September

Open and shut

By Angela Gallagher

Caroline

I SEE it now, I didn’t see it then: his eyes are full of the predator he is. He relies on the vulnerable to be trusting because he knows we’re looking for someone to be who we want them to be.

Me, I was lonely – the same as all the others I guess; the thing that made me his type. Lonely and tired and – the thing he didn’t know – on the verge of giving up. I was looking for the answer, the thing that would flip everything over to the ‘good’ setting at last. The meaningful. Happy.

I’d arrived hopeful, if not excited: I’d reached a point where nothing generated that amount of emotion anymore. But here I was doing things that made other people happy, so why not me?  I was going to spoil myself, take care of ‘me’ like all the self-help books advise. Wantonly squander – no, invest – all my savings in this. The best suite in the best hotel for a week. Meals in fancy restaurants, treatments in the frighteningly expensive spa. Hire myself a flash convertible, mingle with the rich for whom this is everyday life. Sounds like bliss, right?

But in the end, it seems, all I wanted was connection.

I met him as soon as I arrived – his modus operandi – and I noticed him straightaway. He was standing between reception and the revolving doors. Tall and slim with soft grey eyes and floppy hair. I had plenty of time to look at him as the hotel receptionist battled with the eccentric demands of the man in front of me. We could both overhear and he caught my eye and smiled, not quite raising an eyebrow. He was attractive and smart in his valet uniform and at the time I thought there was a kindness and gentleness about him. All an act, I know that now. His job perfect for sussing out new guests, choosing the perfect next victim. And I should have seen it! With my job I’ve seen this type of thing so many times before. I feel ashamed that I fell for it so I won’t be reporting it – I couldn’t bear the humiliation. For me, of course, the humiliation would be magnified among my colleagues but it must be the same for all his prey to some degree. That’s why he keeps getting away with it.

Not this time.

 

Ronnie

My athlete’s foot was annoying me, I remember – I just wanted to give it a good scratch. But that was a no-no while I was standing in reception. Not a problem while I was in the privacy of someone’s car so I was quite keen to get my next job. A bloke arrived first, straight out of a taxi, so he wasn’t going to be my saviour.  Then I saw her arrive. She pulled up outside in a very nice Audi TT convertible – stylish rather than overly flashy like some of the guests we get. I almost let a sigh of relief escape me. Podiatric salvation!

Taxi bloke was taking ages to check in though and only once she’d checked in would I get her Audi keys and the bliss of scratching the itch. The delay meant I had time to look at her though, without being too obvious. She was nice-looking in an older woman kind of way. But she didn’t seem to have the rich, mature woman’s confidence I usually see here. She seemed kind of vulnerable. When the taxi guy made a particularly outlandish request she caught my eye and gave me a smile. I was a bit unsure what to do – she seemed to be crossing over to my side with that gesture. Not one of them but one of us. I’m supposed to keep a professional gravitas and of course the customer is always right so why wouldn’t he want a chocolate fountain in his room? But I let myself smile back. To be honest you don’t usually get to connect with the guests even in such a small way. And, to be truthful, I don’t really fit in here. I like to read, I like culture. The other valets don’t get it. So I let myself smile back.

 

Caroline

“I’ll get someone to take your case and the valet will park your car.” The receptionist indicated to him and I handed him my keys. He brushed my hand as he took them and gave me a long searching look. Something crumbled in me then and the course was set.

 

Ronnie

As soon as she handed me those keys I wanted to be out the door but she held my gaze for what seemed like ages. It was a bit unnerving actually. Eventually I got into the car and took it down into the basement car park where – bliss never-ending! – I finally  got to have a good scratch.

One of my things is to have a look round the car when I’ve parked it. I shouldn’t, of course, but it gives you a peek into rich people’s lives and sometimes there’s the oddest things. You can build a picture of a person. But there was nothing of her in this car. I couldn’t decide whether this said something about her personality or whether it just meant it was a hire car she’d only recently picked up. Either way I thought she was masking who she really was and probably wasn’t as rich as she was pretending. I thought that was sad.

Over the next few days I certainly picked up that she was lonely. For a start she wanted that car in and out of our car park unusually often. She’d take it out two or three times a day and only be away for a short duration each time. And amazingly she always seemed to get me. I suspect she was hanging around in the hotel lounge if I wasn’t at the valet station, waiting for me to come back in and only then come out and ask for her Audi. And I’m sure that at least once I saw the tail end of her driving round the block when I wasn’t at the valet station when she returned. She always tipped well and given my suspicions I was concerned she was spending money she didn’t have. Eventually I started refusing her tips, telling her she’d already tipped enough for the day, or joshing with her that it was tip enough to be parking the car of such a beautiful lady. Looking back, that probably gave her the wrong idea but I didn’t want to embarrass her by telling her my real reason.

Wednesday evening is a night off for me. I usually go to the Old Crown because it does craft beers and decent, unfussy food and there’s a nice corner by the fire where I can read. Give me that and I’m tucked up nicely for the night. Well, I happened to mention it to her one time because she asked for a recommendation. I told her it was where I went and about the cosy corner by the fire, never expecting to find her there on my night off. But there she was ensconced in my corner when I turned up. I was going to find somewhere else but she saw me and called me over, said she’d buy me a drink. I couldn’t say no really without seeming rude.

