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Day twenty-nine – A good day

November 29, 2017

Not only did I get myself into the reading chair yesterday afternoon, but before sitting down with my book I actually got some long, long overdue housework done. Big pat on the back for me. But, let’s focus on the reading chair. Yes, it was great. Cup of tea, good book and a cat on my lap. Fantastic. Dinner at the table with my book (rather than on my lap with the telly). Three episodes of The Wire (which I’m rewatching), then in bed at 11;30 (with my book). Lights out at 1am. Up this morning just after 9am. All good.

Let’s see if I can keep this up. I won’t beat myself up if it doesn’t happen today, as I have my game of pool with my neighbour Pat this afternoon, but I’m on it for tomorrow. (Now I just need to add getting back to the gym. Sigh.)

So, how is the voting going? So far we have two votes for Adam’s Rub, two votes for Murky Waters and one vote split between the two. Interesting, because in my mind these were always the front runners.

Five votes? Is that it? C’mon, people, let’s have some feedback here. The poll is open for another 24 hours.

Speaking of feedback, an email from the panto director today requesting same from cast and crew. How honest should I be? Totally honest? Damning with faint praise (“I was impressed that it didn’t turn out to be anywhere near as awful as I thought it would be.”)? Or diplomatic? Will have to think about this.

For those who voted for Adam’s Rub or those who haven’t but definitely will vote today, here’s another chapter.

___________________________

CHAPTER EIGHT

Roger Wilcox looked at the immaculately coiffed woman standing in front of him. Other than the sling holding her left arm in place, she was showing remarkably little sign of being shot the previous day. The nurse he’d spoken to at the hospital had made it clear that, as both a patient and a human being, Laura Callaghan had left a great deal to be desired. Quite the pain in the arse. No wonder they’d let her go home.

He’d driven out to the house not sure what to expect. A police guard possibly. A toffee-nosed and difficult butler definitely. Even as he’d raised his finger to the doorbell, he’d had no idea what he was going to say to get to her. The last thing he’d expected was for her to open the door herself and give him – or rather the man she had mistaken him for – such a big welcome. Mr Warner, eh? Photographer? Had to be. And Wanker wasn’t expected for another ninety minutes.

Roger smiled his most ingratiating smile and reached out to shake the proffered hand. “Sorry about the change of plan, Mrs C. Photographer’s coming along later. At four, as arranged. I’ve got to be back in town before then.”

Laura Callaghan smiled and nodded. “I understand,” she said, “and I appreciate you taking the time to come yourself. I know you must be busy.”

“Not at all, Mrs C, not at all,” Roger said, filling his voice with bluff bonhomie and making sure to add the hint of  bogus Cockney which Wanker used to disarm his prey. He followed the diminutive, elegantly dressed blonde across the black and white marble floor of the hallway and into a library. The room was large. A carved mahogany fireplace in the middle of one wall was flanked by two French doors offering a view of the manicured lawn. All three of the room’s other walls were lined from floor to ceiling with books, thousands and thousands of books, some old and probably very valuable, others paperback editions of recent best-sellers. Someone in this household was very well read indeed. Roger couldn’t imagine it was Laura Callaghan. Her husband went up considerably in his estimation, until it occurred to him that Laura was just the sort of woman who would buy up an estate sale of books, sight unseen, pages never turned by her hand, just to create the right effect in this room.

“You’re quite the reader,” he said, nodding his head towards one wall of books as he eased himself into a green velvet wing chair.

Laura gave the books the contemptuous glance he’d somehow expected. “They’re Adam’s,” she said with a dismissive wave of her right hand. “The decaying remains of the once great Callaghan fortune and the only thing he even attempted to salvage.” She settled herself on the burgundy-coloured leather sofa and smiled at him expectantly.

Bloody hell, thought Roger, just what is she expecting? What had she and Wanker arranged prior to this visit? Never mind, when in doubt, go on the offensive.

“I have to tell you, Mrs C,” he began, not quite sure what he had to tell her.

“Do call me Laura,” she interrupted, shifting and re-crossing her legs to reveal several inches of silk encased thigh.

Is she actually flirting with me, he wondered. If she was, Callaghan must be right, she must be demented. He cleared his throat to indicate his appreciation of the view and repeated, “I have to tell you, Laura, I’ve spoken to Tilly Arbuthnot and she categorically denies any relationship with your husband.”

“Well, to paraphrase another well-known whore, she would say that, wouldn’t she?” Her smile was thin, her expression suggesting an opinion formed that she might be talking to a halfwit.

“Of course,” Roger agreed, “but – ”

Once again he was interrupted, this time by the opening of the door and the arrival of a grey-haired, black-suited butler with ramrod straight posture. The man was carrying a tray laid out with a Royal Dolton coffee pot and matching cups, saucers, cream and sugar bowl. After depositing the tray on the coffee table, he looked questioningly at his employer.

