Friday, 26 October 2012

Sacrilege - Chapter 8


 heard Danny’s sharp intake of breath. Packard heard it too. They had paused on a stair just a few above where I stood unable to decide whether the feeling engulfing me was relief or dread.
“Isn’t she something?” Packard was saying.
 I did not catch Danny’s reply.  We were transfixed, as if under a spell and unable to take our eyes off the young woman looking down at us with so blank an expression she might have been a waxwork model. She wore a plain green silk dress and, as far as I could see, hardly any make-up but for a smear of lipstick. A silver chain hung around her neck and matching earrings dangled from her lobes.
She looked absolutely stunning.
Some women, I reflected, looked fantastic whatever they wore. Teresa was such a woman. She exuded a powerful charisma yet, at the same time, an indefinable vulnerability, as if she were asserting a reinvention of herself while unable to quite let go of the original. If she recognized either Danny or me, she gave no sign. Why should she, I asked myself?  She and I had, after all, met only briefly in the park. As for Danny, his Gothic appearance would have fooled his own mother.  I began to relax.
Teresa remained perfectly still until all three of us had reached the landing where she stood.
“We have guests, my dear,” Packard purred.
“So I see.” Teresa response was as icy as her composure. She glanced at the packed floor below. Three pairs of eyes automatically did the same. It was as if we were in a trance, three grown men doing as were told.
“Two special guests,” said Packard sharply and broke the spell.
Nonplussed, I hastily recovered my roaming profile. Teresa, too, instantly came to life, albeit much in the manner of a marionette having its strings pulled.  She became gracious and welcoming. Yet, none of it rang true.
I fancied could smell this beautiful young woman’s fear. No, worse than fear,  abject terror, her performance all the more remarkable for it. She showed us into a vast, luxuriously furnished room that boasted not only a sumptuous double bed but also a well stocked bar in one corner and a 50 inch screen plasma TV along one wall. In front of leather swivel chair in another corner, stood what even I could see was a state of the arts computer, complete with web cam. A huge mirror took up most of the wall opposite the bed and I wondered if it was a two-way affair.
“Please sit.” Teresa indicated three armchairs near the bar. “What can I get you to drink?”
“I’ll have my usual,” Packard told her and our guests will have the same, I’m sure. I refer, gentlemen, to a fine malt whiskey that no one but no one can refuse.
“Have you got any beer?” Danny piped up.
I thought I saw Teresa wince slightly at the sound of his voice, but could not be sure.
“I’m sure we have some in the refrigerator,” she told him and I expected her to leave the room and fetch some. Instead, she bent and opened what I’d taken for a cabinet but turned out to be a fridge and retrieved a can of lager.
“You will join me, Mister Finn?” Packard purred again. I sensed it was more of a command than a question and my hackles soared, but I nodded, fervently wishing I was anywhere else but in this absurd situation. Either I was too old to be playing charades, I reflected grimly, or I simply didn’t have the stomach for it.  Danny, on the contrary, seemed to be taking it all in his stride. No surprises there. Why then, I wondered, did I find it so damn irritating?
“So, where are your manners?” Danny rounded on a startled Packard and then turned to Teresa without waiting for a response. “I’m Daniel and this is Larry.” Danny introduced us.  She shook hands with us both, smile fixed, no trace of inflexion in her voice. Her eyes struck me as so dull and lifeless that it crossed my mind she may have been drugged?  It was a sobering thought.  Shivers ran down my spine. True or false, I needed no reminder that I was treading on dangerous ground.
“Welcome, “was all she said.
We drank. Not Teresa, though. No one spoke.
“Well, this is cosy and no mistake,” remarked Danny cheerfully.
“Just how cosy do you like it?” Packard purred.
“Oh, we like to get very cosy. Don’t we Larry, eh?” Danny flung me a wicked grin. My mouth went dry. I settled for a nod, and what I hoped was a convincing smile in Packard’s direction. “The more the merrier, eh, Larry honey?” I gulped, nodded again, took a long sip from my glass and had to concede, privately, that it was the best whiskey I had ever tasted. I drank again, savouring it for its own sake this time, more so even than the Dutch courage I took from it.
