At first Millicent thinks a mewling cat has woken her but as her senses gain clarity she realises it is the cry of a human. It isn’t loud but it is persistent. Rolling across crimson cotton sheets she reaches for her touch lamp and checks her wristwatch, it’s nearly 2am. The door buzzer sounds, a long a low vibration resounding through the hall like a large determined fly. Her heart flips then pounds in her ears.
Thank goodness for the video camera installation, she thinks as she hastily wraps her shoulders in a cashmere shawl and tiptoes into the hall. Pressing the view button a small huddled form appears between flickering lines across the screen. The face suddenly lifts upward at the camera and Millicent recognises it, hesitating only a moment she decides to press the entry button. The girl appears to be alone.
Millicent steers Abby’s slim body, through to the spacious lounge and presses her by the shoulders into a caramel leather couch. The bulb flickers in Millicent’s favourite Lampadari standard lamp, Abby blinks in the half-light, her pixie face stained with tears. They sit in silence for a few moments, Millicent with one arm across Abby’s shoulders and her other hand free to stroke her Persian cat Kumquat who purrs serenely. “When you are ready, tell me what is going on. Just take it easy though, you’ve obviously had a fright of some kind.”
“I’ve been getting hassle from someone, he thinks I know where Romana is.” Abby pauses to wipe at her nose with an already soaked tissue. Her words tumble out in a garbled rush.
“What did he want?” Another voice hovers in the air. “Who is he?”
Abby looks up to see a pale-faced Romana standing in the doorway, dark hair loose about her shoulders. She is dressed in men’s paisley pyjamas. Abby can’t decide if it’s more of a shock to see the usually ultra stylish Romana in the pyjamas or to see her here at all. “Oh God, oh I’m so glad you are ok!”
Romana repeats her questions; her words weighted and slow as if she thinks Abby didn’t understand the first time.
It takes a few moments for Abby to compose herself. She sits upright and Millicent’s arm drops from her shoulders like a lead weight.
“Just some bloke I met on Twitter, he seemed fascinated by you and somehow knew that we’d met. I don’t know how. I thought he was probably just some crazy fan of yours so I blocked him but he kept sending me direct messages. Then he found out where I live by going to my uni and asking around. He’s been hassling me quite a bit, freaking me out. I even thought about telling the police but as he hasn’t actually done anything physical or committed a crime there’s apparently nothing I can do.” She pauses, takes a deep breath and continues “the thing is he keeps lurking around wherever I go, tonight I was out with some friends at a club, they were drunk, I decided to leave early, went to wait for a taxi and there he was, watching me from a doorway so I just ran for it. I remembered you lived along this way, Romana told me.”
Romana looks confused for a moment, she can’t quite remember if this is true but supposes it must be. She moves forward into the room in silence, her expression very grave. “Poor you, how frightening.”
Millicent rises, “I’m going to make us all some tea.” She moves towards her immaculate aubergine colour kitchen, which is only ever used to make tea or warm the occasional croissant. Spotlights gradually glow alight, casting shadows on the shiny worktops. Abby watches as Millicent moves swiftly from cupboard to cupboard pulling out tea bags and delicate looking mugs.
The world around them slumbers on in deep silence, even though they are in the centre of the city nothing stirs. It is too early for the street cleaners and the last of the clubbers have staggered home. For an hour or so, the darkness gets to contemplate without disturbance. It is somehow reassuring to hear the sound of Millicent’s vintage kettle whistle, the perky squeal makes them jump.
“Twitter has a lot to answer for.” Abby mumbles staring at her hands.
“What do you mean?” Millicent has returned with a tray bearing three china mugs, each printed with delicate bird designs. “This is herbal tea, a pacifying blend of camomile and honey.”
“Well Romana did give away a lot of information, enough to hook his interest. He could recite some of your tweets word for word.” Abby sighs, “he wanted to know more and more.”
“We can all be a bit guilty of that Abby.”
“I’m not blaming Romana, just saying how it is. We all make that mistake when we get carried away chatting to people.
“We did ought to speak to the police.” Millicent’s eyes are puffy with sleep but her voice is sharp and concerned, scared even.
Romana looks up sharply “no!”
“But this is beyond anything we can deal with, look poor Abby is still shaking with fear, we have no idea who this weirdo is, what if he is out to do you some harm?”
They all sit quietly for some moments.
“The thing is,” Romana speaks slowly “I’ve been mixing in, well shall we say, an interesting crowd. I met a guy some months ago, attractive, sophisticated, older, apparently loaded, and ready to spend it on me. I saw an opportunity and took it, we were having a ball and I really started to fall for him. But then I found out more about what he does and of course when I wanted things to cool, he didn’t,” she pauses to sip her tea, no one makes a sound, “he already had claws into my career, had found me an agent, got me interviews, started to shape a possible future in film for me. Everything I had ever dreamed of. I only had to mention something and before I knew it, I’d have a new contact, doors opening, the world at my feet.” She sighs and stares at her hands, unable to look up at them. “Then I found out he is a notorious criminal, quite by chance I overheard a conversation he was having on his mobile phone with his brief and things I had only half consciously registered before, fell into place.” Laughing bitterly she shakes her head “I thought he had a shipping business. Turns out he does, shipping drugs, weapons, you name it!”
