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Sometimes, when I have something on my mind, I’m not especially attentive to what’s going on around me.
I was having lunch with my mate Henry the other day. Henry’s a vet. I was getting some tips on how to poison a dog. Not that I had any intention of actually poisoning a dog. At least not in real life. I just needed to poison a dog in a screenplay that I was working on.
‘Blimey! Did you see that?’ Henry said.
‘That woman. At the bar. Her skirt didn’t even cover her bum.’
‘Did it not?’ I said. ‘No. Sorry. I didn’t notice.’
‘You didn’t notice?’ Henry shook his head. ‘You have to be blind not to notice a bum like that. Ten out of ten. Perfect. Like a ripe peach.’
The funny thing is, about five minutes later, I suddenly had this vision of a rather attractive woman wearing a very short skirt. And I do mean very short. It was as though my eyes had seen what my eyes had seen, but my brain had been too busy thinking about poisoning the dog — and how it fitted in with everything else in the screenplay. It was as though my brain was saying: ‘You’re going to have to hang on for a moment or two there, Eyes. First I need to figure out this other stuff.’
I guess something like that must have happened yesterday when I went down to The Lake. (It’s known locally as The Lake; but, in reality, it’s not much more than a large pond.)
Around much of The Lake there are trees — common alder and willows of one sort or another mainly. But on the northeast side there’s a grassy bank that catches the afternoon sun. This is where I sometimes go to think and plot and, occasionally, on a particularly hot day, to take a cooling dip.
I was there yesterday, stripped down to just a pair of shorts and deep in thought, trying to corral characters who seemed to have minds of their own, when a woman’s voice said: ‘Oh. Hello. I thought that I was all alone.’
When I looked up, the woman was standing knee-deep in the water — right out in front of where I was sitting. I’m not sure how she got there. But she was wet. Her skin was glistening in the afternoon sunlight. So perhaps she had swum — or quietly waded — from behind one of the weeping willows.
‘Umm … well … yes … apart from me, I think you are alone,’ I said. ‘I don’t think there’s anyone else here. Not that I’ve noticed anyway.’
‘It’s such a nice spot,’ she said. ‘Especially on a perfect afternoon like this.’
It was about that point that my brain registered that she was naked. Not just slightly naked. Completely naked. Stark naked.
‘I don’t have my swimsuit,’ she said with just a hint of a smile, as if she was confirming what my brain had just observed. ‘I didn’t think that anyone else would be here. I hope that you don’t mind.’
‘Mind? No. It’s fine,’ I said. ‘I sometimes … well … you know. It’s not as if there’s usually anyone here. Except for today, of course. And then it’s just me. But, no, I don’t mind. In fact it’s quite nice to see someone enjoying … well … you know. Not that I was actually looking. In fact, I’m not sure what I was doing. I think I was probably just thinking.’
The woman was probably in her late 30s, or maybe early 40s. She was slim, as opposed to skinny. And her breasts, now that I noticed them, drooped slightly and pointed out to the sides. She had shoulder-length hair — which was wet. And she was wearing dangling earrings — which, to be honest, I thought was a bit odd if you were going to go swimming. Had she been a character in one of my screenplays, I would not have had her wearing long dangling earrings — unless, of course, they were important to the plot. The hair on her head was brown; but her pubic hair was a neatly trimmed patch of bright copper.
‘Do you live around here?’ she asked.
I nodded. ‘Yes. Willow Cottage. Just ….’ And I pointed somewhere over my left shoulder.
‘Oh,’ she said, smiling and nodding. ‘Willow Cottage. Yes. We’re sort of neighbours. I’ve just moved into Kimble Cottage.’
‘Oh. Right. I thought that I saw some lights on over there last night. But then I thought that it might have just been the moon reflected in one of the windows.’
‘Charles,’ I said. ‘Although most people call me Charlie.’
‘Nice to meet you, Charlie. I’d shake your hand, only, as you can see, I’m rather wet. You’ll have to come over and visit me. At the cottage.’
‘Mmm. Yes. Or you could come and visit me,’ I said. ‘I usually open a bottle of something about five o’clock. I probably shouldn’t. But I do. I think it might be a writer thing. And the arrival of new neighbours … well, that should be celebrated, shouldn’t it?’
‘Is that an invitation?’
‘Umm … yes. I suppose it is,’ I said.
‘Then I accept. With pleasure. Thank you. And it’s neighbour. Singular. Just me. Although I think that I may have to get a cat. I quite like the idea of a British Blue. But now I had better go and find my clothes. I can’t come and visit you like this, can I?’
