By JJ Marsh

Blog followers, this is a sneak preview just for you.

 

Since I first published in 2013, technology has hurtled ahead like a pug after a pussycat, dragging me stumbling in its wake. Unlike the real pug/puss scenario, where the former gives up or the latter stands its ground, I’ve realised I can’t keep up with all the developments and write more books. I need help.

All savvy publishers must master the following:

Blog – check

Website – check

Social Media platform – I should coco

Marketing plan – OK then

Mailing list – sort of

Update all of the above regularly – ummm…

So fifteen years on, it’s time for a makeover.

Today, I launch a brand new website, containing all kinds of extras: beverage recommendations from Harvey’s Wine Emporium, a mailing list for my Special People, a cleaned-up classy blog – you’re looking at it right now – and a selection of rabbit-holes for the insatiably curious. If it only had cake too, Beatrice would love it.

 

Come and have a nose around. Sign up if you want to join the club.

That’s where I’ll announce Book 7 and seek my Advance Reader Team and offer random goodies.

This is all the work of Sainte Susan Platt or Platt SBC Productions  whose creative and technical talents are limitless. I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude and a large bottle of gin.

http://beatrice-stubbs.com/

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I’m not talking about the long hiatus in blogging (been writing) but a fantastic and well-overdue prize for thrillers.

http://staunchbookprize.com/

This initiative by Bridget Lawless is something I’ve been championing for over ten years. Crime fiction in which the usual clichés of violence against women are absent. Hallelujah!

Photograph by Clare Park

The debate around this prize is interesting and reflective of our times:

“But where’s the tension?”

“Sadly, violence against women is the real world and writers should reflect it.”

“Crime shouldn’t be about issues but events.”

There’s a shift in our thinking, after the backlash against sexual harassers, abusers of power and an embedded acceptance of the structures that enable such behaviour.

Crime authors who use their creativity solely in inventing new ways to assault women are as boring as those who always attribute the antagonist’s psychosis to being ‘abused as a child’.

What I want to read – and write – are crime novels addressing both symptom and cause.

Today’s crimes against the vulnerable are borne of a society which encourages and enables precisely those shocking headlines: powerless people seeking someone weaker to bully, individuals such as President ‘Grab ‘em by the pussy’, mega corporations evading tax and eroding workers’ rights, disenfranchised trigger-happy teens with access to warfare weaponry, organisations such as The Presidents’ Club, and a media which stokes a divisive fire and shrieks when it explodes.

Women are far from the only victims but I applaud the Staunch Prize for introducing an initiative long overdue.

I’m not entering, as my ideal candidate book is already ten years old. But I wish this prize every success and await the winners with more enthusiasm than next year’s Booker/Costa/Baileys.

Debate with Frances di Plino on this exact same subject, in case you missed it.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007V512A4/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=B007V512A4&linkCode=as2&tag=trisbook-21

 

 

There’s a new competition out there. The theme is RAW and the deadline is December 1st.

I can’t enter as I’m part of the Creative Team behind The Woolf. But there’s still time for you!

http://thewoolf.org/competitions/

 

Nevertheless, I have a raw story. Not for the faint-hearted, yet some call it memorable.

This is The Reservation, which features in my short story collection Appearances Greeting a Point of View.

Bon appétit.

 

The Reservation

The waiter takes the napkin from the plate, unfolds it and places it across my lap. I stiffen. It’s an oddly intrusive gesture and he doesn’t smile. My companion pre-empts this courtesy by flipping out the linen and tucking it beneath the tablecloth with a flourish. The waiter bows and leaves us to face each other in the saffron glow of an art deco lamp.

My eyes are drawn across the room to a mural of slave girls bathing each other. The scene, less graphic than others which surround us, nonetheless holds a charge. Somehow you know those girls are preparing themselves for the next course.

“It’s quite something, don’t you think?” My companion turns his head to the doorway, where we came in. The entire wall depicts an orgy which, due to the trembling candlelight and shadows cast by passing waiters, convinces me the figures are actually moving; arching, rocking, shuddering.

“Yes, it is.”

I should be impressed, but I’m embarrassed and intimidated by the other diners, who reek of privilege, radiate confidence. Tables of young men in suits, couples gazing at each other, an elderly group of aristocratic ladies wearing so much jewellery their movements appear weighted. Everyone is dressed as if for an awards ceremony, with the same air of sophisticated anticipation.

