Monday, 8 October 2012

Sacrilege - Chapter 3


Inside, the house was even more luxurious than its impressive exterior suggested. A handsome staircase wound its way through several floors from a wide entrance hall littered with statuettes perched on glossy tables.
      The immediate effect was more than a trifle overwhelming. Clearly, the owners had money to burn. Good taste, though, was something else. Even at a cursory glance, I was struck by the sheer vulgarity of it all. At the same time, I was conscious of an air of defiance, as if the owner were challenging the observer to utter one word of criticism at his or her peril. Ironically, this was all for the good. It not only warned me to keep the purpose of my visit at the forefront of my mind, but also put me on my guard.
A woman appeared whose dour manner and dress instantly made me think of Rosa Klebb, a nasty S.M.E.R.S.H colonel in the James Bond movie, From Russia with Love.
“I need to search you,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Be my guest.”
Her thickly veined hands on my body made my flesh crawl. Thankfully, she knew her job and my ordeal was over quickly enough.
“Come this way.” She showed me into a spacious room leading off the hall, only to vanish as suddenly as she had appeared. I merely heard a door close softly behind me, and sensed she was no longer there.
I concentrated vision and thought on a man sitting behind a desk, leaning back in his chair and observing me with a mixture of distain and curiosity. Nor was I immune to an air of hostility.  I glanced at another man standing behind him, just to the right. Our eyes met. I could not suppress a gasp.
It was Philip.
“You two know each other?” the man at the desk had caught our startled exchange.
“We certainly do.” Philip grinned, at the same time maintaining an authoritative distance I found unnerving.  “You remember me, Mister Fisher? Of course you do. Phil Adams. We did some business a couple of years back. Glad to see you’ve moved upmarket too. I’d say Maurice is just the ticket for you.”
“So long as you can afford him,” said the other black man smoothly.
I retrieved an envelope from my inside pocket and tossed it on the table the way I had seen it done in movies. The black man glared, plainly unimpressed. He handed the envelope to Philip. “Count it.” His expression softened slightly. “So, Mister Fisher, how did you come to hear about our little establishment?”
“I keep my ears to the ground,” I mumbled and swallowed hard. What the hell is Philip doing here? He must be wondering the same thing about me. Nor did I need to be told my partner was less than delighted to see me. I risked a glance in his direction. He was still counting the notes and did not look up. Even so, I knew him well enough to realize he was furious although he gave no outward sign.
“It’s all there,” said Philip curtly. He was not addressing me. All the same, I sensed his tone was intended to deal me more than a passing body blow.
“You have good hearing,” said the man behind the desk. “I like that. Phil will take you to Maurice. Normally, it would be someone else. In the circumstances, however, who am I to deny old friends an opportunity to catch up?”
“Hardly friends,” Philip growled and the look he flung me was no charade.
e are all friends here.” The other man’s easy smile made my flesh crawl, “No clients, no punters, just…friends. All for one and one for all, as the saying goes. Let’s face it. Who can a man trust if he can’t trust his friends?” He paused for so long I thought he had finished speaking. Not for an instant, though, did the piercing gaze leave my face.
I was rooted to the spot.
“Mind you, “he continued in the same silky voice, it can be a mistake sometimes. Take Julius Caesar, for example. A great man, Caesar, but vulnerable, not least because he was too trusting. Vulnerable men make mistakes. I do not make mistakes, Mister Fisher.”  He shrugged. “If those around me choose to do so, that is their funeral…as the saying goes. “ The smile broadened, a glitter in the eyes belying any suggestion of goodwill.  He gestured dismissively to Philip, took a folder from a pile on the desk and proceeded to thumb through its contents.
“Come with me,” said Philip in much the same tone as Rosa Klebb had used. After pulling the door shut, he said loudly, “Follow me,” and then, in a harsh whisper out of one corner of his mouth, “Not a word!”
