This free short story is brought to you by the author of Maggie's Milkman and Extraordinary Rendition.
The three women on the dance floor were laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves, oblivious to the men buzzing around them like wasps at a jam jar. They were the very definition of beauty, all different, but all beautiful. There was something for every taste, slim, curved, taller, shorter, blonde, brunette and redhead. Their eyes sparkled, their smiles radiated and their laughter reverberated. The more they smiled, the more the men took notice but the more they took notice the more they were ignored.
Skinny latte? Who was she trying to kid? She’d never be skinny. Her mother called her big boned but she was just being polite, big was the word. She watched the world go by and tried to think how she could track down that sleaze bag. She was no detective, no Archer Stanley. She was just some Welsh Government clerk who didn’t know the first thing about catching a crook. Would she even recognise the scumbag again?
Twitter was giving her nothing but abuse. Women retweeted her tweets, but men thought they had to respond with something witty or something vile. She wondered if Pinprick himself was twitting obscenities. She doubted it, she doubted he could read or write. She sat at her desk pretending to be busy whilst dying for a fag. She shuffled her papers and sent a few emails then declared loudly she had a meeting to go to and locked herself in the loo and played a few games of Candy Crush. She was a civil servant in the Welsh Assembly, but even she didn’t really know what she did. She collected data and passed it on and got paid a seemingly generous amount for the privilege. Her boss was fine, her colleagues were okay, she wouldn’t choose them but they didn’t really annoy her, and she was mostly left to her own devices. The biggest problem was boredom, sheer, unadulterated boredom. The 8 hours a day she worked (and she never worked any more or any less) were the longest most tedious hours, you could imagine. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was just one day but she had to go back and do it all again day after boring day. She’d just got through a level on Candy Crush that had been giving her no end of grief when her phone buzzed showing she had a text message. Josh, of course. ‘No Josh we can’t meet tonight’ she muttered, ‘we can’t meet any night. We can never meet again.’
Karla yawned her way through work, she tried to concentrate and catch up on yesterday’s tasks, but it wasn’t happening. She watched the second hand judder around the clock, round and round, always moving with that jerky, unsure step but going nowhere. Try as she might she couldn’t even concentrate on Candy Crush; this was real, this was happening, she was going to meet a victim of that son of a bitch. No, that was not a good thing to call her, she wasn’t a victim she was a woman. and no that was not a good thing to call him either, cos that demeaned his mother. Shitbag, that would do. At 5 on the dot she grabbed her bag and made for the door.
‘Oh nothing just… It’s my sister, it’s her little one’s birthday. I promised I’d make an appearance. Sorry, I’ve got to…’ Lucy looked distraught. Karla put her hand on her arm. ‘Look you’ve got my number now, you know how to find me. Call me anytime okay?’ Lucy nodded.
Lucy was sitting outside Starbucks sucking on a cigarette; she smiled at Karla when she saw her come round the corner.
She stood outside smoking, enjoying the evening breeze on her face. She felt around for her phone to see what Josh had to say for himself this time. She never replied, never encouraged him but the messages kept coming. But this message hadn’t been from Josh but from Lucy.
After their coffee Karla stayed where she was. She'd had enough caffeine for one day but she had someone else to meet. She waited patiently, preparing what she was going to say and wondering what she was going to drink. Claire was the third victim woman, they'd chatted all afternoon on Whatsapp. Like the others, she hadn't wanted to give away too much digitally but she agreed to meet for a coffee. Karla wondered what this one would bring, the same story from a different mouth or something different. Only time would tell.
She recognised the woman as soon as she came in but it took a while to place her, it was the cleaner at the club; the angry woman from the other day.
‘Hi’ Karla said tentatively suddenly concerned this might be a trap. Was this the brothers getting to her somehow?
‘Hi’ Claire said and sat down looking around making sure she didn’t know anyone. Her face was impossible to read.
