DEAD BRIDES

Amigos … I find myself, post Saving Dave, in a bit of a writing rut at the moment.

You may remember my first novel, Losing The Plot ? Well I got around one hundred and fifty pages deep into the sequel, Dead Brides, and then ran out of inspiration. To be fair, I also found the publication and marketing processes for Dave took up a huge and unanticipated amount of my time.

Well, inspiration has struck again in the form of an unseen and remarkable coincidence. Richie Malone is back; he’s on the road, up to his old tricks and trying to stay alive and ahead of the game.

I would very much value some opinions-slash-feedback on this work in progress, and so I’m pasting the first fifty pages below.

If you would be good enough to read this excerpt and leave your thoughts – by way of a short review – on the comments section of this page, I will either buy you a beer or send you a free copy of my second novel Saving Dave, published last month. Heck, I may even do both. And of course it can be done anonymously.

Now I know that Richie’s antics are not for everyone, and this is very much what one might term as “bloke lit”. I prefer the terms “transgressive” or “satirical dirty realism”, but I enjoy writing it and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Thanks, in advance!

DEAD BRIDES

one

Nothing lasts forever.

            But when I uttered the words ‘I do’, I’d held the belief that my marriage would last a little over thirty seconds.

            So, one minute I’m standing at what passes for an alter in a civil bun fight, big grin on my face, and the next?

            The next … I’m staring at my bride who’s newly wed and newly dead at my feet.

            It took me marginally less time to establish that the bullet that killed her had been intended for me, than it did for me to draw my Glock, chamber a round and point it at the hombre behind me on the balcony holding the proverbial smoking gun.

            And with the realization that the bullet Sam had copped for me – as I bent forward her to pick up her purse – came the equally sobering realization the man who had dispatched my bride should not be here.

            In fact, he should not be anywhere, except serving a twenty-five year sentence in the Centro Penitenciario in Malaga for a list of offences that would take significantly longer to read out than my marriage had lasted. And a sentence that I – in no small way – had had a hand in. Either that, or dead, courtesy of the Colombian Medellín cartel whose cocaine he had unadvisedly helped himself to before he started his own cartel in Andalucía.

            ‘Pleased to see me, Senor—?‘

            Being an old-fashioned guy I could have let him finish his question before putting a bullet into his brain, but my forbearance for prolonged conversation was tempered by the awareness that there were two other hombres holding guns and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t sure how this was going to go down?

            ‘How the fuck—?’

            ‘Did Lopez get out?’

            Let me introduce you to Alexei Nikolaev, who had just finished the question I’d begun.

            Nikolaev is one of most evil bastards I have ever come across and also a good friend of mine. The reason that he’s at my wedding is down to the fact that he had sex with my wife around twenty-three years ago and the outcome was Natasha, the raven-haired beauty, responsible for the day-to-day running of his legitimate import-export business. Everything else … the drugs, the prostitution, the money laundering and, of course, the dispatching of local scumbags who try to diminish his market share, he handles himself. He brought Natasha up while Sam sorted out her alcohol addiction problems and worked her way through Oxford and then law school to become one of the UK’s top defense and defamation barristers. He’s a magnanimous guy, Nikolaev, if you don’t press the wrong buttons. And if you go looking for him – which I would personally advise against – you’ll either find him at El Real Club de Golf Las Brisas with a caddy who does a more that passable impression of Oddjob, or entertaining fellow – but generally subordinate – Russian hoodlums and their molls on the poop deck of his one hundred and twenty foot super yacht in Puerto Banus marina.

            So that accounts for Nikolaev.

            He was invited.

            As bizarrely was the other hombre holding a gun.

            His name is Tom Dempsey and he was – and probably still is – the Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA.

            Dempsey and I go way back. I am the reason he walks with a pronounced limp, and he is the reason I still sleep with a loaded gun beneath my pillow.

            Back in the ‘90s I worked undercover in South Armagh for an outfit called the SRU. It was so secret that the Home Secretary didn’t even know it existed. So one joyful summer’s day I was tasked with the rescue of an associate who had infiltrated Dempsey’s senior council and had gone missing. Everyone knew he would be decomposing in some Monaghan bog, but I was the poor sap sent to track him down. Of course what my orders omitted – the established protocol, if extraction proved impossible – was to ensure he would not become an intelligence liability.

            The net result was that I was rumbled – due to my own stupidity – and spent an indeterminate but excruciatingly painful period of time being interrogated in Dempsey’s inner sanctum before I managed to stick a six-inch nail into the back of his knee, put a bullet into each of his three assistants and make my escape.

            But that’s not the real reason Dempsey hates me. I’ll get to that later. Let’s just say that – unlike Nikolaev – we’re a very long way from being buddies; the only reason he’s at my wedding is because Sam managed to free him from Mountjoy prison, where he was facing a ten-year stretch for tax evasion, and as an expression of his eternal gratitude, he offered her a job managing his legitimate business interests.

