The attractive young woman pushed back her wet hair as she came in from the darkness. Then smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry it’s so late, Mr Macon.”
Something about her expression made him feel protective, but she was also sensuous. Chris Macon felt like a dirty old man, but he could live with that. He savoured the slight huskiness of her voice. “Please, come in, sit down. I wasn’t going anywhere.”
She sat opposite him and Chris studied her with interest. ”what’s the problem?”
“I – I think my fiancée is seeing someone else, Mr Macon,” she said hesitantly.
“Chris,” he corrected, as he poured coffee. “Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself, first?”
“My name’s Laura Overton. My fiancée is called David. David Lewis. We live on Goldsworth Park, in Surrey.”
“Have either of you been married before?”
She flushed. “David was married, but his wife went off with someone else. His Best Man, he said. He managed to get a divorce eventually. I’ve never been married.”
“Do you know why she left him?”
“No, he never talks about it and I don’t like to ask. He won’t have anything to do with her or his past; it’s as if she and his friends never existed.”
“So, how long have you been with him?”
She answered without hesitation. “A year in April. We met on the Internet, and then found that we live in the same town. Imagine that.”
Chris sipped his coffee. “and has David ever shown interest in other women during this time?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. In fact he’s very possessive. If he thinks someone else is looking at me, he gets mad; he doesn’t like me wearing short skirts and – other stuff.”
“Describe your typical movements, Laura. For example, where do you work?”
“I’m a nurse at St Peter’s, in Chertsey. I work shifts. David’s a teacher.”
He watched as she smoothed her skirt over her thigh. “So how much time do you spend together during the week? How often are you alone?”
“When I’m on nights I get back about six-thirty in the morning, and I go to bed when he leaves for work. I see him from when he gets home to when I leave in the evening. So I’m alone all day and asleep for most of it.”
“Are you both from this area?”
“I am, but David moved here from Redhill about five years ago, after his wife left him. He said he couldn’t bear to stay there.”
“And when are you getting married?”
She glanced at the engagement ring. “We haven’t set a date yet. He keeps putting it off; sometimes I think he is frightened of being left again.”
Chris didn’t like the picture of David Lewis that was forming. “It’s understandable, I suppose. What makes you think he is seeing someone else?”
She laughed nervously. “The perfume. I can smell it in the house when I get back from work. Also, David’s moody with me; he didn’t used to be like that, he was kind and he was fun.”
Chris sat back. “Perfume’s not proof, Laura.”
“Women wear perfume like that for a reason.”
“Alright. Is there anything else I should know?”
She frowned. “I’m certain that she’s been in our house. The perfume is in the bedroom and I can smell it on my pillow.”
Chris said carefully, “Laura, you must talk to him. Suppose there is no other woman and he finds you’re having him watched?”
She smiled. “I must sound crazy to you. I will speak to him. You’ve been very kind.”
Back home, Laura watched David prepare supper. He sharpened the Sabatier knife fastidiously before slicing a generous steak into neat cubes. She was repelled by the sound of knife on flesh. Afterwards, he scrubbed the bloodied utensils, then his hands and nails. He sharpened the knife once more, testing it with his thumb, dark hair falling over his forehead, his thoughts seemingly far away.
“I – if there was ever someone else, you would tell me, wouldn’t you?” Her words were out of control.
“Someone else?” She could not tell whether he was amused or annoyed.
“Yes, having an affair. Having sex with someone else,” she said, irritated.
He paused, and she saw his hand tighten on the knife. His head whipped up, eyes angry. “What d’you mean?”
Laura felt defensive. “It’s just that I’ve noticed perfume in the house.” It sounded ridiculous to her even as she spoke.
He frowned and the lines at the sides of his mouth deepened. “Where’s this going, Laura?”
She persisted, “We haven’t made love for a while, have we?”
There was a tangible silence, as if he knew the subject would come up. “Because you’re always too tired. Don’t try to blame me, Laura.”
He started chopping vegetables, banging the blade down. “I have no idea what perfume you’re talking about. I haven’t noticed anything unusual. If anyone’s screwing someone else, it’s you and one of your doctors.”
She was surprised at his anger. “David, I didn’t mean to-“
“That’s enough.” His face darkened. “I’m going to have to keep an eye on you, Laura. Your clothes when you go to work – look how short your skirt is, for Christ’s sake. You don’t dress like that when we go out. Now look at me. Do I look like I’m seeing someone else? You’ve got a bloody nerve.” He clenched his jaw and stabbed the knife deep into the chopping board.
“I was worried, that’s all. Can’t we talk about this sensibly?”