“How did you get a table?” I ask, to demonstrate I am not ignorant of the prestige he has afforded me.

He smiles. “I thought you might enjoy it. I could hardly take such an elegant creature to a tea shop, now could I? Shall I order for both of us? I’ve been here several times and I think I know the perfect dishes for you.”

I watch over his shoulder as another waiter spreads a napkin across the lap of a black-clad woman, who wears long satin gloves. She looks up at him and parts her lips. I turn away.

“Please.” I hand back the unopened menu. The door opens to admit more guests. Heads turn, as they do for each new arrival, but on this occasion, they don’t turn back. All eyes follow the party to their table while mouths mutter into nearby ears.

An older man, with silver-grey hair to match his suit, leads the way. On his arm, a distinguished lady with an upswept coiffure. Her makeup is immaculate and her dress catches the light. She turns one way, it’s green. Another, it’s blue. On their heels come a younger pair. I barely notice him as I cannot stop staring at the siren on his arm. Her dress, silver lamé, spotlights her hips, her breasts, the curve of her shoulder. Very little flesh is on show, but her shapely figure is evident, crowned with a perfect blonde chignon. Her escort nods to acquaintances around the room. He is polished, with a pleasant, rather one-sided smile.

Their table is directly to our left, against the wall. The younger woman exudes delight. She gasps at the murals, laughs at herself, clutches her man’s arm, smiles at the waiter and giggles with anticipation as she sits opposite her mother. Mother-in-law?

I stop myself from staring and wonder if that is how I should comport myself. My companion is giving the waiter our order. I listen but it makes no sense. Carpaccio, blini, mille-feuille, Roederer … my attention wanders over his shoulder, back to the woman in satin gloves. A waiter stands beside her, taking the order from her gentleman friend, while she absently caresses the waiter’s buttock and thigh.

I look down at my place setting, using my hands as blinkers. If I look neither left nor right, perhaps I can pass this evening enjoyably.

“Is something wrong? Do you have a headache?” my companion enquires.

An intake of breath makes us both turn. The waiter attending to the glamorous party has summoned the maitre d’. The atmosphere changes, anticipation charges the air like that of a courtroom when the foreman of the jury rises to his feet. People stare openly as the maitre d’ tilts his head, first listening to the waiter and then bending to hear the younger man.

I notice the rest of the table. The older gentleman is beaming, hands on his thighs. Both women’s eyes shine, their excitement visible. The whole restaurant seems to hold its breath.

The maitre d’ straightens with a nod and gives a brief instruction to the attendant waiter. Conversations break out at every table, heads swivelling to either end of the room, checking the doors as if awaiting the star performer. The thrill pulsing around the room affects me too, although I have not the faintest idea why.

“What is it?” I ask my companion, noticing the fresh pink patches on his cheeks. His complexion reminds me of my mother’s best tea-set.

“I don’t know.” He shakes his head but his eyes drop from mine in less than a second. “I mean, I’ve heard rumours, but I can’t believe … ah! Here’s our first course.”

We eat something, thinly sliced, highly priced. It’s not unpleasant. We comment on the fineness of the flavour although I doubt he tastes any more than I. We make the smallest talk imaginable.

While we consume this nothing in particular, two waiters bring a pair of Japanese screens to our neighbouring table. Unfolding them, they place a wall around three sides of the party, the fourth provided by the blacked-out window.

I check my companion in enquiry, but can see his curiosity is equally aroused.  And it appears that is not all. His pupils, dark and intent, fix upon my lips.

The door to the kitchen opens and a man in a pale green overall enters, carrying a black box resembling something a magician might use. Two waiters in his wake hold trays covered with white cloths. They make their way behind the screens and the chatter from the rest of the room erupts, accompanied by the percussion of tines on china.

I want to stand up and call out. “Hush! How can I possibly hear what is going on with all this racket!” But my attention is caught once more by the gloved woman, who, with great ostentation, drops her knife. Their waiter kneels to retrieve it and she kicks him with a high-heeled foot. He crawls under the tablecloth and she slides down in her chair. Her escort stares at her, chewing on a toothpick.

I realise my mouth is open. Fine features and noble expressions on every table now seem flushed and lascivious. One couple are feeding each other with their fingers. Several parties are calling for champagne.

Seconds later, the hush descends once more as one of the waiters slips out from behind the screens. In his hand is a kidney-shaped stainless-steel bowl. He drapes a cloth over it and strides towards the kitchen. The green-clad man emerges with his peculiar black box along with the second waiter and follows. The maitre d’ gives a signal and busboys remove the screens.