Laura glanced at Roger. “Something stronger for your coffee?” she asked. Even if she’d never met Wanker, the man’s reputation as a booze artist obviously preceded him.

Roger shook his head. “Thanks, but must keep a clear head for the drive back.”

Laura nodded curtly in the butler’s direction without meeting the man’s eyes. “That will be all for now, Waters. Mr Warner can pour for me.”

God, thought Roger as the butler retreated, couldn’t you manage a little smile of appreciation, you dreadful cow? Not for the hired help, apparently. She did give Roger a sort of helpless smile, inviting him to pour the coffee, which he did. Laura took hers black. Well, she would. Fifty plus women with bodies like that didn’t get them taking cream and sugar in their coffee. Roger added cream and three sugars to his and stirred it with a silver coffee spoon.

“You were saying, Kevin,” Laura prompted.

Oh, lord, what had he been saying? For a woman who’d taken a bullet in the shoulder the previous day – whether from her husband, as she claimed, or an intruder – Laura Callaghan was disconcertingly composed. Roger made a bit of a show of continuing to stir his coffee. Oh, yes, of course, Tilly. “The thing is, Laura, the Arbuthnot woman is threatening to sue us. Of course, the fact that he went straight to her flat after the incident yesterday makes them look guilty as hell, but it would be helpful to know how you found out. I mean, do you have any actual evidence…?” He let his voice trail off.

Her expression hardened, adding several years to her skilfully camouflaged age. She stood up abruptly, told Roger she’d be right back and left the room. Roger, who’d taken a fairly serious dislike to Mrs Laura Callaghan, pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket and lit up, not caring whether or not she would object. Not that she was likely to object. Obviously, there was something she wanted out of Wanker – more incredibly sympathetic press coverage, no doubt – so she would put up with just about anything.

Curious, he thought, that she would choose to entertain Wanker in what was obviously Adam Callaghan’s domain. Surely the drawingroom, the scene of her husband’s alleged crime, would have been a better setting for the vitriol she was peddling?

He was still wondering about this when she came back into the room, a piece of fabric crushed up in her right hand. She looked rather pointedly at his cigarette, smouldering in the Royal Dolton saucer, and sniffed, but made no complaint. Instead she held the cloth out to him. Roger took it from her hand and inspected it. It was a plain white linen man’s handkerchief, stained with a smear of lipstick, one of the most garish colours Roger had ever seen, a deep red bordering on purple.

“I found that,” she informed him, “in Adam’s pocket. Stupid man.”

Roger raised his eyebrows enquiringly. She must have been looking for something. Laura Callaghan did not strike him as the sort of woman who would routinely check her husband’s pockets before sending his suits to the cleaners. “And?” he said, his lack of excitement clearly disappointing her.

“And,” she said, settling herself back on the sofa, pulling her skirt down as she did so to make sure Roger understood the peep show was over for now, “I confronted him with it, demanded to know whose lipstick that was.”

Roger was having a hard time suppressing a smile. To the best of his knowledge he had never seen Tilly wear lipstick at all. The idea that she would ever paint her lips this particular colour was quite bizarre. He waited until he knew he had his features under control, then said, “He told you it belonged to Tilly?”

This time it was Laura Callaghan’s eyebrows that shot up. She positively scowled at him. “You know her?”

Oops, thought Roger. “’Course I know her,” he said. “She’s been a journalist for twenty-five years.”

“Do you like her?” Laura demanded.

“No.” Easy to answer that question in his assumed character. Almost every journalist and editor in Fleet Street had been at the Christmas party in 1987 when Tilly Arbuthnot had poured a pint of beer over Kevin Warner’s head. “I can’t stand the bloody woman.”

Clearly the right answer. Laura did her leg crossing thing again and her skirt shifted up so far this time that he could see her stocking tops. He wondered what he’d have to do or say to get a glimpse of bare thigh.

“Tell me, Kevin,” she said, her voice taking on a husky quality, “if you were married to me, what on earth would you see in that woman?”

It would have taken Roger an hour to write out a list of just the things which sprang immediately to mind. God, this woman was awful. If Callaghan had shot her, it would be difficult to blame him. Roger pasted an oily Wanker smirk on his face.

“Frankly, Laura, I can’t imagine being lucky enough to be married to a woman like you, but if I was, I certainly wouldn’t ever look anywhere else.”

Correct answer. Laura rewarded him by leaning over to reach for the coffee pot and treating him to half an inch of exposed thigh. She poured her coffee slowly, then straightened enough to cover the skin but leave the stocking tops visible. She smiled at Roger. “We have an understanding then?”

Bloody hell, thought Roger, do we? And just what might that be? He nodded.

“Good,” Laura’s smile was filled with satisfaction and, Roger assumed she thought, seductive promise. “I want that woman ruined.”