“So what kind of sex are you into?” Danny asked Packard who seemed momentarily thrown by the directness of the question. “That is, if you don’t mind me asking a personal question? I mean, well, you hear things. Not that you can believe all you hear, of course,” he added with a mischievous gleam in each eye, “The proof of any pudding has to be in the eating, yeah?”
Packard continued to look uncomfortable.
“Me, I’m versatile,” Danny pressed on regardless. “I’m up for anything so long as the price is right.  Isn’t that so, Larry?” I took another long sip from my glass. “So what are you up for and how much? I mean to say, you didn’t bring us in here just to admire the décor, right?”
“He likes to watch, don’t you Vincent?” Teresa spoke quietly, but with such force it was like the sound of a shot ringing out.  Her face betrayed no expression nor did her voice convey any hint of emotion except, perhaps, boredom.
“Watch who?” Danny was eager to know, “me and her?” indicating Teresa, “or me and him?” pointing to me. To my horror, I felt myself blushing horribly.  “Or maybe you like to watch a threesome, yeah? You do, don’t you. You want to watch the three of us at it? Well, well, who’s a naughty little pervert then eh?” He burst out laughing.
Packard bit his lip, jaw quivering with what I took to be rage. My heart sank. We were in deep trouble now, and no mistake. Damn Danny and his big mouth. The urge to go for a pee again returned with a vengeance. Suddenly, Packard threw back his head and roared with laughter for so long that I thought he’d become hysterical.
I managed a weak grin and continued to wriggle in my seat.
“Not tonight, though, Josephine,” said Danny flatly. The raucous sounds coming from Packard’s mouth ceased abruptly and it hung open, stupidly. “We need to agree on a nice fat fee first.  I don’t come cheap. Besides, anticipation is half the fun. For you and me both, I reckon. Am I right or am I right?  Picturing it over and over it in your head will be almost as good as seeing the real thing, right?  Ah, but the real thing, that will blow you away, yeah?  Want a preview?”
Without any warning, Danny dropped his jeans to reveal that he was wearing no underpants. Almost at once, he swung round, bent over and leered at Packard through his legs before leaping up, hastily readjusting his clothes as he did so.  It was a command performance, expertly performed and over in seconds…but long enough to have Packard dribbling down his chin. I could but watch, in a state of near shock, as he snatched a polka dot handkerchief draping ostentatiously from the breast pocket of his suit, and looking genuinely embarrassed, wiped his mouth. Shoving it back into the same pocket, he proceeded to glower at us, one after the other, with growing ferocity.
Had Danny gone too far, I wondered?
“How much…?” Packard’s fierce gaze returned to meet Danny’s laid-back expression.
“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” Danny told him.
Packard’s chin began to wobble again while my bladder continued to call for action…or else.  “You fuck the girl and the pimp fucks you….at the same time,” he added unnecessarily.
“We’ll think about it, won’t we, Larry?”  I nodded, unable to speak. “Have you got a number we can call?”
Packard removed his wallet from an inside pocket, pulled out a card and handed it to Danny. Danny took the wallet as well and helped himself to a wad of notes before handing it back. “You wouldn’t deny a pretty little Goth slut something on account, would you?” he chuckled.
Packard’s chin went into overdrive. “So long as it is on account,” he purred at last, “I’d hate to think you were playing me for a mug.”
“Now, would I?” It was Danny’s turn to purr.
“I think not,” agreed Packard, “You strike me as someone who enjoys life to the full. A pretty little Goth slut, you say? I couldn’t have put it better myself. A fine figure of one too. I’d hate to have to dismember it piece by piece. Besides, it might hurt. I dare say I’d have to stuff your balls in your mouth to keep you quiet. Now, that wouldn’t be such a pretty sight, would it, eh?” 
Danny swallowed hard. I felt faint.
Packard went up to Danny and kissed him hard on the mouth.  At the same time he gave a long, hard squeeze between Danny’s legs. I heard Danny yelp. Packard released him. “You wouldn’t deny me something on account, would you?” he purred and glanced at Teresa. “It will be my special treat, something for us both to look forward to, I imagine?”