The party revealed has changed. The older of the two women has lost her upright posture and her make-up is smudged. Some of the shimmering blonde’s hair has escaped and hangs loose across her face. The senior gentleman, florid and sweaty, pours red wine into their glasses and claps the young man on the back. It is this latter who is the most materially altered. His wholesome colour is entirely gone, leaving his skin grey and lips bloodless. His left hand, in a brilliant white bandage, is held to his chest by a sling.

They raise their glasses in a toast and I notice much of the clientele silently doing the same. I start as my companion’s leather brogue rubs my foot. He is breathing heavily.

“The staff here are remarkable. Personalised service.”

Behind him, the waiter emerges from beneath the table and rises to his feet. I cannot see the gloved woman’s face. Her companion beckons the waiter, who bends down to him. It looks for a second as if the two men will kiss, but instead the man palms him a tip, which is swiftly pocketed.

Voices rise, laughter bounces off the walls and the businessmen have discarded their ties. One bejewelled aristocrat lifts her dessert bowl and licks out the last chocolately traces. Heat rises from my knees as if I have been drinking gin. My companion’s gaze now moves to my chest. I pick up my beaded bag and inform him I need the ladies’ room.

My voice rings out as all others fall silent. The kitchen door opens and four waiters emerge, carrying covered platters. I cannot get to my feet while everyone is watching. The platters are placed in front of the beautiful foursome, but everyone is staring at the one in front of the young man. The maitre d’ gives a signal and the burnished silver cloches are lifted.

I see quite clearly what is on that plate. Carrots, calabrese, potatoes and green beans surround a small triangular white bowl, containing what appears to be a small chipolata, covered in breadcrumbs and herbs. No one speaks. No one moves. The young man, unable to use his left hand, reaches for his fork. He spears his chipolata, says, ‘Bon appétit,’ and places it in his mouth.

His eyes close as he chews and he releases a long moan of ecstasy as he rocks back and forth.

Applause thunders around the room. I join in, smiling at such vicarious satisfaction. The older man applauds wildly and stands to shake hands with the maitre d’. His left hand is missing two fingers. The distinguished woman has her hands clasped together, but I notice a gap between her first and third knuckle. The gloved woman is no longer gloved. And she has no more than three fingers on either hand.

I stare around the room, spotting more and more missing digits as the room retreats to the end of a telescope.

His voice comes from far away. “It’s quite all right, you know. It’s perfectly legal to eat your own.”

Current news stories with allegations of sexual assault cropping up from Hollywood to Westminster are disturbing in many ways.

Even more so are many of the reactions.

I take issue with a whole bunch of issues.

 

Language. The terminology we use to talk about such events is part of the problem.

Here’s an example: Witch hunt.

How can exposing a selection of bullying individuals and the organisations which supported their abusive behaviour be a witch hunt? Bullying individuals and controlling powers conducted the actual witch-hunts, blaming women for anything and everything they could not explain.

Women, drowned or burned as witches, were victims of the equivalent of today’s tabloid hysteria. A witch hunt is a mob seeking to root out an innocent. The men shown up and shamed these last few weeks were anything but innocent.

Responsibility. These harassers, abusers and rapists did not act alone. Supported by their studios, companies, assistants and a culture of complicity, these men continued their arrogant, greedy search for gratification behind a protective screen. Sure, the powerful employer could fire you, which would be so much worse than backing out of a hotel room leaving a young wo/man to suffer sexual assault.

Get Over It. Anyone who states ‘Don’t claim #metoo if you only got your bum pinched’ should spend a week in a woman’s shoes. Many of us grew up with Carry On films and the Benny Hill Show and the socially accepted normalisation of ‘men just can’t help it’ and fought our way out of that uncomfortable tolerance.

Men can, and do help themselves (in both senses). Imposing yourself physically on a person who says no, whether that’s a kiss, a touch or sexual assault is all part of a sliding scale. Other people’s bodies are not your property, no matter how important you are.

Mental health. The inability to stop forcing yourself on unwilling individuals may have more to do with your unstoppable ego than some kind of addiction. Next time you lie on your therapist’s couch, take a second to think about all those people who are still dealing with the nightmare of your abuse every time they close their eyes.

Coda: I can communicate (badly) in several languages, but I get by in French, German, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish. One phrase I know in every one:

Please leave me alone.

