Odds and Ends
B Anders (Author)
The Rabbit Hole
He is beautiful. Kneeing with his head hanging submissively low, the body slave hands her a drink with trembling hands. Such innocence, she thinks with a quiet smile as she reaches for the chilled martini glass and while she sips it, Paula Irving contemplates the visual beauty of his form through eyes narrowed to a slit.
She can see that the boy is fresh; the skin on his smooth, creamy body is perfect and unmarked. As expected, Andre has chosen to seal his face in a full face leather mask. A little trick to highlight her new pet’s ropey muscular torso that flowed down washboard abs to end at narrow hips girdled in leather loincloth, and strong lean thighs. Paula silently admires the time and effort Andre must have expended to discipline a thing of crude, shambling flesh that the boy must once have been, and mould it through the oblivion of self into this object of acute beauty and desire. An object clearly intended to catch her eye.
As she slowly exhales the acrid smoke of the lit cigarette still dangling from her fingers, Paula is keenly aware of Andre waiting expectantly in the shadows for a sign of interest from her, a sign that would perhaps lead to an invitation to play. Andre is tall with a lean, muscular frame that welded itself perfectly to the leather bra and the heavy metal studded, ankle length gladiator skirt, which she often wore. Amazon in leather, Paula hisses under her breathe as she catches and holds the black, obsidian eyes of the strikingly attractive woman for a moment, before breaking off to slowly take in the close cropped head and the gaunt aesthetic features that seem to favour both saints and sinners alike.
Paula knows the dungeon mistress has her fair share of admirers among the clientele, yet it was common knowledge within the club that nothing would please Andre more than to bring her working relationship with Paula Irving one step closer towards a physical one.
She is the perfect predator. Paula laughs to herself within the bubbles of her hazy thoughts.
Looking at me with such hungry eyes, she wants to make a meal of me. She thinks me the perfect prey, tender, lost, and trapped within the knots of my own tangled thoughts. She thinks she can smell weakness off my skin like the stink of cannabis sweat.
Dismissing the slave with an inpatient wave of her hand, Paula walks away drink in hand without a backward glance. She feels the edge of her high rubbed raw with rage at the other woman’s presumptions. Paula is in no mood to indulge the fantasies of her dungeon mistress, not now, not ever. Andre will have to find her own distractions among her fawning minions; Paula has other birds to kill and a club to run.
Why then does she feel like she is a thousand miles away from everything that matters?
Closing her eyes, she shakes her head slowly, hoping to clear it. She is light headed and sick to her stomach from whatever she is smoking and the vodka in her drink, and although she does not want to admit it, she perceives this physical failing as a flaw within herself and it worries her.
I am dreaming again. I am Alice in fucking Wonderland and I am dreaming I am having a bloody martini with the girls; Madam Mad Hatter, Miss Dormouse, and the Mistress March Hare. Only we’ll taken a wrong turn at Piccadilly and fallen through a rabbit hole into a bondage club somewhere beneath Soho. When I wake, I will find myself alone in bed, safe at home with Mr Ted, and everything will all seem like nothing but a big, fat, stupid dream.
Isn’t that right, Mr Ted?
She found it amazing that the mere thought of his name could bring a stupid smile to her face. She hasn’t thought about that big, overstuffed bear in years, and she wonders whatever happened to him. Her Dad brought him home one day as a surprise and they christened him, Mr Ted, over a fish finger tea. That big, old bear was supposed to keep the monsters away at night, but Paula knows she is no longer 6 years old. She knows she can no longer wake from the walking nightmare her life has become.
She has nowhere else to go, and no one left to turn to. She’s seen them all die like her Dad, or walk out on her like her mother. As a child, she used to dream about how it could be like if Dad never came back to them in a box, never got himself killed on the Job.
A life where they all lived happily ever after, like in one of them fairy tales he was always reading to her, not the reality where her mother hadn’t wanted to see or speak to her for years on end after the funeral. Too busy making happy with the bottle, the old cow was and then, one day out of the fucking blue there’s a card in the mail addressed to her. It’s a wedding invitation. Sarah Irving is marrying John Hager. Please RSVP to your own mother’s wedding. Paula smiles bitterly to herself at the last thought and then she hears that voice she knows so well call out her name, always Irving never Paula. Hager
Paula Irving turns and spots Luc Hager amongst the restless mob of bodies straining against each other in the half-light and smiles when their eyes meet. Hager is beautiful as always; tall, dark, with light brown eyes, and long straight hair framing a sensual face, whereas Irving is slight, fair, blond and blue eyed, the daughter of her Dad’s Slavic roots.
A fallen angle, Paula muses as she pauses to take a long, deep drag of hallucinogenic smoke into her weary lungs. One of my tribe, lost to paradise, but what of it. Paradise is all the poorer without us.
Irving slows her steps, but does not stop; instead, she turns and skilfully navigates her way through a maze of interconnecting doors. The club is a labyrinth of long, dark corridors that lead to nowhere like a complex branching puzzle, festered with doors that open onto dead ends and concrete walls, or onto other winding paths that twist and turn like snakes in heat. Like the Minotaur, Paula stalks this prison, but it is Irving that seeks to lure Hager into the private upper deck that sits in the heart of the complex, far from the maddening crowd that surrounds and threatens momentarily to overwhelm them.
Feeling strangely flustered by this unexpected meeting, Irving walks into the sanctuary of Paula’s personal playroom, and starts busying herself with work she’s pushed aside for too long. She needs to make a few calls to her suppliers. There’s stock to order, deliveries to confirm, and bills to discuss.
Inexplicably, she finds herself shivering in the cold, blue light of the room. An uncanny feeling of déjà vu, of familiarity mixed with dread.
The playroom is dead space, bereft of furniture and covered ceiling to floor, wall to wall with a multitude of virtual windows; living wallpaper that continuously stream a silent reel of filth and human degradation. Barbara Carter, Paula’s erstwhile employer, was well known in certain circles for having an eclectic taste in pornography that rivalled only her exquisite taste in women.
It was something that Irving never spoke about. It was part of Paula’s world like the drugs, the drink, and the delicious temptation of beautiful boys. She did not think that Hager needed to know that today’s special matinee, featured young girls penetrated in every orifice by balding, pot-bellied men covered with prison tats or that Barbara had the reel specially commissioned. It was an anniversary gift to mark Paula’s first successful year with the Company, an intimate reminder to Paula Irving that Barbara Carter affectionately refers to her in private as being as delicious and forbidden as jailbait.
Pulling deeply on her cigarette to steady her jittery nerves, Irving reflects on Hager’s possible motives in coming unannounced. It cannot be good, it’s never good. She thinks as she shivers again, unable to shake off that compelling sense of being watched from across a room she knows is empty.
Turning suddenly, her eyes trail to the furthest corner where 3 dishevelled women stand and stare with mocking smiles through the veil of smoke like a dirty triptych of harpies. Startled, she drops her half finished cigarette onto the floor with a jerk, but there is nothing there across the room from her except the echo of her muted cry.
For a moment, she is terrified that if she closes her eyes, she can see their images seared into the darkness, their heads wreathed with serpents, their mouths dripped with blood. Then she tastes the sharp metallic tang of blood from where she bit herself on her lip in her panic and remembers that she is alive. She comforts herself with the thought that the living have nothing to fear from the dead, the dead are insubstantial, all smoke, and mirrors. The dead were what she inhaled into her lungs or snorted up her nose when the mood struck her. They were impotent and had no power over the living.
She is back on the mobile again when she hears the soft click of the door as it quietly opens behind her. She looks back and Hager is standing there by the entrance watching, forever watching, with a curiously soft expression on her face.
Hager is dressed in an expensive, fitted wool pantsuit in midnight blue paired with a black cashmere turtleneck. It is deeply conservative, but at the same time so très chic. It also suits her better than the baggy sweats Irving has seen her in almost every morning, rain or shine, for the past 2 years they have run together in the park.