I Pendik Escort can’t come and visit you like this, can I? Was that a question? Or was it a statement? And how should I answer? I could have said: ‘Yes. Of course you can. You look quite good naked. In fact, you look very good naked.’ But then she might have thought that I was some weird Peeping Tom. Or worse. As things stood, I thought that I had probably done a pretty good job of convincing her that I was just an easy-going live-and-let-live kind of chap. You want to be naked? That’s OK with me. And so I said: ‘Well … five-ish it is then. You know … five … five-thirty. Just when you’re ready really.’
It was almost 4:15 by the time I returned to the cottage, and Towzer was sitting on the bench seat near the front door. He had Mutty with him. Mutty was smaller than the dog that I had envisaged poisoning in the screenplay. From what Henry had said, a large block of chocolate would be enough to make Mutty very sick indeed. Chocolate is not good for dogs of any size. I’m not sure that too many people realise that.
‘You all right, boy?’ Towzer said. ‘I’m just enjoying some of your sunshine. An’ I brought you some eggs.’
‘Oh, thank you.’
‘Ben Barbour came by to have a look at Willard today. All going well, I might be able to bring you some bacon in another week or so. But don’t feel you need to save the eggs. There’ll be more. The chickens are pretty busy at this time of the year.’
‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Can I get you a beer?’
‘Umm ….’ Towzer studied his watch. ‘Perhaps another time,’ he said. ‘I’d better go. Nancy should have my tea on the table soon. And I think we’re having cold corned beef tonight. I like a bit of cold corned beef.’
I went inside, put the eggs in the pantry and bottle of Pinot Grigio in the freezer — remembering to set the timer on the microwave to remind me to take it out again before it turned into an ice block. Then I quickly looked around my tiny sitting room. It looked a little as though a bomb had gone off. Probably not the best first impression for my new neighbour. So I set about giving the place a bit of a tidy up.
It must have worked.
Vanessa arrived just before 5:30. She was wearing an abstract-patterned three-quarter length full skirt and a plain apricot-coloured shirt that buttoned down the front. Her hair, which was now dry and showing coppery highlights, was pinned up loosely. And the long dangling earrings that had looked so out of place when she was swimming had been replaced by gold knots that complemented the gold chain around her neck.
‘Gosh, this is nice,’ she said. ‘And so tidy. I’m afraid my place looks a bit like the over-stuffed storeroom of a rather badly run charity shop. It’s chaos. Absolute chaos. What’s worse, I’m not even sure that all of the brown cardboard boxes are actually mine. I think the moving guys must have picked up a bit of random stuff along the way.’
I nodded. ‘When I moved out here — from London — I hired a firm of removalists who I was led to believe would pack everything up, move it out here, unpack it, and put each item in its rightful place. Of course, they didn’t. They just dumped everything and ran. And, yes, there were cardboard boxes everywhere for weeks.’
From Vanessa’s expression, I could see that her experience was following a similar track.
‘I have cold Pinot Grigio,’ I said. ‘Or there’s some gin. And I’m pretty sure there’s some tonic. Alternatively, there’s a cupboard full of bottles that may or may not be past their best-by date. I sometimes buy things to see if I might like them. But I seldom do.’
Vanessa smiled. ‘Pinot Grigio sounds perfect.’
I went to the kitchen and returned with the wine and a couple of glasses.
‘The, umm, estate agent said that you are a screenwriter,’ Vanessa said.
‘That must be interesting. Have you written anything that I would have seen?’
‘That rather depends on what you’ve seen,’ I said. ‘At the moment I’m working on a new series of Bravit.’
‘Oh, yes. That’s one of my favourites. I like Bravit. It’s very … umm … clever. And it has very good female characters — although I probably would say that, wouldn’t I?’
‘Probably. So … do you write Bravit as part of a team? I think most TV programmes are written by teams these days, aren’t they?’
‘Many are. But I write Bravit as a one-man band. That said, many episodes are based on stories by David Buckle. And Bravit is David’s character. So David has a bit of input. And there’s a director and a producer and a script editor — all of whom want to have their tuppence worth. So, yes, there’s still an element of team about the process.’
Vanessa frowned at me. ‘A one-man band? So … do you find that you walk around with characters having conversations in your head?’
‘Yes. I suppose that I do.’
‘And, presumably, at some stage, you have a whole episode playing out in your head.’
