Monday, 22 October 2012

Sacrilege - Chapter 7


There was no sign of my mother or Marc back at the house. I scribbled a note to say I had returned to London and caught a bus to the railway station.
I arrived at the widow Finn’s mid-evening and found that formidable woman visibly upset and being comforted by Jackie.
“Thank goodness you’re back,” said Jackie, “It’s a good thing I was here and knew better than to wait around for you,” whereupon she promptly fled into the kitchen. I perched on the edge of an armchair and regarded the widow with rising concern. She was uncharacteristically distraught.
“It’s my fault. I should have seen it coming. I should never have left them alone together. But I swear to you I wasn’t out of the room five minutes,” she told me with tears in her eyes.
“Left who alone together?” I asked, increasingly anxious to know what the devil had been going on in my short absence.
“Andrew and Danny,” she explained, “Apparently Andrew called Danny a nasty piece of work, or something like that. Danny lost his temper, and by the time I returned the two of them were rolling on the floor trying to bash each other’s brains out. Why it is men love to behave like naughty children given half a chance, I will never know.”
I would have burst out laughing but thought better of it. “So what happened next?”
“I told them to get up off my floor immediately or I’d call the police.”
“And you did?” I was gobsmacked. She wouldn’t have gone that far, surely?
The widow shook her head and gave me a withering look. “Really, Laurence, would I? No, I had to wade in to separate them, though, and it wasn’t easy I can tell you. Andrew may be old enough to be Danny’s grandfather, but he used to box in his younger days and still has trick or two up his sleeve. Danny didn’t have it all his own way, not by a long chalk.”
I thought I detected a note of pride in her voice although her expression remained an unhappy compromise between upset and angry.
“Danny should have known better,” I sighed, “There can be no excuse for fighting with a man Andrew’s age, former boxer or no. He could have given the old chap a heart attack, for goodness sake.”
“Danny was provoked.”
“Even so…”
“Both looked the worse for wear, I have to say. But there were no bones broken as far as I could tell. I packed Danny off to the bathroom to clean himself up, but only because I wanted to talk to Andrew alone. The stupid man took everything I said the wrong way and accused me of taking sides. He said I was more concerned for Danny’s welfare than his. When I tried to talk some sense into him, he barely let me get a word in edgeways, and then stormed off to his own house in a vile temper.” She paused and shook her head impatiently. “I dare say I should have gone after him. But I was angry and upset. Why should I pander to his moods? No. Start as you mean to go on, May Finn, I told myself, and left him to it.” She heaved a huge sigh. The leathery face brightened considerably, however, when Jackie returned with three mugs of tea and a plate of chocolate biscuits on a tray.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “If you didn’t call the police, how come Danny’s under arrest and what the devil for?”
“Andrew called them later. Two officers turned up at the door, said there had been an allegation of assault and took Danny away. Naturally, I rushed next door to find out what Andrew thought he was playing at. He refused to come to the door. When I tried to use my own key, I discovered he’d put the chain on. I shouted, even pleaded with him to let me in. But, no, the stubborn old goat refused point blank. Can you believe he even had the audacity to tell me to go away and mind my own business? I ask you, is a brawl in my own sitting room none of my business?” She paused, fuming. For my own part, I was relieved to see something of the May Finn I knew and respected. “Then Jackie turned up looking for Danny,” the widow went on, “and she’s been a godsend, an absolute godsend. You’ve known me for years, Laurence. Am I some feeble old woman who can’t look after herself? No, I am not. Heaven forbid. But this stupid, stupid, business has shaken me up more than I’d ever have thought possible.” She sat back in the chair and sipped her tea, lower lip trembling with emotion. “I must be getting old,” she added crossly.
“I went down to the police station to suss out the lie of the land,” Jackie told me, “but I might as well have been something the cat dragged in for all the notice they took of me. In the end, I gave up and left, though not before giving some miserable piece of goods at the desk a piece of my mind. I’d have given a lot more, too, only she looked as if she wanted to arrest me on the spot. So I left, discretion being the better part of and valour and all that.” Jackie tossed me a wicked wink and I couldn’t help chuckling.
“I’m glad you can find something to laugh about, Laurence,” May Finn was quick to admonish me. “I only wish I could. Perhaps you would care to enlighten me? I could use a good laugh.”
Not for the first time, I found myself wilting under the widow’s reproachful gaze. Suddenly, the front doorbell rang. It was like music to my ears. “I’ll get it,” I said and rushed to answer it. I flung open the door, half expecting to find Philip waiting on the doorstep.