“You disgust me, all of you.” Teresa said tonelessly. “As for you…” looking directly at Danny and homing in on him with the swiftness of a lioness her prey, “You may well hide your face. But I see you for who you are, a lost soul, and I pity you for that. But I will not help you. Take me as many times as it pleases you, all three of you,” She glanced around. I felt my legs turn to jelly under her brief but penetrating gaze. “No, I will not help you. On the contrary, you will lose yourselves in me and I shall dance on your graves.”
“Prettily put, my sweet,” Packard drawled and went into a slow hand clap.
Teresa turned her back on Danny and left the room. Packard made no attempt to stop her.
 My God, I thought, what presence, what dignity! Where, I wondered, was the pretty girl I had first met in the park?
I glanced at Danny. His eyes were unnaturally bright.
“I think this calls for another drink, gentlemen, don’t you?” Packard was saying.
But I scarcely heard for struggling to jolt my senses into a semblance of working order. “Where is the nearest loo?” I panted. By the time I had answered nature’s call, the others had returned downstairs.  Not Teresa, though. We did not set eyes on her again that evening.
Packard called us a cab. Danny gave the driver a false address just as I was about to direct him to the widow Finn’s house. Later, we took another cab. By the time we finally arrived, it was three in the morning and the house was in darkness. I heaved a sigh of relief. At least we would be spared Jackie and the widow interrogating us, for now at least.
I fell into bed, feeling as if I could sleep forever. It was a good while, though, before I finally dropped off, wondering whether I could face waking up to whatever fate  (and Danny) might have in store for me next.
Although I hadn’t expected to sleep, I did, like a log in fact, so much so that it was late morning when I finally awoke to find I had the house to myself. Alas, not for long. Danny burst in a few hours later just as I was launching a fiercely vocal attack upon an awful chat show host on TV and tearing his program to metaphorical shreds for being a load of contrived bullshit.
“Have you completely lost it or what?” Danny demanded, “I’ve heard of people getting hooked on daytime TV but…shouting at it?”
I felt myself blush crimson, much as I had years ago when my mother had entered my room without knocking and caught me masturbating into a handkerchief. “These chat show people, they make me so angry,” I blustered. “Would you rather I throw something at the screen and break it?”
“I suppose not, especially as it’s not even your TV,” Danny agreed as he dived into the nearest armchair, let both legs dangle over the arm and regarded me with a look of smug satisfaction that made me cringe. I knew what was coming. “I’ve had an idea.”
“A fire….”
“A fire…?” I tried to hide sense of foreboding that threatened to make me throw up.
“A fire at the Packard place…. That’s how we’ll get Terri out of there. We’ll start a fire, and in all the confusion help her slip away. It doesn’t have to be much of a fire. We could set off loads of smoke in a wastepaper basket or something, just enough to scare everyone. Jackie can be waiting in the car nearby, just like last time. You and me, we’ll need to stay put so no one can point the finger, but that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Not if we’re burnt to a crisp, it won’t, no,” I agreed.
“Like I said, more smoke than fire. It’s a good idea.”
“It’s a mad idea. Worse than that, it’s…it’s…bloody dangerous, for one thing. Someone might get hurt, killed even. People have been known to choke to death on smoke, you know. Anything could happen. The house could go up in flames, along with a fair number of its occupants…including you, me and, yes, Teresa too! Besides, even if things did go according to plan, there’s no guarantee she would be able to slip away, and then it will all have been for nothing. No, Danny, no, no, NO.”
Danny grinned like a cat that’s been at the cream. “I knew you’d go for it.”
“Haven’t you forgotten something?” I saw a chink in his self-confidence and went for the jugular. “Not only will the fire brigade turn up, but also the police. Do I have to remind you that your girlfriend is an illegal immigrant?”
Danny shrugged. “It’s a chance we’ll have to take. Besides, the cops will have enough on their plate sorting the chaos.”
“It maybe a chance you’re willing to take, but not me! If you want to go ahead and play knight errant, devil take the hindmost, that’s up to you, but you can count me out. Out, Danny. Do you hear me? Out, out, OUT.”
“Knight who?”
There was no talking to Danny once he was set on something. I not only stormed out of the room, but also out of the house.  How could he even think I would agree to such a half-baked plan? I was angry. More than angry, I was livid. It took an hour of brisk walking to calm down and consider the situation rationally, a process that  involved conceding with mounting dismay that, much as Danny’s plan scared the living daylights out of me, he’d find a way to put it to the test with or without my help.