            So that’s why he’s standing, pointing a gun at no one in particular from the bride’s side of the ceremony room, whereas Nikolaev is standing, pointing a gun at no one in particular, from the side of the hall designated for guests of the groom.

            Semantics.

            So allow me to run you through the scene again, amigo.

            My wife is lying dead at my feet.

            And how do I know she’d dead, you may be wondering?

            Oh, she’s dead all right. Four tours of mostly undercover shit in Northern Ireland, a walk-on part in the Iraq War and five years spent as what you would probably class as a mercenary teaches you precisely what a bullet entering the skull five millimetres from the temple will do.

            There’s a lake of blood that’s now making rapid progress towards the registrar, stood on the other side of whatever you call the thing that’s not an alter, a look of abject horror on her face. But before it reaches her she passes out, taking the tablecloth and the expensive floral assembly with her en route to the floor.

            The man I just shot … you know, the dude who’d shot my bride, was dead before he took a final swallow dive from the minstrels’ balcony narrowly missing three random women, before turning several Chiavari chairs into kindling.

            Women are screaming, and who can blame them? Most of the female guests are total randomers – many of whom I have a vague recollection of having slept with – who’d managed to blag an invite simply to see if the “Great Richie Malone” would actually go through with it.

            But this is very far from what they’d expected.

            And from my brief appraisal of what’s unfolding in front of us, I can deduce that for many of the assembled females, this isn’t an entirely negative outcome. Richie Malone would be available again – possibly not right away – but if form is anything to judge by, there wouldn’t be too much of a lag.

            The men are looking … I don’t know … probably confused? I’d say most were wondering one of two things. Firstly, if any more bullets are going to fly, and if so would this be a good or a bad thing? And secondly, if the post ceremony piss-up would still be on.

            And this brought me to my more pressing business with the two hombres holding the guns.

            So … one of three things is going to happen, amigo.

            One of them is going to shoot me. The question I have to answer – and answer quickly – is which one? I’m thinking Dempsey because he’s an old school opportunist and here is a golden opportunity to level the scores. Besides, in the melee, when the feds show up no one’s going to be exactly sure as to who shot whom first. And, of course – at Nikolaev’s insistence – there are no cameras in the ceremony hall. Besides which, as I’ve already said, the Russian and I are not currently on shooting-each-other terms.

            The second outcome is for Nikolaev to shoot Dempsey because that would leave him sitting pretty as the only significant bad guy on the block. But while Dempsey and Nikolaev aren’t bessies either, they co-exist under the terms of a business arrangement I helped to broker that provides a more than equitable market share for them both.

            So I’ve just arrived at the third and most probable permutation when something I really didn’t see coming happened.

two

I woke up.

            I’m shaking, I’m sweating and my phone is ringing.

            I decide to ignore it until the last vapours of my dream have evaporated.

            But before that happens an alarming array of stimuli confounds my consciousness, and all at about the same time.

            The first thing that strikes me is that I am alone. Let me amplify that, amigo … there is no one other than me in my bed. My housekeeper Isabella, is downstairs. I can hear her clattering cutlery, breaking crockery, cursing … singly badly, but I am alone. No wife, no random woman, no hooker with enough of a narrative to interest me sufficient to cook her breakfast in the interest of tax-deductible research. I’ll get to that in a moment.

            The second is the realization that I have a splitting headache, which is hardly at odds with the vague recollection that I had a large amount to drink last night.

            Bright sunlight floods my bedroom but even the blue of the Mediterranean, lapping resonantly onto the beach beyond the entrance to my villa, does little to dispel the unexplained gloom of my waking mood.

            Hangover and nightmare are the most likely candidates, but there’s something else hovering on the periphery of my consciousness.

            I’m about to boot myself into action when I notice two things: first, as I roll over to grab my phone, I see that the left hand side of my bed’s been slept on. Maybe that’s not entirely accurate, but there’s been some sort of action of the far side of my king size; action of which I have absolutely no memory.

            Perhaps, you may be thinking, I may just have rolled over in my sleep?

            Never going to happen. Due to certain war wounds – details of which I won’t bore you with – I am very particular about how I sleep. I always sleep on my right side and never venture far beyond the edge without good reason.

            The explanation soon becomes apparent.

            There’s an envelope on the pillow. It has my name, handwritten in a style I don’t recognize on it.

            I rip it open and a collection Polaroid photos spill onto the duvet. There’s a handwritten card in the envelope; put the two together and this can mean only one thing: blackmail. Here we go again.