Why are you here? What do you want from me? Paula asks silently. The anguish in her thoughts amplified and reflected back in the eyes of the girls splashed across the walls; girls trapped forever in a hardcore pornographic film that plays out endlessly in the solitude of her private playroom. Irving wonders how much Hager knows about anything, about the Job, the drugs, the lies. Would Hager even care? She doesn’t know and somehow that stings. There is something about Hager that makes Paula nervous.
Irving opens her mouth to compliment Hager on her new and improved dress sense, but she doesn’t, instead she finds herself slowly drinking in the other woman’s clean, lean lines that end in a pair of impossibly long legs sheathed in fuck-me heels. The hunger surprises Irving almost as much as it does Hager. Luc is staring at her now and Irving feels herself warming to the scrutiny of the other woman’s steady, unblinking gaze.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Irving stammers, as she clutches the handset harder in her hand, the whites of her knuckles showing. She is following the lines of the encounter script, her eyes carefully shadowing the movement of the close circuit security camera as it suddenly locks onto Hager’s position before pausing to continue its slow sweep across the quiet room.
She is beautiful. Standing alone in this strange disembodied landscape, her body covered in a fine sheen of sweat. So fragile, Luc Hager thinks as she drinks in the terrifying vision of a heartbreaking innocence lost in translation within the static of an electron-charged hell. Only there was nothing fragile or innocent about Paula Irving.
Hager had no illusions about what Irving was. Her drinking, her drugs, and her lies were as legendary as her disregard for procedure that bordered on a death wish. Hager wonders why Irving’s inconsistencies have never disturbed her like it did the boys in blue, but then few things did. Like Irving, Hager has long learned to live and breathe like a mullet in a sea of muted greys.
She is not surprised then when she feels those familiar arms wind themselves around her waist, pulling her close. She looks into those smiling blue eyes, so strangely full of life and as they kiss, she feels Paula’s mouth open ever so slightly, and Luc wonders if she is dreaming. Irving has never done that before.
Hager collects herself for a moment and steps forward pushing Irving hard up against the wall; they are now standing inappropriately close in a tight, intimate embrace, their faces, and bodies merging in the half-light rendering them indistinct from the prying electronic eye that continuously scans the room. Hager is back in the game again, and Irving melts with quiet relief into her lean, strong body. Hager can feel Irving’s hard erect nipples straining through the silk of her dress.
“Hi, I’m Hager,” Luc drawls in a low husky voice as she moves to fit their bodies closer together, her hand quickly patting down Irving for hidden wires, before coming to rest with a lingering carcass on the smaller woman’s butt.
“Nice to meet you, Hager,” Irving replies with a frown as she reaches back to take the offending hand into hers. Luc’s hand is warm almost inviting, but Irving is unprepared to find herself caught – her arm bent painfully behind – in their strong fierce grip. She looks up surprised into that beautiful face and her frown widens nervously into a grin. If Luc notices Irving’s discomfort, she does not let on, instead she flashes Irving a slow brilliant smile, and Irving feels her insides slowly melting in the soft brown caramel of those eyes.
They stand for a long while locked together like a Chinese puzzle before Irving becomes painfully aware of her increasingly laboured breathing as Luc starts to softly kiss and caress her face.
“You’re so perfect,” Luc whispers as lips brush ear and Irving feels the touch of gentle insistent fingers as they trace their way down her neck to the top of her breast.
“Look, do you want something, Hager!” Irving snaps, eager to break Luc’s attention on her. Hager drops her hand and looks away for a moment shamefaced, suddenly embarrassed like a child caught with her hand in the candy jar. She wants nothing more than to forget that she is on the Job and this is another meaningless scripted encounter with Irving. She is sick of having to deny what she knows the two of them so sorely and desperately want and need.
“I’m sorry,” Hager murmurs as she continues to softly kiss and nuzzle the now unresponsive blond. “You didn’t show this morning. I was worried.”
“You know better than to come here. Bloody Christ, you’re going to get us all killed. I couldn’t make it this morning. Jonathan wanted a meet. I’m trying to hold him down. He wants out,” Irving’s speech is factual almost cold as she sensually runs her hands slowly over Hager’s back, perversely aware of the effect her actions have on the taller woman’s libido.
Hager moans softly into Irving’s ear. “Bitch, the boys from Special Branch picked Jonathan Moor up 3 hours ago for a chat and a spot of tea. Word is your man’s willing to deal. He’ll tell them everything they want to know and more about Barbara Carter and what she does with those beautiful male tarts of hers after she’s done with them. The Governor’s made a decision. It’s too dangerous for you to continue. It’s over; I’m pulling you out tonight.”
“Like bloody Hell you are. Look, Jonathan isn’t everything. You know I have other sources I need to protect. I spent 2 fucking years setting this up. Don’t botch it for…”
Irving suddenly feels Hager’s hands crawling all over her, in all the wrong places. Irving is charmed. It’s been too long a while since she’s locked horns with someone who believes she can be physically intimidated and humiliated. It is Irving’s time to smile as she leans forward to stick the tip of her long, wet tongue into Hager’s ear.
The trick unsettles Hager sufficiently for Irving to break free of her hold, but not completely. Irving feels the iron grip on her wrist harden as Hager jerks her back roughly, but Hager does not realise that Irving does not intend to run. Irving pushes her face up close to Hager, their lips almost touching and reminds the taller woman that, “I am Paula Irving, that’s Detective Inspector Paula Irving to you, Detective Sergeant and don’t you forget that,” before she kisses her (Luc) full on her lips. Luc takes Paula into her mouth completely without a complaint and Paula returns the favour as Luc kisses her back, running her tongue deep into hers (Paula’s), greedy for more.
“Take off your dress; I don’t want to rip it,” the order is given almost shyly and Paula complies silently her body teased beyond belief by exhaustion, loss, and desire.
“You have such a beautiful body,” Luc purrs as she runs her hands slowly across Paula’s taut stomach muscles, moving upwards to cup her small firm breasts. “I never get tired of looking at you, but you already know that, don’t you, you little slut. You know that bitch Barbara keeps you close, because she gets a hard-on watching you strut around half-naked all day.”
Paula arcs her back and whimpers in pleasure as Luc gently takes each erect nipple and rolls it between thumb and forefinger before moving to suck and lick them in her hot, hungry mouth like hard candies. The need in her soft brown eyes mirrored and reflected back in shades of iridescent blue. They have both gone without for so long and Luc does not intend to be gentle.
Luc feels Paula’s lithe body desperately push up against hers, unsuccessfully trying to mount and hump the taller woman’s thigh.
“Down, Baby, I don’t want you to come yet. I want to feel you first.” Luc murmurs as she firmly presses Paula down back against the wall, her fingers taking a long torturous route through soft, smooth skin as they travel downwards to the point between her lover’s legs. “I like that you’re wet for me.”
“Please,” Paula hisses between clenched teeth as Luc’s fingers finally slide their way into her slick wet folds and find their mark.
“Please what, Baby?” Luc teases with a musical trill in a voice so breathlessly low it sounds almost like an animal’s growl. “You need to tell me what you want.”
“Please,” Paula pleads her eyes unfocused and cloudy from the pain of her need for Luc. “I need you to touch me there.”
“Like this?” Luc asks innocently as she expertly pulls back the hood of Paula’s clit to expose the head and lovingly runs the tip of her fingers over the swollen, sensitised nub, causing a strangled cry to issue from Paula’s lips. She allows Paula to buck wildly against her hand for a while, before drawing it away suddenly without warning, causing Paula’s frenzied cries to turn into sobs and whimpers of disappointment.
“Hush, don’t cry,” Luc tell Paula as she takes her lover’s limp, frustrated body into her arms and gently carries her like a child, moving her legs slowly apart until they are astride her. “I’m packing,” she whispers as she presses her crotch hard into Paula’s wet centre causing the other woman to moan at the contact. “You like that, don’t you.”