Almost in tears, I called Ryan Banks on my mobile phone but got no answer. Then it suddenly beeped, and I recovered a message from Danny asking if I was ok. I sighed. How could I love Danny to bits the way I did and want to wring his neck at the same time? I sighed again and answered my own question. Probably, it has a lot to do with his feeling the same way about me.
I did not go back to the house all day and stayed at Ryan’s place that night. Oh, I sent a text to say I’d gone to see a friend and not to expect me back until the next day at the earliest, but was in no doubt that Danny would recognize it for what it was, a mere delaying tactic. Nor did snuggling up in bed with Ryan do much to relieve either my apprehension regarding Danny or my guilt about being unfaithful to Philip. I loved Philip, for heaven sake, whereas Ryan …
What did Ryan Banks mean to me? 
“I wish I knew,” I murmured inaudibly into the mop of red hair beside mine, and eventually fell asleep.
There was no sign of the widow when I returned to the house. Danny and Jackie were at the kitchen table playing pontoon with a mixture of ginger nuts, chocolate fingers and wine gums.
“Want to play?” Danny asked.
“I wouldn’t bother if I were you,” said Jackie, “He cheats.”
“I do not!” Danny protested.
“So what do you call helping yourself to my winnings? I’d have heaps more wine gums than you if you didn’t keep eating them!”
“Don’t we have more important things to talk about?” I snapped irritably.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” said Jackie.
“I’ve thought it all through,” Danny informed me with a serious expression that made my heart sink to its second home in my bowels.
“Oh, really…?” I groaned and sat down.
Needless to say, a couple of evenings later, Danny and I left Jackie parked in a lane at the back of the house in Richmond and prepared to give Vincent Packard more than he bargained for. In spite of grave misgivings, I could not deny a growing excitement. It more than compensated for the sheer terror coursing through my veins if diluted somewhat by adrenalin taking the same route.
We were frisked at the door as before, but no one took any notice of our cigarette lighters. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried that someone might have thought it curious that I wasn’t carrying any cigarettes. Danny had bought me a packet of twenty but I’d left it on my dressing table. Well, I ask you? Who’s going to remember cigarettes when they don’t even smoke?  The lighter was different, that was part of the plan.
Plan, did I say? Danny’s ‘plan’ was that we play it by ear…and heaven help us all as far as I was concerned. I was supposed to start a fire while meant to be visiting the toilet, but we hadn’t actually got around to discussing details…such as the where and how exactly.  “Use your loaf,” was all Danny would say, “When you see your chance, grab it.” In other words, he hadn’t a clue.
Vince Packard seemed pleased to see us and wasted little time escorting us to a room upstairs. Downstairs, more people were milling around than I had expected and I began to panic as I climbed the stairs behind Danny and Packard. Suppose something goes wrong and some of these people get hurt or worse? Could I live with that, I wondered? It was all very well for Danny to insist the Packards only socialised with the cream of London’s criminal fraternity so we would be doing everyone else a favour, but it was not an argument that carried much weight with me. So why was I here?  Oh, Danny, what have ever I done to deserve you? I groaned inwardly.
We entered a large, plush bedroom similar to but not the same as before. Several armchairs were scattered about and there was glass cocktail cabinet in one corner, but the room was dominated by a luxurious double bed whose coverings comprised a black satin fitted sheet and pillows with pillowcases to match. The walls were painted pink and there were fluffy black rugs on the laminated flooring.  In addition, there was what I suspected may have been a two-way mirror on one wall.
Packard made us cocktails, and we chatted idly for a while. Suddenly he said, “Suppose you strip off and do your stuff, eh?”
I nearly choked.
“We haven’t discussed terms yet,” Danny coolly reminded our host.
Packard reached in the inside pocket of his jacket and tossed a thick envelope to me. Momentarily, disconcerted, I remembered just in time that I was supposed to be Danny’s pimp as well as his lover. I counted out a thousand pounds sterling in crisp notes and relayed my findings to Danny.
“It will do on account I suppose” said Danny.  I watched Packard’s eyes narrow and his whole body tense. “but I thought we were having company?”