“Is that who H is then?” Abby’s eyes shine with fascination. “You hinted at him but I had no idea!”
Romana shifts her legs from beneath her. “Yes, I’m afraid that is who H is. Now he haunts me, I can’t make a move without him on my back.”
“I’ve got to ask, what does H stand for?” Millicent wonders if she’s met him at any point but can’t think of any of the men Romana has introduced to her having names beginning with this letter.
“Hunter, Hunter Corbeck.”
Millicent whistles, not as loudly as her kettle but with as much gusto. “My ex husband came across him over a property deal some years back, charming but lethal, those are the words he used to describe him. Goodness me, however did you get involved with a shark like that Romana?”
“I met him in an exclusive club, apparently he had been keeping tabs on me for a while. Naturally I became very flattered by his attention, who wouldn’t be? Showered with flowers, expensive gifts, amazing dates in Paris and Monte Carlo. Of course deep down I knew it had to be too good to be true but it’s easy to ignore the inner nagging when you are having such a fabulous time.”
“So you think this weirdo pestering Abby might be somehow connected to Corbeck?” Millicent drums her fingers on the arm of the sofa, long nails tapping furiously.
Romana shrugs, moves out her long legs straight in front of her. “Oh I don’t know, you never know with H. One minute he’d move the world for you, the next destroy it. He can be such a psychopath. I simply knew I’d better lie low when I saw that bloke in the café. I’d had lots of odd noises on my landline, which made me think I was being bugged, strangers lurking near my apartment, and my mobile phone snatched in the street, that’s why I came to you, to lay low a while.
Abby drains her cup then cradles it tightly between her fingers. Her eyes flit around the room as she tries to think what to say next. Millicent of course, has impeccable taste; the room is all soft greys, with sudden splashes of colours strategically placed in the form of an art glass vase, a huge cushion or an abstractly shaped rug. The place virtually smells of money, indeed expensive perfume lingers on the air. Modern furniture intermingles with carefully placed antique items. This is how I want to live one day, she thinks, that would show my father. She keeps her voice calm and steady as she ventures another question “Are you frightened of H?”
Romana examines a glittering ring on her left hand, Abby can’t quite see if it is the engagement finger. Her heart leaps, what if it is?
“Yes, yes I am, but I can’t quite convince myself it is him who is out to hurt me. I mean, why would he?”
Millicent gives her a sharp look, “why do you say that? He sounds just the sort to hurt you!”
Abby sucks in her breath. Her brain is working over time; she can see the dull blue light of day beginning to filter through Millicent’s Venetian blinds. “So how much do you know about his dealings, can’t you talk to the police?”
Romana’s lips spread into a thin humourless smile. “You don’t get it do you? This man is incredibly powerful. If I talk to the police about what little I know, where do you think it would get me? My career could be stopped by one phone call from him. And do you know what people like that do to people who talk to the police about them? My next present from him would be concrete boots to wear to my watery grave!”
The three of them sit a moment, contemplating this sobering thought.
“Listen we should get some sleep.” Pushing Kumquat off her lap Millicent rises. “I am exhausted and can’t think straight. Romana you go back in your room and Abby I’ll get you a blanket, you’ll have to stay here on the sofa. We’ll be able to think more sensibly when we’ve had some sleep.”
Abby curls up on the sofa, a soft fleecy blanket pulled up to her neck, her mind spins with all that she has heard. Patiently she waits for the apartment to become silent, she can still hear Romana and Millicent murmuring in the corridor. Eventually their voices cease and as Kumquat’s breathing becomes regular with slumber, she imagines they too should by now have fallen asleep.
To be sure she waits another twenty minutes. She hears a newspaper delivery boy throw his bicycle to the ground, shoes tapping on the pavement outside, a bus’s brakes squeal as it draws to a halt at the bus stop further up the road.
Slowly, carefully and virtually holding her breath, Abby slips from under the blanket and creeps over to the window, inserting two fingers between the blinds she squints through the opening. It’s a dull day; pin pricks of rain dot the windowpane. She gently pulls her fingers away making sure the blinds don’t make a noise as they snap together again, tiptoes back to the sofa, puts a hand in her bag and pulls out a notepad and a pencil.
Quickly she scribbles a brief note ‘had to go, got lectures today, forgot. Be in touch Abby.’ She pulls out the page and leaves it on the arm of the sofa.
Down on the street she walks as fast as she can then with a quick glance round she moves into a shop doorway. The lights in the shop are still out, not yet opening time. Pulling a mobile phone out of her bag she deftly taps out a text message, presses send and then runs across the road narrowly missing a cyclist who loudly curses her.
She passes the Rogues Café and smiles a little, then turns down a side street runs the length of it; turns right and sees Anton’s Range Rover at the curb. Pausing a second, she glances round again then heads over to the vehicle, pulls open the door and launches herself into it.
“It worked! We have one hell of a scoop!” She turns and nods at JoeHammer sitting in the back “thanks for the address.”
Anton laughs, “thank me, I gave it to him, and you owe me for that parking ticket Joe.” He pats her knee “congratulations, you have quite a career ahead of you young lady.”
“Yes,” says JoeHammer, “welcome to our murky world.”
Copyright 2011 © Petra Kidd