I found this story recently which I wrote eight years ago for a local competition for ghoulish tales, which I surprisingly won. It’s a bit wacky, but fun.
The night my characters came for their revenge
After an agreeable lunch with my agent when she’d told me I create compelling characters, I decided to have a bit of fun. I’d ask some of the guys from the books I’ve written to a party in a marquee in my garden. I’d have gallons of booze, loads of food, and whatever other recreational stuff they used. I’d find a good band, who would play loud, eclectic music and nothing dreary, and I’d buy some fireworks for later. I’d invite the nosey neighbours, telling them to come along or go away and shut up. It’d be fancy dress, and I’d ask everyone to wear crazy, off-the-wall outfits. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. It would be wild, which reminds me – I even considered a few ‘tame’ wild animals. I called up London Zoo and asked if I could borrow a tiger, or lion, or even a croc for the night. I was about to ask for some snakes as well when the man from the zoo interrupted me.
Guess what he said? Oh, he was such a pompous fart. ‘Sir, you’re not being serious, are you?’ he asked, in a high-pitched, posh accent.
‘I am being bloody serious,’ I replied, no doubt with a touch of annoyance sounding in my voice. ‘I’m having a wild party, and I want some wild animals. Can I, or can’t I?’
Ten minutes later an RSPCA van turned up at my house. A uniformed man strode up to the front door, asked to come in, and said he’d received a report that I was harming animals and he had to check it out. ‘You’re joking,’ I said, as I slammed the door in his face. He came back with a police officer, and I had to let them in and allow the man to do his search. I was as polite as pie, saw them off out of the front door, and screamed, ‘Bloody Losers,’ as they walked back to their vehicles.
My next concern was how to get in touch with my characters. I didn’t have contact details for any of them. So, I started to search for them online. I Googled them, searched FB, Twitter and posted a plea to make contact. The replies started to flood in even before I finished the search. I’d asked for an email address. They all sent one. They could have been imposters – wanting to come to a free party – so I devised a cunning game to check if they were genuine. I emailed back, saying I didn’t want to offend them, and would they mind replying with the first words they said in my book. Oh my God; they all came back immediately, and got it right, and asked for the details of the party.
I was on a roll. These wacky people were coming to my house for a night of hilarity and fun. My imagination took off. I couldn’t hang around or they might lose interest. I looked at my diary. The following Saturday was free. I sent out the invitations.
Come to my place, this Saturday, for a night of fun, frolics, and hilarity, when anything can happen, and nothing is forbidden.
Wear fancy dress. It must be outrageous. Come stoned, drunk, or sober – but you won’t leave that way.
Lots of drink, various substances, and food provided.
Come late. Leave with the birds.
See you then.
My God, I thought the next morning. I have to organise this thing. The booze and food were easy. I’ll do a BBQ and leave bottles and glasses on a table for everyone to help themselves. It was the other stuff, you know, the narcotics, that were my main concern. I’ve used a little gear in my time, but nothing big, and didn’t know of a reliable dealer. I couldn’t foul up on this. I knew that some of the guys coming did it all, big time. Then I remembered Jimmy Ali, the guy in Playing Harry who was a petty drug dealer and ended up working for the spooks. I sent him a short message, asking him to call me.
‘What stuff exactly do you want, man?’ he asked after I’d said I wanted ‘some stuff’ for a party.
‘Oh, the lot. You must know what people use.’
His silence made me think he’d hung up on me. Then a rustle of paper. ‘I can get you acid, angel dust, bars, black button, candy…’
‘Stop,’ I said. ‘You’re blowing my mind. You sound as though you’re reading from a list. I don’t know all this stuff. Just come with whatever’s popular.’
‘Okay, man. I can do that. But it’ll cost yer.’
‘Oh, several grand.’
‘That’s okay. I’ve made a lot from these guys. It’s payback time. I want everyone to have a good time.’ And that’s how I left it.
Next, I had to think about the décor for the marquee. I wanted something dramatic – make people gasp. I grabbed a beer from the fridge and went to sit in the garden to figure it out. I know, I thought. Funeral. I’ll do a funeral theme. I called up a couple of undertakers and asked if they could help out. One of them said, in a deep, serious voice, ‘Would you like the coffins empty or full, sir?’
