Friday, 8 June 2012

Predisposed To Murder - Chapter Nineteen


“You’re incredible Kate,” murmured Max Cutler, idly tonguing a warm, ample breast, anxious to recover something of the cocaine’s all too brief high but agonizingly aware that even sex with a woman like ‘Gypsy’ Kate could be nothing more than second rate by comparison.
“You’re not so bad yourself, ‘Gypsy’ Kate Fernandez huskily replied. The deep, almost baritone voice could easily have been mistaken for a man’s but for a velvety seductiveness sure to prick the skin of anyone within hearing distance. She was a tall, big-boned woman who never touched the drugs she peddled and wouldn’t even smoke a joint. Drugs destroyed people, slowly and horribly; she had seen that for herself. It didn’t bother her that she supplied the means for what amounted, after all, to a form of slow torture. If those poor devils couldn’t get the stuff from her, they would find someone else soon enough. How could she be held responsible for the stupidity of others?  The law might say so, she had to admit, but the law was an ass…so what the heck? She glanced at the luminous dial of her watch, swore aloud, pushed Max Cutler away and eased herself out of the bed.
“Where are you going?”
“Out, so go back to sleep,” she muttered, dressing in what struck Max as absurd haste for a quarter past one o’clock in the morning.
“Out..? Out where? It’s the middle of the bloody night woman?”
“I have some business to attend do.”
“Business…?  What business could you possibly have at this unearthly hour?”
“You’re not my only customer, you know, and my goodies don’t come gift-wrapped through the bloody post.”
“I’m coming with you.” He flung back the duvet, conscious of her dark, steely eyes feasting on his naked body even as she dressed.
“You’ll do no such thing. You’ll stay put and mind your own damn business,” the woman commonly called ‘Gypsy’ snarled. 
He stared at her open-mouthed. The lovely smile was gone. In its place, an expression of intense…menace, warning. Her voice had lost its warmth and softness, become stony and uncompromising. Yet even as he watched, he saw a broad smile light up the shadowy face again, heard the gravel voice recover some of its former velvety persuasiveness. She leaned over and kissed him hard on the mouth. “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies,” she whispered, “and make sure you’re still here when I get back. We have unfinished business, you and I, Max Cutler.” She kissed him again, even more roughly this time. Then, suddenly, she was gone, the caravan door swinging shut behind her.
Max lay awake for ages, unable to sleep and feeling more and more morose. He thought he could rely on Kate, had expected her to greet his retreat from Chelsea with open arms. Well, in a sense she had. But it wasn’t only sex he needed right now or    even cocaine as much as a place to stay.
Drugs smugglers, she’s involved with drug smugglers.  
He should have guessed. So why hadn’t it occurred to him to wonder how, where, or from whom she got her ‘goodies’ until now? Good question. Answer: what the eye doesn’t see the heart can’t grieve over. Did it really matter, anyway? Answer: this could be dangerous. The kind of people with whom Kate would be doing business had a reputation for turning nasty at the drop of a hat. He owed her money too…a lot of money.
Starting to panic and cursing himself for being so naïve, Max climbed out of bed and began to dress. It wasn’t for his sexual prowess or bags of natural charm that Kate had urged him to stay put. He’d promised to pay her and the bitch would make sure he did just that. For now, at least, there was no alternative. He drove to Whitstable much too fast, feeling heady with indecisiveness and impotent rage.
Max let himself into the cottage with his own key, having had a copy made of Nina’s some time ago, albeit without telling her. She wouldn’t have minded, he told himself, but she was oddly possessive about the place and might have refused – so why risk a scene?  Her passion for it had to do with its belonging to Nathan Sparrow, he supposed. Damn Sparrow. Try as he might to make Nina forget about the man, the spectre of Nathan Sparrow was always there, obstinately refusing to budge even when they made love.  He hated the man, with an intensity that frequently intruded on their lovemaking.
Why had Nathan Sparrow confessed to killing Ray? At first, the confession had seemed like manna for heaven. What did it matter, why? He, Max, had been let off the hook. It had been cause for celebration. Heaven only knew how many beers he’d downed at the White Swan that night. Then, soon afterwards, Pip had dropped her little bombshell in his lap. The conniving little cow...  It was her word against his, of course. She couldn’t prove a thing. Even so, he’d felt as though he were living on borrowed time ever since. A roguish grin crossed the handsome face. Whatever, it had seemed almost worth it to have three women clamouring for his attention. Only, now he wasn’t so sure. The grin faded, to be replaced by a scowl. Women, they are so bloody unreliable.