            I look at the photos. The first is a picture of me in a fairly intimate embrace with a young woman I don’t recognise. And this is largely due to the fact that the photo is slightly out of focus and also doesn’t show much of her face. I can’t decide whether this is deliberate or attributable to poor photography. Probably the latter, I decide, which would suggest that this was new territory for whoever took the photos, and that they don’t feel entirely comfortable about what they’re doing.

            But what I can see is that she is blonde, and has clearly invested well enhancing her physical attributes. The contours of her body are there to be seen. And … I hate to say it, but there is an unmistakeable aura of hooker about her. We’re in a bar, and one I don’t recognise either. It’s not one of my regular haunts.

            I glance through the other five photos with an air of resigned certainty as to where this is going. Each picture records evidence – and I do really hate this word, but I know it’s appropriate in this circumstance – of the progression of our intimacy. But the quality of photography does not improve, and I have to conclude that even if I know this woman, these photos are not going to reveal her identity.          But that’s not what’s important – what’s important is that there is absolutely no doubt as to my identity.

            The final photo shows us in bed and I won’t bore you with the details because it’s not my style, amigo, you know that. So let’s say that I’m giving her … what I would refer to as a jolly good seeing to.

            I pick up the card. There’s nothing subtle about the message.

Do this again Malone and your wife will receive the evidence. I promise, I will destroy you. Have a nice day.

three

Let me tell you a bit about myself, if you don’t already know me.

            I am fifty-two years old, but look ten years younger, and incredibly good-looking – ­think Richard Gere-stroke-George Clooney here.

             I was born in Belfast, and although I moved away from the Six Counties at the age of eighteen, I kept on winding up back there, and usually not for the best of reasons. But much as I love the place, I’d never want to live there … but it’s still the place that I nostalgically identify as home.

            I’d probably put my hand up to being a complete and utter bastard when it comes to women. But I would stress that this has never been my intention … it’s just how things tend to turn out.

            I drink too much – I’ll admit that. But I push myself to the limit – either in the gym or pounding the hills – virtually every day, so I’m still in the same shape I was twenty-five years ago. I used to play a decent standard of rugby before my job got in the way, and I am passionate about the game. But I have zero interest in all other sports, particularly cricket.

            You’ll also know ­– that is if you’ve read any of my books – that I’m a sex addict. I have great difficulty in keeping the proverbial trouser snake at bay.

            Was I always like this?

            Well, maybe not, but only because for a significant portion of my life, my time was occupied with more pressing matters.

            Like staying alive.

            I was married to Suzie, a well intentioned, physically attractive and morally sound if slightly boring woman, for what seemed like an eternity. But our marriage survived only because I spent most of it overseas at the behest of Her Majesty’s Ministry of Defense defending the Union against Irish scumbags-slash-dissidents, Iraqi insurgents and then the Taliban. And when I should have had enough of that, I finally realised that this was the one thing that I was actually good at, and so I was recruited by some seriously powerful people who operated close to government but outside the law, to take on al-Qaida virtually single-handed.           

            Okay … so there were actually four of us.

            We were an elite clandestine outfit put together to ‘stabilise’ warzone situations that were far too delicate for legitimate government agencies to dirty their hands with.

            And that’s where it all went terribly wrong.

            Our mission was to take out a certain Mr bin Laden, who by this time had a twenty-five million dollar bounty on his head, which would have kept us in beer and fags for a considerable length of time, had we been successful.

            But successful we weren’t.

            And for a week, due to a security leak which resulted in our targets knowing our every move before we even thought about it, my three other comrades and I … yes, I’d suppose you’d call us mercenaries … were holed up in the hills of the Hindu Kush, fifty clicks from Kabul, pinned down by mortar fire and with the occasional Apache gunship fly-by that kept us in our cave.

            We had long since run out of food and water.

            In effect, we had been left to die by our paymasters because if this had ever come out, it would have brought down the government. Or at least, it would have left the PM more unpopular than Thatcher after the Poll Tax-slash-miners’ strike fiascos, or May-slash-Cameron after Brexit.

            But then after four days, three Russian Mil Mi-17s popped in from fuck knows where and twenty-fours later, after the mother of all shit storm battles, two Mi-17s flew out with us on board.

            When I say us, only two of us were actually breathing.

            Myles and Lee were dead and I’d taken a bullet in the chest, three in the gut and one through my arse. Would you believe it… it was the first time I’d been shot? Everyone was so sure I was going to die that even Susie flew out to Kabul to see me. Only Simon was left physically unscathed, but the damage to his mind took years to fix, nightmares still hound him, and he can’t hold a pint without spilling it. Christ knows what he’s like when he takes a piss.

            So, why the Russian intervention?

            So let’s just say that – at that particular time – there was an informal entente cordiale between London and Moscow written on some very dubious parchment and probably signed in blood and vodka.