I followed him up the imposing staircase, increasingly unsteady on my feet and had to grasp the rail. What had I let myself in for? Moreover, I suspected the sharp end of Philip’s tongue was the least of my worries.He showed me into a small, darkened room no bigger than a broom cupboard.  
Before I could express surprise, he pinioned me against the door and kissed me fiercely on the mouth.  I responded in kind.  Our passion, however, was short-lived. Almost at once, he drew back and regarded me with frank dismay. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?”
“Danny…” I began indignantly.
“You’re as bad as each other, barging in on things you know nothing about and putting people on the spot.”
“Like you, I suppose?” I retorted.
“Like me and a good few others,” he snapped, “You’re playing a dangerous game, Laurie, you and Danny both. If anyone cottons on to you, you’re both dead. It won’t be a case of ‘no questions asked’ either. Or maybe it turns you on, the idea of being tortured to find out what you know?” I cringed. “I thought not. You’re out of your tiny minds, the pair of you, not to mention way out of your depth. Fat Georgie was a big-hearted softie compared to the people we’re dealing with here.” He paused for breath. “How come you’re here at all? It took months of surveillance to find this place and you turn up, cool as you please, after barely three weeks.”
“It’s a long story.”
“Save it for another time then. But don’t think you’re off the hook. Right now, we need to get you and Danny out of here pronto.”
“Okay, but how?”
“Suppose you tell me,” he muttered in a tone that struck me as less than hopeful. He turned on a light switch but instead of the whole room lighting up it remained in gloom while a mirror on the far wall leapt out at us. 
“Danny!” I gasped for it was a two-way mirror. Behind it, I could see Danny sprawled on a double bed reading a magazine.
Instantly, Philip clamped a hand over my mouth. “Not so loud. Do you want to get us killed? And, for God’s sake, remember to call him Maurice.” In spite of everything, we each grinned simultaneously.
“What do I say? What do I do?” I wailed miserably.
“Take your cue from Danny. He’s got a good head on his shoulders that boy, when he chooses to use it,” he added waspishly. “Meanwhile, I’ll try and dream up a way of getting you both out of here without blowing my cover or dropping us all in the shit.”
“Does Danny know…?”
“I’m here?  You bet he does. And now he knows his precious Teresa isn’t, he’s waiting for me to play cavalry.”
“You know you love it,” I teased. But Philip was in no mood for levity. He glared at me with such potency that my legs turned to jelly. Not for the first time, I had to accept that I was no good at this sort of thing.  Hadn’t my predisposition for disaster got me into trouble before? Worse, it had got someone killed. Would I never learn?  Yet, I sensed this was neither the time nor the place to take myself further to task, let alone bring a stockpile of self-defence mechanisms into play. 
“Listen carefully,” Philip hissed, “there are other mirrors but only the one door on this side. There’s one corner of the room where you can’t be seen clearly so be guided by Danny. There are hidden microphones as well. Luckily, they aren’t as effective as they might be. Even so, remember to say anything you don’t want to be overheard in a whisper. For heaven’s sake, don’t talk in whispers all the bloody time, though, or anyone watching will know something’s up.”
“You’re scaring me,” I protested.
“Good. Let’s hope it will encourage you to be convincing.” His steely gaze did not soften a fraction. “I’ve got an idea, but I need to think it through. Just trust Danny and let him do all the work, okay? Whatever happens, follow Danny’s lead. Do not, I repeat not, improvise on your own account or, so help me, I’ll…” He kissed me hard on the mouth. Our embrace lasted only seconds, however, before he grabbed a handle I hadn’t spotted before, flung open a door in the mirror and pushed me inside.
“A visitor for you Maurice,” Philip announced. “You remember Mister Fisher? Sure you do, since you used to work for him before you did a runner. Have fun, you two.” I felt him slip something into my pocket before hearing the door close behind me.
“Well, well, fancy seeing you here!” Danny murmured and glared at me much as Philip had. “How did you find me?”
“Does it matter?” I tried to inject a harsh note into my voice that I was far from feeling. All I really wanted to do was give him a big hug.