‘Full, what do you mean?’ I asked, taken aback, and wondering if I’d gone too far.
‘With a deceased in it, sir. We’ve a few of those hanging around, waiting for their funerals next week. As long as you don’t open the lid, we could bring them along. It’d give the party a bit of a hum and atmosphere, sir.’
I coughed, spluttered, and didn’t know what to say. I shook my head. What have I done? I thought and declined the macabre effects and went for the empty option.
Early on Saturday morning, while the marquee was being erected, Ernest Gravely from the undertakers turned up with three hearses, stacked two-deep with different-styled and coloured coffins.
‘Where do you want them, sir?’ he asked.
‘Come with me.’ I started to walk to the marquee with him. I’d figured it all out since I spoke with him a couple of days earlier.
‘I want them all lined up against the sides of the tent. You know, standing up, some with the lids off. Randomly spaced all around.’
‘That’s fine, sir. I’ve bought along some ivy and white lilies to drape all around them.’ He looked up at the tent’s roof. ‘May I suggest you angle those spotlights down more. Then, if all the lights are dimmed, they’ll stand out. And what about some funeral music, some old orders of service, and some tombstones? We can arrange all of that for you.’ He looked at me. ‘You want it to be authentic.’
‘Great,’ I said. ‘Can I leave it all to you?’ I walked away and imagined the funeral music playing, the lights dimmed to almost dark, and my guests walking in and seeing the illuminated coffins, the tombstones, and the orders of service of the departed. All I needed were a few bats flying around. Just as I reached my back door and was about to go inside and fix my outfit, Earnest rushed up to me.
‘Sir, have you a moment?’
I turned to face him.
‘Would you like to borrow one of our marble slabs, where we embalm and make ready the corpses?’ I looked at him. His eyes were lit up. ‘I thought you might like to serve your drinks from there.’
‘Brilliant,’ I replied, and knew it’d be a fun evening. ‘Can you arrange it?’
My guests started to arrive at nine. I didn’t meet them. I left Jimmy Ali to take care of everything and went to change. I wanted to look like Gomez, from The Addams Family. I put on a thick, black-haired wig with the hair swept back. I dressed in a double-breasted, old-fashioned, dark-grey pinstripe suit with big lapels, a white shirt and a black tie. My shoes were black: lace-up, brogue-type. I checked myself in the mirror, then stuck a thick, black moustache in position on my upper lip, picked up a big cigar, watched myself do a little jig, and made for the marquee.
It was about ten by the time I joined the party. I looked around. I was astounded. Earnest had placed the coffins just as I asked, arranged the lights to highlight them, draped ivy and fake spider webs everywhere, and hung a few skeletons from the marquee’s centre ridge pole. White tablecloths, spotted with a blood-like substance and sprinkled with grey dust, covered the tables. On the old tombstones, he’d painted in black BOOZE and GRUB with arrows pointing to where the drinks and food could be found. The band was playing the opening bars from Elton John’s Funeral for a Friend, loudly. Loads of guests had arrived. I sensed an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation.
I gazed around and caught sight of Monroe Lidlington, the rather serious man in Death in the Fishing Net who was accused of killing his wife after he’d found her body in the sea. He was talking to Jorge, Leonard Castsimatidis’ lover from Murder He Forgot. I wonder if Monroe knows Jorge killed Leonard? I asked myself as I walked up to them.
Monroe was dressed like an Isis fighter. He had a long, flowing beard, a dirty, bloodstained cloth tied around his head, and wore a black combat outfit. An AK-47 hung from his shoulder. God knows where he got that? I wondered as I looked at Jorge, dressed like a surgeon who’d just come out of an operation. He wore stained blue scrubs and a gauze mesh cap over his hair. A couple of soiled scalpels stuck out from his top pocket.
‘Hi, you’re Nick, the author guy who’s holding this bash,’ Jorge said as I approached.
Well, you could put it like that, I thought and shook both of their hands. ‘Nice to meet you guys. Have you come far?’
Monroe looked at me in a strange manner. ‘I guess so,’ he replied and waved a hand in the air. ‘Someone downloaded me this morning, and I just strolled along. Good of you to ask us.’
Is it me, I thought, or are they stoned? What the hell was he on about?