As if on cue, a door opened that I hadn’t noticed because it blended in so well with décor. Teresa entered. She looked stunning, dressed only in a white silk negligee that hung just below her waist and matching panties.
“Ah, Teresa, as you can see, we have guests. You’ll remember them, of course, so we can dispense with introductions. They were just about to take off their clothes, weren’t you gentlemen?”
“I need to go for a pee,” I blurted.
“Later,” Packard purred.
“Now,” I insisted. “We don’t want any accidents, do we?”
“If you say so,” Packard agreed, and I struggled to conceal my relief, “but strip first and then make your choice.”
“My choice…?”
“I am sure Daniel would love to be showered with golden rain. Alternatively, I’m sure Teresa will be only too happy to oblige.  She loves it, don’t you, my sugar plum?”
“Your wish is my command,” said Teresa lightly enough, but,to anyone listening for it, the sweet, clear voice rippled with undisguised contempt.
Packard threw back his head and roared with laughter. I seized the opportunity to make eye contact with Danny, but he was gazing like a love-sick schoolboy at Teresa. Had I not known they were about the same age, I would never have guessed. She not only seemed so much older than he, but also conveyed a statuesque beauty that was timeless.
 “I need a shit,” I declared.
“And I don’t do brown,” said Danny, “for anyone,” he added and glared at Packard.
“Very well,” Packard agreed while visibly annoyed and addressing Danny without so much as a glance in my direction, “Larry may go to the toilet while you and Teresa get to know one another. Take of your clothes.”
No one moved or spoke.
“Turn left outside the door and it’s the first door as you bear right along the landing. Oh, and Larry darling…” I gulped under Packard’s stern gaze. “don’t be long. Now, come along children, let Uncle Vincent let’s see what toys he’s paid over the odds for today shall we?”
As Teresa and Danny began to undress, I slipped out of the room. I was sweating profusely by now. Moreover, my need to pee was not only real but urgent. It was with profound relief that I reached the toilet in time. Should I start a fire in the loo, I wondered?
Unsure why, I decided against that particular course of action and recalled seeing a door ajar as I’d hurried along the landing. Every other door had been shut, possibly locked for all I knew. Ablutions done, I retraced my steps and discovered that the room, another bedroom, was unoccupied. Now what? How did one go about committing arson? I spotted a waste paper basket. That would do nicely. It was empty but, as luck would have it, was make of wicker. I retrieved a piece of scrap paper from my pocket, lit it and dropped it into the basket. Flames began to lick at the wicker…at which point a cat ran out from under the bed, sent the basket and burning paper flying and somehow the bed caught alight.
I rushed after the cat, slammed the door behind me and yelled at the top of my voice, “Fire!”
A scantily dressed middle-aged woman appeared from an adjacent room. “What’s going on?”
“I think we have a fire,” I explained, pointing to where smoke was already drifting under the door I had just shut.
“Whiskey!” the woman screamed.
“Whiskey…?” I was nonplussed, “Don’t you think a fire extinguisher would be more appropriate?”
“Whisky is my cat, you idiot!” she shrieked at me as she pushed past and grabbed the door handle.
“No!” I shouted, but too late.
 The woman flung open the door and was engulfed in smoke. She turned and ran out again, shrieking “Help, someone, help!! Fire, fire…!”
I ran to the bedroom where I had left the others then remembered that I should have closed the damn door again. I turned back.  To my horror, I saw a fireball rushing towards me. I flung open the door where I stood, practically fell into the room and slammed it shut.
“Fire…!” I croaked.
“What are you talking about? Fire, what fire?” demanded Packard.
He would have yanked open the door but I managed to whisper, “Fireball.” He pushed me roughly aside and one hand was already on the vulgar gilt handle when he suddenly froze, eyes fixed on clouds of smoke starting to pour under the door.
“Get some clothes on fast!” I heard Danny shout.  Only then did I take in the scene on the bed. Both were naked and in such a position that I realized she must have been giving him a blow job or was about to. “Danny!” I cried, shocked in spite of the gravity of our situation.
“Don’t worry. You’ll get your turn later,” Packard panted. “Now, let’s get the hell out of here.” He ran to the door from which Teresa has emerged earlier. We followed him into an ante-room where I found time to reflect, with a sense of smug satisfaction bordering on hysteria, that my suspicions about the mirror had been spot on. 