‘I've got information, she said. When I found out why you'd come to the club I just had to find you and talk to you.’
Karla was still wondering if this was a set up but she listened carefully.
‘Mickey's a wanker, he's always at it, but Matt's no better, in fact if anything he's worse, he's got the connections and supplies the drugs, not just to Mickey but others too. Then he goes with Mickey, rumour is he just watches but still…’ Her voice trailed off.
Karla couldn't believe her ears,
Claire shrugged, but it was a shrug that told Karla that it was more than the two she knew about.
She shook her head again. ‘No way!’ she paused and then almost mumbled an explanation. ‘I'm their sister.’
Karla was shocked. She sat in silence trying to process this news.
‘Why are you telling me this?’
‘Cos it has to stop.’
‘Why not the police?’
‘I can't go to the police can I? I can't snitch on my own family.’
‘But if the police came to you?’
Claire gave a small almost undiscernible nod signalling she would talk to them.
‘I wouldn't testify though. No way.’
Karla felt her phone buzz. She ignored it.
‘Mickey's got pills at home, they are in his sock draw and there are some in the safe at the office. if you tell the police that and you won't need me.’ She paused and fidgeted. ‘If they know I spoke to you they will kill me, and be careful, I think they are getting sick of you.’ She got up to go.
‘Thank you’ said Karla,
‘Be careful’ Claire replied before leaving.
Karla checked her phone, it was from an unknown number.
‘I know where you drink skinny latte.’
So why was Karla so distraught? She'd betrayed her two friends, that's why. She'd promised them confidentiality and had then gone and blabbed it all to the police. She'd promise to give them time, to let them go to the police when they were ready, but she'd ridden roughshod over those promises. She'd known it was the right thing to do, they needed to put that cesspit away before he had chance to create another Lucy or Molly, time was of the essence, but she felt awful, guilty, cheap, dishonest.
Her phoned buzzed in her bag, her stomach flipped, had one of the women already been visited by the police? Was this them telling her she was a traitor? Or was it pinprick with another one of his obscene threats. She almost hid her eyes as she looked at her phone. It was just from Josh, gosh Josh, he’d had seemed such major problem just 5 days ago but now he was the least of her worries. She'd deal with him when all this was over.
'Skinny latte please' she said to the Barista.
'What's your name love?' He replied.
She hated giving her name, it felt like an invasion of privacy somehow. Having your name written on a cup and shouted out when her drink was ready wasn’t right. Scum like pinprick could use that against you.
'Janus' she said reflecting her mood, the barista didn't flinch he just wrote it on the cup and took her money.
Karla flinched though, when she looked around for a place to sit and saw him sitting there waiting for her. This could not have been a coincidence, he'd followed her, was putting the frighteners on her? Thank god she hadn’t given her name.
She got out her phone and played with it while she waited for her drink, trying to avoid those nasty eyes watching her. Then she took her coffee and sat as far away as possible but still in the safety of the cafe, a nicotine hit could wait. She was aware of him watching her for a bit before he stood up and left. He hadn't said a word but he didn't need to. Karla was shaking like a leaf.
She checked her phone, the image wasn't steady but the video clearly showed him, clearly showed those ugly eyes staring at her. She found the business card the detectives had given her and sent the video to them.
She'd recovered her composure just enough to go outside to have a smoke, but after only two puffs her phone rang. It was Lucy.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. But she had to answer it.
She hit the green button.
‘What the hell have you done?’ Karla could tell Lucy had been crying. ‘They came to my house, to my home! Invaded my life.’
‘I trusted you? You, you cow’.
‘Did you speak to them? Did you tell them?’ Karla was trying to brazen it out.
‘Of course I spoke to them, I had to.’
‘Don't you good girl me you patronising bitch. I never want to see your ugly face again.’
With that the line went dead and Karla's knees went weak. Tears fell to the floor. God she needed a hug, but who was there to hug her?
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