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Authors: Lisa Jewell

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BOOK: one-hit wonder
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“So,” he said, twanging the pull on his lager with his thumb,

“what now?”

“Sorry?”

“In the Great Unsolvable Mystery of Bee Bearhorn? What do we do now?”

“Find Zander?”

“Find Zander. Right. OK. How?”

Ana shrugged. “No idea. All we know is his age and his name. And that maybe he lives in a home in Kent and—”

“No!” said Flint, clicking his fingers and suddenly looking uncharacteristically animated. “No! I’ve got it! That documentary. The one that Ed was there to film.”

“Of course! We can find out from that.”

“Yeah—there must be some kind of archive or information service about old TV programs.”

“Yes. Definitely. There’s bound to be. I can look into it tomorrow.”

“D’you know,” said Flint, “it’s got to the stage when I almost can’t imagine ever finding out what happened to Bee.

D’you know what I mean? Like it’s going to be a mystery forever.”

Ana nodded. “Flint?” she said after a short pause, bringing her face closer to his. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Do you—do you think she killed herself?”

“Nah,” he replied instantaneously, and much to Ana’s surprise. “No way.”

“Why are you so sure?”

“Why the hell would someone like Bee kill themselves?”

“And why the hell would someone like Bee drink so much tequila and take so many prescription drugs that she’d end up dead? And why did it take so long for anyone to find her?

And why has she got so few possessions? I mean—I spent a whole day in Bee’s flat and from what I saw she didn’t have much of a life. I’ve spent the last ten years imagining Bee’s life. I imagined someone who’d put down roots, who had a relationship and a beautiful home, hundreds of friends. I imagined her going to parties and clubs and being . . .

someone. And—well—what was it actually like, her life?

What little you knew of it, anyway. Who were her friends?

Where was everyone when she died? I mean—where
were
they?” Ana stopped suddenly when she realized that she’d started shouting and was actually halfway off her stool.

Where the hell had that come from? She sat back down and smiled apologetically at Flint. “Sorry about that,” she said, “I didn’t mean to shout. I just—I need someone to explain how this could have happened. Explain her to me.” Flint rubbed his hand across his stubble and regarded Ana with steely eyes. “OK,” he said. “Where d’you want me to start.”

“Well—what sort of a friend was she? To you?” Flint sighed, sat back. “Bee was—Bee was a good friend.

The sort of friend I like. Self-sufficient. She was the most independent person I’ve ever known. And she took people as she found them. No unrealistic expectations. She used to say that that was the key to happiness—not having expectations of people—that way you could never be disappointed. She didn’t seem to need anyone. She didn’t cry.

She didn’t talk about herself. You might not speak to Bee for weeks but then you’d phone her and she’d just be happy to hear from you. No recriminations. She never put people on guilt trips. But on the other hand—she’d forget your birthday, forget stuff you’d told her last time you saw each other. But that never bothered me because I’m just as bad.”

“And what exactly did she do for the last few years, after Gregor died?”

He shrugged. “Not much. She did quite a lot of fund-raising stuff for AIDS research for a while, organized balls and charity events, that sort of thing. And then she took guitar lessons for a while, was going to try to get back into the music industry. She had a few collaborations with producers and musicians, it almost looked like something was going to get off the ground, but nothing ever did. I think she just used to read a lot, watch videos, write songs. And obviously for the last three years she was maintaining two totally secret relationships.” He shook his head slightly in disbelief. “She basically went from being a complete wild child to being a recluse.”

“But didn’t you worry about her?”

He shook his head. “No,” he said, “that was the thing about Bee. She went out of her way to make sure that nobody ever worried about her. She hated the idea of being a worry, being a burden. She was one of those people who just sort of floated along the top of life, who never really touched the ground—do you know what I mean? She just always gave off this aura of—all-is-wellness, I guess. Bee was always OK. Bee was always cool. Things didn’t get to her. She was
unemotional
.”

“And what about men? What about her love life? Was there anyone apart from Ed?”

Flint exhaled and rearranged himself on his armchair. “Bee was what you might call asexual, I suppose. She didn’t have sex. She didn’t have relationships.”

“What. Never?”

“Not after her father died, no. She just lost all interest in men. She used to say to me that she didn’t care if she never had sex again as long as she lived.”