David did not think so. However, when Laura came home from the hospital the following morning, she could smell the pungent scent. It hung in the air blatantly and followed her around the house. Then she recognised it – Seduction, heavy and sweet. She undressed and showered, but was so exhausted that she crawled into bed without bothering to eat. Less than an hour after sleep finally came, Laura awoke clammy from a nightmare. The lingering memory made her feel nauseous. She lay in bed, aware of the sliver of winter sunlight that striped the floorboards, listening to her heart. Instinctively, she picked up her mobile and called Chris. “It’s Laura Overton. I need to see you.”
Chris sounded breathless. “Sure, where?”
“I can’t come to your office, someone might see. Can you pick me up from the car park by the canal? At four?”
As she dressed, Laura smiled at her memory of him – more farmer than private investigator with his ruddy complexion, blond hair, big hands and guileless blue eyes. So different from David.
Chris saw her waiting by the footbridge, dressed in jeans and a short black jacket, long auburn hair blowing in the wind. He stopped the silver Golf next to her and opened the passenger door. As they drove away he was acutely aware of her proximity.
“Did you speak to David?”
Her voice sounded unsteady. “He got angry and denied everything and I believed him at the time, but I could smell the perfume again this morning. Chris, I can feel that she has been in the house. Looking at my things, leaving draws open. She wants me to know. I need you to watch the house, Chris, but he mustn’t find out about it.”
“Are you scared of him, Laura?”
“David would never hurt me. Never. I’m frightened of her.” She rubbed her eyes and turned her head away.
“You look tired.”
“I’m not sleeping well. I dream about her. I don’t want to go to sleep any more.”
“I can only remember bits – images. It’s so dark I see nothing, but I’m on a bed but I’m unable to move; my hands and ankles have been tied with something. Then – Damn, I can’t remember.” She banged her head with her fist.
“Take it slowly.”
After a while, she continued, “I can hear someone breathing, close by. Short breaths, in and out, like they’re excited. I feel cold metal moving on my skin. I am so scared.”
He prompted her again. “Describe the sensation.”
She closed her eyes. “A point, drawing a line down my body, all the way down.” She looked at Chris, wide-eyed, and with her finger drew a line from the v-neck of her cashmere sweater to her navel. “And I think I’m naked.”
Chris focused on the road ahead. “What can you hear?”
“A rustling, and the breathing getting closer. A voice. I don’t know if it’s a woman or a man – it whispers Bitch. You stupid bitch, over and over. There is a green flash. It lights up the room. I glimpse a face. I don’t remember who it is, but they are wearing a long dress of some kind. The metal burns hot. I feel it inside me. I want to scream but I can’t make any noise – something is in my mouth. I’m suffocating.”
He could see her eyes were dull with fear. She gripped his hand, but then relaxed and impulsively he leaned across to kiss her. “It’s just a dream, Laura. Don’t be frightened.”
Whilst he drove her back he kept replaying the dream in his mind, alternately excited and disgusted with himself. Before she got out they agreed to meet the following week, at the same place, then an hour later, he drove to Goldsworth Park and turned into Laura’s street. Her house was at the end, a mock Tudor semi. He parked behind a similar car and away from the streetlights and then settled back with the Times crossword. After half an hour, Laura walked down the close. She gave no indication that she noticed him and entered the house, then re-emerged a little while later and left for work.
As darkness fell, a Landrover turned into the close. The headlights swept through Chris’s car, and then it parked in the driveway. David Lewis got out and sauntered to the front door and Chris noted the man’s confident manner. It irritated him. He settled down expectantly, camera ready, hoping that Laura could be proved right. However, by 2 a.m. he gave up. Surely no-one would come now. Stiff with cold he headed back to his rented apartment.
He followed the same mind-numbing routine for the remainder of the week, peering at the house through the frosted windscreen. Every night he also watched Laura leave for work and each time, his hunger grew. By the end of the week all he could think of was their next meeting. He picked her up from the car park and they drove to a secluded spot out of town.
“Laura, no-one came to the house. Do you really want me to continue with this?”
She looked like she would cry. He reached out to touch her cheek but she turned her head away. “She spoke to me.” She sounded defiant.
Chris looked at her incredulously. “What?”
“Last night. As I was opening the front door, a woman came up behind me. I couldn’t think of anything to say. She said I shouldn’t be with him. David belonged to her. I asked her who she was, and she said she was from David’s past. The she said something weird. That she was a bitch, like me. Then she turned around and walked off.”
“She was very attractive. Short blond hair, good body. I think she was in her twenties. Quite petite. She was wearing black. No makeup. Her eyes were kind of glassy. She frightened me.” She looked at him. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
“I don’t know, Laura. I didn’t see her go to the house. Why was she frightening?”
