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Authors: Nathan Field

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BOOK: Nocturnal
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“Are you serious? I told you I’m married.”

“I know, and to a very rich man by the sounds of it. But do you love him?”

Lucy stiffened in her seat. “You’ve no right to ask me that.”

“Maybe not, but I’ve asked anyway. Tell me you love him and I’ll walk away, I swear. I don’t want to break-up a happy marriage.”

“Jesus! Talk about getting ahead of yourself.”

“Sorry, you’re right. I’m coming on too strong. I just…I just want to see you again. I can’t stop thinking about you.”

“This is crazy. You don’t even know me.”

“You’re right, it is crazy. But there’s a spark between us, I can feel right now as I’m talking to you. It’s like we’re the only two people in the room.” I cringed, hearing my words in playback. “Shit, I’m sorry. I don’t usually sound this corny.”

Lucy stared at me. The creases softened in the corners of her eyes, and my legs started jiggling under the table, anticipating a hint of interest, a whisper of encouragement.

Then all of a sudden she stood up, clutching her purse. She raised her free hand, pinning me to my chair.

“Don’t make this weirder than it already is. I’m a flirtatious person by nature, but that’s where it ends. I’m not about to cheat on my husband.”

“But you came here,” I protested, my heart sagging. “You must feel something.”

“Pity,” she said simply.

I looked down at the froth evaporating in my mug, unable to speak.

“I’m sorry, Johnny,” she said, her heels clattering over the tiled floor before she vanished into the white glare of the afternoon. 

5.
“Is it to do with your scars?”

 

CC rang my apartment buzzer at 6am, a few minutes after I’d walked in the door. I was in no mood for her professional services, but I let her up anyway, grateful for the company.

I’d developed a pretty thick skin over the years, but the gruesome plot twist in
Sensible Shoes
had seriously rattled my nerves. My tormentor was aware of my darkest secrets, things I’d managed to keep buried for years. And he could be fearless – knowing I’d never call the police. It wouldn’t be long before his menacing games turned violent.

CC was looking worse for wear when I opened the door. Her stage make-up had rubbed off, and tangled strands of blonde hair hung over her face.

“You look how I feel,” I said, shielding my eyes from the hallway light.

“Yeah yeah, don’t worry. This isn’t a business call. I just came to crash.”

She pushed past me and headed for the kitchen, dropping her trench coat to reveal a red tank top and short pencil skirt underneath. She was dressed no differently than the girls who queued outside the clubs downtown, the
G-rated
clubs, but there was something inherently sexual about the way CC wore a skirt. Like she wouldn’t be in it for long.  

“I’ve got the
worst
goddamn headache,” she said, opening the fridge door and peering inside. Pale light spilled into my dark kitchen. “You got any soda water? I need something fizzy.”

“Only Sprite.”

“That’ll work,” she said, finding the half-empty bottle and guzzling back the remains. She swung her hips into the living room and went up to my fish tank. “How are my two boys today?” she said, pressing her nose to the glass. “Been up to mischief again?”

Mitch and Murray, a pair of thumb-sized goldfish, had lived with me for the past four years. I credited their healthy lifespan to the three foot long, forty gallon tank I kept them in. Aquarium geeks would probably say I spoiled them, but Mitch and Murray used every square inch of their luxury pad: playing hide-and-seek around the sunken shipwreck, scooting along the gravel base, and sometimes disappearing for hours on end in the reeds and rushes. They were happy fish, I liked to think.

“Frisky this morning, aren’t you?” CC laughed. Mitch and Murray were performing cartwheels in front of her nose, giving every impression they were delighted to see her. When they eventually darted off, CC turned and squinted at me. “What’s up with you?”

“It’s a long story. You got a minute?”
“Sure,” she said, moving to her regular armchair opposite the sofa. She flicked off her heels and folded her long legs into the seat cushion. “This headache won’t let me sleep, anyway.”