 

 

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It’s that time of year again.

Halloween is not such a big deal here in Europe as it is in the States, but there is an interesting crossover. The day after October 31st is The Day of the Dead, celebrated in many cultures with a visit to the graveyard, to pay homage to our ancestors. People picnic in cemeteries, light candles and sing songs, including the dearly departed in the party.

Spooky stories and chills up the spine are on my mind.

Last night, Herr Husband and I watched Dressed To Kill, directed by Brian de Palma, starring Angie Dickinson and Michael Caine. Entertaining, definitely. Dated, absolutely. Scary, not in the slightest.

This weekend, I ticked two psychological thrillers off my TBR list, in which the protagonists are not monsters, but perfectly ‘normal’ high-achievers with an obsession. Both very scary.

A brilliant friend introduced me to the concept of All Hallows Read, via the fabulous Neil Gaiman. On Oct 31, we’ll be at our local bookshop introducing stories instead of sweeties and setting light to imaginations. The team pooled our scariest favourites and some have haunted me for days.

When I was little, a book scared me so much I asked my mother to get rid of it. She agreed, concerned at my extreme tearful reaction. Convinced it was still in the house, I searched everywhere until I found it in the attic. I smuggled it out of the house and threw it on the bonfire.

While I recall what disturbed me so deeply, I can’t remember the title. Since then, I prefer to read books that thrill and chill but just as I’d rather not see certain images on screen, I’d prefer not to admit certain concepts to my head.

My favourite spooky stories leave gaps – enough for you to get scared, but not scarred. A few examples:

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by HP Lovecraft

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter

What are yours?

 

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Conversations I Did Not Have This Weekend

Me: Hello Herr Scheiber, we’d like a firewood delivery before the winter sets in.

HS: Of course. Is Monday morning OK?

Me: Perfect. By the way, we won’t be paying this time. Have a nice day.

 

Me: Could I book a hair appointment on Friday?

Hairdresser: Cut and blow dry?

Me: Yeah and quid pro quo.

HD: Quid what?

Me: Look, you cut my hair for nada and I tell all my friends how fab you are.

 

Me: Two tickets for Blade Runner 2049, please.

Cinema Employee: Where would you like to sit?

Me: Up the back and for free.

CE: Sorry?

Me: Well, I’m not sure if I’ll like it. But if I do, I’ll give it a great review. Oh and while I’m here, I’ll have the medium nachos with cheese sauce.

Conversations I Did Have This Weekend

Potential reader: Is your series available on iBooks?

Me: Sure, they’re available everywhere. Here’s the link.

PR: But these books aren’t free.

 

Website query: We’d like to read your book for our bookclub.

Me: Fantastic! Would you like me to send some bookclub questions?

WQ: That would be great! Could you also gift us 10 copies (e-books, not paperbacks, obviously!)

 

Casual acquaintance: My wife wants to read your books.

Me: OK, here’s a postcard which tells you where to buy them.

CA: You can’t just give her a copy?

You’ve all heard the Picasso quote – but if not, it’s at the end of this post.

I get slack-jawed in disbelief when people expect creatives to work for free – or more often – for the “exposure”.

I’ve done my time. University degree, years of teaching and learning, self-study and quite a few failures along the way.

Then a group of people (more on that next week) showed me how to improve and find a voice, a character and a style. I spent four years honing my first book, distilling all those years of craft and education it took to get to that stage.

So the next step is to give it away?

No.

Before I published my first book, I promised myself two things: Never free, never exclusive. If I don’t value my work, why would anyone else?

Each of my e-books costs less than a cup of coffee. My paperbacks cost less than two birthday cards. Both will last a lot longer. I appreciate I’m also asking for your time and trust.

All of us readers approach a new book with anticipation and trepidation. You’re about to give me hours of your life – use them well

But if you value the hours of effort and skill that goes into keeping readers entertained, why would you expect all that for free?

Herewith the oft-quoted and possibly apocryphal Picasso anecdote:

Picasso is sketching at a park. A woman walks by, recognizes him, and begs for her portrait. A few minutes later, he hands her the sketch. She is elated, excited about how wonderfully it captures the very essence of her character, what beautiful work it is, and asks how much she owes him. “5000 francs, madam,” says Picasso. The woman is outraged as it only took him five minutes. Picasso says: “No, madam, it took me my whole life.”