Packard tugged at the door handle. “It’s locked. Some bloody fool has locked it! When I find out who it was, they’ll pay, just see if they don’t!” He swung round and the expression on his face was a graphic mixture of bullish rage and rising terror.
“Is there another way out?” Danny came from behind me and shook Packard who was all but paralysed with shock. “There has to be another way out, yeah?” Danny yelled at the man.I warned you this might happen. I screamed silently at Danny but managed, with difficulty, to keep my mouth shut. Besides, I remonstrated fiercely with myself, hadn’t I gone along with his harebrained scheme?
Packard remained frozen. Danny shoved him aside and began banging on the door, “Help, help, help!” he yelled. We could hear a lot of shouting and screaming above a hubbub that suggested chaos and panic.
“We are all going to die,” said Teresa in a flat, matter-of-fact voice that made my blood run cold.
“No one’s going to die,” Danny tried to reassure her while continuing to bang on the door and yell for help, but did not turn round so did not see her face. When I looked, I felt my jaw drop. She was perfectly composed, her expression radiant. She wants to die. The thought struck me like a mule kick, but I could think of nothing to say as bile rose in my throat and swallowing it provided a welcome distraction.
The room was filling up fast with a choking, acrid-smelling smoke. We were all coughing. My head began to swim. For some reason I focused on the elaborate design of Packard’s belt. As a drowning man might clutch at straws, I reflected wryly, and began to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Danny rounded on me. I pointed at the bunch of keys dangling from Packard’s waist. “Shit!” Danny swore and shook Packard again, even harder this time. “Those keys, will they open the door?” But Packard remained immobile as if struck dumb. Danny fumbled with the key chain until it came loose then proceeded to try them in the lock, one after the other.
I glanced behind me. Flames were now licking at the closed door. I felt a slight touch on my arm. It was Teresa. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not,” she said with a dazzling smile. But her words dragged on my ears and I felt my whole body start to fold.  Teresa watched, her impassive expression crumbling into one of infinite sadness.  In that smoky hell, she evoked a sublime presence that was nothing short of surreal.
Suddenly, I not only understood why Danny loved her but became as anxious and determined as he to save her from the likes of Vince Packard. No matter what it takes, I told myself seconds before I heard Danny give a loud whoop as the door sprung open.
Danny grabbed Teresa’s hand and ran into the smoke, yelling for me to follow.  I started to do just that, but Packard was still standing there like a zombie, seemingly oblivious of his predicament. “Come on,” I shouted, “or do you want to be burned alive?  For crying out loud, shift your ass you stupid, stupid man!” I began to despair. “For fuck’s sake, you good-for-nothing bastard, get a grip!”
As if by magic, Packard leapt into action.  He took in the situation at glance and grabbed my arm. We ran out of the room and along the landing. Smoke was billowing everywhere and the crackle of flames was deafening. We reached the top of the staircase. Most of it was on fire.
There was no way down.
Packard tried a door. It was locked. He put his shoulder to it and his big frame burst into the room in no time. “It’s a pity you couldn’t have done that just now!” I could not resist yelling. But if he heard he gave no sign. A window was visible through the smoke. He ran towards it. I was about to follow when something pawing at my trouser leg made me look down. It was the cat. I scooped it up in my arms and it made no resistance. On the contrary, it buried its head in my jacket and pressed hard against my chest.
A figure loomed up out of the smoke and crashed into me. We fell to the floor. I was the first to stagger to my feet. Instinctively, I reached out a hand to help the other man. At the same time, the face staring into mine became suddenly recognizable in spite of features distorted by fear and blackened by smoke. “What the hell…?” I spluttered.
It was Ryan Banks.
“Laurence?” was all he had time to say before the floor beneath us gave way and we were hurtling into space. 
A scream died on my lips as we plunged into a gaping pit of smoke. Absurdly, I began to panic about what Philip might think and how hurt he would be if my body were discovered next to Ryan’s and the link between us ever established. I began to cry.
 I felt fur against my skin. Not the cat, surely? Then I realized it had to be a big brown bear I knew of old and that it was safe to close my eyes.

To be continued on Monday