I first met CC at a North Beach club I liked to frequent, as much for the dim lighting as the girls. After being mesmerized by CC’s kinky stewardess routine, I dropped a small fortune on twenty-buck cocktails and private lap dances. She was gorgeous, no question, but there was also a sly intelligence behind her long blonde hair and dusky blue eyes. One night she admitted to turning tricks on the side, but only with men she was genuinely attracted to, and strictly on the hush-hush. I was happy to accept the lie, and after a handful of enjoyable “dates”, we came to a mutually beneficial arrangement. CC lived in West Oakland, and every so often, after an exhausting night’s work, she couldn’t bear the early morning commute. Since I was usually awake, and my Potrero Hill apartment was only a ten buck Uber away, I gave her carte blanche to call round any time she wanted. And it wasn’t always about sex. Sometimes we’d talk, sometimes we’d watch TV, and sometimes she’d go straight to bed while I hung out in the living room. The unique relationship suited me down to the ground. No strings, no emotional demands, and an easy rapport that had built up over the past eighteen months. CC now kept clothes in my wardrobe, and toiletries in my bathroom. Outside of Bruno, she was the closest thing I had to a friend.

Easing back into my sofa with a large scotch in hand, I gave CC a detailed rundown of the strange goings on at my office
.
For a twenty-four year old, she could be remarkably astute.

“I don’t get it,” she said when I’d finished. “You thought Ralph T Emerson made the phone call, but you’re not sure if he was behind the script?”

“It just seems too obvious,” I explained, thinking aloud. “He’s the only other person with a key to the office – he must know I’d suspect him. And you should see his photos – he’s a buttoned-up, Brooks Brothers kind of guy. I can’t believe he’d write the violent stuff that was in the screenplay. He wouldn’t have the stomach for it.”

CC sat up to stretch her tanned legs out in front of her. She wriggled her painted toes – something she often did when deep in thought. “You should trust your instincts,” she said. “If you thought it was Ralph’s voice on the phone, it probably was. And if he made the call, he
had
to have changed the screenplay. I mean, what’s the alternative? Two stalkers? You’re not
that
interesting.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right. But who the fuck is Ralph T Emerson? I’ve never heard the name, don’t recognize the face…”

“–You tried Googling him?”

“Yeah, and all I got was his company website, which is basically just his name and contact details.”

“Weird. Well, just ‘cause he says he’s Ralph T Emerson doesn’t make it true. And you’re hardly one to talk. You don’t go by your real name.”

“That’s different. I don’t like my real name.”

“Yeah, well maybe Ralph doesn’t like his. Come to think of it, what’s this mysterious nickname he called you? The one nobody’s supposed to know?”

“It’s not important.”

CC cocked her head, her eyes softening. “Is it to do with your scars?” She traced a fingertip along her jaw line and down her neck, perfectly charting the wound that had almost killed me. I had plenty of other marks from my last night in Sacramento, but the s-shaped scar on the right side of my face was the big attention-grabber.

“It’s not Scarface,” I said, second-guessing her. “The scars came later.”

“Oh. That would’ve been cool though. What about your sunglasses, is it something to do with them?”

“I wasn’t wearing shades then, either.”

“Man, you must’ve looked so different. Like a regular dude.”

“I still like to think I’m a regular dude.”

CC snorted with laughter. “I love you, Sam, but you’re a long way from regular.”

I smiled, conceding her point. Since the age of twenty-five, I’d suffered from photophobia, a severe sensitivity to light. Sunlight was the worst, bringing on a stabbing pain behind my eyes, even when I wore polarized aviator shades. That’s why, eight years ago, I made the decision to turn the day upside down: sleeping during daylight hours and only venturing out at night.

The lifestyle adjustments were difficult at first. It took my brain a while to associate morning with bedtime, and nighttime with getting up. Then there were the practical challenges. Getting hold of clients outside business hours. Having to turn down work when it involved lunch meetings or travel. Even mundane tasks became a hassle, like taking the car in for a tune-up, or finding a dentist who was open after 7pm. But the extra effort was a small price to pay to protect my eyes from the sun. And before long, I thought nothing of operating on a different timetable to the rest of the world. It became my new routine.

While the night was easier on my eyes, there were still some simple rules I had to follow. Harsh indoor lights could make my head throb, even behind dark glasses, so I tended to avoid shopping malls, supermarkets, train stations and fast food restaurants (none of which I lost any sleep over). In fact, sports stadiums were the only brightly-lit venues I occasionally pined for.

I also had to be careful what I looked at. Television and computer screens needed to have their brightness levels turned down. I couldn’t peer inside the fridge for too long. Even car headlights could cause me grief, especially if the roads were jammed and the approaching lights streamed into one. But in the vast majority of nighttime situations, my dark glasses provided ample protection from the glare of artificial light. Better yet, there were some places where I didn’t need shades at all. Dark restaurants and bars, outdoor locations like parks and beaches, and in the two places I spent the most time, my apartment and the office, where light control dimmers were like balm for my eyes.