It wasn’t Kurtköy Escort something that I’d ever really thought about. But, yes. And so that’s what I said: ‘Yes. I guess that I must do. At least in the latter stages. You know … when I’m trying to get the flow right. It’s sort of like watching the show before it’s been made.’
Vanessa nodded. ‘And what is the story that you’re working on at the moment? Or am I not allowed to ask?’
‘It’s based on one of David Buckle’s long short stories: The Disappearing Lady.’
Vanessa shook her head.
‘Basically, a woman, a bar owner, witnesses the murder of a drug lord. The murder is carried out by members of a rival gang. The police need to park the woman somewhere out of harm’s way while they put their case together. Unfortunately, the policeman in charge of the witness protection programme dies of a heart attack just an hour or so after he has parked the woman at a safe house. And none of the other cops know where the key witness is or how to contact her. And so, instead of trying to find out who dunnit — after all, they already know who dunnit — the cops spend the next 75 minutes trying to find their star witness before the bad guys do.’
‘Why don’t the cops just call her phone?’
‘They do. But it rings in the dead cop’s pocket.’
Vanessa nodded. ‘I like it. Nice idea. And how does it end?’
‘If I told you that, I’d have to kill you,’ I said.
‘And what do you do to keep the wolf from the door?’ I asked.
‘At the moment? Nothing.’
‘And before nothing?’
‘I was in the hospitality business. I ran a bar. A little like your disappearing lady.’
She nodded. ‘Is it that obvious?’
‘Probably just a lucky guess.’
I liked Vanessa. There were layers to her. On the one hand, she was open (and sometimes naked). But there were also hints of a secret side. As a writer, I liked that. I liked that a lot. There were possibilities.
We chatted on for the best part of an hour. And then, as we neared the end of the Pinot Grigio, I said: ‘Look, I’m not much of a cook, but I can make a pretty decent frittata-type thing. Or so I am told. What do you think?’
‘I think that I should have brought some wine,’ Vanessa said.
‘That’s OK. We have supplies,’ I assured her. ‘Come and talk to me while I chop a few things.’
As I started washing and slicing a couple of potatoes, it suddenly occurred to me that, having run a bar in London, Vanessa might well be a trained chef.
‘No, no. I did a commerce degree. And then I went to work for one of the breweries. Mostly, I worked in cost control for the retail division. You know … pubs. And, after a few years of looking at the books of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, I convinced myself that I could probably do a better job myself.’
‘And did you?’
‘I like to think so,’ Vanessa said. ‘With rents the way they are in London, you had better be good or you won’t survive.’
‘I’m going to pre-cook the potato in the microwave,’ I said. ‘So, if you don’t approve, please feel free to look away now.’
Vanessa just laughed.
I put a good slosh of extra virgin olive oil into a large non-stick pan, and then added some chopped red onion, some garlic, and some chopped chorizo sausage. When the microwave announced that the potatoes had had three minutes on high, I drained them and added them to the pan.
‘For someone who claims not to be much of a cook,’ Vanessa said, ‘you certainly know your way around a knife.’
‘You can blame Bravit for that. One of the early stories that I worked on was called One Cook Too Many. In order to get inside the head of the villain, I spent a couple of days learning how to sharpen a cook’s knife, and how to chop and slice vegetables. It’s also a good way to use up a bit of excess energy.’
‘You really do get inside your stories, don’t you?’
‘Umm … yes … I suppose so,’ I said. ‘Or perhaps they get inside me.’
A few more sips of wine and the potatoes were almost cooked, so I added some finely-chopped rosemary and some more salt, and then gave everything a good stir. And then it was time to add four lightly-beaten eggs. ‘I shall have to introduce you to Towzer,’ I said.
‘The local handyman. In addition to being able to fix just about anything you can think of, he produces what must be just about the finest free-range eggs in the country.’
‘They do look good,’ Vanessa said. ‘I love the rich yellow colour. It reminds me of the label on a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.’
‘The Widow,’ I said. ‘Yes.’
I gave the pan a good shake to help the eggs to seep into the gaps between the potato and chorizo. And then I turned the flame off and left the eggs to cook in the residual heat. Once the egg mixture was no longer liquid, I crumbled some cheese over the top and put the pan under the grill.
‘Nearly there,’ I said. ‘If you could open that other bottle of wine, I’ll just Maltepe Escort dress a few cos lettuce leaves. And maybe add some baby tomatoes. The local tomatoes are particularly good this year.’
