Some people should never play poker

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Trying to rebuild lives

CHAPTER SIX: Trying to rebuild lives

Amanda was allowed to return to the attic when the investigators had finished their work. She knew that if she didn’t do it right away, she would never do it, so made up her mind the very next morning to return. She had been there for about twenty minutes – and was trying to steel herself to open Francesca’s door to check whether the blood was still on the floor – when her mobile rang. She walked over to her jacket which she had thrown on the settee and reached for the phone which was in the pocket.

“Mand? … Are you OK? Do you want me to come over?”

It was Sasha. Amanda had half expected Jinty to ring her … or even turn up, come over to see if she was all right. After all Jints was her extra special friend. But nothing. No word.

“Oh, Sash. Please, please! I am going doolally here. I’ve just come back into the flat – and I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Stay put, love, I’ll get there in a flash! Put the kettle on!”

Amanda had to laugh despite her circumstances because it was just Sasha making a joke! According to her, tea and coffee were most definitely ‘off the menu’ ….. old person’s beverages (apparently!). If she was offering to drink tea or coffee it was above and beyond the call of duty. Amanda could have kissed her. But she obviously would play it cool when she arrived. No need to go overboard!

It was about 25 minutes later that Sasha arrived. Having commandeered Giles as her chauffeur once again – and still packing him back off home, telling him she’d ring him if she needed a lift, so stay close to his phone.

There was an intercom system on the door, so when she announced herself …”Florence Nightingale arriving for service” … Amanda gladly let her in. Sasha climbed the stairs just the same as they did the night before. She had put on a brave face for Amanda because she knew how she would be feeling, but truth to tell Sasha was not anything like as brave as she was acting. She took a deep breath before tapping on the door, and Amanda was quick to open it and add company to the very odd atmosphere that she felt now in the flat. It had been a lovely, warm, friendly place before – the worse that could have been levelled against it was that it was permanently untidy, and the fanlight window seemed permanently in danger of falling in on somebody’s head. It rattled alarmingly, but the carpenter had said it was ‘just age’ … ‘like himself’ he had added and laughed. Georgia had remonstrated with James that he should get it fixed, but he had said that the ‘expert’, namely his friendly neighbourhood odd job man, had said all was well and ‘it would outlive them all’ so nothing to do. It had caused a couple of weeks of tutting and strutting, and snotty texts and emails going backwards and forwards, but it had fizzled out in the end.

“Coke … or it’s after 11, so do you want vino?”

“No, coke’s fine, Mand, thanks.”

When the two of them were sitting in the lounge with their drinks, Sasha very deliberately put her coke down on the side table and walked across to Francesca’s bedroom door. She went inside and closed it behind her. Amanda said nothing. She waited. She was not sure what she was waiting for, but she waited, almost holding her breath, can to lips, but not sipping.

Sasha came out again, walked into the kitchenette, and searched around but found nothing that she wanted.

“She motioned to Amanda to stay where she was. She walked over, picked up a bundle of magazines and crossword books that were under a coffee table, and dumped them onto the settee next to Amanda. Get your nose into those – I’ve got work to do.”

Sasha went downstairs and knocked on Alice’s door.

“Hello, it’s me again. I don’t think Amanda is fit and able to clean that carpet – even under normal circumstances – but I am sure she isn’t at the moment. She’s still quite fragile – we all are, I guess. She’s got nothing strong enough upstairs to clean that blood stain off the carpet. I don’t think much will take it away completely, but I thought I’d have a go, if I could cadge some carpet cleaner, or any kind of cleaner that might make it better. I know I cannot do anything about the bit they cut out of it, but if you’ve got a Stanley knife or something, and some double sided tape, it might be possible to swap it with a bit that is underneath the bed or a piece of furniture. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better than what’s there now – a permanent reminder. In time, I guess Amanda can investigate whether she can claim from insurance, but to be honest I am not sure whether anybody has insured the fixtures and fittings. Apparently the landlord is too mean to even sort out that bloody fanlight properly.”

Alice put her finger to her lips and said, “Be careful, he will hear you” and laughed.

Sasha looked puzzled, and for the first time learned that the ‘bossy boots’ of the night before was not ‘another tenant’ but the landlord. Now it all made sense. She pulled a ‘watch what I say’ face and shook her head.

Alice motioned to her. “Come in, pet, come in. I’ll see what I’ve got.”

Alice rummaged around and finally appeared with a veritable supermarket household cleaner aisle of products, sponges, scrubbing brushes, and even a carpet cleaner.

Sasha went to take them from her, but she said …”Here, take this” and she handed her the carpet shampooer. “I can manage the rest.” It wasn’t quite what Sasha had had in mind, but she supposed it was only to be expected.