It was Danny.
“Hi dad,” he said grinning and we hugged.
Immediately, warning bells sounded in my head. Danny invariably called me that when he was feeling emotional and enjoyed a hug for much the same reason. On this occasion, he clung to me a fraction longer than usual and I could feel his body trembling slightly. I knew better than to ask questions. Danny would reveal all in his own good time. “It’s good to see you,” I said gruffly.
“It’s good to see you too,” Danny mumbled.  In other words, we were overjoyed to see each other, not to mention relieved.
Even the widow Finn gave Danny a hug. For all that he raised his eyes to heaven at me over her shoulder, I could tell he was relishing the attention.
“You’ll be famished, I expect. Go and have a bath and change while I fix you something to eat. How does an omelette sound, with some chips and grilled tomatoes? I think I might have some bacon left too,” the widow fussed.
“Can I eat first?” Danny asked hopefully.
“You certainly cannot. For a start, you smell. Don’t they ever clean police cells? I suppose it’s hard to keep pace with drunks and drug addicts throwing up all over the place, never mind the criminal element…” She went off into the kitchen, muttering under her breath.
“Did they charge you with anything?” Jackie wanted to know.
“No. Old grumpy guts next door had second thoughts so they had to let me go. If you ask me, they had a bloody cheek keeping me in overnight. It wasn’t my fault, dad, honest. I was provoked.”
“Dad…?” Jackie’s ears pricked up as they had once before when Danny called me that.
“A slip of the tongue,” I told him a second time and glared at Danny.
“Sorry dad.” He grinned and dashed upstairs.
“Dad…?” Jackie repeated.
“Let it go,” I told him, “Danny is like a son to me. Sometimes he calls me dad, especially when he’s upset and needs some reassurance. He’s not the kind of lad to admit to either,” I added.
“Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t criticising. On the contrary, I think it’s rather sweet. You obviously love each other to bits. It warms the cockles, it really does.”
I could feel myself blushing. “I’ll go and see if May needs any help,” I muttered. We both knew she wouldn’t. I retreated into the kitchen. Much as I expected, I was sent away with a flea in my ear.
Later, we were all sat at the kitchen table drinking tea and watching Danny devour a huge supper.  “I know where Teresa is,” he mumbled with a mouthful of bacon.
“Oh and where might that be?” Jackie asked, showing more interest than I would have expected. After all, she knew Marc was safe. She had no reason to involve herself in Danny’s affairs any more.
“How do you know?” I demanded.
“I went to see Ginny.”
“You did what?” I yelled across the table.
“Sounds risky to me,” Jackie observed.
“Ginny wouldn’t drop me in it,” Danny was confident.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” I disagreed. “She’d sell her own grandmother, that one, if the price was right.”
“Nah,” Danny insisted, “Ginny’s okay.  She’s no saint, that’s for sure. But who is, eh? We all have our good side and our bad side. The trouble with you, dad, is that you’re too quick to see the bad side.”
“Where my sister is concerned, it’s the only side that shows,” commented Jackie with feeling.
“Get on with it,” I told Danny.
“Yes, get on with it,” chimed in the widow Finn, and made us all jump. We had forgotten she was there.
“Teresa’s at Vince Packard’s place. It seems he’s really stuck on her. Mind you, that won’t stop him passing her around…for a price, of course. By all accounts, his house is like a fortress. Dogs, guards, CCTV…you name it. But I’ve got a plan.”
I groaned audibly.
Danny flung me an aggrieved look while continuing to eat and talk at the same time. “Vince has a thing for dirty movies, right? I dare say he could be persuaded to rent out Teresa’s services to the right punter, especially if he’s getting a ringside seat.”
“That’s preposterous,” I exclaimed.
“Worse than that,” the widow protested, “it’s cruel and immoral.”
“It might work, I suppose,” put in Jackie, scratching her chin thoughtfully. “Don’t look at me like that either. I can have an opinion can’t I?” She regarded the widow and me with wide eyes. “It’s no use taking the moral high ground with these people. It will get you nowhere fast.”  She turned to Danny. “So what, exactly, did you have in mind?”