“She was so sure of herself, and cold. Like the person in the dream. She was wearing Seduction. That’s the perfume,” she explained.
“I’ll watch the house, Laura. You can trust me,” he said, but as he spoke his eyes were drawn to her lips, and then without thought, they were kissing. She pushed him away.
“Laura, I’m sorry, that shouldn’t have happened,” he said awkwardly.
She looked at her hands and answered, “No, it’s my fault. I wanted you to do it. I’m confused.” A pause, then, “take me back, please.”
They drove in awkward silence to the car park. Just before she got out of the car, she reached into her handbag. “I managed to find one photo of David’s wedding. I don’t know why you asked for it.”
She handed him a picture of David standing next to a tall, dark man with a mischievous smile. They were posing for the camera in morning suits. Chris turned it over. David and Michael was written on the back in pencil.
He shrugged. “I thought it might provide some more information, that’s all. Who’s David standing next to?”
She shook her head. “Sorry, I don’t know. Might be his Best Man. I never met him, but I think he was called Michael.”
By the time Laura left the house for work, Chris was once more stationed at the end of her road, his mind in turmoil. He eventually fell asleep in the early hours and awoke with a start as grey dawn broke. Blurry-eyed and perplexed, he drove back to his apartment and managed to get a few hours rest. By ten o’clock he was at the Redhill library, searching obsessively through endless editions of local papers for more information about the wedding. He was close to giving up when he finally found what he was looking for. The few lines also mentioned David Lewis, his wife Devina and Best Man Michael Hansard, but there were no photographs.
It only took a short while to find a member of the Hansard family in Redhill. James Hansard lived in a luxury apartment a short drive away from the town centre. When he answered the door Chris could see the strong likeness to Michael. Tall and darkly handsome, but he also looked considerably annoyed. Chris introduced himself.
“You say you’re trying to find my brother?”
“Yes, that’s right. Can you help me?”
“I suppose you’d better come in.” James offered him a chair and threw himself back onto the sofa, then rubbed a hand across his face. “You’ve no idea at all, have you?”
Chris looked at him blankly.
“Someone killed my brother. They smashed him over the head and tied him to his bed, on a plastic sheet. Then they cut him and left him to bleed to death. I had to identify his body. How could someone do that?”
Chris was shocked. “I don’t know what to say. I’m really sorry to have bothered you.”
He started to get up, but James exhaled noisily and held up his hand. “No, it’s OK. What did you want to know?”
“When did it happen?”
“It would be almost five years ago by now, but it always seems like it happened yesterday when I remember. They never found out who did it.”
Chris glanced around the room during the silence and his attention was caught by a framed photograph on the window-ledge. It showed David and Michael with their arms around a petite girl with short blond hair; Devina’s face and body were turned towards Michael, not her husband. It looked like they were on holiday together, standing in the sea. It was altogether too cosy, easy to imagine the friendship with Michael turning into something more intimate. Chris stood up and walked to the photo.
James picked it up and laughed. “Michael was irresistible to women. He couldn’t help it. Devina didn’t stay with him for very long after she left David. Once the thrill had worn off, she went to live abroad. In France, I think. She didn’t even bother to come back for Michael’s funeral. David was devastated. He’d been friends with Michael since they were children.”
“Did David remain friends with Michael?”
James said, “He did eventually. They were round here one night, getting drunk. David blamed it all on her. He never called her by her name afterwards.”
“What did he call her?” Chris asked.
“Stupid bitch. And a lot worse.”
Chris thanked James and headed back down the motorway. He was now convinced that Laura had seen Devina outside her house and he became aware of a growing sense of dread. Why had she come back now, after so many years? Was it because David was going to marry? About three miles from the house, the traffic slowed to a standstill. It was November 5th and cars were queuing for a show at the school where David taught. Cursing, he grabbed his mobile and called Laura, whilst explosions lit up the sky in gaudy colours.
To his dismay a man’s voice answered. “Hello, Chris.”
“Is that David? Listen, you’re both in danger, you’ve got to get out of there,” Chris said urgently.
David sounded amused. “Nice to finally speak with you, Chris. Danger, you say?”
“Yes, Davina – “
David’s voice cut in. It was now icy cold. “Laura can’t come to the phone right now, but she’s quite safe with me. You shouldn’t mention Devina. Now you’ve made me angry.”
The call ended abruptly.
Chris ran back to his car and floored the pedal. The car swerved onto the other side of the road. He drove recklessly, oblivious of the vehicles and pedestrians in his way. He prayed for the first time in many years. If there is a God, please me get there in time.