‘Oh, darling,’ a blond woman said, as she rushed up to me and shoved a big glass of something in my hand. I turned to look at her. She’d tried to make herself look like Ivanka Trump, and wore a T-shirt with the words, ‘My dad sucks!’ blazoned across the front. I grinned and took a sip from the drink she’d given me.
‘Oh my,’ I blurted, feeling like a jolt of electricity had shot through my brain. ‘What is this?’
‘Don’t know, darling, but it works. Came to say thank you. You saved me from that bastard Jerome, you know, in Killing Sam Forever. If it hadn’t been for you, I could have ended up screwed and dependent on him.’
I looked at her and figured it was Julie Crichton, Sam’s wife. She’d slept with Jerome several times before she realised he was the guy who’d tried to kill her husband.
‘Glad it all worked out,’ I said. ‘Nice to meet you. Must go. I’ve loads of people to talk to.’
I headed for the bar to find a safe drink. If I’d stuck with whatever Julie had given me, I would have ended up on the floor, and I wanted to last the night. I stopped – in a far corner of the marquee, Jo Sykes, the no-nonsense detective in Electronic Crime in Muted Key and Death in The Fishing Net, was dressed as a stripper and locked in a passionate embrace with George Myrivitis, the Greek detective from the former of those two books. She’d slept with him, once, in the book. Oh well, I thought. I guess they haven’t seen each other for some time.
The band started playing a Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s song, Relax, from the 80s. Everyone stood up, started to jump around, and sing along, especially the chorus line – When you want to come. I looked at my watch. It was eleven-thirty, not even midnight, the party was swinging, and the outfits were striking. There was Sid Vicious from The Sex Pistols, a man dressed as a cannibal with a bone through his lower lip and blood painted on his chin, a hangman, a couple of hookers, a gorilla, a gory-looking Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden with a gaping hole in his chest and the words, ‘Got you,’next to it, Donald Trump, dressed in a hospital gown worn before an operation with a card stuck to his gown saying, ‘Brain transplant.’ In the distance I caught sight of Harry Fingle, from Playing Harry, dressed as a high court judge in robes and a white wig. He was talking to Richard Morecombe, his ex-boss in the book, who’d killed himself after being exposed as having sex with under-age, teenage boys.
That’ll be an interesting conversation, I thought, as I approached Richard and Harry and took a closer look at Richard’s costume. He wore tight, black leather trousers – that bulged around his crotch – a red shirt, opened to his navel, and a gold chain with a big medallion, dangling down to his tummy-button. He wore make-up and his hair was swept back and greased. Appalling, but apt, I thought. I heard raised voices.
‘Listen,’ Harry said and jabbed his finger toward Richard’s chest. ‘I know it was you who set me up. I found out about your dirty deeds with young boys, and you were shit scared I’d go public. You had me fired. Didn’t you?’
‘You’re being ridiculous. We made you redundant. We had to cut back. You were surplus to requirements. You don’t really think…’
‘Hi, guys,’ I said as I approached them. ‘Not interrupting, am I?’
They both turned and looked at me. Richard glared. Harry smiled, and said, ‘Glad you’ve come. You can set the record straight. Didn’t Richard set me up?’
‘Don’t ask me. I only came in when you were in court. You guys sort it out and tell me. I can drop the truth into a new Harry story, can’t I?’ I said and smiled. ‘I was just checking you’re having a good time. Need to go. Must meet everyone.’ I turned, gave them both a quick wave and slid away.
That was a bit scary, I told myself as I made for a tall guy, dressed as Lurch from The Addams Family, like me. ‘I guess we have something in common,’ I said as I came up to him, and saw that he was Grigoriy Nabutov, the ex-Russian mafia boss and assassin in The Bloodied Black Heart and Playing Harry.
He looked at my outfit with his thin, beady eyes in a sort of sneering way. ‘Not bad,’ he said, almost without moving his lips, and without any trace of a smile. ‘Listen, you’ve given me some good parts, but I don’t care much when you stop me killing someone. Can you sort it, so I get to finish a job properly?’
I looked up at him. He had a menacing look, especially in his look-a-like Lurch outfit. ‘I’ll try,’ I replied and saw Leonard Castsimatidis sidle up to us. He was the evil gangster in Murder He Forgot who’d had an affair with Guy’s wife, and then tried to kill Guy. He was dressed as a priest.