After securing a chain on the front door, he could barely keep his eyes open and only just managed to stagger into the master bedroom and fling himself on the double bed before surrendering to an uneasy sleep without even bothering to undress.
In the cold light of day, it struck Max that things weren’t half so bad. No one would think of looking for him here. True, he had come here with Nina sometimes but she didn’t know he had a key and it wouldn’t enter her pretty head that he’d come alone. For now, at least, 22 Waterfield Road, Whitstable, would provide as good a bolthole as any. He only had to re-stock the fridge and the wine cabinet, buy some bread and maybe some cans of beer, having already wheedled if not yet paid for enough cocaine from Kate to see him though a few more days of welcome respite from his troubles. Frowning, he counted out the notes in his wallet.
Eventually, he would have to contact his mother. But that, too, could wait. Annie Cutler’s fat, pasty image sprung, unbidden, to mind, lent even more ridicule by daubs of rouge on the cheeks and a glossy lipstick-of-the-day that always made her mouth seem enormous. He could even hear her incessant whining in one ear, “More money, Max? Whatever do you spend it on? No, don’t tell me, I can imagine. Not that it’s any of my business of course, even if it is my money. You know, I can’t refuse you. Heaven only knows why. I wouldn’t mind if you bought mummy a bunch of flowers now and then, just to show you care. But you don’t, do you? You don’t give a damn about anyone but yourself. Where did I go wrong, Max? God knows, I’ve done my best…” and so she would drone on before, finally, writing out a cheque and he could make good his escape.
The days that followed were among the best and worst Max had ever known, just eating, drinking, sleeping and sometimes snorting, sometimes shooting and sometimes smoking cocaine.  The latter practice held the greater appeal the more times he tried it.  Okay, so it didn’t last as long, as little as five minutes sometimes; at other times, as long as fifteen but…what the heck? The high achieved from smoking was incredibly, marvellously intense. Better still, it was immediate. Later, he’d sink into a depression, alleviated only by alcohol and, subsequently by a restless, often nightmarish sleep.
No one in the small harbour town paid much attention to him. At first, Max enjoyed the anonymity. Soon, though, boredom began to set in. Personal space was all very well but he was a social animal, life and soul of any party and, besides, he was missing Nina. He would have to find a way to make amends, although even he had to admit that wouldn’t be easy. If only Ray were here, he would know what to do for the best. His face clouded over. It hurt, thinking about Ray, it hurt like hell. But Ray Bannister was past tense. He couldn’t afford to lose Nina too, even if she came as a package along with that witch, Pip Sparrow.
After much soul searching, he called Nina on her mobile phone. She sounded distant but that was only to be expected and the signal left much to be desired, the connection kept breaking up. “I need to see you. I’m sorry, I really am. I know I’ve behaved badly but at least give me a chance to explain, can’t you? I miss you so much, my darling. Don’t you miss your Maxie just a teeny weenie bit?  Tell me you do, even if it’s a lie. I can’t bear to think of you hating me. It’s breaking my heart, darling, our being apart like this. Say you forgive me, please…”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Whitstable, at the cottage. Can you come down or shall I come to you?”
 “No, you stay there. I’ll drive down later.” She didn’t sound surprised.
“Okay, but when?” he demanded eagerly.
“I’ll be with you when I’m good and ready, Max, and not before.”
“But soon, my darling, you’ll make it soon?”
“When I’m good and ready, Max,” the distant voice repeated, “But, yes, I’ll be with you soon.”
“I miss you so much…” But the line had already gone dead. “Sweet Jesus, I need a smoke!” he cried aloud and went to a drawer, extracted a tiny, near empty packet containing a just few grains of the white powdery substance he craved.
At the Chelsea apartment, Pip Sparrow replaced Nina’s mobile phone on the table where she’d found it and relished a rapid surge of adrenalin.
Elsewhere, Nina was already fretting over whether or not she’d done the right thing by taking Carol Brady’s advice and seeking help from her detective boyfriend. Is that why she hadn’t been wholly truthful with Fred Winter, she asked herself, simply because she had reservations about involving a third party in Max’s silly disappearing act? Certainly, having Fred Winter around made her nervous but he had to be a marked improvement on the police. If Annie Cutler had her way there would be a full-scale search going on for her precious son. At least Fred had managed to persuade that dreadful woman it was early days yet. 