“What about before that? Before her father died?”

“What about before that? Before her father died?”

“Flings. Here and there. Nothing important. I don’t think Bee ever had a proper, grown-up, full-on relationship in her life.”

They sat together in silence for a while, absorbing this sad little fact. A thin cat tiptoed swiftly across the back fence, silhouetted by the sinking sun. A light was switched on in an upstairs flat, flooding the garden with a sudden unkind light.

The temperature had started to drop and Ana shivered in her sleeveless cotton top.

“Shall we get out of here?” said Flint. “I could do with a change of scenery.”

Ana nodded.

“D’you want me to lend you a jacket? You’re going to freeze in that top.”

Flint threw her a blue fleece as they passed his bedroom and she wrapped it around herself. It was huge and very soft.

When he turned away she lifted the sleeve to her nose and sniffed it. It smelled of him, exactly how he’d smelled on Bee’s bike yesterday. She put a hand into a pocket and pulled out an old bus ticket and a purple disposable lighter.

Flint sighed and picked it off Ana’s palm. “Ha,” he began,

“you know, I’ve never smoked a fag in my life, but I always kept a light on me—for Lady Bee. She always used matches, but sometimes, toward the end of the evening, when she was a bit—you know—the worse for wear, you wouldn’t want her going anywhere near fire, if you know what I mean. She nearly set her bangs alight once. So I used to carry these around—for her.” He bounced the lighter up and down in his hands for a few seconds, staring at it intently and then he pulled her hand toward him, peeled apart her fingers, dropped the lighter onto her palm, and closed her fist back up again, like he was rewrapping a present.

“Don’t you want it?”

“Nah,” said Flint, “nah. I’ll be finding them all over the place, those fucking lighters, you wait and see. . . .” Ana brushed his bare arm with her hand and Flint gave her a tight, brave-little-soldier smile and then they left and headed for the main street.

twenty-eight

“So,” said Flint as they strode briskly up the road, “how tall are you, exactly?”

“Five foot eleven and a half.”

“Blimey.”

Flint’s local was an ugly old Victorian pub called the Freemasons Arms. It was the sort that Ana would usually avoid, with curtained windows and a bar lined with silent, red-faced men in threadbare sweaters and old shoes. Flint bought them a pair of pints and whiskey chasers and led them through the quiet bar to a room at the back, where a few younger men played pool and talked to each other instead of staring into space. And Ana wondered at which point a man went from drinking at the pub
with
his mates to just drinking in the same pub as his mates.

A solitary woman sat alone in the corner, filing very long fingernails and drinking Smirnoff Ice from the bottle. She gave Ana an exaggerated double take as she walked in and then eyed her slowly up and down.

Flint became surrounded, momentarily, by men who patted him on the back and shook him by the hand and asked him where the fuck he’d been. “Just keeping my head down, mate, you know . . .” he said, smiling at each of them. He introduced Ana to everyone and they all nodded and said “All right!” and Ana felt flattered that Flint hadn’t felt the need to justify her presence by introducing her as Bee’s sister, that he was obviously happy to let his mates think that he was “with” her.

He ushered her to the table farthest from the pool table with his hand on her elbow, reminding Ana of those tabloid pictures of Madonna’s boyfriend steering her around the place as if she were a slightly doddery old woman who might just go walking into a wall without him there to guide her instead of the feistiest woman in the world. But every time Flint touched her, Ana found a small loop of film replaying in her head—an image of her, unpopping the buttons on Flint’s fly, one by one, and sliding her long fingers inside and . . .

“I’ve got a suggestion,” he said, letting his emptied shot glass bang heavily onto the table.

Ana jumped. “Oh yes.”

“It’s quite radical.”

“Right.”

“How’s about—and just tell me if you think this is ridiculous—but how’s about, you and I, tonight, getting very, very, very drunk, and how’s about you and I, tonight, not talking about Bee? You know. Just having normal conversations. About normal things.”

“Like what?”

“God. I dunno. Like the telly. The news. Celebrities. D’you like talking about celebrities?”

Ana shook her head.

“Shame—I’m very up on celebrity gossip. Women tell me that my encyclopedic knowledge of celebrity trivia is one of the most attractive things about me. I was hoping you might want to test me.”

