need
much encouragement to wear something flash, while Sue was one of those people who put a lot of effort into looking like she’d
made no effort whatsoever. It was a tricky one, all things considered, but she and Dave usually worked this sort of thing
out between them.

Well, Dave asked and she told him.

Another smile, before she picked up her bag and turned off the light.

In the small auditorium, Philip was leaning against the stage talking to Trish, which annoyed Marina because hadn’t Trish
told her that she was leaving? She’d suggested as much, anyway, when clearly she had just been waiting for the right moment
to get Philip on his own.

Trish raised a finger. Only be a minute. Marina smiled and raised her hands, like it didn’t matter.

She walked across to the window and, once it was clear that she could not hear what Trish and Philip were talking about, she
thought about the best way of putting things, when she got her turn. They were
working towards an end-of-term show, something that Philip had been piecing together through their weekly improvisations.
Now, it was only six weeks away. There probably weren’t even going to be any ‘leads’, not as such, and it was only a couple
of lunchtime performances for friends and family, but still you never knew who might be sitting out there and it couldn’t
hurt to give yourself the best chance to shine, could it?

‘You should push yourself forward a bit more,’ Dave had said. Was
always
saying. ‘It’s not being pushy, not when you know you’re the best.’

I just wanted to make sure I was heading along the right lines. I just thought I’d ask if there was anything else you were
looking for. Anything I’m doing wrong

She turned when she recognised the rhythms of a conversation being wound up, and moved slowly towards the stage. She nodded
to Trish as they passed one another. Philip was putting his notes into a satchel.

He looked up and shook his head. ‘I’m so sorry, Marina, but now I’m
really
late.’ He slung the satchel over his shoulder. ‘Can this wait until next week?’

She nodded quickly and said, ‘Yes, of course.’

‘Sure?’

‘Absolutely. It’s not a big deal.’

‘Great, bless you.’ He moved past her then turned, walking backwards towards the doors. ‘Listen, good stuff today, all right?’

‘Really?’ God, this was exactly what she needed to hear. ‘Is there anything I can do to improve—?’

But Philip was already saying ‘next week’ and pushing out through the doors.

Marina stood there and listened to the squeak of his footsteps as he walked away, towards the front entrance of the theatre.
After a few minutes she could hear voices in the foyer. There was some kind of dance and fitness group for the over-fifties
that took over the space fifteen minutes after the acting class finished.

She looked at her watch.

She walked back to the dressing room, where the first of the middle-aged dancers had already begun to change. One of them
asked her if she was all right.

She pulled a chair close to the mirror and took out her make-up.

By now, Dave would almost certainly be waiting for her outside, but she did not want him to see that she had been crying.

Dave Cullen kept trying, but he had begun to doubt that he would ever learn to enjoy espresso. It was way too strong for him
and it was only two mouthfuls, for heaven’s sake, but he persevered because he understood that those who drank it were far
more sophisticated than those who didn’t. More grown-up. His friend Kevin always ordered one after lunch at the Italian sandwich
bar below their office, and Dave envied the casual way he slurped at it and moaned in pleasure. The slightly smug look on
his face as he savoured the hit, just like he was a proper Italian or something. Maybe Kevin was only pretending to like it
too, but if he was, he made a damn good job of it.

‘This is
nice
,’ Kevin would say. Something like that. ‘
Really
hitting the spot.’

Dave pushed the stupid little cup to one side, went back to the counter and ordered a latte with extra vanilla syrup. Over
the months he had come to know the guy who was serving pretty well. His name was Devon, or it might have been Deron.

‘Looks nice out there today.’

‘It’s great,’ Dave said. It was certainly one of the warmest days of the year so far. Dave was wearing the cargo shorts he
had last worn in Florida, a T-shirt with the name of a band he’d seen once on
Jools Holland
.

‘What you got on this evening, anything exciting?’

‘Just dinner with some friends,’ Dave said. ‘Well, not friends, people we met on holiday.’ He put extra sugar in his coffee.
‘Might be good fun, might be bloody awful.’

Devon or Deron laughed. ‘You got to approach these things with the right attitude,’ he said. ‘All about the attitude.’

Dave carried his coffee across to his table and continued trawling through the Saturday
Guardian
.

If he were being honest, he felt much the same about the posh papers as he did about the coffee. He checked results in the
sports pages and looked at the TV and film stuff, and he would read anything gadget- or computer-related – obviously – but
he just glanced at what was in the rest of it. He skipped anything that looked like news or comment. Life was just too short
to plough through it all. He might occasionally catch the evening news on TV, but mostly he picked up what was going on in
the world from discarded copies of the
Standard
or
Metro
on the train. Enough to hold his own with Kevin, or anybody else if it came to it.

He had certainly been the smartest one of that Sarasota group. Or he’d appeared to be at any rate, which was as good as. Not
that he’d needed to show off or anything, it had just been pretty obvious. He couldn’t
stand
people who showed off.

Fitting in was always the most important thing.

He drew out the review section from the main body of the paper and slipped it into his shoulder bag. He always kept it for
Marina. She liked to look through the book and theatre reviews, see if there was anything she might like to read or a play
she fancied. If she did pick something out, he was usually happy enough to tag along, but it was very hit and miss. Stuff
in the West End was stupidly expensive, so they tended to go for the fringe end of things, upstairs in pubs, and to be honest
a lot of it was rubbish. Last thing they went to see was just some woman in a floaty nightdress droning on about being raped.
I mean, he understood it was a serious subject and all that, but he’d still spent the last twenty minutes asleep, and Marina
had had a real go at him in the pub afterwards.

He wasn’t sure why she carried on going to these things. He knew very well that all she did was sit there wishing it was her.
Thinking she could make a better job of it.

The truth was he didn’t know whether Marina was any sort of a decent actress or not. He always said the right thing of course,
but he’d
never really seen her in anything, only when he was testing her on lines for her lessons or whatever. Same thing went for
the writing, those short stories she’d given him to read.

He had no idea.

Problem was, he didn’t read enough to compare it with anything, not enough ‘stories’ anyway, because he only really ever bothered
with non-fiction. He picked up the odd graphic novel occasionally, but even then he would have been happier with a few less
words. Again, not enough hours in the day. He’d still managed to join in when everyone had been talking about what they were
reading on holiday, though he’d mostly thrown in the odd comment about downloading books off the internet, which Ed had not
been very happy about for some reason. Mind you, Ed was the sort of bloke who disagreed with what you were saying just for
the sake of it.

Ed was probably the one Dave was least looking forward to seeing.

It would be good to see Sue and Angie again, though.

They were nice.

Barry was a bit of a black hole, but harmless enough …

He spooned out the last of the froth from his mug and wondered what
they
all thought about
him
. He thought through the time they had spent together, ran through as many of the conversations as he could remember. He felt
pretty sure that they would all think he was OK. Even Ed.

He’d certainly worked hard enough.

Dave checked his watch. It was time to head across to collect Marina. He picked up his bag and, on the way to the door, he
placed his empty mug and cup back on the counter.

He said, ‘Laters,’ and Devon or Deron said, ‘Yeah.’

BOOK: Rush of Blood
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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