“The way Ginny tells it, Vince Packard swings both ways.  The word is, though, he sees sex as more of a spectator sport.  So he won’t be able to resist a hot threesome, will he?  Apparently, he has a particular fancy for Goth boys. So, we present him with a punter who is not only loaded but has a Goth boyfriend who’s up for just about anything, right?  Before you know it, the geezer’s hooked. With my black hair, some make-up and a few accessories, I’ll be the belle of the balls, so to speak.” Both he and Jackie laughed aloud. “We’ll have to check out the layout of the place first of course then take it from there…”
He was looking directly at me. “We…?” I spluttered.
“Come on, dad, who else? Don’t say you’re not up for it. You’ve come this far, you might as well go the last mile.”
“Are you mad, or what?” I shouted across the table. “Besides, we’d never get away with it.”
“Keep your hair on. By the time I’ve finished, my own mother wouldn’t recognize me. Besides, don’t forget Vince Packard has never set eyes on either of us. Oh, I dare say he’ll have heard of us by now, yeah, but…so what? Nope. No worries on that score. It will be a piece of cake. We get all buddy-buddy with our Vincent, and play the rest by ear. The first thing is to get to Terri and let her know she’s got friends.”
“It’s far too dangerous,” I said categorically.
“It sounds horrible,” May Finn appeared to agree before adding, “but if that’s what it takes to rescue the poor girl, what choice do we have?” Three faces stare at her wearing equally stunned expressions. Even Danny was plainly taken-aback by the widow’s tacit approval of his hare-brained scheme. “Why are you all looking at me like that? I don’t like this any more than you do. But if there’s the slightest chance we can rescue this poor girl from the clutches of these awful people, surely that has to be out first priority?  Not a word to Andrew though,” she added.
“Not on your Nelly!”  Danny plainly needed no persuasion on that score.
“We should tell the police, of course,” she went on, “But I suppose that’s not an option.” It was not a question, and the subsequent heavy silence spoke volumes. “I’ll make some fresh tea.” She rose and went to the hob.
“When do you intend putting this crazy plan of yours into action?” I demanded testily.
“I need to get some gear together. That reminds me, I need some cash.” I groaned again and reached for my wallet. “Thanks, dad, and don’t look so worried. I can take care of myself. I’ll be sure and take good care of you, too, I promise.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” I told him.
“I can’t wait to see your Goth look,” murmured Jackie, “I used to be one once, you know, when I was a screwed-up youth. We girls have better taste, of course. Besides, sad but true, one comes to realize one has to grow up sometime and stop hiding behind layers of make-up.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Danny joked. Everyone laughed, even the widow Finn. The tension in the room lessened, but did not entirely evaporate.
I felt restless and uneasy. If only Philip was around to help. He always talked such good sense, irritating though that could be sometimes. Better still, he was always good for a kiss and a cuddle…and whatever else it took to make things right between us. But Philip is not around to help, and I have precious little choice but to grin and bear it and, for now at any rate. Let’s just hope Danny doesn’t get too carried away and see us all despatched to an early grave…
It was inevitable, I suppose, that I should make my way to Bow and seek what comfort there was to be had in Ryan Banks.
I was bowled over by Ryan’s enthusiastic greeting. He hugged and kissed me with a passion unlike anything he had demonstrated towards me before. Previously, he had held back. His embraces had been warm and sensual, our lovemaking a pleasure. This was quite different. In no time at all, we were in the bedroom, tearing off each other’s clothes and frantically enjoying each other’s nakedness…all within a few minutes of my arrival. He literally swept me off my feet. More fool, me, I lapped up every second of it.
“I love you,” he whispered in my ear.
“I love you too,” I whispered back before I realized what I was saying. Did I love Ryan, I kept asking myself as his mouth crushing mine, his hands exploring and exciting me in a way no one else had ever done. “Do you have a condom?” I inly just remembered to ask.
He shook his head. “Don’t you trust me?”
“It’s not that, but…” I tried to tell him, but was already caught up in a frenzy of making love and past caring.
It wasn’t until later, as we lay spent and content in each other’s arms, that I found myself wondering if Harry, my first love, hadn’t felt much the same way about the person with whom he had betrayed me and contracted the virus that drove him to commit suicide? Poor Harry, he couldn’t face telling me he had AIDS. No more, I reflected miserably, than I could face telling Philip I’d not only been unfaithful but also practised unsafe sex.
. What had I done? What did I think I was playing at?
I must get an HIV test, I told myself, but with no immediate sense of panic, only guilt. Even the guilt, though, the second Ryan pressed his naked body against mine and kissed me. I could only respond with an irrational desperation that cast all other feelings aside. All else paled into insignificance. We surfed waved after wave of relentless passion, made love again and… Oh, but it was so GOOD to feel wanted, loved, be able to slam the door on people and thoughts that persisted in making my life so complicated and rarely came close to giving me the simple, happy life I craved…or, did I?