David hurled the phone against the wall and it shattered.
“What’s the matter?” Laura asked.
Without warning, David turned and hit her in the face with his fist. She tumbled backwards over a chair, struck her head on the coffee table, and blackness fell.
When she regained consciousness, Laura was unable to move her arms or her legs. She looked down and discovered she was spread-eagled on the bed, stripped to her underwear, tied to the metal rails with duck tape. Beneath her was a plastic sheet. It felt warm and sticky with her sweat. Her mouth was dry and her head pounded. She felt sick with fear and she could even smell it on her skin. Downstairs she could hear David in the kitchen. It sounded like he was sharpening a knife and talking to himself.
“What are you doing, David?” she called out, angry and scared. “Let me go.”
He climbed the stairs, and her heart sank when he entered the room. David was wearing a long yellow plastic cape that rustled as he moved. It would have been funny apart from the knife. It was the one that he used for carving – the one that could slice half a pound of meat in half effortlessly. He tested the edge with his thumb.
She shrank back from him. “What in God’s name are you doing? Untie me right now. You’re scaring me.”
His eyes glittered, and his voice was thick. “You think you’re clever, accusing me of cheating, but I’ve been following you, Laura. You’re the one who’s screwing around. You whore. You stupid fucking bitch.” He spat the word.
Laura was stupefied. “What? That’s insane. You’ve made a terrible mistake, David.”
He stood quite still. “No, it’s your mistake, Laura. You meet Chris in the car park. You get in his car. Then you go somewhere with him and you have sex. Bitch, I’ve seen you. I followed you.”
“Please listen to me, David, I can explain -“
The words shrivelled up because his eyes were dancing mad. Outside, fireworks fizzed and thundered, lighting the room with splashes of vibrant light.
“No more talking, Laura.”
He grabbed her face and stuffed her mouth with her flannel. The soapy taste burned her throat. He sat on the edge of the bed.
“Now, where should we start?”
He traced the tip of the knife down her body, teasing. He watched Laura strain against the bonds and try to scream for help, and then his mind filled with rage and savage pleasure.
“Davina played around too. You remember my wife, don’t you? I knew she was screwing Michael. Can you imagine that, Laura. My best friend and my wife?”
He pricked the knife point into her and a drop of blood trickled down her side. “Devina took a long time to die, but it would have been too obvious to do it the same way as Mike, so I took her into the woods. I buried the remains deep so they wouldn’t be found by foxes. She’s not coming back, Laura.”
The knife point started to burn against her stomach.
“Why?” she managed to say through the flannel.
“Because you’re all stupid bitches, thinking I don’t know what you want. I hoped you might be different but you’re just the same. Now, no more questions, Laura. I need to concentrate.”
David stood up and leaned over her, but then the rich perfume cut through his anger. The sound of fireworks dimmed to silence, and the room became chill. He sensed someone behind him, turned and gasped. The blond woman was standing in the room.
He lifted the knife, threatening to plunge it into Laura’s body and then stopped, eyes wide and unblinking. Devina stepped towards him, her face calm and pale. “Tell me what I am, my love.” Her voice seemed far away.
David slowly lowered the knife and then stood, his arms hanging loose by his sides. He continued to stare at her, grey as a corpse. He tried to fight the sentence as it formed in his mouth.
“You – you stupid fucking bitch. Bitch.”
“That’s right, David,” she said. “I am a bitch, but I’m not stupid.”
Her eyes were locked to his as she raised her hands to her heart. At first, David resisted. Slowly, his hand white with effort, the knife came down until the tip was placed against the centre of his chest. Then Davina smiled, and pressed her hands into her body, and as Laura watched in silence, David did the same, pressing the knife through the plastic cape and then slid the entire blade into himself. He sank slowly to his knees, and looked at Laura for the last time but there was too much blood in his mouth to say goodbye. As he fell back against the door, his final expression was one of disbelief.
When Chris arrived, the front door was open. He ran inside and called out, and hearing a noise, pounded up the stairs yelling Laura’s name. A pool of blood had soaked into the carpet under the bedroom door. Chris had to throw all his weight against the door to push David’s body out of the way. Laura was still tied to the bed, motionless, her eyes closed, alone.
He bent over to check her pulse, and at his touch she looked at him with wild eyes. She appeared to be unharmed. He knelt down and gently removed the gag from her mouth, and untied her.
“Chris, oh Chris, thank God you came.”
Chris held her against him whilst she cried with a mixture of relief and shock, and he asked no questions. He could still smell the perfume, strong at first, then fading away. He helped her dress then took her down to the kitchen and made them both a hot drink. They sat close together, waiting for the police.