“Sorry,” shrugged Ana apologetically. She could feel herself reddening and thrust her face into her pint glass. Was that flirting just then? Was he flirting with her? Why else would he say that he wanted her to test his trivia knowledge, having already informed her that his trivia knowledge was something that women found attractive about him? It was almost equivalent to him saying, Women find my enormous dick very attractive—would you like me to slip it in?

Almost.

But no. No way. There was no way that a man like Flint would be flirting with her. Of course he wouldn’t. Flint was a man. A real man. A man with needs and desires that someone like Ana would never be able to satisfy. Ana tried for a moment to imagine the type of woman who might be able to satisfy Flint and came up with a picture of someone so entirely different from her that it made her feel like crying.

“So,” said Flint, looking at her with a disconcertingly wicked glint in his eye, “what shall we talk about?”

“You,” said Ana more loudly and vehemently than she’d meant to. She lowered her voice. “Let’s talk about you.”

“Ooh”—Flint sucked in his breath and smiled at her—“that’s not exactly my favorite subject.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, you know. Skeletons. Closets. That sort of thing.” Ana thought back to the warnings that both Lol and Gill had given her about Flint and felt her curiosity intensely stimulated.

“I told you all about me yesterday,” she said, “it’s only fair you tell me a bit about you.”

He smiled. “You know what?”

“What?”

“Bee always had this theory, right. About people—she always compared them to clothes. Some clothes, she said, you’d try on, and you’d know within a few seconds whether or not they suited you. Other clothes you’d think suited you but then you’d take them home and realize that they didn’t go with any of your other clothes. But the best clothes were the ones that always suited you, that never went out of fashion and that made you feel good every time you put them on even when they shrunk in the wash. She said me and Lol were her favorite old clothes. But that she still loved trying on new clothes. Making impulses purchases. Do you see what I mean?”

“No,” said Ana.

“Well, basically, she reckoned that pretty much everyone could be interesting for half an hour. What you did with them after that was irrelevant. But she was always willing to talk to new people. It was her specialty. She used to say it was all in the questions—you had to ask the right questions.

If you asked people boring questions, then you’d get boring answers. So—it’s”—he craned his neck around the corner to view the clock above the bar—“five to eight. From now until twenty-five past, you’re allowed to ask me anything you like.”

Ana looked at him.

“Go on, then,” he teased.

“OK,” she said, “OK. Tell me about . . . Japan.”

“What d’you want to know?”

“How come you went? Why did you come back?”

“Shit,” said Flint, sucking in his breath, “that’s a good question—that opens up a whole can of worms. Right. Well.

I’d been in the army . . .”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh. For three years. Hated it. So I left. When I was twenty. And things went . . . well, it was tough coming out, you know. I had no useful skills and no work experience that was of any interest to anyone. So I went on the dole and then I got in with the wrong people, as they say.”

“What sort of people?”

“Oh. You know. Bad people.”

“What sort of bad people?”

Flint smirked and took a sip of lager. “It’s funny,” he said,

“but for some reason I feel really embarrassed talking to you about all this.”

“Why?”

“I dunno. It’s just—you’re so . . . kind of
untainted.
I guess it’s because you’re a country girl. You’ve never lived in a city. . . .”

“Exeter was a city.”

“Yes, but you know what I mean—you’re just not urban.

You make me think of cornfields and village fêtes and macramé pot holders . . .”

“Oh—thanks!”

“No—but you know. You’re clean. And the way my life was then—it was dirty. And I’m so used to it and everyone I know is so used to it and it just really brings it home to me, just exactly how rank it all was, when I’m sitting here talking with someone like you. Yeah. Drugs,” he said suddenly, as if he were trying to get it over with, “I was into drugs.”

“What sort of drugs?”

He shrugged. “Heroin. Pills. And drink. And a bit of petty crime. Everything, basically. And in quite a big way. I was a mess, really. It was all a mess. People dying and that. And then, you know that scene in
Trainspotting,
when his mum and dad lock him up in his room. Well, my mum did that to me. And while I was locked up, going through hell, I got this idea in my head. It was after watching something on the news about Tokyo, I can’t remember what it was about. But I just remember thinking how clean it looked. How clean all the people looked. It looked so hygienic, like a huge hospital or something. And that became my obsession. I started reading all about the culture and history and everything.

BOOK: one-hit wonder
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