Quickly unbuttoning her pants, Luc eases the heavily veined knob out of its confined quarters and openly plays with herself, slowing running her hand wet with Paula’s slick along its thick shaft. “I want to fuck you,” she tells Paula. “I’ve wanted to fuck you for a long time now.”
Paula smiles as she takes Luc into her hands and shyly pumps the base of the dildo into the other woman’s prominently engorged clit, more turned on by the thought of this beautiful woman screwing her than she’s ever been with any man. Luc laughs a low soft sound at Paula’s tentative attempts at pleasuring her and covering the smaller woman’s hands with her own; she carefully presses the bulbous head into Paula’s quivering hole, opening her.
Cradling the trembling woman in her arms, Luc slowly enters Paula impaling the slender blond helplessly onto the thick, slick shaft of her cock. “You’re so beautiful,” Luc coos passionately as she watches Paula passively take inch-by-inch deep into herself – back arched; legs spread unnaturally wide and pushed back exposing the delicate pink of her sex – until with a quiet sigh it is all inside. They stay motionless, a beast with two backs, intimately entwined in each other’s arms, left so emotionally raw by the act of consummation that neither dares move.
Luc’s arms suddenly tighten, moving as if to shield Paula’s exposed body, when the door abruptly flies open with a bang, rudely shattering their fragile intimacy, and Lynn Carter totters in unsteadily, a giant on mosquito legs, with a bottle and two glasses skilfully balanced in her left hand. Lynn is slight, blond, and blue-eyed so uncannily like Paula that in the half-light they might pass for twins. It was her resemblance to Lynn that had attracted Barbara’s attention when she and Paula first met, and which was to prove instrumental later in paving her rapid ascension into Barbara’s private inner circle. There was much waging of tongues that Paula Irving’s serendipity was due to Barbara Carter’s sick fascination with another woman’s more than passing resemblance to her own younger sister.
“Paulie, let’s have a drink to you and me…” Lynn slurs but stops short as her hooded eyes survey the sight before her. “I didn’t know you had company,” she smirks, slowly licking her lips as her eyes hungrily rake in Paula’s spread, naked form pinned helplessly against the wall.
“You should have told me you like girl dick, Paulie. I would have made it very worth your while.”
Lynn is drunk and nasty, and Paula knows she needs to get Luc out fast before things fall apart in the widening gyre. Then Paula hears it, a soft almost inaudible sound of grinding and gnashing teeth, and feels Luc go tense and rigid above her. Luc is subtly shifting, her long, lean torso leaning in to pin Paula firmly against the wall while an arm, now freed of its load, begins to snake slowly backwards. Her mind racing, Paula knows that Luc is reaching for the concealed semiautomatic pistol she always carries strapped securely to the small of her back and Lynn Carter is…
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
The Rabbit Hole
In her mind’s eye, Paula Irving feels the scream choke and die in her throat, as her eyes follow the bullet as it crosses the distance between her and Lynn Carter in slow motion. Watch it move through time and space the split second before it hits its target square centre between the eyes. She hears the bottle crash as it hits the floor hard, followed by the dull thump of Lynn’s body. Paula stares silently, lost in a tortured eternity, as the pale champagne mixes with the splatter of brain matter and bone chards, pooling and spreading across the rough concrete floor like a bitter stain. Who would have thought Lynn to have so much blood in her?
Far away, Luc Hager is speaking.
“You know I won’t have left you… won’t have let her touch you… won’t let anyone touch you, not her, not that sick bastard Jonathan, not even Barbara bleeding Carter…”
Luc’s voice is small, obstinate; sounding like a wounded child filled with resentment at the world, but Paula’s feverish, panic-stricken mind cannot comprehend the meaning or span of the words. She is still wet from their interrupted lovemaking, but Paula instinctively knows that she needs clean this mess up, make it go away. She needs to get back to where Barbara is, and ingrate herself with the older woman. Paula knows that Emma Robinson, Barbara’s left hand, has an understanding of just how close she is to Jonathan. If Jonathan is turning Queen’s evidence with Lynn dead, Paula needs to secure her cover from the likes of Emma as fast as possible.
But, that was for later, right now all Paula wants to do is to get rid of Luc, get Luc out of the Club and as far away from her and Soho as possible. She could already see the Furies rising gleefully from the dead pool before her, heads wreathed with serpents, mouths dripped with blood, and she did not want to be around to greet the coming dread.
‘I don’t much care where —’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat
The Looking Glass
8 Months after Soho
Paula Irving knows she is fucked when she enters the club; the appointment with Jonathan had taken more time than anticipated and some grovelling would now be in order. He had called her personal mobile number in the wee hours of that morning, while she was otherwise preoccupied with some shit Emma Robinson and company had stirred up at the Soho Club, and not being able to reach her, had left a gabbled message about something important that he needed to speak to her urgently about. It was not unusual for Jonathan to call her at strange and ungodly hours; Jonathan was a nocturnal creature like herself, never out of bed before 8pm with a drink in hand and he never turned in before 6am, alone or otherwise.
What jarred Paula was the familiar voice distorted and half-crazed with panic. The Jonathan Moor she knew was a madman, an over-the-hill punk who would sooner spit in the face of danger than allow the fear to poison him. She had seen him taunt skinheads for the sheer hell of it even when they had him on his knees, face down in the mud, beaten and bloodied. Bloody old fool.
It had taken her close to forever to track him down through her connections in the City, before finally catching up with him in an old jazz club off the usual circuit; it was a hole-in-the-wall place in Bromley – dirty, dingy, and forgotten except for the few in the know. That had been 6 hours ago. It was now close to 1 am the next day and she had missed the fucking social event of the year; Barbara Carter’s great, big birthday bash.
Barbara would have expected her to be present if not punctual, at least for last night. It was cocktails and a buffet spread at 8pm sharp, followed by an all night open bar. How difficult was that to remember?
After all, the fact that she is on Barbara’s payroll itself should have made this party super important. Even Emma, Barbara’s next in line, had done nothing, but talked about it endlessly for months, emphasising to all and sundry that everything had to be perfect. Barbara had taken her sister, Lynn’s suicide 8 months before badly, and was now a virtual recluse. Emma had never seen Barbara this disturbed and on some subconscious level, it frightened the younger woman. So what Emma desperately wanted was a special bash with all the trimmings for the boss on her birthday, to show that they all cared about her bereavement and wanted her back to her old self. Soon.
Not that Lynn Carter’s death was unexpected, Lynn had always been unstable, sensitive Barbara called her, but she had been better recently in the months before her death. With Barbara’s encouragement and Paula’s assistance, she had gone back to overseeing the running of the clubs she operated in the City, even going so far as striking up a close friendship with the other woman, which was the envy of Emma. What Barbara Carter didn’t, couldn’t understand was what would have driven her baby sister to shoot up the security console in her favourite club, before pressing the sawed-off 12-gauge to her forehead and pulling the trigger. Emma Robinson had her own ideas of course, but she thought it wiser to keep them to herself.
Well, everything’s perfect now, isn’t it? You’ve missed your employer’s birthday party.
But, even Paula had to grudgingly admit it was not every day that Barbara Carter chose to mark her big five O with a private cocktail bash at one of the exclusive clubs that Paula now ran for her, now that Lynn was gone. Emma had wanted to hold it at one of the posh restaurants near the East End that she operated, those that made the Food section of the London dailies on a clockwork basis with their dim designer interiors and the latest celebrity chefs, but Barbara had said no. She was uncomfortable with all that spit and polish, said it reminded her of Sunday dinners in Newcastle as a child with all its middle class pretensions. Her mad mother taking out the mismatched silver and insisting that they all dressed up for dinner like a proper family, while her step father slept off the grog and her half brothers laughed as they tortured the neighbour’s cat.
Barbara had wanted something small and intimate. Some business associates had complemented her recently on the excellent service they had received at one of the smaller clubs, the one at Whitechapel, The Looking Glass, not the flagship establishment at Camden. Barbara wanted Paula to personally handle it like Lynn would have done. Barbara trusted her to handle it, even said it out loud in front of a bitterly jealous Emma like it was the most normal thing in the world to snub your wunderkind protégé in public.