“I suppose not. You’re here now. More to the point, you’ve paid your money and made your choice. Which is what, exactly? Looking for a wrestle are we?  I seem to remember you enjoy a long, hot wrestle. So long as you end up on top, of course. Now, would that be with our clothes on or off for starters?”
To my horror, I felt myself blushing.
Danny strode right up to me and looked me unblinkingly in the eye. I’ll let you rip my clothes off when you’re ready, shall I? After all, it’s the least I can do after running out on you the way I did. Not that I’m kidding myself I have any say in the matter now, no more than I had then.”
He grinned suddenly and then, before I guessed what he intended, grabbed me, hurled me to one side and sent me sprawling, only to dive on top of me and pinion me in a weak but convincing enough scissor grip. I remembered what Philip had said about being less visible in one corner of the room.  Danny leaned forward, placed both hands on my shoulders and brought his face close to mine. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?” he whispered, unknowingly echoing Philip word for word.
“I was worried about you,” I whispered back
“So now I have to worry about you too, as if I haven’t got enough on my plate!”
“I think Philip has an idea. If anyone can get us out of this mess, he can.”
“It certainly won’t be you,” murmured Danny wryly and gave my shoulders an affectionate squeeze. “Now, wrestle me.”
“What?  Wrestle how?” I demanded nonplussed.
“Just do you best,” said Danny with a despairing sigh that galvanised me into action.
We wrestled.
“Hey, what’s this?”  Danny pulled something out of my pocket.
It was a revolver.For a second we both stared at it as if we’d seen a ghost. Suddenly - and to this day I have no idea how - Danny contrived to pass it back to me. “Get up and make it look good,” he hissed before jumping to his feet and backing away, hands in the air. In a daze, I staggered to my feet. “Don’t kill me, Mister Fisher. Please don’t kill me. I didn’t mean to leave you in the shit, honest. But there was more money on the table and…well…you know how it is. Business is business.”
I could only stare, thinking this had to be a ghastly nightmare and any minute I would wake up safe and snug in bed.
The mirror door burst open. “What the…?” Philip looked suitably enraged. “Put that thing down, Fisher, right now. Point it at me and you’re a dead man. Do you honestly think my friends would let you take Maurice out of here, even with me as a hostage?  I’m expendable, Fisher, but not half as expendable as you are,” he added between clenched teeth.
Danny darted to Philip’s side. “You haven’t thought this through, have you, Mt Fisher? I’m no use to you dead, am I?”
I saw at once what I was expected to do.
My mouth went dry. Cold shivers ran up and down my spine. My hand that held the gun wouldn’t stop making nervous, jerking movements. “Move,” I managed to say at last. The look of sheer relief on their faces would have had me convulsed with laughter under different circumstances. “You lead, Phil. Any sudden moves and I’ll shoot the pair of you.  True, I’d rather keep you alive, Maurice. But needs must as the devil drives, eh? As for any of your friends who may be watching or listening, Phil, they had better not try anything stupid if they value your services, as I’m sure they do.”
It was a huge, daring bluff. Surprise, too, was on our side. Yet all the while we made our way out of the house, down the path and through the gates - that opened of their own accord - I couldn’t help wondering how Philip would explain the gun away, especially since Rosa Klebb had frisked me with practised expertise.
As soon as we turned a corner, Philip swung round and said, “As soon as I turn round, hit me as hard as you can on the back of the head, and then you and Danny make a run for it.”
“But…” I spluttered.
“No buts, Laurence, just DO IT.” He turned round.
I froze. Danny grabbed the gun and brought it down so hard on Philip’s head that I could have sworn I heard his skull crack.
Philip dropped to the ground like a stone.
“Philip!” I cried and would have gone to him had Danny not grabbed my hand and dragged me after him as we ran down the pretty tree-lined street. There were lots of trees, I thought, and colourful front gardens. No wonder the likes of Posh and Becks had chosen to live in Sawbridgeworth. “No, it’s this way!” I yanked at Danny’s hand, hastily recalling where Jackie had parked. Let her be there, I prayed silently, Please, God, let her be there.