            And these particular Mi-17s were the personal property of a certain oligarch who owns a well-known north London Football Club, in addition to a significant portion of the Square Mile.

            So I spent a year rehabilitating in the fairly luxurious facilities of Headley Court where I knocked out two novels, which sold passably well.

            Then a journalist friend recommended me to Amy, a Guardian columnist who ran Undergrad and Masters’ programmes in Creative Writing at a university that was, by coincidence, adjacent to my Russian saviour’s football club. And so, I became a sort of maverick academic, loved by most (but by no means all) of the female students, and despised by most (but by no means all) of my colleagues – particularly any that were members of the University Executive Board.

            And when, to their delight, I was caught fucking Amy across her desk by the Vice-Chancellor, I was invited to take a lengthy sabbatical and eventually I ended up doing the same old shit at Falmouth University.

            Suzie and I had by then set up home in a quaint, chocolate-box village close to Exeter and I trundled up and down the A30 three times a week before the journey got to me and I rented an apartment close to Falmouth harbour.

            This gave me the freedom to extend additional ‘help’ to some of my more enthusiastic and better-looking female students and let me tell you amigo, I look back on my Cornwall experience with more than a splash of sepia-tinged fondness.

            And then it all changed.

            I was invited to give a talk to attendees at a well-known writers’ foundation workshop, and as this involved an all-expenses-paid week in the Scottish Highlands instead of a week spent pointlessly attempting to stimulate literary incompetents, I jumped at the opportunity.

            And here I met Mandy, the woman who was to change my life and who I came to love like I’d never loved anyone before.

            But ten years later two things happened: first, she became a lesbian, left me and moved in with her lover. And secondly, when she decided that she wasn’t, in fact, a muff guzzler and wanted me back, I had by then met Sam and had moved on.

            And so she did what all psychotic jilted lovers do and tried to kill me – or rather, try to have me killed. But that’s another story; if you want to read about it go buy a copy of Losing The Plot. In fact, buy several.

            But long before that happened, Mandy had helped me discover something else that it transpired I was good at – writing pornographic fiction.

            And so a year later, my first porno novel – A Pussy Way To Die – written under a female pseudonym, topped the Amazon Bestsellers’ One Hundred list, I had an agent – Hal Johnson, who at that time was with the Curtis Smith Literary Agency – a three-book deal with a top publisher and no longer needed to waste my time with tosspot students.

            Another year later my second novel – Dungeon Diaries – followed the first book to the top of the pile.

            The wages of filth bought me the villa in Marbella, the yacht in Puerto Banus, the chalet in Zermatt and the Aston Martin.

            I had made it in porn and no one even knew my name.

four

So I’m lying here pondering the prospect of being blackmailed for the third time in my life, when the dream comes back to me.

            I’ve had this dream before … many times before. In fact it comes back to haunt me like a male period about once a month, and has a similar effect on my disposition.

            There’s always the same ending, although the beginning is often different. Sometimes it starts when I enter the ceremony hall. My Best Man, Simon is with me – remember him from the Hindu Kush? I had to ask him, even if I couldn’t trust him not to drop the fucking ring.       

            So as we walk up the aisle, my guests – at least the ones I know – greet me; cameras click or whir or whatever noise cameras make in my subconscious, and I feel good. There are around two hundred guests assembled in their finery and I calculate that I’ve slept with around twenty per cent of them – I’m talking women only here, by the way, amigo – which is a higher strike rate ratio than Jonah Lomu’s ‘points per appearance’ for the All Blacks.

            And it doesn’t include those whose numbers I obtained but couldn’t be bothered to follow up.

            We got married three years ago, in December. That’s why we chose this eighteenth century monastery out near Sotogrande for our wedding. It was Sam’s idea. Well actually, it was Nikolaev’s suggestion, but Sam got hooked on the idea straight away. Nikolaev only liked it because we could hire the entire estate, including the forty-bedroom boutique hotel. That meant that it was a secure location – or it would be once he had secreted his heavily armed hoodlums at strategic locations around the grounds of the fifty-acre venue and removed the security cameras.

            Nikolaev, of course, had to enter into an unholy but necessary alliance with the Irish contingent, as Dempsey’s name unfortunately – at least from my perspective – also appeared on the guest list.

            That meant accommodating another private army, and the last time these two shared communal space it was in the grounds of my villa, and things went horribly wrong. Four goons ended up dead, a bullet missed my brain by a fraction of an inch, and I ended up – via El Hospital Costa del Sol – in La Comisaría de Policía in Málaga charged with five murders.

            So what could possibly go wrong today?

            I run through the dream again, and I’m about to conclude that there’s no reason to dwell on it when I’m aware of something that hadn’t occurred to me before.