 

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Utrecht 2007

“Howzit? You got here, then?”

“Yes, Joop. I got here. At last.”

“Uh oh. Delays?”

“Right now I’m in a taxi from the airport. Not only did we leave Jo’burg three hours late, but I missed the transfer in Frankfurt and now we’ve just circled Schiphol for forty-five minutes, waiting for a slot.”

Only an asshole like Joop would think it a good idea to whistle into a cell phone.

“Joop, listen. I need to take a shower and eat something. After that, I want to crash.”

“Shit, man. That’s all you want to do? Friday night is jol night, but if you’re creamed…?”

Creamed? Where the hell had this guy learnt his English?

“There’s just one other thing I need.”

“No sweat. An SMS is on its way with the number of that agency I mentioned. It’s not cheap but you can feel the quality.”

“I appreciate that. Meet me in the foyer at ten on Monday, OK?”

“Don’t wanna do anything tomorrow?”

“I got plans, Joop.”

“See you Monday then. Sweet dreams.”

Asshole.

He watched the scenery, such as it was. Grey, flat and bleak, with the occasional windmill to make sure you were paying attention. The hotel was a pleasant surprise. The first of the day. Street noise left behind, he glanced up at what looked like some kind of institution in its own grounds. Classy and quiet. His kind of place.

Goede avond en onthaal. Welcome to Utrecht, Sir. We have good news for you. You have an upgrade today, to one of our Empire Suites. Please follow the porter.”

A second pleasant surprise. Plenty of space, working area, two TVs, and most importantly, a vast bed. He palmed the kid a coin, who left him to explore the room in peace. Throwing off his coat, he sat on the bed. Heavy linen, an excess of pillows and a firm mattress, which would be seeing some action in the next few hours, if Joop wasn’t exaggerating about that agency. The bathroom was massive, well-furnished with towels and little bottles of wife-pleasing potions. He made a mental note to throw some into his case. And a wall of mirrors behind the bath. Better and better. His mood started to lift. There was a message on the flat screen at the foot of the bed.

Mr van der Veld

Welcome to Grand Hotel Karel V

We hope you enjoy your stay.

Flicking to Bloomberg, he started to undress, while checking the screen for any significant currency movements. As he kicked off his shoes, he noticed the ice bucket and chilled Krug Grande Cuvée. There was a card.

With compliments of D’Arcy Roth.

That explained the upgrade. Nice touch. Unnecessary, as there was no-one else in the running, but it certainly put their potential client in the right frame of mind. So, a shower, a glass of Krug, order room service and put a call through to this agency. All needs met.

As he unzipped his case to find his toiletries bag, he heard a discreet knock at the door. He frowned. Unexpected visitors, including hotel employees who wanted to ‘turn down’ his bed, were not welcome. He pulled open the door and his frown lifted. The neat grey suit, official clipboard and pulled-back sleek blonde hair told him she was a hotel employee. The pale skin, drawn over fine bones and high forehead, grey-blue eyes and cherub lips told him she was more than welcome. He checked the name badge. Annelise Visser.

“Good evening, Mr van der Veld. My name is Frau Visser and I …”

“Good evening, Annelise. Nice to meet you.” He offered his hand. A momentary flush before she recovered herself to shake it. He was well aware that conventions in the Netherlands dictate that one should use surnames in formal situations. He didn’t give a shit.

“I am the Senior Hospitality Director, sir. I am here to check that your suite is satisfactory.”

“The suite seems fine, Annelise, but I do have one concern.”

The smooth dome of her forehead contracted.

“A concern? What would that be, sir?”

“The champagne.” He pushed back the door and indicated the ice bucket. “Can I be sure this is top quality? You see, I’m used to drinking the best.”

“Sir, the champagne is a Krug Grande Cuvée, and was specifically selected by your company …” a glance at her clipboard. “D’Arcy Roth.”

“They are not yet my company, Annelise. They want me as their client. But if you’ll consent to taste the champagne with me, I guess we can agree that the suite is satisfactory.”

A proper blush now. He loved a blush on a blonde. Pink cheeks, pale skin reddened with warmth. He wanted to turn her over, pull down those panties and spank her right there. Raise some heat in those cheeks.

“Sir, I thank you, but I am on duty right now. Drinking alcohol would be inappropriate.”

“This is the hotel that ‘exceeds your expectations’, right?”

“Yes, but …” She laughed. “OK, I will taste the champagne. But then I am afraid I must go. I have to consider the needs of other guests.”