‘I like your gall,’ I said to him with a grin. ‘When was the last time you saw the inside of a church?’
‘Hey, don’t take the piss,’ he sort-of growled, but with a half-smirk. ‘I came over to congratulate you on the décor. I like it. Always like things that remind me of the departed. Makes me think how many of them I’ve helped reach their destination.’ He gave me a poke in the ribs and smiled in his familiar, insincere manner. ‘You know what I’m getting at, don’t you?’
I nodded and thought I’d spent enough time in the presence of two of the world’s most dangerous gangsters. ‘I’ll move on, then. If that’s okay with you two? Lots of people to see.’
Grigoriy looked down at me. He smiled for a split second. ‘That’s fine. Leonard and I have much to talk about.’
‘I bet you have,’ I muttered, as I walked away, and wondered if I should bring Leonard back in a new story.
I felt hungry and looked for where the food had been set up. I didn’t have to search for long. Earnest, who’d stayed on as self-appointed organiser, saw me glancing around, and came up and grabbed my arm. ‘You look hungry,’ he said. ‘It’s all over here.’ He steered me toward the food table. We passed Amie Lau, Harry’s ex in Playing Harry, and Kate Fisher, the flaky businesswoman who spied on Harry, and then slept with him in the same book. Amie was dressed as Yoko Ono, Kate as Joan of Arc, her face smudged with ash. They were deep in conversation, talking about Harry, no doubt.
‘Oh my God,’ I said, as Earnest showed me the food. He’d brought along a second marble slab and fixed it up as the food counter. Steaks, sausages, chicken, pork filets, and prawns had been laid up for people to cook on the BBQ. To add authenticity, he’d drizzled a blood-like substance over it all. At the far end of the slab were bowls of salad, rice, jacket potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and bread.
‘What do you think?’ he asked and turned to look at me. ‘Good isn’t it. Quite unusual. Only yesterday this slab had a stiff on it,’ he added with a chuckle and ran a hand over the marble surface. I shivered.
Unusual – it’s bloody bizarre, I thought and felt a bit shocked. I looked at my guests, expecting them to be equally taken aback, but I was wrong. They were devouring the food with relish, lining up for more, and laughing and joking at Earnest’s display.
‘They love it,’ he said and handed me a plate. Oh well, I thought. Blood is blood, and chucked a few things on the BBQ. While I cooked my steak, pushed around the sausages, and turned my chicken a few times, I managed to catch up with a few more of my guests. There was Sarah, alias Tammy, a call girl in Electronic Crime in Muted Key, who was murdered by Barry Carter, alias Sebastian Ainsworth. She’d dressed herself up as a nun, and said, ‘Didn’t like the watery grave you gave me,’ as she slipped past with her plate laden with food. ‘Sorry,’ I replied, but she was gone. Then I came face to face with Alex Gould, the corrupt businessman who blackmailed Kate Fisher and hired a hitman to kill Harry, in Playing Harry. Nasty piece, he was, I thought as we met. He had come along as John Lennon and had made an impressive job of it.
‘Hey, Yoko’s here. I must introduce you,’ I said as we looked at each other.
‘I’ve met her,’ he growled. ‘She was friends with Harry,’ he added and walked away.
Then, just as I was about to find a table to eat my food, Jimmy Ali bumped into me. ‘Ah, Jimmy. How’s it going? I guess you must have teamed up with Earnest to get this all together.’
‘Yeah, man. He’s good. Tonight’s real cool. I’ve got a little stall going over there, in the corner, and I’m selling loads of stuff. I mean, you wouldn’t guess who’s buying it.’
‘Who?’ I asked, interested to know about my characters’ recreational habits.
He looked into my eyes and smiled. ‘Philip Stacey for one. He’s had a couple of spoonfuls of snow.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Snow, that’s cocaine. I thought you knew.’
I shook my head. ‘But go on.’
‘Sarah, over there.’ Jimmy pointed. ‘The nun. She’s had some grass. That evil guy, Leonard, he’s bought some crack cocaine. Oh, Bruce Thompson, the vicar who looks like the devil, he’s had some acid. Nice guy, told me you had him top himself in Electronic Crime in Muted Key. Something to do with being blackmailed, ‘cos he was gay. Is that right?’