            But before I tell you, let me say that I’ve had more than my fair share of post-traumatic stress counseling over the years. When I was employed by Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, it was mandatory following a traumatic incident, and when I went freelance it was offered as a perk of the job. And the one thing it taught me was whether something was worth worrying about or not.

            So I’ve figured out that the threat of blackmail out trumped some subliminal meaning attached to a recurring dream, when I work out why it is my that mind keeps coming back to the dream.

            For the first time since I had this dream I was aware of my emotions?

            Just to remind you, my bride is lying dead at my feet, so you’re probably thinking shock, pain, anger, a sense of unreality, anxiety, a feeling of hopelessness and intense sadness as the emotions I’m experiencing. Well, you’d be right … all of the above.

            But lurking at the periphery of the dream there’s something else, and much as I try to banish it, I just can’t.

            I feel relief.

            I have absolutely no justification for this, I know. But for the sake of clarity, let’s rewind a couple of years to the hours before a gunman – supposedly one of Nikolaev’s men – put a bullet into four of Dempsey’s goons and left me with a permanent scar. Sam was in the air, on her way to Malaga to sort this shit out. I was stuck in my kitchen bombarded with conflicting emotions, and all bets were off as to whether I would end the day in a mortuary or in clink.

            My relationship with Sam had progressed from an almost entirely physical to an emotional one, and this turn of events served to ratchet up how I felt about her. So what did I do?

            I proposed. And I did this against my better judgment and without thinking through the consequences of my proposal.

            Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t just break off the engagement?

            Yeah, well that’s what I began to wonder before I started having the dream. Maybe it’s why I started having the dream.

            The thing is, it isn’t that I don’t love Sam. I did. And I still do. It’s just that when things settled down and the adrenalin stopped flowing, the realization hit me that I had made her promises that I couldn’t keep – no matter how much I wanted to and how hard I tried.    

            By the time our wedding rolled round – three months after the shenanigans with Nikolaev’s Russian mob, the Dempsey’s Irish henchmen and Colombians – I’d begun to regret the haste of my proposal. I think Sam sensed it too. But I wasn’t unfaithful … I was severely tempted, but despite severe provocation, I managed to hold onto my resolve.

            Remember I’m a sex addict. The sex with Sam was still good … well, okay anyway, but I felt that we had tried everything that we were going to try, and then as time went on, the more interesting stuff was replaced by the more mundane stuff.  It was as if we fell into a routine because neither of us could be bothered any more. There was no excitement and – pathetic through it may sound – I am an animal who needs the buzz of adrenalin pulsing through my veins in order to feel alive.

            Sam, when I met her, was a total hound. I’m sorry, but there’s really no other way to describe her. And the circumstances of our covert relationship made it even more exciting. So ever before we were married I had this premonition that she would be the last woman I would sleep with.

            It might sound odd, but I’d not been prepared for the veil of despondency that accompanied the falling of the curtain of monogamy. I’d tried it before, when things began to get serious between Sam and me, and I’d let her down; but this was different. When you say the words, “forsake all others” in a wedding ceremony in front of two hundred people, it focuses your mind.

            And not only that, when Sam found out about the filth I wrote … you know, the filth that bought the villa, my estate in Hull, the yacht, the cars and all the other accouterments we both enjoyed, she put the kibosh on that, because she associated writing filth with ‘fucking women for research’.

            And also she assumed that everything I wrote was autobiographical.

            And so she made me agree to stop writing the pornographic fiction that sold like hotfuckingcakes, which killed the anecdotal hen that laid the golden fucking egg.

            Anyway, the point is that around two years ago, I found myself for the first time in fuck knows how long without a book to write. Losing The Plot had sold well, but I wasn’t dining out on it any longer, and – no matter how hard I tried – I couldn’t come up with the inspiration to write anything else. I’d spend long hours sat on my terrace staring at the Med and the blank page on my laptop with equal levels of negativity and pointlessness. Nada. I was like Jack Bloody Nicholson in The Shining. I couldn’t even call it writers’ block because in order have a lack of inspiration you have to have had in the first place.

            I even tried taking classic narratives and adapting them. For example, The Wizard of Oz. You know how the story goes, amigo?

            A tornado picks up a house and drops it on a witch, a little girl meets some interesting traveling companions, a wizard sends them on a mission, and they melt a witch with a bucket of water.

            My adaptation went something like this: moderately famous but underrated (good looking) middle-aged (sex addicted) writer gets blackmailed by a witch (his former lover-turned-lesbian). He falls in with interesting but seriously evil travelling companions (Russian, Irish and Colombian, should cover it). A wizard (yet to be defined) sends him on a mission (to combat his sex addiction). The wizard throws a bucket of water over him, he kills the witch and they all live happily ever after.

            Pathetic, isn’t it?

            And in any case, all I’d achieved was to rough out a re-write of Losing The Plot.