It was no wonder that Emma went berserk earlier over a perceived slight by one of Paula’s wait staff and trashed the Soho Club. It had taken Andre and a small army of armed muscle hours just to restore order, not to even mention the damage to the premises itself. If Paula didn’t know first hand just how crazy Emma was, she could have sworn that Barbara did it on purpose to bait the other woman.
That makes everything even more perfect doesn’t it? You’re not only missed your employer’s birthday party, her psychotic number 2 is now intent on running you out of business.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Paula snarls under her breath as she pushes her way through the heavy wooden doors in frustration. Whether she wanted to or not, she had a party to attend, and boots to lick, if it came to that. She liked Jonathan. There was something about the old bastard that she found appealing, but once again she had let her emotions cloud her better judgment. One of these days it was all going to turn round and bite her on her arse. She was so fucked, it was almost funny.
Paula Irving picks up from the stares and whispers she attracts as she moves through the crowd that she is inappropriate dressed again. She does not remember if the invitation was for formal, but most of the men are dressed in black tie and the women decked out tastefully in the dark blues and greys of the season’s elegant, minimalist suits. Someone makes a joke and there is a general murmur of casual laughter. She looks around, but does not recognise any of the faces in the milling crowd.
Paula hated parties; hated the endless smiling, the introductions, the fawning; hated the meaningless polite small talk that was as much about shoes and ships and sealing wax, as it was of cabbages and kings. She disliked the interaction that moved back and froth in the room, greasing already swollen egos to bursting as a lubricant for social grooming. Monkeys do it all the time, and to Paula, people were just an evolutionary step below apes. Paula finds it difficult to understand how she could conceivably belong to the same species as the swirling crowd of chattering men and women that ebbed and flowed around her.
Unsurprisingly, scores of attractive, young men litter the small dungeon, four interconnected rooms with polished wooden floors and stark white washed walls, lit up sparingly with bare bulbs. They were human flies drawn to the cloying stench of power and money, which hung oppressively in the air like dry heat. The faces changing as often as the clothes, Paula cannot remember their names, retaining just a lingering memory of the brilliance of an unguarded smile or the despair in a pair of unusually expressive eyes. She only knows they are always young, polite, pretty, and willing. Once upon a time, they may have had names and heads filled with dreams, but now they are nothing more than amusing baubles that Barbara buys and sells for a profit.
One of the young men approaches her, offering to get her a drink and tries to engage her in conversation. She looks at him not understanding what he wants. He is asking if she is alone. She turns away and makes to leave, but he follows not willing to let his beautiful prey escape. Paula looks radiantly wonderful, like a breath of fresh air among a sea of black, in a short floral dress and four-inch killer stiletto heels, her golden sheared mink coat left carelessly open. Her rejection of this unknown admirer attracts more unwanted attention, and soon men besieged her at every side. They keep asking if she is looking for someone, if they can help her, and it is all she can do to keep herself from wanting to lash out at them.
A tall woman with dark hair and eyes, but pale almost white skin, spots her and intervenes, sending the men quickly packing. Her knight in shining armour, but it is not Hager.
She has not seen Luc Hager since that night 8 months ago when everything almost came tumbling down like a house of cards. Paula’s chest constricts momentarily at the thought of the other woman, her pulse suddenly quickening almost in rage. She had missed her morning run with Hager that day because of Jonathan. She had missed something important, because he was always turning chicken shit on her then and now, the arse hole.
Quickly catching herself, Paula notices that the tall pale woman is dressed for the evening in a severely tailored men’s suit – pants, jacket, and waistcoat – but she is a very good-looking girl and the clothes fit the length and breadth of her well. Paula has seen her at the Soho club before; she is one of Emma Robinson’s personal Rottweilers. The one called Elena. The one who likes cutting people’s faces up with a razor for a laugh.
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack.
Paula knew very little about Emma Robinson, other than she was walking trouble. Pain and violence seemed to follow Emma like sunshine after rain. She was a force of nature unto herself that was Emma’s talent, like a hungry black hole nothing could escape contact with her and remain unscathed. Barbara had picked her off the streets as a teenager, a scrawny 13 year old hustler with a dirty face and an uncanny skill with a butterfly knife she swore belonged to her Uncle Freddie. No one disputed that Barbara Carter had an eye for talent, but she was a hard taskmaster and as Emma was often fond of saying – in all their years together, Barbara has never once asked her about her Uncle Freddie; only that she put his knife to good use.
Paula looks closer trying to picture a monster but all she sees is a pale young woman who seems quietly amused at the thought of having saved the boss’s personal piece of fluff from unwanted male attention. Grateful, Paula leans over and kisses her on the cheek, and Elena blushes awkwardly at the intimate contact.
Elena notices despite herself that Paula is not wearing anything under her thin sheer dress, her small firm breasts, hard from the chill of the room, forming obvious stiff peaks in the soft material. Still, Elena has been around long enough to know better than to hanker after someone she can never hope to touch.
Long enough to know there are things in life better left unsaid. Things you know but don’t say anything about even to your closest mates, because they’re too close to home, and those glaring flaws you see might just turn out to be you’re own, or worse. They might be things that go bump in the night and flock back to you, like pigeons coming home to roost.
She’s been on the security shift. She knows where Barbara Carter spends her nights now that Lynn’s gone. Alone in that room, the one she had built in the basement. The room that’s now monitoring all the comings and goings in the clubs, a heart beat at a time through the new intelligent electronic surveillance system. The eye in the sky, they call it, the great big, fucking, one-eyed God.
Elena sweats when she thinks about that small confined space pegged at every angle by steep, vertical metal brackets with overhanging cables of plastic, rubber, and silicone folded and fused into, on to, and over an artillery of black, unmarked boxes. She wonders how Barbara can spend night after night in that sterile room, with the temperature turned down low to accommodate the racks of blinking servers that eat up all the light and air, or more telling why someone of Barbara’s standing would chose to spend their time just sitting and staring at Paula Irving on a telly screen for hours on end.
Paula Irving stoned out of her mind, doing nothing all night but drink martinis and chain smoke those funny cigarettes of hers, those with weed in them, like a fucking zombie. Paula Irving who could pass for Lynn Carter’s twin, and Barbara Carter, Lynn’s sister, sitting in that dark, cold place, alone except for the low, persistent humming that comes from the lifeless, soulless, metallic boxes that surround her.
That was a riddle for the Sphinx, but Elena knows the answer. Emma told her one night while they were on the security shift together. Emma whispered it out to her because she said Elena was special. Elena knows Emma says that to all the girls and boys when she’s hungry for some, probably even said it one time to that bint, Paula Irving, only to have the bitch laugh in her face. Paula Irving was the only one who could do that to Emma and Emma knew she would just have to sit back and take it. Paula Irving belonged to Barbara Carter and Barbara didn’t like other people sniffing round her goods.
Only Elena’s never said it out loud, never repeated it to another living soul. It scares her, like the look Emma sometimes has in her eyes when she’s raw.
This is how you go on, when you can no longer look out at the city lights at night with the wind blowing in your hair, after someone shots you in the face when he’s done finished raping you. This is how you go on when you discover that the man that you love is nothing, but a coward and a whore who sleeps around with your friends, because he cannot come to terms with the fact that you bring home the bacon. You hide yourself in a small dark room and you grind up the scraps from someone else’s stupid fucked up life and snort it up your nose like snow for the bleeding high.
Gently ushered into a private alcove, Paula Irving sees the other two women, the thin, attractive blond in the wheelchair with the piercing blue eyes, and standing behind her, hovering protectively, the other prettier blond who calls out cattily to Paula’s tall companion with a sneer, “See you finally found her.” Paula smiles sweetly at the frowning woman in passing, she always thought Emma Robinson was a bitch, before apologising to Barbara Carter for missing the start of her party.