The hatchback remained where I had left it. Scarcely had Danny scrambled into the back seat and slammed the door shut than we were on the move. I was still struggling to fasten my seat belt next to Jackie
“I get the feeling speed is of the essence, right?”
“Too right,” declared Danny with feeling then, “Aren’t you going to introduce me, Dad?”
“Dad…?” Jackie expressed frank astonishment as the car lurched to one side but quickly righted itself.
“You don’t want to know,” I told her and gave up trying to fasten my seat belt. “Do we call you Maurice or Danny?” I called over my shoulder.
“How many more times do I have to tell you? The name’s Dan.”  A familiar grunt in my ear was oddly reassuring.
I made the necessary introductions.
“Marc’s got a girlfriend?”
“Yes…that is…well, yes.” I shifted uneasily in my seat and caught Jackie’s eye in her rear view mirror.
“I think Laurence is trying to tell you I’m a transsexual,” she said coolly, grimacing at me as she did so.
“Oh, right.” Danny was unperturbed. “It makes a change, I suppose. I mean… well, you know what I mean. Each to his…or her…own thing, that’s what I always say. Not that it’s any of my business.”
“You got that right anyway,” Jackie observed, her knuckles turning white as she made a sharp left turn.
“Where are we going?” Danny wanted to know.
“To Marc’s flat,” I told him
“That depends,” said Jackie, now pulling up in a side street that could have been just about anywhere.
“Oh?” said Danny and I in unison.
“I don’t know what you two are up to and I don’t particularly care. But Marc’s had a rough time of it since Nick died. Now he’s over the worst, I intend to make him happy. We love each other.”
“We’re happy for you both, aren’t we Danny?”
“Dan,” Danny growled.
“Aren’t we Dan?” I repeated testily.
“If you say so, guv….” Danny hadn’t called me that for years and I had no doubt it was meant as a deliberate wind-up.
“So what are you saying?” I asked Jackie, refusing to rise to Danny’s bait.
“I’m simply saying that I don’t want anything to spoil things for us.”
“We wouldn’t dream of it, would we guv?” Danny piped up.
I ignored him. “Marc is my brother,” I pointed out.
“And he’s my lover,” said Jackie. “As such, I take priority in his life just as he takes priority in mine. Judging by the way the pair of you were haring along as if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse were after you, I’d say you were up to your necks in something Marc needs saving from.”
“Marc can take care of himself,” retorted Danny.
“I agree. And he has his hands full doing just that. I give what moral support I can but he’s still very vulnerable.”
“I don’t need you to tell me about my own brother,” I growled.
“No? And how would you know since you’ve hardly been near this past year or so? You, of all people, who’s responsible for the whole sorry mess he got himself into in the first place. I know all about Nick Carter and I mean all about Nick Carter, including the fact that he was your…” Her voice tailed off and she had the grace to look embarrassed.
“We were close for a while,” I muttered stiffly, “but he was never the love of my life. We just…”
“Shagged?”  Jackie’s tone touched a nerve.
“Yes, we shagged.” I rounded on her angrily. “We served each other’s purposes when there was no one else available. Then Philip…”
“Became available?”  Jackie pursed her lips.
“If you like, yes, just as Marc became available for Nick and now you’ve come along to fill the gap.” Jackie visibly winced and I instantly regretted the remark. A native stubbornness, however, refused to release an apology of sorts now stuck in my throat.
“There’s no need to let Marc in on this evening’s little caper,” said Danny with uncharacteristic tact.
“One look at you and he’ll imagine the worst for sure,” I pointed out.
“That’s settles it,” Jackie declared in a no-nonsense manner that brooked no argument. “Much as it goes against the grain, I will tell Marc I’ve been to see a friend. So, where can I drop you?”
“I gave her the widow Finn’s address.”