Only in passing did I wonder if we aren’t inclined to idealize happiness. Or maybe we can’t see it for looking?
As far anyone else was concerned, I was visiting an old friend and might well stay over. On my return the following morning, neither May nor Danny made any further comment. Only Jackie, a frequent visitor now, gave me the occasional old-fashioned look that told me she did not believe a word I said.
A few days later, Danny announced that the Packards were throwing a party and we were invited. “Well, not so much as invited as there’s no chance we’ll be turned away,” he told me with an enigmatic expression I knew only too well and which did nothing for my self-confidence.
“So how did you manage that?” I asked warily.
 “A little bit of this, a little bit of that. It’s easy once you know how,” was all he would say.
“I was hoping you’d forgotten,” I muttered.
“Don’t look so worried dad. I’ve put all that behind me. You know I have. But there are some things you don’t forget, yeah? We learned a thing or two on the streets, Poppy and me. I’m just putting some of it to good use, that’s all.”
“If you say so,” I remained unconvinced.
“You’re not getting cold feet are you? It will go like clockwork, you’ll see. It’s not as if we’re even going to pull a fast one just yet. Tomorrow is all about putting a toe in the water. No more, no less.”
I was not in the least reassured. “Suppose someone recognizes me?”
“They won’t. No offence, dad, but you’re a pretty nondescript kind of bloke. So don’t look so worried. You have nothing to worry about, I promise. Play your cards right and you’ll have Vince Packard eating out of your hand.”
“Oh, yes, and how do you work that one out?”
“You’ll have a gorgeous Goth boy on your arm, remember?  When he sees you’re a kindred spirit, he’ll be all over you…if only to get all over me,” Danny added with a chuckle that hit a nerve.
“You can’t honestly expect me to go along with that?” I was incensed. “It’s sick, that’s what it is…sick!”
 “Oh, but that’s bollocks. It’s all in a good cause, right? Get a grip, Laurence. Once we’re well in with Vince, the rest will be plain sailing, you’ll see.”
“No, I won’t do it. I know I said I would, but I must have been mad. It’s a stupid idea and far too dangerous. If they latch on to us…well…Who knows what these people are capable of?  I won’t do it!” I leaned forward and banged my fist on the coffee table. “Ouch!” I yelped.
Danny was unsympathetic and quick to retaliate. “If you back out now, I’ll tell Phil the first chance I get how you’re doing the dirty on him behind his back. Staying with an old friend, my foot! Who do you think you’re kidding?”
We glared at each other across the room. Not only did I feel a complete fool but also knew there was no point in trying to deny it. “You’d do that after all I’ve done for you?” I was genuinely mortified.
“Here we go. Is that the only string you know how to pull? Yes, I owe you a lot, just about everything in fact, and I love you for it. But I’ll tell you what, shall I? I am sick to the back teeth of being grateful.”
Danny stormed out of the house.
The widow Finn appeared in the doorway. “Whatever’s going on? I could hear the pair of you shouting the odds upstairs. What’s got into Danny?”
“It’s this screwball plan of his. I can’t do it, May, I just can’t. It’s…gross. I don’t want to let Danny down, but…What else can I do? I’m just not cut out for all this crime fiction stuff and nonsense. Look what happened last time. We were lucky to escape with our lives. This is all too much déjà vu for me. Nor can I ever forget what happened to Poppy and Nick Carter. Whose turn will it be to get killed this time, I wonder? No, it’s too bloody dangerous. I can’t go through it all again, I just…can’t.” I slumped into the sofa.
“Sometimes, Laurence, we get stuck with situations we’re not cut out for. You don’t need me to tell you that. Yes, let’s look what happened last time you got involved with the criminal fraternity. Not just you, either. I was dragged into all that too, remember. But we survived. We’re still here to tell the tale. Because that’s the kind of people we are, Laurence, survivors. This girl, Teresa, she sounds like a survivor too. But she needs our help.  If we don’t help her, who will? The way I see it, we have no choice but to go along with Danny’s preposterous little scheme. And don’t you dare look at me like that either. I don’t like the sound of it any more than you do but…” She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Heaven knows, if all our choices in life were easy ones and everyone was assured of a happy ending…Well, we wouldn’t even need God, let alone Heaven.”