‘On my God, what’s going on,’ I said, catching sight of a commotion on the dance floor.
‘Quick,’ Jimmy said, who was taller than me and could see over people’s heads. ‘I think someone’s going to do a strip. Look, who’s that?’ he asked and pointed.
‘That’s Jo Sykes. She’s a detective.’ Jo stood in the middle of the floor, and danced around in a provocative, suggestive manner while the band played Rod Stewart’s, Do You Think I’m Sexy? While she swayed her shoulders up and down to the rhythm, she took hold of her leather bikini top. The music faded, the band’s drummer played a drum roll, she pulled off her top and flung it into the crowd. Everyone cheered and clapped. ‘She’s magnificent,’ I whispered to Jimmy.
The band started up again. She kicked off her high-heel shoes, undid the attachment of one of her black, fishnet stockings, rolled it down her leg and over her foot, and chucked it to the many outstretched arms. She did the same with the other leg. For a moment she danced around, wearing only her short, leather skirt, and pointing her leather whip toward various men in the audience. Then the music faded again, the drummer did a drum roll, and Earnest came forward holding a copper incense jug with smoke wafting up from it. He swished it around, the smoke and pungent fumes enveloping Jo and wafting all around. Another roll of the drums. Jo danced around, took hold of her skirt, ripped it off, and let it go the way of her other clothing. The band started to play Marvin Gaye’s; Let’s get it On. Jo danced in her red knickers for a minute or two, slide them off, and tossed them into the crowd to join the rest of her kit.
Jimmy turned and looked at me. ‘That was some act. Did you know she’d do that?’
I shook my head. ‘Nothing to do with me, but I need a drink.’
As I poured a whisky, the fireworks started up. Giant Catherine wheels with blood-coloured flames and white sparks illuminated vampire effigies chalked on the tombstones. Streaking rockets exploded in big red and green bursts of colour. From out of the hazy smoke appeared the shapes of coffins, the outlines of graveyards, and many ghoulish characters. A giant screen sprung up from the bottom of my garden – the sort used at sports fixtures and gigs. The words, Death Becomes Us, appeared and then disappeared, leaving only the black night and silence. A ball of white light filled the space where the screen had been, and a flock of big, black bats flew out and toward my guests. Some screamed, others ducked their heads. Their unease faded as a bright, blood-red ball of flame shone out, to be replaced by giant candles with white flames and shooting white stars. Through the flames and shooting stars, the image of The Grim Reaper, dressed from head to toe in black and holding a sickle, became recognisable. His expression seemed to mock his audience. Awe and silence, then the reaper’s outline burned and faded away. Before anyone spoke, an explosion shook the ground, the sky lit up and rockets released black, white, and ash-like grey smoke which turned into the words Death Becomes Us – again.
At 3:00 a.m. I saw Barry Carter, the guy who bought a dead body and faked his death in Electronic Crime in Muted Key, and who’d come to the party dressed as Houdini – apt, I’d thought. He looked fast asleep, or he’d closed his eyes to avoid me talking to him. I guess after the death I gave him in the book, he didn’t want to talk to me. Moving on, I congratulated myself. The party was a hoot. I’d met nearly all of my guests, most by then either wasted or stoned, but having a good time. I’d drunk and eaten well, smoked a couple of spliffs, and felt at ease with the world. The band had switched to slow stuff. A few guests smooched, clutching each other tightly, whereas most sat at tables, or on the floor, imbibing, smoking cigarettes, marijuana, and other substances. I nodded to a few people as I passed, and headed toward one of the open coffins where I saw a naked leg rise in the air. When I drew close, I heard a woman giggling and making pleasurable moaning noises.
‘Jeez,’ I said aloud. Stevie, Monroe’s girlfriend in Death in a Fishing Net, lay naked, with her legs in the air, inside the coffin. Monroe and her were making love. They were going for it. Vigorous, passionate, and noisy, and they didn’t give a damn. Good for them, I thought, and took a swig of whisky from my small silver hip flask.