            I wasted day after day trying to come up with an original idea. But everything kept coming back to the one and only thing I’m any good at writing about: sex. I don’t know why the fuck I just didn’t resign myself to obscurity, take up golf and do what most ex-pats on the Costa Del Sol do: drink and bore myself to death.

            Well, I was trying, but I wasn’t even succeeding with that.

            I’m not entirely blaming my marriage. But things went flat quicker than a tyre that’s just run over a bag of nails. As I said, the excitement of our sexual engagements diminished at a comparable rate to calls from women who wanted to sleep with me, once they knew I was hitched. We didn’t even reach the seven-year mark before we hit the rails. Heck, we didn’t even get close. We used to fuck almost every day … I’m lucky if we do it more than twice a month now.

            But it wasn’t just the quantity; it was the quality too. I can’t remember the last time I had a decent blowjob. Heck, I can’t remember the last time I had a blowjob … well, I can but it wasn’t with Sam.

            And yes … I know what you’re thinking – I have tried talking to her about it; I broached the subject about a year ago. She was totally disinterested in discussing it. Her view was that it was perfectly normal in a marriage; it wasn’t all about sex and – I should get over myself because she had things to do and we weren’t on honeymoon any more …  too busy with work blah-de-fucking-blah. Yeah … as if was my choice for her to take on more and more. Then she used this as an excuse for less involvement with Dempsey – which I wasn’t entirely unhappy about in any case – but this meant she was spending more time back in the UK.

            And that’s when the thought occurred to me that maybe she was having an affair?

            But that’s not Sam’s style. Besides which, if she was fucking someone I’d know. For sure, Sam’s an incredibly good-looking woman; perhaps I’m being naïve here but I just can’t see her doing it.

            And until this morning I thought I’d been pretty damned discreet about what I got up to, not that I’d been up to much, and what makes matters worse is that I can’t even remember anything about the sex, or even who this person is who’s blackmailing me.

            Anyway, back to Sam … the very last thing I want to do is to hurt her.

            And this is why I had this weird sensation of relief … remember … in the dream?

            I know it sounds crazy but if Sam was dead – which is the last thing I want, I assure you – but if she’d died, then I would never hurt her. See what a nice guy I’m not? That’s the best explanation for feeling relief I can give. Because right now, she probably suspects I’m up to something – but nothing more than that. And before you suggest it, yes I would fucking well know if she had a PI tailing me.

            Anyway, I wasn’t having a good morning, and my hangover was the least of my problems, swinging bleakly somewhere between my latent moral and ethical remorse and the threat of blackmail.

             What I least expected to happen next was to receive some news that could verifiably be deemed as ‘good’.

five

So I’m having breakfast and wondering who the girl in the Polaroids is, where the pictures were taken and – of course – when the scumbag of a blackmailer will make his or her demands, when my agent calls.

            I think about ignoring him but then figure out it’s a Saturday, so I suppose it could be important.

            Plus the fact, the way things stand, I could really do with some work right now … I wouldn’t even rule out a column in the Sur For Brits, if it paid enough.

            To my surprise, it turns out to be something significantly better.

            ‘Richie,’ he goes, ‘how’s things?’

            ‘Oh, you know … so so—‘

            ‘Look amigo, I want you to do something for me. I think we’re onto something big.’

            Clearly disappointed with the torpor of my cigarette-lighting silence, he gushes on.

            ‘Remember those Transgressive Lit stories you sent me?’

            ‘Your badge not mine,’ I reply. Hal Johnson is a good agent but a lousy human being. He has illusions; for example to change your name from Henry to Hal smacks of wankerdom. ‘I didn’t call them Trangressive. It’s pretentious and I don’t want to be associated with anything badged with the prefix “trans”. Opens up all kinds of doors I don’t want people walking through.’

            ‘Yeah well, Nuanced Dirty Realism pretty much closes all the doors I’m working my butt off to open for you. We don’t live in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. “Dirty” pisses people off, Richie, particularly the feminists and the lesbians.’

            ‘Whatever. Anyway, I’m banned from writing filth, Hal. You know that very well.’

            ‘I think you’ll make an exception when you hear what I’m offering.  Anyway, there’s no way Sam’s going to find out about this. Man, you’re going to be totally undercover, as far as she’s concerned.’

            ‘Get to the point Hal, I may have shit all to do, but shit all not having to listen to you ticks more boxes.’

            Now he’s in a huff.

            ‘Okay,’ he goes at length, ‘Your ‘Nuanced Dirty Realism,’ I sold them to this mid-range online magazine whose target market is dirty-old-man-stroke-literary-aspirant. Sold them well, too. But, listen … that was just the start, amigo. I have something way better lined up for you.’ Hal says amigo a lot. He owns a villa in Puerto Banus and wants everyone to know it but thankfully we’re not even close to being neighbours.