Barbara graciously tells Paula that she is just glad she (Paula) could make it; she understands from the hostess that there were discrepancies in the billings that Paula needed to resolve urgently with a supplier. Paula nods and smiles calmly as her own baby blues meet and hold the glacial glare of opposing blues penetrating in their intensity. What Barbara Carter could no longer do on her own strength, due to the limitations of her pitiful body, she now did through sheer force of will, echoed and extended through her network of carefully cultivated contacts referred to respectfully in conversation as the Company.
Paula Irving knows better than to trifle with Barbara Carter, there was nothing that Barbara did not have a finger in – drugs, guns, boys – but in the past few weeks she has wandered dangerously onto thin ice. Her sole saving grace being an eerie resemblance to a dead woman that Barbara Carter still cared deeply about, a woman whose killing she concealed. Paula wonders with an inward shiver what sick, twisted deity could have granted her a run of luck that has not only kept her alive far too long, but also allowed her to retain the trust of her unfortunate victim’s sister.
As she slows her breathing, mentally counting down from ten to one, to stop from shaking, Paula notices Elena in the background. Elena telling Emma she had to beat the boys off to get Paula across the room and the blond dryly remarks within Barbara’s earshot that someone should stop indulging the girl and get the girl to start wearing her knickers. Paula ignores the comment and quietly wanders off to a nearby exhibit, a black and white photograph of a young effeminate man engaging in coitus with three darkly muscular dog-headed figures. It is a Jonathan Moor, one of a series of erotic limited prints highly sought after by collectors.
That’s me. Paula thinks, as she watches the mass of moving bodies carefully picking their way in the dark, descending deeper into the bowels of the club. That’s me being screwed stupid by Tom, Dick, and Harry.
Jonathan worked often for Barbara to score, doing what he laughingly referred to as “House Specials,” custom photo jobs done on request for customers. The price of his talent being measured in a few grams of whatever designer drug he was currently stuffing up his nose or when he could get it up, a pound of pretty boy flesh. He was fond of telling Paula he used to be “someone to watch out for,” called himself the last enfant terrible of fine art photography. But, Paula knows that was a long ago before something inside him rotted away to nothing and he started trying to fill the void within with drugs and drink.
Paula remembers being there in his studio, swilling vodka out of a bottle, watching Jonathan shoot the dammed photo. He had called her in the early hours of that morning, stoned out of his mind, asking to meet. What he wanted was an advance to tie him over until his next assignment, insisted that his boys needed some blow to continue, and it was difficult to get the best candy on credit, even for someone like him. He told her she could hold on to the negatives as collateral until he paid her back. Till payday, he said with a wink and smile.
She still had them tucked away like some secret insurance policy in a safe deposit box; her good old Dad had left her in Edinburgh. They were now worth a pretty penny, but Jonathan had never asked her about them again. Most times it was out-of-sight, out-of-mind for him. She knew he did far too much acid and it had burnt away a big chunk of his brain, leaving him with frightening blackouts and large gaps in his short-term memory. But, that was too convenient an explanation for Jonathan and there was nothing about Jonathan that was convenient or simple.
Paula had no illusions about what he was. Jonathan was an arse hole through and through, but she liked him. Yet, she knew that wasn’t true, she wanted to like him. He reminded her in someway of her Dad with his stupid, die-hard gung-ho ways. But, Dad was gone like Hager was gone. Hager hadn’t abandoned her; Hager would never willingly leave her. She had pushed Hager away, pushed her away to keep her safe, ripped Hager out of her heart to keep her away, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Hager kept coming back, kept trying to look for her, speak to her, and that was what got her killed on the Job, like Dad.
Paula knows Emma found out it was Hager that pulled the trigger on Lynn, someone had seen Hager leaving Paula’s playroom and talked. Paula knows it had to be one of her own, the playrooms were private access only, but she didn’t hold it against the snitch. Emma had her own ways of making people open up and it hadn’t helped that Hager’s own cover as a dealer made her a familiar figure to the good time girls who frequent the private party circuits in the City.
Paula’s own alibi was solid; she was found naked and stoned out of her mind in Lynn Carter’s bed when the body was discovered. Emma Robinson had left her alone because of that, perhaps figured it best to let sleeping dogs lie, and so Paula had cheated the Furies.
Luc Hager disappeared one night. She was last seen speaking into her mobile on a street corner just outside a pub in Camden where she had gone to met up with an informant of hers. It was the informant who reported her missing 48 hours later, when all he could get out of her was a busy signal. Says she went out to take a call and never came back.
Paula knows Hager was setup, but she’s in no position to challenge Emma and so life goes on. Acceptable loss was the official Department comment in the report, the same bloody report which praised Irving for having the presence of mind to take the drastic steps necessary to protect her own cover and ensure the safety of her sources. Paula remembers it all vaguely. She remembers ripping the pages up and using them to snort some very good shit up her nose. She doesn’t want to sleep anymore and so she doesn’t.
When Paula sleeps she dreams about Hager. Hager is beautiful as always; tall, dark, with light brown eyes, but it is not the Hager she remembers. It is the Hager calling out to her under a ton of concrete in the foundations of one of the new developments that flank the river, the Hager with a gaping hole where the back of her head should be, head wreathed with serpents, mouth dripped with blood. Paula never knows how the dream ends because she wakes and rushing to the toilet violently throws up the remains of her vodka breakfast into the porcelain throne.
She was wrong about the dead. The dead have power. Paula had cheated the Furies and in return they had take Luc away from her.
It should have been me, it should have been me not her. Paula thinks and suddenly, unexpectedly, she feels the faint trickle of tears down her check. It puzzles her for a moment before she realises she’s crying.
I am real! said Alice, and began to cry.
You won’t make yourself a bit realler by crying, Tweedledee remarked: there’s nothing to cry about.
Paula was 6 again, and sitting down to tea at home with Mr. Ted and her Dad. They were having fish fingers, Dad was excited, he loved fish fingers, and Mr. Ted was pouring. They looked exactly as she remembered them. Mr Ted, that big, old grey bear with the small black eyes and a neat red bow tie, was on her right fussing with the teacups like always, and on her left, smiling with a fish finger in his mouth, was a tired looking man with long dirty blonde hair. He always looked so worn with bloodshot eyes, his crumbled shirt sleeves pushed back beyond his elbows and a week’s worth of stubble on his face. She thinks he’s been arguing with Mum again, and he’s made her cry.
It’s the law of cause and effect, Love. Dad says kindly to her as he helps himself to a lump of sugar. Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction.
Mr. Ted nods sagely in agreement and leaning over, whispers a secret into Paula’s ear. Luc was gone like Dad was gone, because Lynn Carter was dead. The blood debt must be paid, the Furies see to that.
No. It cannot end like this, she tells the bear. It cannot end with Luc dying. I will not let it. I love her.
You are the spinner of this tale, he says with a familiar wink and a smile, cut the thread and let the knots of your life untangle themselves, remember we love you.
In her mind’s eye, Paula Irving feels the scream choke and die in her throat, as her eyes follow the bullet as it crosses the distance between her and Lynn Carter in slow motion. Watch it move through time and space the split second before…
The spinner cuts the thread suddenly with a snap and as the fibres tear and ravel free, time stops and begins to unwind itself.
Luc Hager never fired the bullet; Paula Irving never gave her the chance
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
Lynn is drunk and nasty and Paula knows she needs to get Luc out fast before things fall apart in the widening gyre. Then Paula hears it, a soft almost inaudible sound of grinding and gnashing teeth, and feels Luc go tense and rigid above her. Luc is subtly shifting, her long, lean torso leaning in to pin Paula firmly against the wall while an arm, now freed of its load, begins to snake slowly backwards. Her mind racing, Paula knows that Luc is reaching for the concealed semiautomatic pistol she always carries strapped securely to the small of her back and Lynn Carter is…
“I’m busy at the moment, Lynn.” Paula Irving replies in a bored sarcastic tone as her nails dig themselves deep into Luc’s back, preventing Luc from pulling her gun free off the holster.
