The breath I’d drawn in was taken away again. I was both disgusted and ashamed of myself. Shona smiled, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. A snug, low cut, short, red dress clung to her curves as if was part of her. Her nipples stood proudly, her black hair flowing in lustrous waves to her shoulders. Her dark eyes appraised me as I ogled her, the guilt building second by miserable second. I had never seen a more beautiful and sexier woman in all my life. I hated myself for every debauched thought that raced through my sinful mind.
“She scrubs up well, as they say - eh, Ben,” said Drake enjoying my discomfort. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “If you really have turned over a new leaf, she’s more than willing to – how shall I put it – accommodate you, in your time of need. Although pregnant women are said to bloom, in my opinion, they become rather frumpy looking.”
Drake wore a midnight blue shirt, open at the neck. It hung loosely over a pair of white denims. It took all my willpower to drag my gaze from Shona and look into his bright blue, roguish eyes. I wanted to punch him. With every fibre of my being, I wanted to beat him bloody, until nothing was left of that supercilious grin. However, I had to play the game – for the time being. I comforted myself that, soon, he would be getting all that he deserved. I managed a smile.
‘You look amazing,’ I mouthed at Shona and she grinned. She lifted her hand and ran her index finger slowly down the side of my face and winked. She moved closer until her breasts were almost pressing against my chest. Her perfume was intoxicating.
“Aren’t you going to invite us in, Ben?” She asked.
I stepped back, nearly stumbling. “Come in, come in. We’ve both been looking forward to this so much.”
As they passed me, Shona playfully squeezed my buttock. I am more than ashamed to admit that this part of the pretence was not too difficult to pull off.
Although she was nothing but a whore, she was a spectacularly good looking one.
Jan met them at the kitchen door and led them to the dining room, a room we had yet to use. All our meals had, so far, been eaten in the kitchen.
“I’m so glad you could come at such short notice. Would you like a glass of wine? Ben?”
“Red or white? “I asked, getting into my role.
“Red for me please Ben,” Shona said sexily, her eyes looking me up and down.
“I’ll have red as well, Ben, please.”
I went off to the kitchen, wishing I had some arsenic I could add. I had already decided to eat Jan’s starter before beginning my act. I just hoped I would be convincing enough to fool Drake and Shona.
I poured two glasses of Merlot, a glass of Chardonnay for myself and an orange juice for Jan. She had already put the silver tray she kept for special occasions on the kitchen table. If it had been up to me, I’d have used the battered, old wicker thing we’d found in the cupboard; one of the few reminders left by Uncle Ted. Still, I had a part to play here. Jan was still playing things close to her chest. They were various platters and plates on the table, covered in foil.
The oven was on low, obviously keeping something hot. I shrugged; after the starter it was immaterial, I’d be on my way to Smugglers’ Rock with my new, best buddies, searching for the final key. So far, we had the pendant and the manuscript, and I wondered what the last piece of the puzzle could be. Maybe it would be a blazing scimitar and I could do, for real, what I’d been doing, mentally, in the back garden all afternoon. I put the glasses on the tray and re-joined the party. As I entered the room, Drake was just finishing some anecdote or other and Jan was practically in hysterics. He had his hand on her shoulder and I wanted to smash his face in. Shona turned, at my entrance, smiled, licked her lips, and pushed up her breasts seductively. I smiled back, made sure Jan wasn’t watching, then tipped her the wink.
“Here we go folks,” I said, with a lightness I didn’t feel. “Sets of dentures, or, should I say, aperitifs.”
Jan looked at me, still smiling and shook her head. “The old ones aren’t always the best, Ben, I’m afraid.”
“Ah, leave him be, Jan,” said Drake, matching her smile. “It’s good to see him in such good humour.”
Jan nodded. “Yes, Simon, I agree. He’s been a bit under the weather since we moved here. It is good to see him back on form. Even if his jokes are awful.”
I joined in the ensuing laughter. Jan ushered us to the table, and we sat. I was opposite Shona, with Jan’s seat by my side and Drake was facing her, as it should be, if you were having good friends for dinner. Jan went to the kitchen.
“Nice T shirt, by the way, Ben,” said Shona. “I take it you’re a fan of the depressing group.”
Simon did a bit of tutting. “I’m afraid Shona doesn’t appreciate the power and beauty of Pink Floyd’s music, like we do, Ben.”
“I guess you either love them or hate them,” I said.
Shona reached over and put her hand over mine. “Maybe you can convince me,” she said, looking into my eyes.
I have to say my jaw was starting to ache with the stress of trying to keep a smile on my face. “Maybe I can,” I said, pulling my hand away just before Jan re-entered the room, carrying three plates, like a professional waitress. She placed the first before Shona, then Drake, then me. It was salmon and asparagus in a watercress sauce, and it smelled delicious.
“Please – start,” she said. “Don’t wait for me. I’ll only be a minute anyway.”
I looked at the other two and shrugged. “Dig in guys,” I said. It was food of the Gods and I was so sorry it would be the only course I would eat tonight.
I had meant to make my move halfway through the course, but it was so good I couldn’t. I put my knife and fork down and sighed.