            ‘Go on,’ I say. Fuck it. I walk to the fridge and crack a Stella. One way to defeat a hangover.

            ‘Every heard of a magazine called Fluffer?’

            ‘You’re having a fucking laugh.’

            ‘No, amigo. It’s for real; “Everyday fantasies become reality.” They want to take a look at your stuff.’ He speaks with the animation of a puppy chasing a squeaky toy. ‘Here, let me read:’

Not to be confused with your average filthy mag, Fluffer is a literary journal with a glittering starfest of contributors including Chris Kraus, Juliet Jacques and Eileen Myles. Issue four, themed Real Girls, charts unstable tropes of girlhood and agency, and the first story, by Luke Brown, is an exquisite and often toe-curlingly uncomfortable account of prejudice and culpability. The fifth issue launches in March and is themed Sex Negative, about the inverse sides of sexuality. There’s also an essay on why heteronormativity is a turn-off.

            ‘What do you think? Your name alongside Chris Kraus, who wrote—‘

            ‘I know who she is. She wrote I Love Dick. Feminist … good writer. ’

            ‘So … you see? Even if Sam does find out, this is classy filth. Seriously well-respected writers contribute to this publication.’

            I let the implication that I’m not a seriously well-respected writer slide.

            He continues.

            ‘Based on your stuff I got published in The Big Tissue, they’ve asked for three more stories … a thousand words max. There’s just one catch … well, for a genius like you, it probably won’t be a catch, but there’s something you need to do first.’

            ‘Forget it Hal, I’m not going to another bloody swingers’ party. My dick … besides which, I’m a happily married man.’

            ‘Nothing like that, amigo. It’s just that Fluffer is aspirational. They want to create their own niche market that places them above the, how shall I say … the more hmmm … technical publications. They want to be regarded as borderline-classy.’

            ‘Classy filth?’ I reply. ‘Can’t be done. Writing filth is writing filth; it’s not a hybrid genre.’

            ‘That’s where you’re wrong, amigo. You have a short memory. Remember Seven Days?’

            Seven Days was the book that took me – well, the pseudonym I write under, anyway – from a peddler of obscenity to the writer of a book that wouldn’t overly downgrade a middle-class, middle-England study bookshelf. Heck, Hal was even asked to get me to appear on Woman’s Hour to discuss the post-modern male-feminist philosophy I was unaware I possessed. I declined, but the invitation was nice.

            ‘Okay … well, maybe I can kind of blend the brand a little. But I’m not going to tone down the language.’

            ‘Shit no, man. The language can stay. I’m not asking you to emasculate what you write … maybe just to get inside your characters’ heads and not just their panties.’

            I light another cigarette. I have the freedom to do this when Sam’s away.

            ‘How much?’

            ‘If they take you on … ten thousand US a piece. That’s ten bucks a word. Think about it.’

            I did.

            ‘Okay, I’ll do it. What’s the catch?’

            They run an online focus group. It’s made up of commissioning editors, aspiring writers and what they loosely term “beta readers”. You need to “attend” a meeting and read one of your stories. If you get better than seventy-five per cent approval rating, they’ll take you on.’

            ‘Okay.’

            ‘A word of warning though, amigo. They all have their own personal agendas. Maybe apart from the beta readers, although I suspect that the beta readers are only there because they dream of becoming alpha writers.’

            ‘When?’

            Monday. 19:00, CET. Don’t let me down amigo. More to the point, don’t let yourself down.’

six

It’s early evening and I’m in the Moët nursing a beer and waiting for my friend Maria to rock up.           

            The Moët is what I would probably refer to as my local. The service is dreadful, the drinks overpriced but it has an interesting and varied clientele, many if whom have become my good friends.

            Take Mercedes, who co-owns the place, she’d certainly be in that subset, as would Maria, who I’m about to introduce you to.

            If you’ve not met Maria, let me tell you a bit about her.

            She’s probably my closest friend and – until Sam came along – my first port of call when I needed advice, judgement or just a shoulder to cry upon. And now that there seems to be something of a wall between Sam and I, Maria is back as my number one scratching post. At least she doesn’t disappear for weeks on end.

            I met her a few years back. She was in the Moët with this Lithuanian friend of hers called Lucinda. Who ever heard of a bird from Lithuania called Lucinda? Lucindas pass their time at Ascot and Royal garden parties and marry hedge funders called Tristram.    Anyway, besides having a weird name, Lucinda was a fucking nutcase. We ended up back at my pad, carried on drinking and when Maria went to the bathroom, I copped off with Lucinda; net result, Maria called a cab and fucked off home in a strop.

            Maria was never up for it … either a twosome or a threesome. She was just pissed off with me because this was Lucinda’s last night before she went back to Lithuania. Actually, now I come to think of it, it might have been Lesbos? It definitely began with the letter ‘L’.