Outside the marquee, in a darkened corner of the garden, sitting on the ground under a tree, I caught sight of a man with his head drooped forward. I moved close. It was Leonard Castsimatidis. His eyes were closed. His large hairy hands rested on his thighs. On the ground close by lay a needle, a candle, matches, a thick rubber band, a spoon, and an empty, small metal dish. All the paraphernalia associated with heroin use. Oh well, I thought. A nasty, mixed up guy.
Moving back inside, I passed Jo Symes – now partially clothed and asleep, her head on George Myrivitis’s lap. I stopped for a moment to watch Emma, a homeless drop-out from The Wrong Menu, dance with Cameron from the same book. They’d lived together for a few weeks but split when Cameron was charged with murdering his brother-in-law.
Lightning lit up the sky. An ear-shattering thunderclap followed. The marquee plunged into darkness, and the sound of torrential rain beating down on the marquee drowned out all conversation. Through the murk I saw bewildered, frightened faces. Water poured through the joins in the marquee’s canopy and rose up through the wooden floor. We were flooding. I looked for Earnest and saw him running toward me, wearing galoshes, a black apron over his undertaker’s outfit, and carrying an old, leather bag, splattered with dark red stains. He had a ghoulish look on his face. ‘Ah hah,’ he said with a toothless, eerie grin. ‘My time has come. Nature has been kind.’
With dramatic flashes of lighting followed seconds later by thunder loud enough to wake the dead, relentless heavy rain, howling wind that made the marquee sway and shake, and frequent electricity cuts that plunged all around into a strange, sinister darkness, I had no doubt we were in the midst of a mighty storm. I looked around. My guests stood in a line, splashing their feet in the swirling water and pointing at me. ‘It’s all your fault,’ they yelled in unison, each with vampire teeth protruding from out of their mouths.
‘Sir,’ Earnest said, turning to me with a mocking smile. ‘The hearses will be here soon.’ He grinned again. ‘We’ve work to do.’ Unsure how to respond, I looked away and gasped. The water on the dance floor was receding fast toward the edges, like it was being pumped, and turning into giant columns of ice, growing taller as I looked, and making a wall around the marquee. Ten men, all dressed like undertakers, and with vampire teeth, danced around, laughing and letting out great yelps of joy. They sang ‘Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go,’ like in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Through the damp and gloom, two people were striding toward me with clear intent. As they neared I recognised Leonard Catsimatidis and Grigoriy Nabutov. Leonard yelled, ‘There he is,’ and they broke into a run and grabbed me. While Grigoriy held on to me, Leonard pummelled my stomach like he’d done to poor Guy in Murder He Forgot.
I yelled, ‘No, stop. I asked you along to have a good time. I’ve laid on booze, food, drugs. You’re hurting me, stop.’ Grigoriy punched my face. I yelled again. ‘Stop. Stop, stop…’
‘What’re you doing?’ I asked Melanie, my wife. She was leaning over me. She had her hands on my shoulders.
‘I’ve been shaking you,’ she said. ‘You must have been having a nightmare. You were yelling, shouting, tossing and turning. You seemed to be in a hell of a state. I’ve been trying to wake you for ages. What was it all about?’
I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked at her. ‘Well, it’s a long story. I was at a party with all the characters in my books. It was fun and wild, until the storm. Then a couple of my baddie guys got hold of me and started hitting me.’
My wife looked at me. She shook her head. ‘I see.’ She smiled. ‘That’ll teach you, writing about such nasty things. Want a cup of coffee?’
Harry Fingle, Jimmy Ali, Richard Morecombe, Amie Lau, Alex Gould, and Kate Fisher came from Playing Harry.
Guy Middleton, Leonard Catsimatidis, and Jorge from Murder He Forgot.
Monroe Lidlington and Stevie from Death in The Fishing Net.
Sam Crichton, Jerome, and Julie Crichton from Killing Sam Forever.
Barry Carter, Jo Sykes, George Myrivitis, Bruce Thompson, and Tammy from Electronic Crime in Muted Key.
Grigoriy Nabutov from The Bloodied Black Heart.
Emma from The Wrong Menu.
For more see: Other books I’ve written.
My new book, Otto and Frankie, is available from September 4th.