They trekked all their products and gadgets up the stairs, with Sasha now slightly embarrassed that Amanda might think that she had commandeered Alice to come and clean the carpet. Sasha knew that they thought she was a bit of a prima donna and had a tendency to order people about. Mostly it was just Giles!

Sasha ordered Amanda to stay sitting, and said “If you’re a good girl, and sit quietly reading your comics, I’ll buy you an ice-cream later”. She made a funny face to turn the episode into a much lighter occasion.

Alice was impressed. She had not really taken to Sasha the night before but was warming to her. She thought she could have been a Sasha, had she not married so young.

The two women took everything they needed into the bedroom and spent the next 40 minutes doing their best to eliminate all evidence of the horrors of the night before. The forensic people had not made that much mess, but it was dusty and powdery, with marks where things had been moved – including the bed, and the other heavy furniture. Alice and Sasha reassembled the room as best they could, with Alice taking especial interest in the dressing table, and bureau and chest of drawers. She appeared either to be nosy (Sasha couldn’t blame her, it was not just one of her vices) or meticulous that things should be put precisely back in the right place.

When they were all but finished, and they had done the best they could, in the mirror Sasha thought she saw Alice put a bundle of letters into her overall pocket. Sasha said nothing. But she thought a great deal.

So, Francesca’s bedroom had been restored – more or less – and though it would never really lose the ability to remind people of that horrible event, at least to all outward appearances, if one didn’t know to look for the blood stain, you would think that somebody spilled coffee and cleaned it up. The patch just looked cleaner than the rest. But no bodily fluids remained – at least on the surface. Like the atmosphere in the room itself, it would likely never really lose that taint of sadness or stain.

By the time they had left the inner sanctum and re-joined Amanda in the living room, Amanda had had time to get quite embarrassed at her own lack of industry or … backbone. She now felt sure that she should be doing all of that – or at least playing some part in the restoration of order to the flat – after all it was her that lived there.

In a mad kind of way, she knew she would have felt better if it had been Jinty – they had a lot of history, and Jinty would expect her to do the same for her if the shoe were on the other foot. Sasha, she had only known for a couple of months – and then just as a friend of Jints from way back.

Amanda – seeing it was the least she could do – offered them both drinks, tea, coffee? She realised she had precious little in the fridge – but she thought she had milk.

Alice quickly declined, and said …..”No, why don’t you come down and have some lunch in a while? The boys are at school – I was going to keep them home, but to be honest they slept almost right through last night’s drama, so it would have been an indulgence! They would have thought I was going soft. So … come down. Nothing fancy. …. Twenty minutes, half an hour?”

Amanda and Sasha looked at one another, and Amanda was relieved when Sasha said …”Thanks masses, Alice, but we are going to meet Jinty soon because one of my mates has a bit part in “Next Time Around”, and she might be able to get us in for the matinee.”

Alice, nodded. “Well, don’t forget to eat! I know what you are like …. You need sustenance – you ate virtually nothing since last night ….” She jerked a thumb in Amanda’s direction and said “That one wouldn’t think of eating anything remotely resembling breakfast – you’d think I was trying to feed her poison.” She nonetheless smiled and left them taking it seemed a few extra seconds to close the door. Sasha – who was suspicious at the best of times – was aware of this and considered it a possibility that Alice had delayed just that brief time to see if they said anything. About her? About the situation? About the murder? Sasha chided herself for her suspicious mind and forgot about it.

Amanda did look at her after Alice had gone. “What friend? Where the hell is ‘Next Time Around’ on?”

“No … well yes … It is on, but in Croydon. And I do know somebody in the chorus, but no chance of any tickets – she’s a bit of a cow and we don’t speak … well we do sometimes, but we aren’t at the moment. …. But I didn’t think you would want to spend another few hours in this house, and I thought we should go out and get something to eat … somewhere cheap and cheerful … on me.”

“Should we phone Jints?”

“Leave her for a while, eh, Mand.”

Amanda frowned. She liked Sasha, and she was obviously grateful, but she didn’t want Jinty to think that Sasha was her new best friend. In any case, she was a bit sad … maybe even annoyed … definitely hurt … that her best friend hadn’t rung her to see that she was all right. She could have been murdered too!”

“But …” Amanda looked startled when Sasha raised both hands in a gesture of ’stop … don’t go on! She stopped mid-sentence, but Sasha said nothing.

Sasha looked pensive, then made a face indicating that she was deciding whether something was a good idea or not.

“Amanda. OK. Let me tell you something. … First of all, how long have you known Jinty?”