“That was sublime, darling.”
Drake nodded, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. “Absolutely to die for,” he agreed.
Shona smeared the last morsel of salmon with the remains of the sauce and popped it into her mouth. She smiled as she chewed, swallowed, licked her lips, and made the vote unanimous. “You must give me the recipe for that sauce, Jan. It was out of this world.”
Jan was beaming. “Of course, Shona. I’m just relieved you liked it.”
“Liked is an understatement, believe me, Jan,” said Drake. “It was a culinary masterpiece.”
Jan gathered up the plates, blushing, but over the moon. She had been told so many times, over the years, how good a cook she was, I couldn’t understand why she was always so nervous at dinner parties.
“The main won’t be long,” she said. “Ben, pour Simon and Shona more wine.”
I saluted and did as I was told. I stood to pour the wine and made a point of slumping back in my chair awkwardly.
“Are you alright, Ben?” Shona asked, with a good impression of genuine concern.
I rubbed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Just feeling a bit lightheaded, all of a sudden. “I blinked, as if I were having difficulty focusing. “I was working in the garden all afternoon.” I gave them a weak smile. “Jan warned me. I meant to put some ‘after sun’ cream on, but, as usual, I forgot.”
Drake scrutinised me and I felt as though I were at an audition for a major role.
“You do look a little peaky,” he said. “The sun, around Chanter’s Hide can be deceptive, especially if there is breeze and some low cloud. You could have a touch of sunstroke, you know.”
Tom Hanks eat your heart out, I thought. I couldn’t believe this was going so well. Maybe, when this was all over, I ought to give R.A.D.A. a call. Just then Jan re-entered, carrying two large dishes of roast potatoes and mixed veg. I stood again, making out that I was going to give her a hand, stumbled and fell back on my chair.
“What on earth’s the matter, Ben?” she asked, putting the dishes down easily.
Her concern was genuine.
“I think he may have a touch of sunstroke,” Drake offered.
Her expression changed from one of anxiety to one of accusation. “I told you,” she said sharply.
I looked at her, wearing my best apologetic, sickly smile. “I know, I was stupid.” I rubbed my eyes again. “Things are starting to look fuzzy.” I shivered. “I think I need to lie down.”
Jan shook her head. I could see she was fuming, but it couldn’t be helped. She came over to me. “Come on, I’ll help you upstairs.”
“Sorry everyone,” I said apologetically. I let Jan lead me upstairs, flopped onto the bed.
“I really am so sorry, sweetheart, “I said. “I think I need to sleep.”
I closed my eyes and listened as she stomped down the stairs. I couldn’t help congratulating myself on a superb performance. Now to the next step.
I gave it a good fifteen minutes, listening to the muffled conversation below. Jan had put on one of her Joni Mitchell albums, as a bit of background music, and I welcomed the additional sound cover. I sat up on the bed, took off the shoes I’d been wearing and placed them under the bed, where I’d put my trainers earlier. If Jan hadn’t been so pissed off with me, I’m sure she would have removed my shoes herself, after I slumped onto the bed. I tied my laces and stood slowly, not wanting the bed to creak. I could make the window in a couple of strides and was glad I didn’t have to go through the bedroom door. The floorboards in front of it groaned every time a foot was placed anywhere near them. Nevertheless, I stepped gingerly, my heart beating twenty to the dozen. I reached the window, lifted the latch-arm, and pushed it wide. It made a slight whine as it attained its limit, but not enough to penetrate the hubbub downstairs. Climbing through and descending the ladder would be the worst part.
I stood for a minute or so, working out the best way to manoeuvre myself through the gap. Luckily, the windowsill was level with my groin, so it wouldn’t be too much trouble to swing my leg out. I gripped the sill and frame, pivoted, and pushed my left leg out. I felt around for the ladder and managed to place my foot on the third rung down. I slowly moved my weight from my right foot to my left, waiting to see if the ladder stayed firm; it did. I lifted my right leg and squeezed it through the small gap between the window frame and my own body. I was sweating. Ordinarily, it would have been a doddle, but, when you’re trying to do it without making a sound, it’s extremely stressful, believe me.
I straightened up, both feet on the ladder, both hands on the windowsill. Slowly, I began to ease myself down. It was probably less than a minute before my right foot hit terra firma, but it seemed a lot longer. I was standing between the dining room and the kitchen. Joni was in her ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and Drake was entertaining the two women with another of his anecdotes. Just the same, I ducked down and crept under the kitchen window. Once I’d reached the passageway, leading to the front of the house, I breathed a silent sigh of relief. Barring a sudden fire, causing the three of them to run out of the front door, I should be home and dry, I thought.
I almost ran down the path but held myself back. At the moment silence was more important than speed. I looked at my watch; it was just after nine and the light was fading. I’d told Efram and Peter that I’d be at the beach as near to nine as possible and to wait for me. Once again, I mentally patted myself on the back for a job well done. Considering what a quivering mess I’d been not too long ago, I’d put in a sterling performance, under the circumstances. I emerged onto East Street and quickened my pace. Time to meet my partners and begin the destruction of Simon Drake and his filthy whore.