Authors: Anne-Marie Hart
2014 Anne-Marie Hart
First Edition, 1st October 2014.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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Table of Contents:
In a cold and clinically well-ordered room, an alarm sounds. It's a horrible, high pitched noise that any sane person would have changed immediately, but not Madeleine Parker. It's the noise that she's chosen to wake herself up, to keep herself from turning over and going back to sleep, day after joyless day, and above all, to keep herself feeling disciplined. Maddy, the name her mother insists on using, despite her daughter's obvious dislike for it, and the one that has stuck with her ever since her childhood, is a woman that likes order. She's a woman that can't imagine her life without it. This insistence on things being 'just so', means that everyone Maddy knows, from the postman to the dentist, and all those in between, consider her to be about as uptight as they get. They aren't wrong, but Maddy just can't see it. At least not yet.
Maddy reaches out an arm - a beautifully slender arm at that - and in a movement she has performed a thousand times before, delivers a quick tap to the button on her alarm clock, returning the room to a peaceful silence. She sighs heavily, sits up in an almost mechanical like fashion, and removes the sleeping mask she has grown accustomed to using. She blinks open her eyes - beautiful green pools of loveliness, flecked with dots of almond - and puts the sleeping mask, along with the ear plugs she delicately removes from her ears, into the plastic bag in which they both live. Maddy seals the bag, and carefully places it at the very back of the drawer of her bedside cabinet.
If you ask any one of her colleagues how old they think Maddy is - you can't ask her friends because Maddy hasn't had any since primary school, and even then she can't remember whether she did or not - they will guess conservatively, adding ten years to the twenty six she already has. Even Maddy's mother struggles to believe how young her daughter is every time her birthday rolls around, when they go for dinner and pretend to have a normal relationship for an hour, and Maddy has to remind her.
'You can't be, darling', her mother would say, in the distracted way she deals with all topics she considers uninteresting, but essential to be involved in, while slurping soup or chewing crab. 'If you're twenty six and you look like that now, what are you going to look like when you really are forty six?'
If Maddy had friends, or perhaps someone more intimate than a friend, that could look at her closely, run their hands along the delicate lines of her body, press their skin against hers, and make her happy, really, head over heels happy, then they might be able to see just how young and delicate, and extremely beautiful she had every opportunity of being.
It might happen too, if Maddy didn't cut her hair into a conservative bob, which
considers extremely practical, but has never been considered by any one else to be a good decision, nor hide away her best features under dark coloured dress suits, not a single one with flattering lines. It isn't that Maddy doesn't have anyone to advise her, her mother does that every time they meet, as infrequently as they do so, it's that Maddy doesn't see that it's necessary for herself to change. She has chosen how she wants to be, and because she's chosen, no matter what the result of that choice is, she isn't going to change her mind again. The fact that she doesn't have friends is just the way it is, and through absolutely no fault of her own. The fact that everyone thinks she's uptight is a problem with the way they see the world, not the way she conducts herself. And anyway, she doesn't need anyone else telling her what to do, she's doing just fine as it is, and definitely, totally, one hundred percent beyond doubt (despite her mother's constant insistence to the contrary), isn't lonely at all. Not one single little bit.
Large droplets of warm water fall from the shower head onto Maddy's conservative bob, down her slender neck, across her thin-cut shoulders, and over her pert and sensitive breasts. She soaps herself, scrubbing her skin so hard that it goes red in some places, and takes special care to make sure the undersides of both of her feet are so clean they almost dazzle in the sharp, overhead light.
When she's done, she steps momentarily out onto a wooden board, allowing any excess water to drip through the slats below her feet, and then puts those feet, nails carefully trimmed but never painted, into awaiting soft-towel slippers. The bathroom, like the rest of the house, would be considered in an interior design sense as minimalist. This is not necessarily an interior design choice made by Maddy, it's because she believes that 'stuff' itself, just gets in the way. There are no pictures on the walls, no souvenirs or treasures, no gifts or adornments or posters or anything else really that would give a guest (if she ever had any) any insight into what kind of thing Maddy likes. It's as if she lives in a show house kept immaculately clean for prospective visitors, or more than that, like nobody really lives there at all.
Maddy wraps a matching white towelling robe around her perfect body, and moves to the sink. She brushes her teeth, the full two minutes divided equally into thirty second segments across each side, top and bottom, and spends a moment, just a passing, fleeting moment, looking at herself in the mirror.
Back inside her bedroom, she opens the wardrobe and takes out a black dress suit. On the right person, it could be described as a power suit. On Maddy it looks about as far away from that as possible, not because it doesn't fit, but because it does nothing for her. She has gone, almost instantly, from a sexy, twenty-six year old girl, with an incredible figure and breasts that women across the world dream about having (and would undoubtedly kill to get), to an androgynous, monochrome, business woman that looks like she could actually be the latest model in a line of expertly designed robots. Even the sparkle in her eyes has gone, as though the suit itself has sucked the life out of her. Unfortunately, she has no other options, even if she did miraculously feel the urge to wear something different. There is not one single item of clothing in her wardrobe that has any colour at all, not even a handkerchief. Each one of her suits are exactly the same, right down to the very last detail - her wardrobe filled with replicas of the very same thing she is now wearing. Even her shoes are black, conservative and sensible. Fully dressed, you'd be forgiven for thinking she was on her way to a funeral, and not to another day at work.