I liked her. She was interesting, though intense, and it turned out we liked some of the same things. She was a reader too, so we had common ground there. I’m not a great talker so I mostly listened. There was nothing about her situation on this occasion, she talked mostly about her favourite books, plays she’d seen, that sort of thing.  For the first time in ages I felt a sense of belonging.

So I suppose that’s why I saw her again.

 

Caroline

I began to feel different, like I hadn’t felt in a long time, and it was a surprise. There was an elation, that’s the only way I can describe it. Having gone without those feelings for so long I was ravenous for them so I took advantage of every opportunity to see him and he took every opportunity to feed me. I was hooked and he was my dealer.

We just talked at first. Not a lot about him, I realise now – he never gave much away. I see now he was letting me talk to learn more about me so he could eventually reel me in, me and my supposed wealth. But it soon turned to more and how easy it was for him when I was so desperate for human touch. I despise myself for that. Such an easy target. He must have laughed.

And then I confided in him. I didn’t want to keep up the pretence with him. I told him I wasn’t rich, that I’d just blown all my money on this week of glamour. There was no obvious sign from him immediately – he was too practiced for that. But the next day it was all over. A flimsy excuse, almost poetic words of apology. I went into detox.

 

Ronnie

I was unprepared for such a spiral deep into passion. It scared me. Everything felt suddenly out of control, and yet I let it happen. I wanted it and didn’t want it all at the same time and I couldn’t explain that to myself let alone her.

I felt privileged when she confided in me what I’d suspected all along, that she wasn’t wealthy. She seemed almost ashamed to admit the ordinariness of her existence, of her life as a police officer, whereas I was relieved: it brought a reality to things, an equalisation between us. And I was more impressed by her life in the police than by a life in fancy hotel rooms. I liked that her life was more sandpaper than silk. She couldn’t seem to see that though.

But then – and I had been afraid that this would happen – we were seen. My valet captain saw us together in the Old Crown and I was hauled in front of the General Manager. Fraternising with the guests was not allowed. Did I want to lose my job? I realise now it was the ‘out’ I was half looking for and I’m not proud of that. It was just all too much, too soon.

So I had to tell her I couldn’t see her anymore. I tried my best to say nice things, to not hurt her, but I think it was all a bit clumsy; not my finest hour.

 

Caroline

So, my life flipped back into ‘bad’ and it was once too often. I had fallen into his trap and now my faith was scorched like meat on a barbecue. I did a lot of thinking and came to some realisations about the scam he must have been trying to pull, until he lost interest when he found out I wasn’t worth the effort. And then I made some decisions. And a plan. Of course I have plenty of tools and experience to draw on from my police work, it just takes preparation.

 

Ronnie

She didn’t take it well, though that wasn’t immediately obvious. When I told her, she just stood up and walked out of the pub in silence. Just like that, not a word. I didn’t sleep very well that night. Next day she turns up at the valet station demanding her car. When I bring it she starts shouting that I’ve damaged it, which I hadn’t. She makes a complaint to the valet captain but then tells him she won’t take it any further at the moment. You can guess what he has to say to me when she’s gone, how I’ve brought this on myself, a woman scorned and all that. All I could think was how strange it was that she seemed to be playing someone else again.

When she comes back she says she doesn’t trust me with the car and that she’ll park it herself. I have to show her where to go so I hop in the passenger seat. We drive into the underground car park in silence, sitting there as if there are shards of glass between us. She pulls into the space I indicate, gets out and goes round to the back of the car.

“As you’re here you can make yourself useful. I’ve lost a ring in the boot somewhere. You can help me find it.”

She was terse, which was hurtful but I’m in professional mode – I have to be to cope with the situation – so I open the boot. It’s quite dark down here and the bulb seems to have gone in the boot light so I have to feel around with my fingers. She gets impatient: “Oh for heavens sake take off those stupid gloves, you can’t feel anything with them on!”

I comply in silence but find nothing. “Could you have lost it elsewhere in the car?” I ask. I’m desperate to get out of there but don’t want to risk any further complaint. I’m keeping it business-like.

“Maybe the glove compartment.” She indicates this with a lavish swirl of her hands which now sport my gloves. I’m getting irritated and she’s behaving very oddly.

Getting more desperate to get out of here.

When I open the compartment I find a bottle of whisky and can’t help myself. “What the hell are you doing with this?” I shake it at her. “You’ll kill yourself if you’re drinking and driving!”

And then I see the bottle of pills. I pull them out but she grabs them and the whisky.

“Just leave them!” she shouts. Then, “Look, if you think I’m about to do myself in because of you then you flatter yourself. I get headaches, hence the tablets, and the whisky is a present. Okay? Now stop being so ridiculous and leave me alone!”

She shoves both back into the glove compartment and I get out of there.

It’s only later that I realise she still has my gloves.

 

Caroline

It went well. Now the worst part – it’s not easy shutting yourself in a car boot.

 

Detective Inspector Sturridge

You pull out all of the stops when it’s one of your own but this was pretty straightforward – he’d not been particularly clever about it.

He’d clearly plied her with alcohol, mixing the tablets in with it. Bottles found nearby with his prints all over them. None of hers indicating he must have bought them specially, so an element of premeditation. Witness evidence that they were in a relationship which he’d recently ended and further evidence that she was being difficult – there’s our motive. She was found dumped in the boot of her car – again his prints were present in there. He’s not putting his hands up to it but given the evidence we’ve a good case.

Open and shut I’d say.

© Angela Gallagher 2016

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