A woman of few words usually, this was the equivalent of a monologue from Shakespeare for the widow Finn.  She was also a committed Christian. If this was touching on blasphemy, it was the closest I would ever hear her come.
“I’ll make a pot of tea,” she said, looking uncharacteristically flushed and out of sorts as she disappeared, predictably enough, into the kitchen.
I clenched my teeth, hammered on the sofa arm with my fist and immediately regretted it. My knuckles were still sore.
Why is it that some people are always right?  It put it another way to an increasingly self-conscious alter ego. How is it that some people always manage to put me in the wrong? “It’s not fair!” I heard myself cry out, and felt no better for it. I sighed. A cup of tea might not solve every crisis but, invariably, it was as good a start as any.
While I would have liked to adopt a heroic pose, I suspect it was with a martyred air that I rejoined the widow Finn in her kitchen.
“How are things between you and Andrew?” I ventured to ask.
“Fine, as far as I’m concerned. As for Andrew, I really have no idea. I haven’t seen him to talk to since that fracas with Danny.”
“Maybe you should…at least…well…clear the air?” I suggested.
“He knows where I am,” she said in a manner that firmly put a lid on the subject.
We sat and drank our tea, each engaged in our own thoughts and barely aware of the other’s presence. She’s right, of course, as far as my having little if any choice is   concerned…
Danny and I avoided each other until the day of the party when he joined the widow and me for late afternoon scones.”
“Are you coming tonight or not?” he demanded.
“Do I have a choice?”  I countered, glaring.
“Of course you have a choice. You don’t honestly think I’d snitch on you to Phil, do you? I thought you knew me better than that. What you get up to is your business. But that goes for me too. I’m going tonight so don’t try and stop me, okay?”
“I wouldn’t dream of trying,” I told him.
“Good. We understand each other.” He rose to leave the table.
“Stop squabbling like children, the pair of you, and eat up,” said the widow in a non-nonsense tone. “If you must go into the lion’s den, young Daniel, you will do so on a full stomach. I won’t have people thinking I don’t look after you properly.”
It wasn’t meant to be funny, but Danny and I exchanged knowing looks across the table. I found my lips twitching in response to a wicked gleam in the dark eyes. I gave an involuntary snort and sighed wearily. Danny merely grinned, sensing victory. He really was impossible. At least, I tried to reassure myself without much success, it was to his credit that he hadn’t enquired further about Ryan Banks.
 I was not exactly brimming with self-confidence as Jackie drove Danny and me to Vincent Packard’s house in Richmond that evening.
It was beautiful house, reminiscent of the one in Sawbridgeworth, emanating the same odour of nouveau riche and stink of corruption. There were CCTV cameras everywhere.
Danny looked spectacularly Gothic, wearing make-up and dressed head to toe in PVC. We were greeted at the door by a bald gorilla in a tuxedo. After expertly frisking us, gap-tooth grin in place throughout, he handed us over to a tall, raven-haired woman. She, in turn, introduced herself as Mercedes before leading us into a space comprising several through-rooms where a party was in full swing.
It was a noisy, boozy affair.
Danny quickly found himself surrounded champagne swilling acolytes of both sexes while I lounged in a corner wondering how on earth I had let myself be persuaded to come.
“A delightful young man,” murmured a voice in my ear. I turned to find a well-built man who wore his hair in a ponytail standing next to me. He was immaculately dressed.  Not handsome but a fierce bulldog expression and prematurely grey hair oozed a charisma that more than compensated. I followed his line of vision to where Danny was lapping up the attention. “Is he as sensational as he looks in bed?”
My hackles rose. Then I remembered Danny was supposed to be my boyfriend. “He’s a good lad,” I mumbled self-consciously.
“That has to be the understatement of the century so far, surely?” was my companion’s drooling response. “But I don’t think we know each other, do we? I’m Vincent Packard.”
“Larry Finn,” I said - another of Danny’s bright ideas - and we shook hands. His handshake was warm and firm. When he smiled, his face lit up and where only seconds before there had been ferocity, a hint of threat even, nothing remained but an easygoing, relaxed charm.  It was bizarre. Nonplussed, I distracted myself by contemplating the sure knowledge that my passionately heterosexual father must be turning in his grave.