He didn’t reply, but gestured to the sofa. She sat, knees together, the grey skirt riding up slightly. The lamp behind her created a halo effect. An angel. He smiled as he twisted the cork. She was going nowhere. As the cork popped, he caught the overflow in a flute, with a loaded glance at her to see if she picked up on the image. She returned his smile, politely. He slid beside her and handed her a glass. Before he could propose a toast, she set her glass on the table.

“I’m sorry, sir. Champagne always gives me the hiccups. Would you mind if I take some water? I can get it.”

He placed a hand on her knee. “Sit still. You’re my guest.”

She jumped at the touch of his hand. And he still hadn’t made skin contact, as she wore pantyhose. He hated pantyhose.

In the mini-bar, there was an array of different waters. He grabbed a bottle of Evian and showed it to her. She nodded. Returning to his seat, he placed the water in front of her and raised his flute.

“To a very pleasant stay in Utrecht.”

She tipped her glass to his and looked at him. “To a pleasant stay in Utrecht.” She sipped at the fizz and closed her eyes. “Mmm. I don’t wish to prejudice your opinion, but in my view, that’s lovely.”

Her voice was soft, intimate and breathy. He wanted to hear her say those words again. Mmm, that’s lovely. Preferably as she drew her nails down his back. He hadn’t even registered the taste, but his glass was two-thirds empty.

“I don’t know, Annelise, the jury’s still out. Maybe the second glass will clinch it.” He refilled his and she didn’t stop him replacing the tiny sip she had taken. A good sign.

“Now, what time do you finish tonight, Annelise?” His tongue felt thick and his speech sounded slow.

She swallowed some water and caught a stray droplet with the tip of her tongue. Shit, he wasn’t sure if he could wait till later.

She avoided the question. “Why are you in Utrecht, Mr van der Veld? Is it just business, or pleasure?”

He took another slug and leaned towards her. He felt hot, horny and even a little drunk.

“Until five minutes ago, strictly business. But now, I’m not so sore.”

That struck him as funny, because he wasn’t sore at all. But he was as sure as he’d ever be. He started to laugh, but her eyes were looking into his, with intent. Was it too soon to …?

She smiled and reached for the bottle, refilling both glasses. Her voice was low, full of suggestion. He watched her lips.

“Have I satisfied your concerns regarding the champagne, sir?”

That was flirting. No doubt at all. His body felt warm and heavy and soft, with the exception of his cock, which hardened as she placed her hand on his thigh. She lifted the flute to his lips.

“Satisfy my champagne yet.” His lips buzzed and seemed to be slurring. It didn’t bother him. He felt euphoric, completely relaxed. This was turning out to be quite a hotel. Who needed an agency when room service was laid on? She dropped her gaze to his crotch and up to his eyes. Pupils dilated. She wanted him.

“I guess you wanted to freshen up before I arrived?”

He nodded, and managed to mumble the word, “Shower.”

“How about I run you a bath? More fun.”

No mistaking that. She moved to the wardrobe and opened the door. He tried to tell her the bathroom was behind the other door, but she’d already found it. He laughed again. You’d think the staff … He reached for his glass, barely able to lift it to his lips. His arms were leaden as hell and he felt fantastic. No idea if he’d be able to perform.

 

Here she comes. Pulling him to his feet, helping him undress, just like a nurse, what with the gloves and all. Easing him into the bath. Beautiful; soft hands, warm water. He sinks up to his chin, smiling. He can’t recall feeling better in his life.

She’s smiling too. And singing. He recognises the tune and tries to join in. He wants to touch her face but he can’t move. He’s happy, stroked and caressed by this beautiful woman.

The patterns are hypnotic. Crimson clouds twisting and swirling in the water. He watched as clear water loses the battle, dominated by red. She moves to the other side and turns his wrist, as if she’s trying to see what he has hidden in his hand. It’s funny and it makes him laugh. She’s not laughing. Her face is sharp with concentration as she draws the razor blade along his vein, from wrist to elbow. More red joins the fray, and the clear water doesn’t stand a chance. Now she smiles and puts the blade in his right hand. He can’t hold it and it falls into the redness. He watches it fall, helpless. He heaves his head up to look at her reflection in the mirror and attempts a smile.

It’s not working. He looks like an old dog with wind.

 

Behind Closed Doors is the first in The Beatrice Stubbs Series.

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