Surely not her
The night I stopped in Agios Psária, I dined alone under a eucalyptus tree. I ate fried calamari, followed by the freshest sea bass I’ve ever tasted, grilled to perfection, and accompanied by chips and a tomato and basil salad. Afterwards, I ordered an espresso and a small glass of Metaxa, the local fiery brandy. As I waited for my coffee and brandy to arrive, my eyes caught sight of a couple, some two and a half metres away. I guessed the woman was in her late twenties and wore a V-necked, sleeveless, black dress with the odd, random streak of dark green here and there. She was slim with shoulder-length, black hair, and dark-olive eyes, set in a tanned beautiful face. The man looked older. He wore white cotton trousers and a pink polo shirt. Neither spoke. The girl looked sad. When their food came, she pushed it around her plate with little interest. A large tear rolled down her cheek and dropped onto her fork, drenching the portion of moussaka that she was about to put in her mouth. She looked away as he said something. More tears welled up in her eyes.
‘I want to go,’ I heard her say loudly, as she placed her fork on the table and tried to stifle her sobs by putting her other hand across her mouth.
The man leant forward to speak.
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘Please. Just get the bill.’
I watched as they rose from the table. Both their meals lay untouched. They left without a word to other.
The rays of the early morning sun woke me as they peeped through the wooden shutters in my room. I decided to go for a swim. As I padded slowly across the warm sand, I noticed a distant speck, moving closer across the sparkling sea, and leaving a white wake of foam in its trail. It drew closer, and I could make out the outline of a speedboat. It seemed to have an uncanny urgency about it as it closed on the small wooden jetty, about one hundred metres from where I stood. The person who steered the boat stood upright and held onto the wheel with one hand while waving frantically with the other. I looked to the jetty and saw a woman, hidden in part by the leaves of a large tree. She faced the oncoming boat and waved back, and I figured she was waiting for its arrival. Fifty metres from the end of the jetty the boat slowed, created a great plume of spray in the air, and slowly chugged through the water towards the end of the jetty. The woman who’d been waiting ran forward. She clutched a parcel wrapped in what I thought was an old tarpaulin. I strained my eyes. It was the girl I’d seen in the restaurant the previous evening. She wore a white T-shirt and a pair of shorts that showed off her tanned long legs. I dropped to the ground and lay flat on the sand in the hope that I wouldn’t be noticed. There seemed to be an angry exchange of words between the girl and the man in the boat. After a struggle, she released the package, turned and ran back up the jetty, across the beach, and vanished into the village.
One Saturday morning, three weeks later, back home, I was scanning through the paper over breakfast, ‘Oh my.’
‘What?’ Julie, my girlfriend asked, leaning over my shoulder.
‘That’s her.’ I kept stabbing my finger at an image in the paper.
‘What’re you on about?’ Julie looked confused.
‘The girl, there. I saw her in Greece.’ I was shocked, and paid little attention to Julie, and peered in disbelief at the picture and its caption.
DRUG DEALER MURDERS HIS LOVER.
I first met her when I was twenty-two, at a low time in my life. My father had just died, and I’d taken off on a short holiday on my own, touring the Greek islands. One day, shortly after arriving on Santorini, while searching for a restaurant called Rastoni, I saw her walking up the sandy track that led away from the car park where I’d left my dusty old motorbike. She wore jeans and a white T-shirt. Her hair was black and long and hung down to below her shoulders. She had dark brown eyes set in a pretty tanned face. She looked deep in thought and didn’t notice me. I stopped her, and asked for directions.
Her face lit up. She smiled as though she knew me. ‘Oh, it’s just around the corner. Let me show you. I’m going that way.’
We walked together around a small bay where cafés, bars, and pastel-painted houses looked onto the clear Aegean Sea, and bright-blue, green, and red fishing boats bobbed up and down with the gentle waves. We talked like old friends about each other and our time in Santorini. Her name was Chloé, and she told me she was French, staying on the island for the summer at the house of a local family she knew. I liked being with her and hoped it would take some while to reach the taverna.
‘There it is, by those three olive trees. That little white-washed building with the terracotta-tiled roof and the blue, wooden door.’
‘It looks delightful,’ I said, and turned to face her. I felt disappointed that my short time with her had come to an end.
‘It is.’ Her face shone. She’d smiled like when we met. ‘I’ve eaten there many times. You’ll have a great meal.’ Her expression changed. She seemed a little concerned. ‘Are you on your own?’