“She’ll smell a rat too,” Danny grumbled.
”She already has,” I replied cuttingly. “You saw to that. Whatever possessed you to visit the grave, anyway?”
“I was curious. It’s not everyone gets to see their own grave.”
Jackie’s false eyelashes went into overdrive as she shot me a sideways look that spoke volumes.
I could but sigh despairingly and keep my mouth shut for the duration.
As we watched Jackie drive away from the widow Finn’s, Danny gave my sleeve a sympathetic tug. “She’ll be good for Marc, you’ll see. He needs someone like that to help him get a life. Let’s face it, Dad, he needs you and me right now like he needs a hole in the head.”
He was right of course. “Don’t call me Dad,” I rebuked him gently as we made our way up the path to the widow’s front door. At the same time, a warm glow settled on my stomach as it always did when he called me that.
May Finn was entertaining company in the shape of her husband-to-be.
Andrew Bolton and I had been getting along famously so I was surprised that he and Danny appeared to take an instant dislike to each other.
“How old are you,” Andrew wanted to know.
“I’m eighteen, why?”
“Work for a living, do you?”
“What business is that of yours?”
“I dare say you’re starving as usual, Danny,” the widow Finn interrupted with characteristic diplomacy. “Come through to the kitchen.” Danny followed her out of the room without another word but with a parting glare at Andrew.
“Danny’s okay.” I said defensively. “He’s at college.”
“Met him at a gay bar, did you?”  Andrew Bolton sneered.
The penny dropped. “You think..?” I burst out laughing. “Danny isn’t my boyfriend. He’s just someone who came into my life a few years ago and hasn’t quite got around to moving on yet. He’s probably the closest thing to a son of my own I’ll ever have. Ask May if you don’t believe me.”
“I see,” muttered Bolton, plainly unconvinced.
“I got angry, “Not all gay men are predators, you know.”
“I wasn’t suggesting…” he blustered.
“No? So what were you suggesting?”
“You hear stories…”
“And you believe all you hear, do you?  Oh, and you struck me as an intelligent man. It just goes to show, doesn’t it, how wrong first impressions can be?  Besides, even if Danny were my boyfriend…which he most certainly is not…what’s the big deal?  Or maybe you think I’ve coerced him into a life of ...well, whatever?” Words failed me.
“As you say…’whatever’,” responded Andrew Bolton darkly without a hint of apology.
“Just when I thought you and I were getting along just fine...” I couldn’t suppress either the hurt or anger I felt. “I certainly never took you for a homophobe.”
“You’re a friend of May’s. I have to respect that.”
“Why, you pompous old fart…!”  I couldn’t help myself.
Before he could answer, May returned. “What’s going on?” She looked from one to the other of us with a severity that made us both feel small. “Well?” she demanded.
“Andrew thought Danny was my boyfriend,” I told her. She burst out laughing, “Andrew, dear, you never did?”
“It was an honest mistake,” Bolton protested. “If you will mix with these people, my dear…”
Her laughter ceased abruptly. “Oh, and what do you mean, ‘these people’?”
“You know perfectly well. Not that I’m criticising your choice of friends, my dear, but…well…really…”
“I think you had better leave Andrew.”
“What? May, my dear, I meant no offence. You do believe me?”
“Unfortunately, yes, I do. We’ll discuss it another time. For now, though, I think it’s for the best if you go home and calm down.”
“I am perfectly calm. But I take your point. Are you sure you’ll be alright?”
“If you mean, am I worried in the least about being in my own home with two men, the answer is no. I’ve known Laurence for years. As for Danny…well, suffice to say he and I have a history too. Enough said, I think.”
“Why, yes, of course, if you say so, my dear.” He went to give her a kiss on the lips but she offered a leathery cheek instead. He gave it a peck and left, glaring at me as if I were the devil incarnate.
“I’m sorry, May.”
“So am I but never mind about that now. You had better come through to the kitchen before Danny scoffs everything in sight.  Not that I don’t like to see young people with a healthy appetite, I do. He may have grown up a lot but our Danny hasn’t really changed much at all, has he?”