For a moment or two, I heard the late Richard Griffiths’ voice in my head. Of course, Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe would have produced something more sophisticated than a frittata-cum-tortilla Espanola. But, then again, maybe not. Maybe he would just have put all of the ingredients inside a perfect flaky-pastry pie crust. A new twist on the old-fashioned bacon-and-egg pie. I filed the idea for another day.
Even if I say so myself, the frittata-cum-tortilla (or whatever it was) was very good.
‘This is lovely,’ Vanessa said. ‘It has everything. Top-shelf tapas in the very best sense.’
Tapas? Was it? Yes, in a way, I suppose that it was.
‘Gosh, I could have sold this in my bar,’ Vanessa said. ‘Perhaps you and I could find somewhere around here. Oh, no. You already have a proper job, don’t you?’
I laughed. ‘It’s a shame that neither of my parents are around anymore. They would have loved to hear that I had a proper job.’
Vanessa smiled and helped herself to another slice of whatever-it-was.
One of David Buckle’s little ‘tricks’ in The Disappearing Lady, is that he leaves it entirely up to the reader to decide where the safe house is. There are references to ‘the village’ and ‘the by-pass’ and ‘the quarry’, but not to any specific village or by-pass or quarry. It could be somewhere in the north. It could be somewhere in the south. ‘So … where is it?’ I asked him.
‘Where would you like it to be?’ he said.
My brain was wrestling with the idea of whether or not to keep the location of the safe house suitably anonymous, when I suddenly realised that Vanessa looked different. ‘How could that have happened?’ I asked myself.
‘A penny for your thoughts,’ Vanessa said.
‘What? Oh. Yes. Sorry. I was just thinking about something.’
‘I thought that you might have been,’ Vanessa said. ‘There were little pictures forming above your head.’
‘It does sometimes feel like that,’ I said. And then I said: ‘Have you let your hair down?’
‘I have,’ she said.
‘It looks very nice. It suits you.’
I also noticed that she had undone couple of her shirt buttons at some stage. But I didn’t think that I should mention that. Or at least I didn’t feel that I had mentioned that I had noticed it. But I did find myself wondering if she was getting hot or getting ‘hot’. I sort of assumed that it was the former. The possibility of the latter seemed rather unlikely. We had only met about four hours earlier. And, yes, there had been wine, but she didn’t seem like the kind of woman who was going to lose all inhibitions at the first sniff of the stopper from granny’s sherry decanter.
There was still about half of the frittata left, but we both seemed to have finished eating so I suggested that perhaps we should return to the sitting room and ‘make ourselves comfortable.’
‘Good idea,’ Vanessa said.
We both stood up and I gathered up our wine glasses and headed for the tiny sitting room. I assumed that Vanessa was following. But then — and I don’t know why — I suddenly thought that perhaps she wasn’t. I turned around, and there she was in the final stages of removing her knickers. ‘Yes. Much more comfortable,’ she said.
As a writer, my days are filled with characters doing unexpected things. I often find myself being surprised by Gordon or Miranda. And I often find myself asking: What would Gordon do next? What would Miranda do next? Of course, when the characters are Vanessa and Charlie (that’s me), it’s suddenly all a bit different.
‘Give me your hand,’ Vanessa said.
I put down the wine glasses an held out my right hand.
Vanessa took my hand, hoisted her skirt, and placed my hand at the junction of her beautifully-toned thighs. ‘What do you think?’ she said.
Gosh. What did I think? ‘Rather nice,’ I said.
‘Well … very nice. And more than a little surprising.’
‘That’s a good start. I think that I like surprising you. Mind you, you do tend to take things in your stride a bit, don’t do? You hardly batted an eyelid when I appeared before you at the lake. I was hoping for a bit more of a reaction.’ Vanessa smiled. ‘Perhaps I should remove my skirt,’ she said.
‘Your skirt? Are you sure? Not your shirt?
‘Umm … no. I rather suspect that you will be more turned on if I remain shirted but not skirted. Let’s try it shall we? I can always put my skirt back on if I am wrong. But I don’t think that I shall be.’
And she took a step backward and unbuttoned or unclipped or whatever the waistband of her skirt, and her lower regions (including her beautiful copper-coloured pubic thatch) were suddenly as naked as they had been when she had first appeared before me at The Lake.
‘What would Gordon do? What would Miranda do,’ I wondered. More importantly, what would Vanessa do?
‘Do you actually have a plan?’ I said. ‘Or do you just make this stuff up as you go along?’
Vanessa frowned slightly. ‘It’s a good question. To be honest, I think that it depends on what else is happening.’
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