‘Yes, why? Is that a problem?’
She laughed. ‘No, of course not. Just that I’m at a loose end…,’ she paused, ‘and I wondered if I could join you? Don’t worry, I’ll pay. I’m not trying to bum a free meal.’
We sat under an olive tree, watching the sun set. To begin, we shared a meze of garlic flatbread, taramasalata – so fresh and pale I almost didn’t recognise it – newly harvested green olives, and fried calamari with big quarters of lemon. We followed with a giant sea bass that we shared, chunky chips, and a Greek salad. We talked and joked, and laughed all evening, helped on by a couple of bottles of Greek wine. She was fun, full of energy, and infectious, and I adored her. I hoped she felt the same about me.
At midnight the owner of the restaurant stumbled towards our table with the bill. ‘Mr and Lady,’ he said, and smiled. His big, bushy moustache drooped down the sides of his mouth. ‘I must not disturb. You both look big happy, but I have to sleep. I get up early tomorrow to go to market to buy fresh fish.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t notice the time,’ I said, and pulled out my wallet and placed eighty euros on top of the plate with the bill.
‘No problem.’ He took what was needed from the pile of notes and left the rest. ‘I bring you bottle of brandy, and you stay as you like. But I lock restaurant.’ He looked at us both and smiled again, and flung his arms open in an embracing gesture. ‘It’s good? Yes?’
‘It’s good,’ I said, and gave him a thumbs-up with both my hands.
He walked away then returned after a few minutes with the brandy and couple of fresh glasses. He shut up the restaurant and left us to it. We had a large glass each, left the bottle of brandy by the restaurant’s side door, and walked towards the beach, where we sat and talked for an hour or more until we ran out of things to say, and listened to the sea as it lapped against the water’s edge and the sound of us drawing shapes with our bare feet in the sand.
‘I must go,’ Chloé said after a while. Her voice sounding different.
‘Yer. I guess so,’ I said, and turned to face her. I was taken aback. She’d been crying. There were tears in her eyes.
‘What’s wrong?’ I put my hand on her shoulder.
‘Nothing.’ She jumped up and rubbed her tears away with her hand. I stood up and faced her.
‘Thanks for making me so happy,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an evening as much as I have tonight. Here, have this for the meal.’ She thrust some money into my hand, turned, and started to walk away.
‘Hey, Chloé, wait. Let me walk with you to wherever you’re staying.’
‘No, John, please. You can’t. It’s not possible. It’s been good. I’ve had a wonderful evening. Let me go now, please.’ She waved, turned, and ran away into the night.
Nineteen years went by before I saw her again. It was in a Starbucks in London. She was in front of me in the queue. I didn’t know it was her. She turned around, holding her coffee and stood still, and stared at me. I didn’t recognise her at first, and then she spoke
‘John? What are you doing here?’
I couldn’t reply. I was speechless, unable even to mutter her name. She looked older, with signs of strain in her face, but still as beautiful and slim as before.
‘Emm,’ I managed after a bit. ‘Well, I err… live here. What are you doing here?’ We were standing, blocking the area around the counter, and some people started to mutter and complain.
‘Let’s find a seat,’ I said.
We found a couple of empty chairs at the back. She told me she’d been to prison in France for fifteen years for killing her husband. She’d been married to him when we’d met in Santorini. He used to beat and rape her. She’d gone to Greece to get away from him, but he came after her. He took her back to France and raped and beat her again, saying he’d find her if she ever ran away and do the same. A few days later she killed him. She was charged with murder, found guilty, and went to prison for fifteen years. She’d come to London to get away from her past and study for a degree as a mature student.
‘So that’s me done. What about you?’ she said, with the same warm smile I remembered from before.
‘Mine’s been pretty bad as well – a failed marriage, a couple of bad relationships, I’ve been bankrupt, and had cancer.’ I paused and looked into her eyes. ‘That’s all.’
She reached out and took my hand. ‘John. Are you with anyone at the moment?’
‘What, you mean – like in a relationship?’
‘No, I’m not. How about you?’
She smiled again and shook her head slowly. ‘No.’
We married in Santorini, a year later; on the twentieth anniversary of the day we first met.
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