She was sitting alone in her car, overlooking the Thames near Richmond and mulling over the awful prospect of having an HIV test.  At the same time, she bitterly regretted having told Max to leave the way she had. It had come as a shock that he could be bisexual…but did it really matter?  His timing couldn’t have been worse, of course, or she wouldn’t have over-reacted. She liked to think so anyway. She had been very fond of Ray Bannister just as she was very fond of Max. Sending Max packing hadn’t been fair to either man, she saw that now. She should, at the very least, have heard Max out. If only Pip had kept her big mouth shut…
As for Pip…Nina’s mouth pouted anxiously. Pip and Max, a couple, surely not...? The girl had to be winding her up? She was inclined to agree with Max there. Pip obviously had a crush on him that had reached the stage where reality and fantasy were barely distinguishable one from the other. Pip hated her, Max had said.  The girl was jealous perhaps. But…hate …surely not? Hadn’t she taken the girl in and treated her like a sister, given her an allowance, encouraged her to stay on at school to help realize her dream and Nathan’s of going to university? How could Pip possibly hate her? And yet…there had been times when she’d wondered…caught Pip watching her, intensely, almost as if wishing her dead.
Now you’re being absurd, Nina, she remonstrated with herself and even managed a nervous giggle. Why, Pip owes everything to me, everything. She’d have been thrown to the wolves if I hadn’t stepped in and saved her. How could she hate me for that? And yet…there had been times, too, when they’d had a silly quarrel over something frightfully trivial and a look in the girl’s eyes, an inflexion in the voice, had sent a cold shiver down her spine. Subsequently, she’d cave in, not only to bring a peaceful end to the argument, but also to be rid of the girl’s presence as quickly as possible.
Nina shrugged. Even close friends quarrel sometimes, and Pip and I are close friend aren’t we?
She got out of the car, walked to a nearby bench and sat down to watch the gently flowing river and, hopefully, rediscover some peace of mind. Nina was not one to enjoy her own company in the least, and this occasion was no exception. Being alone is worse than sad, it’s scary. Certainly, an army of thoughts was taking no prisoners today as she mulled over things she’d much prefer not. Inevitably, they homed in on Max Cutler. ‘Your turn next,’ he had flung at her.
Was it possible Max could have sent the handkerchief with those same awful words on it and, if so, why? And what of the other notes, had he sent them too? It seemed likely if not bloody obvious, but why? Love didn’t enter their cosy little equation and well they both knew it. But we’re damn good together so why go and spoil things?  Could it be Max was jealous of her wealth, success? If so, the more fool him. Oh, she was modestly wealthy and modestly famous, but that was all. April Showers was already slipping in the TV ratings. At the end of the day, I’m just another jobbing actress enjoying a good run. Heaven only knows for how long.  But she had no wish to go down that path so began, instead, to consider Fred Winter.
She couldn’t deny it was a comfort to know someone was doing something about the threatening notes. At the same time, a still, small voice warned her that she should have come clean about why she had sent poor Max packing. Although…What useful purpose would it have served?  Besides, he might have told Annie Cutler, in which case that awful woman would have hounded me non-stop. She’s already accused me of having done away with her dear Max, for heaven’s sake. Nina laughed aloud again, a harsh unpleasant sound. No, she was right not to tell Fred Winter the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the bloody truth. Let him find Max and get to the bottom of those horrible threats, that’s all she’d ask of the man. And once he finds Max, what then? But she wouldn’t go down that path either, not until she had to and then she’d...What, play it by ear?  It seemed as good a compromise as any.
Meanwhile, first things first... Nina shivered and made her way back to the car. She had booked into a private clinic for an HIV+ test the following day, under an assumed name of course. Not that she had a thing to worry about but better, she argued, to be sure than perpetually worrying about it. She stopped at the car and felt so weak at the knees that she almost stumbled. She couldn’t possibly have the HIV+ virus…could she? Damn Max, damn Pip and damn everybody! Damn, damn, damn.”  She was sobbing almost hysterically now, but hastily pulled herself together. The show had to go on, didn’t it?  
“Damn the stupid show too,” she muttered angrily as she slid into the driving seat and sat glaring furiously at the steering wheel for several long minutes as if heaping all blame for the world’s ills upon it.
At about the same time as Nina Fox finally got around to turning the key in the ignition and pressing her foot down harder than was necessary on the accelerator, ‘Gypsy’ Kate Fernandez was busy forcing open a poorly fitted window at the rear of number 22 Waterfield Road in the quiet harbour town of Whitstable on the East Kent coast.
Upstairs, Max Cutler, the root cause of both women’s immediate antipathy and concern, was sleeping off a hangover like a man dead to the world.

To be continued on Monday

[Note: Apologies to readers for the inconsistencies in font size per chapter. This is down to Google and I have been unable to rectify the problem.]