No one has ever said no to Lynn Carter before, and she is too far-gone to know what is good for her as she stares expectantly at Paula in a drunken leer, oblivious to everything but the insistent throbbing between her thighs.
“I’m good, Paulie… much, much better than whatever you can pick up off the floor. Come on, Paulie, get rid of the pleb and let’s you and me have some fun. You’ll like me, Paulie, I know you will.”
Fervently praying under her breathe to whatever deity is out there listening to her desperate pleas that this will be enough to stop the taller woman from losing it and putting a bullet between Lynn’s eyes. Paula finds herself in the maddening position of having to bite her tongue in reply as her nails dig themselves even deeper into Luc’s back, drawing blood, all the more aware that neither Luc nor she need the complication of a suicide blond hanging over their heads.
“I’m busy, Lynn. Why don’t you run along first without me and go play with the boys? I’ve heard Mario’s here and I know how much you like him. I promise I’ll catch up with you later.”
Lynn pauses as the words sink in slowly before turning away with an angry snarl, visibly irritated with Paula’s rejection. She would have liked very much to fuck that cock tease behind Barbara’s back. Paula Irving was a very pretty little bitch, made all the more tempting for the fact that Lynn knows Barbara doesn’t share her toys, doesn’t like other people soiling them, even though her deteriorating physical condition means she cannot touch them herself – jailbait, indeed.
“And Lynn, can you close the door on your way out.”
Paula knows her message has hit home when the bottle kisses the wall, next to her head, hard with a crash, showering her and Luc with a cocktail of vintage champagne and crushed glass, followed shortly by the sharp bang of the door. Lynn’s retreat is complete.
It is an eternity of quiet before Paula allows herself to breathe again. She pulls her nails from Luc’s back and feels the other women’s arms wind themselves around her, pulling her tight into an embrace. They are cut and bloody, but still very much alive.
“You know I won’t have left you… won’t have let her touch you… won’t let anyone touch you, not her, not that sick bastard Jonathan, not even Barbara bleeding Carter.”
Luc’s voice is small, obstinate, sounding like a wounded child filled with resentment at the world. Paula has never seen her like this and it scares her that she can mean something to someone. She gently puts her arms around the other woman’s neck and presses their foreheads together, feeling increasingly spent as the adrenaline slowly drains out of her system, leaving her cold and empty.
“I know…. you’re stupid that way. You’ll probably ask me to go to the bleeding wedding with you next.”
Luc smiles at the unexpected tenderness as their noses touch, and Paula feels her heart skip a beat at this woman, who for reasons she does not understand, makes her mouth dry and her knees go weak. She is still wet from their interrupted lovemaking, and she wonders how it would be like to be with Luc, to have her, taste her, to leave this lie of a life – such sweet temptations. She knows that she needs to get back to where Barbara is and ingrate herself with the older woman. Paula knows that Emma Robinson, Barbara’s left hand, has an understanding of just how close she is to Jonathan. If Jonathan is turning Queen’s evidence, Paula needs to secure her cover from the likes of Lynn as soon as possible. Heaven hath no fury like a woman scorned. But, that was for later, right now all Paula wants is to hold Luc for a little while longer.
“Stupid enough to spend every waking day in the past 2 years watching your back… stupid enough to ask you out to your mother’s wedding even if you don’t want to go… Hey, you… don’t you know I love you?”
“Fuck me then,” Paula says softly as she surrenders to the feel of Luc’s strong arms and the hard satisfying fullness between her legs, unable to find anything to say in reply to those perfect words but the obvious. “Fuck me.”
And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle is like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.
The Tollhouse Hotel
Gretna Green, Scotland
8 Months after Soho
Luc Hager quickly scans the crowd of guests quietly milling on the back lawn for the outdoor cocktail reception, before finally settling on a tall, barrel-chested form, with champagne flute in hand, happily tucked in-between two attractive female companions. William Hager, her uncle and best man at her father’s wedding, was now wanted in the front of the small, boutique hotel, an elegant restored Georgian Country House set in its own private grounds, for the de rigor Hager family photo. Waving furiously, Luc privately curses under her breath for the umpteen time what a pissing bother everything was today, from the argument with the florist over the freaking flower arrangements for the chapel – white lilies, we paid for white lilies – to the stuck up hotel manager over the menu for the bleeding dinner – we were promised French champagne, we’re not paying for that fancy South American muck. It was just like her father, she thinks, as large as life and twice as natural.
It had all come crashing down on their heads over 8 months ago, when her normally dour, stodgy father had suddenly invited her and her older brother, Richard, out for a drink and announced over a pint of bitter that he and Sarah Irving were eloping to Gretna Green. Richard, of course was bloody delighted. He was fond of Sarah and had spoken to their father at length about making an honest woman of her. Luc on the other hand just didn’t see why the old man had to turn Prince Charming on her overnight and make such a blooming fuss of things. After all, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t been fucking that frigid bitch for years now after her mum’s death.
John Hager was a man married to the Job, that was the sum total of Maureen Hager’s opinion of her husband in the thirty odd years they were married. Their wedding was a small, simple civil ceremony with a couple of his best mates and her younger sisters in attendance. Her sisters had come down to London by train for the happy day, all 3 of them dressed in fashionable mini dresses and giggly from the bottle of cheap champagne his mates were passing round in paper cups. They were young then and money was tight, but everything had seemed such fun. There was an innocent exuberance in the air, a feeling that they were in some sense immortal, destined to be forever young. For a lark and a couple of quid, they had their wedding snaps taken by a street side photographer, a hack with a Nikon – the blushing bride in a simple white dress and him looking all pressed and starched in his uniform. Looking for all the world like a couple of tourists from the Midlands posing together alongside the great Thames with the picturesque Houses of Parliament in the background.
Luc remembers her parents having more than their fair share of arguments while she and Richard were growing up, but there was love somewhere in the unlikely match. He requested and took a long leave of absence from the Department when she was stricken with liver cancer. It had cost him his career, but he was adamant in bringing her home. He didn’t want his Maureen wasting away in some bleeding hospice. He was at her side holding her hand, when she finally slipped into a coma, and he held it tight all the way to the end. There was a depth of tenderness in her father that Luc couldn’t fathom, couldn’t reconcile with what she knew of the plain speaking, rough-hew man she grew up with and the one who couldn’t stop crying at her mum’s funeral.
“Stop that, stupid, Bob isn’t blind, and you’ll do yourself an injury,” a warm voice purrs unexpectedly out of the blue, causing the small, fine hairs at the back of Luc’s neck to stand pleasantly on end.
Luc does not need to turn round to know that Paula Irving is standing behind her grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Paula grins when she’s nervous. A habit she picked up somewhere along the long line of relatives she was fostered out to as a child after her Dad’s death and her mother’s subsequent breakdown. It was one amongst many of Paula’s traits that Luc found particularly endearing, since it made her look even more like the blue-eyed, blonde-haired, fallen angel she was, in that pale pink strapless sundress and those inappropriately high stiletto heels. Luc recalls with a shy smile that Paula was grinning much like that when they first met 2 years back in that greasy spoon in Whitechapel, over tea and bacon sarnies. Paula sitting there like a fish out of water in that expensive designer suit of hers, eyes hidden behind a pair of Tom Ford Gucci sunglasses and her in that grubby white t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie, looking like something the cat dragged in. Still there was something about Luc that made Paula nervous and everything about Paula that made Luc reckless. Luc finds herself thinking how soft that sundress felt in her hands that morning in the chapel and softer still the skin beneath it.
“Just trying to get his lordship’s bleeding attention.” Luc replies by way of explanation, as William Hager finally acknowledges his niece’s summons and makes his way steadily up towards the main building.
She and Paula had driven down together last night from Edinburgh, through the horrible Friday night traffic. From Paula’s silence that entire journey, Luc knew that Paula didn’t want to be here anymore than she did. Still, William Hager had insisted in his own quiet way and William Hager was a man with a reputation for getting things done. One didn’t get as far as he did in the Department without talent and the odd ability to crack more than a few eggs, if it suited him. Losses were after all justified and acceptable for Queen and Country.