She makes sure the bed is made to her liking, the alarm is reset, and the slippers and the bathrobe are back in their place in the bathroom, before she makes her way to the kitchen to continue her morning routine.
Breakfast is a large cup of black coffee, which, in Maddy's warped view of the world, she considers a treat, a bowl of unsweetened organic muesli with plain Greek yoghurt, and half a banana. It's the same every morning.
As she begins to eat, there is a scratching sound at the window, followed by a long meeeeeoooow. A large fluffy haired ginger tom cat paws the glass, desperate to get Maddy's attention. When she doesn't look up at him immediately, he meows again, turning deftly on the narrow ledge and rubbing his body up against the window.
Maddy can't resist him. She sets the spoon back in her bowl, returns to the fridge, and pours a large helping of milk into a bowl. When the tom cat sees this, he disappears from the window, only to reappear again when Maddy opens the back door. Careful not to allow him inside, Maddy sets the bowl of milk down on the ground, picking up yesterday's now empty bowl. She strokes the cat in a kind of detached, uncertain way, that some people who grew up without animals seem to do, and carefully, so she doesn't get any of his fur on her suit.
When she's satisfied he's eating, and she feels as though she's spent as much time with him as they both need, she closes the door, and returns to the kitchen table to finish her breakfast.
Alex paces back and forth over broken glass and worn discarded timber, that form the remnants of what used to be a hat maker's factory, and now, like several other buildings on the once thriving industrial estate, have been left to ruin. Above him, light breaks through holes in a corrugated iron roof that looks all to close to collapse for comfort, and pigeons flap about aimlessly, cooing and scratching, and pumping out their chests. If Alex was looking, he might notice an ironic similarity, but he's far too distracted. His belly hurts from tension and too much coffee, and this morning's surprise is settling in like a bullet wound.
'I don't know about this, sounds fucked up to me', he says, shaking his head. 'What if he's a cop?'
'He doesn't look like a cop does he?' Carlos says, trying to reason with him.
The man they are talking about sits in earshot of their conversation, but hasn't responded. He isn't even looking at them, waiting instead for them to make their decision, so he can go about his day's work in the calm easy way he does everything else. He'll do it anyway, even if they pussy out on him. His open-shirted, laid back cockiness has already put Alex ill at ease, as though it's a pre-requisite to be scatty and tense, in order to get the job done to his satisfaction. Carlos is right though, he doesn't look like a cop, because he isn't one. He's well built, muscular and almost too young to have the experience he says he has, but this isn't any ordinary man. This man, in crocodile boots, with a rolled up cigarette permanently attached to his lips and a limited edition, engraved, glock pistol tucked into the back of his jeans, is River Woods, and River Woods is always, at any given moment, the coolest man in the room.
'What the fuck do I know?' Alex says, exasperated. He looks around at the other men, hoping to find an answer to his problem. Carlos sips coffee just the wrong side of warm, patiently waiting for Alex to calm down.
'I'm not a cop', River says, and even his voice makes him sound like a movie star. This man just exudes sexiness as though it were a natural bodily function.
'That's exactly what a cop would say', Alex says, looking old and tired. 'What are you saying Peters?'
Jack Peters is the fourth man in the room. A burly ex-bouncer with a nose that's been broken so many times in the past it looks like it's been put on upside down. He has his hands in his pocket - a habit from so many nights standing out in the cold - and shrugs his shoulders without removing them.
'If Buck reckons he's legit, then that's good enough for me', Peters says.
'How the fuck do we know what Buck thinks if we can't get hold of him? I turn up, and this kid's sat here waiting for me, and he tells me Buck can't make it and he's sent him instead. All we've got is his word. I don't feel good about this', Alex says.
'You can trust me', River says. 'And I'm not a kid, don't call me that again.'
The menace in his voice sends a shiver up Alex's spine. River lights a match with a thumb-nail, and re-ignites his cigarette. A hundred people could have tried the same thing, and not a single one would have made it look quite so effortless. He blows a smoke ring out into the room that Alex wafts away.
'No one's ever heard of you', Alex says. 'How do we know you've done the things you say you've done? All that could be bullshit. River Woods, you sound like a fucking national geographic documentary.'
River takes a pull on his cigarette, while Alex stares at him intensely, waiting for an answer. When he doesn't give it, Alex looks around at his fellow men, hoping for some solidarity. Nobody seems that interested in giving it. River breathes out a cloud of smoke.
'Can you do the job with three?' he says.
'No', Carlos says, before Alex has a chance to answer. He's losing his patience, and he knows they haven't got time to fuck around.