I took it as a rhetorical question, moreover suspected it wasn’t only Danny’s appetite to which she was referring. “Andrew...” I began.
She gestured with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Leave Andrew to me,” she said quietly and I recognized a look of firm resolve that a had me feeling almost sorry for the man.
Later, after the widow had gone to bed, Danny and I chatted while we made up the bed settee in the lounge for him.
“How did you know where to find me?” he asked the second May Finn had left the room. I told him about my meeting with Agnes Musoke and subsequent call on Ginny Sharp. “That Ginny, I’ll swing for her one of these days. I’ve been telling her for years. Keep your head down, I say, and your mouth shut. Does she listen? Like hell, she does!”
“What on earth were you thinking of, getting in touch with her again?”
Danny shrugged. “She’s a mate. I trust her…Well, up to a point. I can always tell when she’s lying. Once I knew she had a hand in this little caper, I thought I was practically home and dry.” He gave me a long, serious look. “I have to find Teresa, dad. I love her.”
What does a young man of eighteen know about love, I wondered? But I merely nodded sympathetically and gave myself a good telling off for selecting to forget I’d been that age myself once. “Have you any idea where Teresa might be?”
“No, but I know someone who will.”
“Ginny Sharp,” I groaned.
“Good for you, got it in one.”
“But you can’t possibly go and see her again. Neither can I, for that matter, it’s far too dangerous.”
“We can always disguise ourselves, dye our hair and wear trench coats.”
“We could dye our hair, I suppose,” I agreed reluctantly, “and you could shave off that excuse for a beard.”
“That’s harsh,” he said grinning, “but I take the point. How about pink hair, yeah? We could both go pink. We’d turn a few heads, I bet.”
“The idea is to be inconspicuous, not stand out a mile,” I reminded him dryly. 
“I suppose so.”
“It’s still too dangerous.”
“We could get Marc to go and see Ginny for us?” Danny suggested.
“Jackie would have us drawn and quartered,” I muttered.
We looked at each other. “Jackie!” we exclaimed in unison. “Suppose she won’t?” I had my doubts.
“We give her a choice, yeah? Either she goes or we spill the beans to Marc about what happened tonight.”
“That’s emotional blackmail,” I protested.
“Got a better idea?”
I hadn’t. Moreover, there was no point in arguing about it. Jackie was our elected go-between with Ginny Sharp whether she liked it or not. “Did you get a chance to talk much to Philip?” I was not so much changing the subject as anxious to ask the question that had been burning my tongue for hours.
“Not really, did you?”
I shook my head. “What is he up to, for heaven’s sake? Has he got sidetracked or do the police think these people are harbouring a serial killer?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. But you don’t need to worry about Phil. He knows what he’s doing.”
“Oh, yes? And how will he explain away what happened tonight?”
“I imagine the facts will speak for themselves. Laurence Fisher, pimp, takes collection of his property and poor old Phil happens to get in the way.” Danny chuckled.
“It’s not funny,” I said but felt my mouth twitching all the same. “What about the gun? How will he explain that away?”
“He’ll think of something. Doesn’t he always?”
“I suppose so,” I agreed but didn’t feel in the least reassured. A thought struck me. “Where is it, the gun?”
“It’s in my jacket.”
“Shouldn’t we bury it or something?”
“You are joking? That little beauty will come in handy before we’re through, you’ll see.”
“Well I’m obviously stuck with you and I’m not going anywhere until I find Terri so it looks like we’re a team again, right?”
“It looks that way,” I agreed without much enthusiasm.
“It’ll be okay, you’ll see.”  His voice sounded strained.
I paused to consider the young man who had become so much a part of my life. Danny looked tired and unhappy despite what I always saw as the air of a wide boy done well.  Impulsively, I gave him a hug. “We’ll find Teresa,” I said and tried to sound encouraging, “How can we not?  Aren’t we a good team or aren’t we a good team?”