He was a tall man, taller than his older brother John, and still dashingly good looking with a broad muscular chest and sharp well-defined features. It was obvious to most that Luc had inherited her looks, if not the stoic, sullen temperament, from his side of the family.
Beaming with pleasure at the sight of the lovely vision in pink standing next to the taller woman, William Hager quickens his steps. He was genuinely fond of Paula – Paula beautiful like her mother, but strong and sharp like her father.
Paul Irving was the one man that William Hager had loved most in his life. They had joined the Department at about the same time and had instantly gravitated towards each other. Paul was the Yin to his Yang, and when Paul got himself killed on the Job, William saw to it that both Sarah and Paula were well looked after. It was the least he could do, he was starting to make his way through the ranks, and the Department could well afford it.
He should have known that money only pays the bills; it doesn’t mend broken hearts or fill the void left behind in suddenly emptied lives. It was Sarah’s subsequent breakdown and institutionalisation that he most deeply regretted. It meant that he had failed Paul, he had let Sarah down when she needed him the most, and in so doing he had also cruelly deprived Paula of everything she loved in one swift fell stroke. Although he felt the loss of Paula’s childhood keenly, Paula never blamed him.
It wasn’t his fault. She said. Wasn’t his fault her father had a death wish and her mother needed the bottle to fill the hole he left in her life.
She had shed her childish notions about her parents years ago, like an old skin a snake sheds now that it’s grown too big for it. As a child, she found it liberating not to have to believe the same old sugar coated lies doled out after another of her mother’s ugly alcoholic episodes, or yet another fairy tale about why she was being shuffled out again like an unwanted card to well meaning relatives. It was easier to accept that whatever family she once had was gone. Her dad was dead and her mother had problems of her own.
What William Hager came face-to-face with that afternoon was the wisp of knowledge that years ago he unwittingly started a little girl down a dark, slippery path, and damned her in so many ways into the tortured, highly conflicted woman that stood smiling before him. She still looked like an angel, the external lacerations and bruising had all healed, but there was nothing innocent about her anymore.
When Sarah Irving eventually got her life out of the sewer, almost everyone supposed it would be a matter of time before Sarah and he got together. They were close even when Paul was alive, but love chooses its own society. It was his brother, John, who turned out to be the lucky man in the end. Good old John who faithfully marched Sarah down to her AA meetings every Tuesday week as her sponsor, until she found the strength to quit hitting the bottle, and William Hager finds himself standing alone in church on a beautiful Saturday morning, best man at his brother’s wedding to the woman he has been secretly in love with for years.
Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.
“Hello, Love, good to see you,” William Hager smiles as he bends over, gently kissing Paula on her cheek. Pointedly ignoring the sore looks Luc is shooting his way, he gallantly offers Paula his arm as they make their way across the wet lawn, leaving Luc to trail behind in their wake. Paula shivers deliciously as she feels Luc’s eyes drill themselves into her back, and wonders with a secret smile if Uncle Bob knows or even cares that Luc fingered her to orgasm in a quiet corner of the chapel while everyone was outside waiting for the bride. She thinks not. Bob was always one for secrets, like Jonathan, like her Dad.
William wonders why John sent Luc after him. They had never gotten on well even before everything went to shit, but then Luc never did get on well with anyone other than Richard. Richard was the charmer in the family. The one everyone trusted and liked, like John, before everything got all muddy and complicated between them and Maureen. Muddy and complicated were things for people like him and Luc, who could live and breathe between the lines of muted greys. It weren’t meant for the likes of John or Richard who saw the world in deep contrast of black and white.
William Hager knows this unresolved business between Luc and himself is more than that. There’s a petty, possessive side to Luc that William doesn’t much like. He thinks she has too much of his mother in her for anybody’s good. That gypsy blood that gave both him and Luc, their dark, sensual, brooding good looks and raven-black hair ran more than skin deep. He had seen first hand, the violence she was capable of inflicting, seemingly at random, that made her both dangerous and paradoxically indispensable to the Department. He remembers that last incident, where she had one of the more senior men hard up against the wall with one hand and the other wound tight round his balls, threatening to rip them off the crying fucker for calling Irving a whore. William Hager doesn’t like the fact that Luc reminds him too much of himself.
It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree does it, Bob?
“You’re looking well, Bob. Fresh air and pretty women suit you,” Paula teases with a musical laugh, breaking the tension in the air, as she tucks his arm closer under hers and guides him up the garden path to where the photographer and her mother are anxiously waiting.
Unexpectedly, Paula catches that soft expression on William’s face that she sees so often in Luc’s. He is looking at Sarah again with that unmistakeable mixture of longing and lust. Paula wishes for his sake that it will be him that Sarah Irving chooses in the end when her infatuation with his brother is over. She likes William Hager, despite all that has happened and some, likes him better than the man her crazy, besotted Mum is marrying. William was there for her when her Dad died. She remembers him crying harder than she did when he came with the news and needing to be comforted by an 8 year old.
It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.
She stands aside as the photographer carefully arranges the Hager men and woman around the bride, to the general laughter of onlookers. There is William and Luc Hager on one end and on the other, John and Richard Hager, Luc’s older brother.
Paula doesn’t see the attraction of men like John Hager; tall, square-jawed, thick-necked with dirty blonde hair, and small grey rodent eyes. Looks too much like Dad. She thinks and then she notices that Richard has his father’s fair eyes and sandy hair, while Luc looks more like her uncle’s child than the daughter of his brother.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Still Paula can make out the family resemblance in the angle of their noses, and the planes of their faces. The Hager men were unusually good looking, but Paula preferred the look and taste of their women.
Luc Hager is quietly lying in the large king sized bed, staring blankly at the ceiling, the sound of running water from the shower slowly invading her thoughts. Most of the guests and members of the wedding party were driving back down to London tonight, and although Luc thinks it would be far more comfortable for them to sleep in their own bed, she knows that Paula is exhausted and Edinburgh is a long ways up north. A longer ways from London for the two of them than anyone can imagine.
Paula had driven the bulk of the journey down, unwilling for the most part to give up the wheel to Luc, and Luc knew that she would do the same on their journey back. She knew that Paula desperately needed to feel that she was in control. It would be the first time since leaving London that she had come face-to-face with William Hager, and Luc knew that Paula wasn’t ready to face her demons, not just yet. Luc worried that seeing him again so soon would trigger off another series of post traumatic flashbacks for Paula, the noon day terrors she called them, the waking nightmares that forced her to relive almost constantly the events of the night she died. Almost died. Luc reminds herself. Almost died.
So Luc had merely nodded absently when her father insisted a little too loudly after the lavish dinner, her darling brother had personally planned and prepared in honour of the occasion that they take a room in the hotel for the night and drive back up in the morning. It wasn’t something she couldn’t afford. The Department takes care of its own, and the boys in Edinburgh were glad to have her expertise, even if she was fucking English.
Richard had out done himself again tonight, with each successive course a delight over the last and as always paired perfectly with the wine. He was after all the apple of Maureen Hager’s eye; the one she said would make something out of himself. He had started his first Bistro at age 25 after working his way through the finest kitchens over on the continent and now at the ripe old age of 38, he was on the verge of earning his first Michelin star, but then Richard was their father’s son. Maureen would have been proud of him even if all he was good at was flipping burgers at mackers.
It was an undated letter in a plain manila envelope discreetly entrusted to the solicitor’s care that explained it all. All those years Luc felt she never belonged, never fitted it, an outsider in her own family even after she joined up for the Job and worked herself into a career with the Department. Her mother called it a madness that overtook her late in her marriage. A phantom lover. There was no question of her ever leaving John and Richard, but she wanted the baby. She called it her love child. She never named the man, but Luc could very well hazard a guess whenever she looks in the mirror.