Someone came by with a tray of full glasses. The hand in mine withdrew and Packard retrieved two glasses, handing one to me and sipped absently at the other, his attention again riveted on Danny. “He’s simply adorable. Where did you find such a treasure?  No, don’t tell me. Let me guess. Would it be that wonderful public house in Camden, the more so for being the last bastion of Gothic culture left in London?  I know it well although I have never seen the likes of…what did you say his name was?”
“Daniel,” I told him, as Danny and I had agreed.
“Daniel! Ah, yes, I see it all.”
“Oh?” I commented politely.
“You know, Daniel, in the lion’s den and all that crap? Such a tease, don’t you think?”
Before I could answer, Packard had taken my arm and was steering me towards a corner of the room where Danny was amusing a small crowd with a stream of dirty jokes. The appreciative audience parted to let us through. Everyone laughed as Danny uttered a punch line for which I was hard pressed not to give him a sound telling off.  Instead, I forced a titter that was drowned in Packard’s roar of approval.
“Very funny!” he cried and broke into a slow handclap. “Crude, though. Oh, very crude. Sounds to me like someone needs his mouth washed out with soapy water and a bloody good spanking.”
Someone snickered.
“If that’s what turns you on, be my guest,” parried Danny with a devilish grin.
Packard roared again. “Why, aren’t we a cheeky monkey? Didn’t your ma ever tell you it’s rude to be cheeky, not to mention crude, when you’re a guest in someone else’s house? You’re setting my other guests a bad example.”
“My ma would have wet herself for laughing then taken ’em off where she stood and wiped your ugly face with ’em for talking to me like that,” an unrepentant Danny retorted before adding mischievously, “Besides, I’ve heard you’re up for a lot worse.”
Packard’s eyes narrowed.  The gathering around Danny began, subtly, to disperse while the remaining few fell ominously quiet.
“Meaning what, exactly?” asked Packard in a deceptively mild voice that made my flesh crawl.
“Meaning whatever you want it to mean,” Danny giggled again.  Was this an act, I wondered or was he drunk?  Ignoring my protests, he’d been knocking back the champagne since we arrived. “Whatever, I’m game if you are. So is my friend, Larry. Aren’t you Larry?” To my horror, and without any warning, he all but threw himself at me, flung his arms around my neck and planted a kiss on my cheek.
“Get off me!” I spluttered and forcefully disengaged myself. I was reaching for a handkerchief to wipe away what I imagined must be a black lipstick stain when I remembered I was supposed to be Danny’s sugar daddy.  I could feel my already flushed face turn crimson as I mopped up beads of sweat with the handkerchief. Vincent Packard was not alone in regarding us both quizzically and with suspicion.  Did he smell a rat?  I continued to mop my face and seek sanctuary in my handkerchief.
“Don’t get the wrong idea,” I heard Danny say, “Larry’s the best pimp me and my girlfriend ever had. It just so happens, we both swing both ways. He’s a shy boy. It’s a pimp ego thing, you see. You’re not supposed to fuck with the merchandise. Not good for business. I suppose you could say me and Larry, we’re sort of in the closet. Well, we were. He turned to me and giggled. “I’m sorry, Larry. It must be the champagne.”  He turned back to his audience. “Me now, I’m anybody’s if the fuck’s good and the price is right,” he added with another giggle.
A startled silence was quickly followed by loud guffaws, not least from Packard.  I caught my breath and emerged cautiously from the handkerchief.
“I like you, boy!” Packard boomed. At the same time, he swung round and glared at the small crowd that had regrouped. It promptly dispersed.
“A nice place you have here,” said Danny.
“Would you care for a guided tour?” our host responded with a broad leer that made me suspect an ulterior motive. My heart sank. But wasn’t this why we were here, to look around? I perked up as Packard took Danny’s arm and proceeded to lead him towards the handsome spiral staircase. I hesitated.  Had I been included in the invitation, I wondered?  My heart skipped a beat. I wasn’t happy about leaving Danny on his own with Packard.
I began to panic.
However, I needn’t have worried. The pair paused. Packard turned his head. The beady eyes sought me out, and a curt nod gestured for me to follow.  I did so, albeit shakily. As if having to contend with a heady mixture of relief and apprehension causing me to sweat buckets wasn’t enough, I badly needed to go for a pee.
As we climbed, I thought I heard a door opening and sensed someone looking down at us. Instinctively, I looked up and it was all I could do not to cry out. She looked different, older perhaps than I remembered. Yet, I was in no doubt as to the identity of the young woman waiting to greet us without a trace of welcome in her expression.
It was Teresa Karmali.
 To be continued on Friday