He broke away, grinning. “We’d be a better team if one half would only look before he leaps now and then.”
“That,” I informed him categorically, “is a case of the pot calling the kettle black if ever I heard one. So, less cheek from you, young man, and let’s get some sleep.”
“Okay. Tomorrow is another day.”
“Too right,” I groaned audibly, went to the door and turned off the light.
“Goodnight, Laurence, sleep tight.”
I did not answer but made my way thoughtfully upstairs. Danny only ever called me by my first name when worried sick about something or, in this case, someone. His feelings for Teresa must be stronger than I thought. Irrationally, I experienced a stab of…jealousy…surely not? Even so, it was a long time before I fell asleep in the widow Finn’s spare bedroom.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, Danny went shopping for hair dye, among other things, and I paid Jackie a visit. Marc would be at work and she was expecting me although the voice that crackled from my mobile had an edge to it. I sighed as I switched it off and headed for the bus stop. Jackie, I suspected, would not cave in easily to what I had in mind to ask of her.
I waited ages for a bus before no less than three arrived together. Then a road accident meant we were stuck in a traffic jam for what seemed an eternity. I kept thinking I should get out and walk. At the same time, the bus might start up again at any minute…so I stayed put.  Finally, we got underway. I alighted at my stop feeling thoroughly hot and bothered. Worse, I was in the mood for confrontation. Jackie could kick up as much fuss as she liked, I decided, but she would pay Ginny Sharp a visit or…what?  I began to falter in my resolve.
At the foot of the steps leading to the front door of Grantham Court, I paused and looked up. I spotted Marc’s bedroom curtains at once but only vaguely noted that they were still closed. After all, the last thing on anyone’s mind when dashing off to work is closing curtains. Even so, they obstinately returned to bug me. Why hadn’t Jackie opened them?
“Who cares about the bloody curtains?” I muttered aloud and pressed the intercom. No answering voice at my ear told me to push the door and come on up.  I waited a few minutes and tried again. Again, I got no response.  A small, stout woman in a red coat and hat that gave her the appearance of a walking, talking post box appeared at the door and opened it. At first she stood and glowered at me and I thought she intended to block my path. “I’m Marc Fisher’s brother,” I told her with my best smile, “I expect he’s having a lie-in and didn’t hear the bell.”
“Such a nice young man,” she commented, as most people did about my brother, and let me pass. “I’m so pleased he’s found himself a nice girlfriend,” she added before waddling off down the steps.
At the flat door, I knocked and called out, “Jackie, are you there? It’s me, Laurence.” No reply. I knocked again, harder this time but still no reply. Clenching my teeth with growing agitation, I searched for the spare key where Marc had told me to look under the stair carpet. “Eureka!” Eventually I found it and let myself in.
To say I was confronted with an unholy mess would be an understatement. The whole flat was a pigsty.My first reaction was blank astonishment. Then I saw the blood. It was on the carpet, on the walls, everywhere. There were red streaks here, red smudges there and a large red stain in the middle of the floor. Why hadn’t I spotted it at once?
I ran into the bedroom. It was empty. The bathroom, too, was empty. That only left the kitchen. Gingerly, I pushed the kitchen door and peered inside. Compared to the rest of the flat, it was relatively tidy. I pushed the door again but something was preventing it opening any further. I squeezed through the gap.Only my relief that she was still alive matched the shock of finding Jackie unconscious on the floor, covered in blood.
I began to panic. Deep breaths, I told myself, take deep breaths.  I did so, felt marginally calmer and bent over the inert form. “Jackie, it’s me, Laurence. Can you hear me?” An answering moan was like music to my ears.I ran to the sink to fetch water and a cloth. Something shiny on the cork tiles caught my eye. Even before I bent to pick it up, I recognized the signet ring. It had belonged to Nick Carter and Marc never took it off.
My heart missed a beat. What on earth had happened here, and where was my brother?

To be continued on Friday