Luc muses how fortunate it is with second marriages for both, that her father and his bride have restricted the wedding party to close friends and immediate family, freeing her from the difficulty of explaining how it is that she and Paula were so uncommonly close.
She does not think that her father or his new wife need to know that she and Paula know each other truly, madly, deeply in every carnal sense of the word. However, that is not to say that the old man does not know. There’s no smoke without fire and she knows he’s heard all the rumours that been flying thick and fast about them in the old Department grapevine. Her father is many things, but she does not presume that stupid is one of them. Lord only knows whether Sarah has any inkling where Luc’s intentions lie concerning her only child, and how well that bombshell is going to go down with her ladyship.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Paula whispers and Luc finds her attention suddenly drawn away from the ceiling to a pair of very amused blue eyes, as Paula snuggles herself neatly on top with a contented sign. “Not too heavy for you, am I?”
“Never,” Luc replies as she pulls the smaller woman closer, inhaling the fresh, clean smell of her. It was a luxury for Luc to have Paula so close, to have Paula safe and sound in bed with her, and not worry about her (Paula) working some seedy bondage club in Soho or some forsaken flesh den in Whitechapel.
Luc remembers the first few weeks after Paula had showed up on her doorstep – disoriented, frightened, and bleeding. She remembers the struggle of having to fight down an intense anger to hurt someone, anyone, just to make the pain eating her up inside go away. That was when she had a run in with that fucker Smiths, Detective bleeding Sergeant Smiths, shooting off his mouth to the boys about how that whore Irving ruined the Department’s chances at Barbara Carter. Someone had to go get William Hager to pull her off what was left of him. She was put on administrative leave soon after for her own good and told to take a nice, long holiday in the Lake District somewhere. She went straight to the hospital and stayed there. Now the sleepless nights camped out on a cot, watching the nurses clean out the glass from the cuts and gashes that criss-crossed Paula’s broken body seemed such a distant memory. Paula resting next to her, head nestled comfortably into the crock of her shoulder, the sound of soft breathing and in someway at peace with herself.
A cleaning crew was waiting for Paula Irving early one morning at a small bar, where she had gone to meet with Jonathan Moor. Armed with a pair of sawn-offs they would have shot her at close range full of 12-gauge stubbies, only she had the presence of mind to throw herself out the window first. It was a professional hit, no questions asked and no answers required.
Paula fell 5 floors down onto the cloth awing of a side walk café below, triggering off the security alarm. She cut herself up bad, broke a few ribs and an arm in the process, but it was the alarm that saved her. Bleeding and in pain, she hid herself behind the trash bins in a nearby alley and waited until she saw her assailants run out into the dark street into a waiting car and speed away. Intent on making her way to the only person she ever trusted, hoping against hope that they hadn’t gotten to her first. All hell had broken loose; someone had turned and talked to the enemy, but all Paula cared about was whether Luc was all right before collapsing in a heap of broken bones and bloody clothes in front of the horrified woman.
Luc was there watching from the sidelines when Jonathan Moor was fished out of the Thames a few weeks later. He had been stuffed into a sack and drowned like an unwanted cat. She couldn’t find it in her heart to feel anything for him.
She found out later from her father that the Department had ordered her and Paula over his objections into the middle of a bitter power struggle between two formerly complementary factions of a whole; Barbara Carter and her protégé, Emma Robinson. Some high flying fart sitting behind a desk in Special Branch had proposed the deployment as a theoretical exercise in sowing discord within established power structures to destabilise the balance of power in the criminal underworld.
It didn’t matter to the powers-that-be that Barbara Carter was a cold-blooded psychopath that ran a criminal empire that dealt in everything and everyone, and Emma Robinson, her presumed heir apparent, was just a victim shy of being labelled a mass homicidal maniac. More important was the fact that lately the two women hadn’t been seeing eye to eye on any number of things, put someone like Paula Irving into the volatile mix, add a little Luc Hager as insurance, and the outcome was anything but ordinary.
Beware the Jabberwocky, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
The conditions were ripe for an intervention. Emma was sick and tired of having Barbara call the shots, and Barbara felt that Emma was letting all that power get to her head. What was needed was opportunity for change.
Beware the Jubjub bird.
Only Jonathan wasn’t Paula’s mole, he was Emma’s. He was working both sides. Emma Robinson was making him feed Paula information so the Department could nail Barbara Carter for the snuff films Emma was making with Barbara’s pretty little boys. Only Barbara didn’t seemed to mind, she quite enjoyed some of the films Emma was shooting and what was more important they were profitable, the customers couldn’t get enough. She rather liked Jonathan, found him amusing in a boorish sort of way, and she found Paula very sexually attractive, but Emma was fast becoming a liability and it was time to move on.
And shun The frumious Bandersnatch!’
In the end, Paula took a flying leap out of a glass window five floors up and Jonathan went swimming in a sack with his best clothes on, but they were merely cannon fodder. Emma disappeared one night. She was last seen speaking into her mobile on a street corner just outside a chic restaurant in the East End before everything faded to black. Luc supposes she’s now sleeping under a ton of concrete in the foundations of one of the new developments that flank the river, with her head blown off. Barbara Carter never did anything by halfs.
Emma Robinson’s disappearance was a death blow to the Department more ways than one, left blind with the loss of Paula Irving’s insight into the Company’s extensive operations, the Department had no choice but to retreat like a whipped dog with its tail tucked between its legs, never even close to proving any of the charges levelled against Barbara Carter.
But, what really hurt was that Luc never found out just how much Uncle Bob knew about the operation and if she and Paula were ever considered acceptable losses. What she knows is that he rubber stamped the papers for the deployment, overriding his own brother’s objections. He had to know they were playing with fire, and there was a good chance of getting burnt. She supposes it was all done for Queen and County and good old Bob’s next step up the Department ladder, but by then she didn’t much care about anything other than taking Paula away from London, away from the Department, and away from William Hager.
“Don’t know if I can sleep tonight, knowing my mum is having conjugal relations with your dad across the hallway from us,” Paula purrs as she runs her fingers across Luc’s chest. “Do you think it’s wrong?”
“Yes,” Luc replies flatly as she takes Paula’s hand firmly into hers. “They’re too bloody old to be having sex. They’ll break something if they’re not careful and I don’t fancy having to get out of bed in the middle of the night to call them a bleeding ambulance.”
“Richard can do that by himself with no help from you. He loves doing things like rescuing fluffy kittens out of trees and being the hero and all. No, stupid. Do you think we’re wrong?” Paula persists strangely obsessed by this odd turn in their conversation. “Do you think that just because we’re now related by marriage, we’re wrong?”
“Yes,” Luc replies absently as she moves to nibble Paula’s exposed neck. “But, that doesn’t change the fact that I love you and I want to do horrid, nasty things to you that would make your mother’s hair stand on end and my old man disown me.”
“I thought he’s disowned you at least twice already and my crazy mother’s deaf, dumb, and blind to everything she doesn’t want to know like the fact that I like being finger fucked by tall, dark beautiful women. So you’re quite safe. Christ, I’m totally knackered out and we have to drive back to Edinburgh tomorrow … I…”
“Do you ever think about that night with Lynn Carter?” Paula’s voice is low and soft, an almost inaudible murmur, and Luc feels the smaller woman suddenly turn stiff and rigid in her arms. “Do you ever think about what might have happened that night? What if you had shot her?”
“I know you would have stopped me. I trusted you to stop me.” Luc’s voice is calm, as she cradles the trembling woman in her arms. She was so fragile; it almost hurt Luc to think of her like this now.
“What if I didn’t? Have you thought about what might have happened?” Luc hears the unspoken fear in the words, and the pain cuts deeper.
“It would not have ended like that. It cannot end with you dying. I would not have let it. I love you.”
You couldn’t deny that, even if you tried with both hands.
“I… I love you too, stupid.”
Wordlessly Luc leans over to switch off the bed side light and looking at the woman in her arms, she gently kisses her good night with a smile so brilliant it would have lit up the room unaided.