“I don’t know …. Three years, four years … no … three I think.”

“Yes, so … Jinty and me go way back. My Mum died, and I went to live with my Nan – but then she died. Anyway. that is not important. I was living in a children’s home but went to the same school as Jints – we also had lots of friends – even relatives in common. My Nan and her Nan were related someway, way back. Anyway, I lost touch with Jints … well she was Jacinta then, or sometimes Jazz …. But I kept tabs on the old neighbourhood because some of my cousins still lived around there and went to my old school – as well as Jazz. Anyway, when she was … I think about fifteen … her Dad murdered her Mum. Jazz got up and found her. He had shot her. He said she attacked him and he took the gun away and it went off accidentally – but the jury wasn’t buying it. He was a bit of a nasty bloke – had been in one of the gangs, but most of them had grown up, or moved away … he had grown up but grown more nasty, and was always in trouble – police always knocking on the door. I never heard he was ever violent to Jazz, but her brother - Carlton – was a different story. Even when the boy was young, he always tried to stick up for his Mum … got a lot of fat lips and broken limbs I think … moved away as soon as he could. Joined the navy … seventeen. That was less than a year before his Mum died. I know that both Jazz and Carlton had to give evidence. So Jazz had lost both her parents. Went, like me, to live with her gran. Her Dad’s Mum. Carlton wouldn’t visit. Just couldn’t bear to be around any of his Dad’s family – didn’t really blame them, and never actually said anything – just would never go near the place. So she effectively lost him to a degree too. He rarely returned to London – even when he was on leave. Nothing to return to he said. Jazz was hurt. She thought he blamed her and thought she took her Dad’s side – because she moved in with his family. Silly, but it was all very traumatic. So, last night was as horrible for her as it was for you – maybe even more horrible. She had to relive all of that. Hardly any of us will face something like that ever in our lifetime - let alone twice – and she was only 20 last month.”

Amanda was open mouthed. She had heard lots of stories about Jinty’s outings with her Mum and Dad and had been told that her brother had emigrated to New Zealand, but they kept in touch through facebook and skype. Certainly, Jinty had said that her parents were now dead – in a car crash – when she was fifteen and she went to live with her grandparents. The kernel of the story was true, but not the background. Amanda was torn. In a selfish way – which she knew was selfish, but she was unable to shake it off – she felt that her relationship with Jinty had been a fraud. Why had she not felt able to tell her the truth? She thought they were real friends – bestest friends. There was nothing about herself that Jints didn’t know.

Sasha read her face only too well and decided that enough was enough.

“Stop right where you are! You are not the victim here. Yes, it’s horrible what has happened here but you are in one piece – at most you have been jolted out of your easy life ..”

Amanda made as if to argue, but Sasha raised a hand to shut her up …

“You do have an easy life – a privileged life. You live in a nice place, with your uncle downstairs – and I know – cos you have boasted often enough – his girlfriend baling you out when you run out of money. You potter around with jobs when you feel like it; live in a beautiful part of London with the Heath five minutes away. So last night was horrible. But you are not the corpse. You did not die last night. The worst that happened to you was your peace of mind was damaged and there was a bloody big blood stain on the carpet. Grow up. Just think about your flat mate … Francesca, was it? … and poor, traumatised Jazz – or Jinty if you prefer. How much do you really care about her? In fact, how much do you care about anybody else? If her own story is so raw that she never NEVER NEVER tells anybody (I only know because I come from where she comes from) then first of all Imagine how last night will have affected her and understand why she makes up stories about her past. Not to fool you, or not trust you – because she cannot face it herself. She lies as much to herself a she does to everybody else. Now, grow up! Don’t mention it to her unless she tells you, and don’t let on that you know. Think of somebody else for a change.”

Amanda’s eyes filled with tears. At which point Sasha moved across on to the settee, put both arms around her and said “So that was a lecture from Sue Ramsbottom ….. she doesn’t appear very often, and she’s gone back in her cupboard now. Come on, get your coat. Alice has made me think about my stomach … now I am definitely hungry.”

Amanda looked dolefully at Sasha, and muttered ’Sorry … I’m a cow, aren’t I?”

Sasha laughed and said “No, cows are bloody big things with four legs and an udder … I am not sure whether you have an udder, but you definitely only have two legs. …. Come on, I’m starving… Shall I call Giles?”

Amanda laughed, despite herself, tears still in her eyes.

“Don’t you dare. That poor sodding bloke might as well be a yoyo … Give him a break! Either go out with him or stop treating him like Uber.”

She gathered her coat and they pulled the door too behind them … best let the carpet – and the tears – dry.

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