Bloody, bloody hell. So that was the deal, was it? Wanker used his newspaper to go after Tilly relentlessly. And in return, what? Knowing Wanker, which Roger unfortunately did, shagging Laura Callaghan probably would be sufficient reward. That Laura had clearly at least implied the possibility to Wanker, sight unseen, over the telephone appalled him. The woman really was demented. Just how far was she prepared to go?

“Well, of course,” Roger said, lighting another cigarette off the butt of his first, just to piss her off, “we can keep at her for a couple of days, but we’ll need a new spin soon.”

Laura positively beamed at him, did everything but tap the side of her nose to convey the fact that she had something up her sleeve. “She’s quite tall, isn’t she?”

Tall? Where the hell had that come from? “Yes,” he agreed, “’bout five ten.”

Laura nodded. “You know, Kevin, since I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve remembered that I did hear a car pull up before I was shot. And I’ve also realised the person who shot me wasn’t as tall as I thought. It was because the person with the gun had one of Adam’s jackets on. Even with the mask, I just assumed it was Adam. But this person wasn’t as tall as him. I’d say the person who shot me was about five foot ten.”

“Would you, now?” Bloody fucking bloody hell. If Tilly thought the past twenty-four hours had been bad, she was about to find out what a real nightmare was.

“Yes, I would and I shall. First thing tomorrow morning I shall say exactly that to that nice Inspector Carter.”

Jesus. Roger was ready to shoot her himself. He took a deep drag from his cigarette, steadying his nerves, then reached for the handkerchief, which he’d placed on the coffee table. “I gather I can have this?” Laura stiffened. Although her hands were nowhere near the hem of her tight skirt, suddenly all hint of stocking tops or anything above disappeared. How, Roger wondered, did she do that? “We’ll want to get a photo of it for the paper,” he added.

“Surely it would be better to take a picture of me holding it in my hand?” she countered.

Hmm, thought Roger, of course that would be better for Wanker’s purposes – especially if Laura Callaghan could manage a couple of betrayed-wife tears, which he was sure she could. “Well, of course, we’ll also want to send it out to a lab.” God, he hoped she’d fall for this, as it was his last shot. “DNA, you know, tie it to the Arbuthnot woman.”

Laura’s hazel eyes widened with delight and the stocking top reappeared. How did she do it? “Do you think that would work?” she asked.

“Oh, yes.” Roger made a sort of harumph, harumph noise he’d heard Wanker use. “Absolutely.”

“Well, you’d better take it, then.” Laura Callaghan stood up to indicate thigh skin sightings and the interview itself were now over.

Roger pocketed the handkerchief, stubbed his cigarette out and followed her out of the library. He glanced across the black and white marble expanse to the closed door on the other side of the hall. “Is that the drawingroom?” he asked.

Laura stopped walking, turned and gave him a sharp, wary look. “Yes. Why?”

“Are there still blood stains anywhere? The photographer’ll want that, if there is.”

Laura, whose entire body had tensed, relaxed and smiled at him. “Oh, yes,” she said. “There are still blood stains. Adam was doing a very bad job of trying to remove them when I got back, but they’re still quite visible. I’m sure they will photograph wonderfully.”

“Good,” said Roger with a Wankerish nod of approval. He took a sudden step towards the drawingroom, reached out for the door knob. “Mind if I have a quick – ”

Laura Callaghan, with remarkable speed for a woman in such high heels, quickly inserted herself between Roger and the door. “I’m sorry,” she said, sounding slightly desperate and not at all sorry. “One of the maids had a bit of a turn. This has all rather got to her, poor thing. She’s resting in there and I don’t want to disturb her.” She managed a bright, utterly false smile. “I’ll make sure she’s gone to her room before the photographer gets here.”

Resting, my Aunt Fanny, thought Roger. Laura Callaghan was far more likely to sack an hysterical servant than offer her the use of her drawingroom sofa. Whoever or whatever was on the other side of that door certainly wasn’t a woozy maid.

“Aren’t you considerate?” he said, placing his left hand on her good shoulder and squeezing gently, just to see if she’d let him. She did. Roger smiled. Laura Callaghan was in for a bit of a shock. Aside from losing her rag at losing Adam’s lipstick stained hankie, if she’d thought she could hold her nose and screw him in return for Tilly’s crucifixion, she was going to find out quite what a hideous prospect awaited her. Roger didn’t consider himself to be anyone’s idea of a prize, but he had no doubt whatsoever which of them would have a better sex life if he and Kevin Warner were the last two men on earth. “Right, I’ll be on my way, then.”

Laura Callaghan clearly couldn’t wait to get rid of him. With a tight lipped smile, she shut the door as soon as he was outside. As tempted as Roger was to tiptoe round to the other side of the house to get a butcher’s inside the drawingroom, he was aware that he should skedaddle ASAP to reduce the odds of his hostess writing down and tracing his registration number. He also wanted to warn Tilly that her nightmare had only just begun.

 

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