Within these confines, I’d managed to forge a life for myself. It wasn’t an easy life by any means, but it was probably close to what I deserved.

“I don’t like regular guys, anyway,” CC said. “I probably wouldn’t have fancied you back then.”

“You prefer a man with scars?”

“Absolutely! I keep telling you – girls dig scars.”

“They’re
intrigued
by scars,” I corrected. “There’s a big difference.”

“You’re saying girls don’t like intrigue?”

“No, I’m saying in my experience, intrigue is something they prefer to enjoy from afar. Like murder mysteries, haunted houses, and men with eyepatches. Girls are interested, maybe even fascinated, but they don’t want to get too close.”

CC twisted her mouth to the side, pondering the point. “Yeah, maybe some girls are like that. But what do you care, anyway? You’re not looking for a boring Marina girl who drinks soy lattes and dates men in pressed chinos.”

“True.”             

“Not when there are red-hot bitches like me around.”

I laughed, momentarily forgetting my troubles. Observing the change in mood, CC brushed the hair away from her face and re-crossed her legs, pressing her long calf against her knee to highlight its elegant curve. Then she hooked a finger under her pencil skirt and inched it up her thigh, flashing me a corruptible smile.

“Headache’s gone,” she said.

I shook my head –
not tonight
.

“Come on baby,” she purred, slowly parting her magnificent thighs. “You know you want to.”

And suddenly I was standing over her, running my fingers through her hair while she deftly whipped off my belt and reached inside my jeans.

Despite everything that had happened, I was still so easily swayed.

 

“Is that you CC?”

I was sitting upright in bed, roused by the click of the front door closing. My senses were instantly on high alert, and I wasn’t sure why. CC often left my apartment in the middle of the day, when I was fast asleep. She wasn’t in the habit of exiting quietly, either. I was used to hearing the water pipes groan as CC ran a shower, her agitated footsteps as she scoured the apartment for her mobile phone, and the clang and clatter of crockery as she fixed herself a quick breakfast. They were familiar, comforting sounds. Even when I woke up, I always went back to sleep with a contented smile on my face.

But this time was different.

Thinking back, I hadn’t heard the shower running, or the usual racket from the kitchen. And the front door had been eased shut rather than slammed.

The clock on my nightstand read 1:48 PM. A clammy feeling came over me as I remembered CC moaning about a meeting with her bank manager first thing in the morning. Meaning she’d probably left the apartment soon after I’d fallen asleep, several hours ago.

A bead of sweat ran down behind my ear. It struck me that the carefully closed wasn’t the sound of somebody leaving. It was somebody coming in.

I slowly peeled back the covers and levered my legs out of bed. My bedroom was pitch black, courtesy of the foam-backed velvet curtains pulled across every window in the apartment, but I stopped myself from reaching for the bedside lamp. I knew the layout of my apartment like the back of my hand, and could maneuver my way in the dark. The intruder needed light more than I did.

I bent down to retrieve the baseball bat under my bed, feeling a little bolder when my hands wrapped around its taped grip. There was a gun in the hallway closet, but I didn’t fancy my chances of making it across the living room and loading the clip in the dark. I guessed the intruder was trying to catch me in my sleep. My best chance was to meet him halfway.

I moved towards my bedroom door, which I always left slightly ajar. I peered into the living room dark. Apart from my thumping heart, the only sound was the faint burbling of the aquarium’s air pump. I sniffed the air, detecting a foreign smell. A combination of musky aftershave and sour body odor.

The same stench that greeted me in the office every night.

Confirmation that Ralph Emerson was the intruder only intensified my fear. I immediately thought of the brutal murder of Charlotte in the R-rated version of
Sensible Shoes
, wondering if Ralph himself were capable of such an act. From experience, I knew you couldn’t always judge a writer’s character by his material. Some of the nastiest screenplays I’d read were written by guys who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Nevertheless, Ralph’s violent imagination seemed intensely relevant when he’d just broken into my fucking home.

I stood still for twenty seconds, counting them out in my head. Ahead of me was a bare stretch of wooden flooring – about seven paces between my bedroom door and the edge of the sofa. Even though it was deathly quiet, and I couldn’t make out any shapes in the darkness, I was convinced Ralph was standing in the no-man’s zone, equally still, watching me through night vision goggles. Waiting patiently for me to walk into his jagged blade.

BOOK: Nocturnal
12.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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