            Anyway, I was to learn an important lesson from the experience: to never, ever go to bed with a woman who I even have the merest hint of a suspicion that she may enjoy what is referred to as ‘vicious sex’. I kid you not … there was blood everywhere the next morning, mainly from bite wounds she had inflicted on me. Thankfully my manhood remained intact.

            In her defence, she did some seriously good non-vicious stuff as well.

            Anyway, this isn’t about Lucinda, it’s about Maria. But if you ever even suspect that a woman may harbour a thing about biting, I strongly urge you not to go there.

            I had Maria’s number, so we had a coffee a few days later, and we ended up as good friends.

            She’s the senior traumatologist at the Costa del Sol Hospital. A traumatologist is what the Spanish call someone who puts nearly dead people back together; if you’ve not read Losing The Plot, you probably won’t know that she got kidnapped by Dempsey at the same time as her daughter and granddaughter were abducted by that Colombian scumbag, Lopez. Thankfully, apart from copping bullet from one of Lopez’ bent cops, which caused no permanent damage, they all survived the ordeal. But that’s another story.

            She’s a fine looking woman, Maria. Tall, brown hair, hazel eyes, slender, full-breasted – her own, she claims; but why should I care, as from a semantic point of view, once you’ve paid for them, ownership is indubitable? Think Marta Etura with a smaller nose, add ten years; although, to be fair, she looks less than the sum total of her fifty-four summers.

            One night we got very drunk and almost did the wild thing but thankfully I ruined the moment by alluding to her as the sister I never had.

            As a result, sex was avoided and she wouldn’t speak to me for ages.

            So I’m meeting Maria this fine early summer’s evening because I’ve had this blackmail thing on my mind all day, and I want some answers.

            Do I think she might have had something to do with it?

            Heck no … I wouldn’t have thought so, but stranger things have happened, and she does have a set of keys to my gaff … which is where I ended up in bed with whoever it was I ended up in bed with; the person who is now either blackmailing me, or is implicit in the process.

            I’m been racking my brains all day, and I can’t for the life of me remember who I ended up with and where this unfortunate unison originated. I should tell you that I have been drugged a couple of times – a ghastly substance called Scopolamine, colloquially known as ‘the devil’s breath’; it’s an odourless and tasteless Columbian drug that eliminates free will and can wipe the memory of its victims. And it’s not a pleasant experience.

            But this is different; I can remember most of the night, I just have hazy memories of my route on the road to destruction and of course, my travelling companion. But I remember starting the evening –with Maria – sitting exactly where I’m sitting now.

            And with that Maria breezes in dressed in her trademark garb – a colourfully garish outfit a less flamboyant woman would not have the balls to wear.

            She’s carrying the legendary Mr P, her bisexual, racist Chihuahua, who growls at me, for once finding himself above my ankles and therefore in a position of relative superiority.

            ‘Hey guapo …  que tal?’ She greets, kissing me on both cheeks. ‘So what’s the story? Who’s blackmailing you now?’

            ‘Perhaps you could say that a bit louder? I think there may be someone at the bar who didn’t hear you.’

            I drop the envelope containing the evidence on the table; she places Mr P on the vacant seat between us, from whence he barks at a passing black fella, whose only crime is to be a purveyor of ‘Rayo Ban’ sunglasses.

            Maria studies the Polaroids, her eyes widening as the content becomes more graphic.

            ‘Fucking hell, Malone,’ By the way, Maria swears a lot. It’s like a third language to her.

            ‘Any light you can shed on who I’m with or where these were taken, would be a help.’

            ‘You don’t remember?’

            ‘That’s why I’m asking you, carino.’

            She studies the photos, brow furrowed.

            ‘I can tell you where you were. As to who you were with … not a fucking clue.’

            ‘So, let’s start with what you know, shall we?’

            ‘You were in the Monkey Bar, I can tell you that for sure. It’s a total dumphole, so why you go in there I have no idea.  As for the woman? Never seen her before, but it’s difficult to tell from these photographs. She a hooker?’

            ‘Well, that was my first thought. But hookers are not renowned for blackmailing people who pay good money to have sex with them. It’s not a great business plan, is it?’

            ‘How should I know? I don’t know any hookers.’

            I should point out at this juncture that I have no problem with having sex with hookers. It’s only sex … there’s no question of any sort of emotional involvement, and you can learn a lot from them, both in the performance department and from their life stories, if you can get them talking. Before Sam and I got serious, I had a few regulars – one on whom claimed to have been in Putin’s recreational stable – and, truth be told, I thought those days were done until the road upon which Sam and I travelled became rocky.

            I pick up the photos and flick through them, looking for something that had skimmed my hung over subconscious mind earlier, but to which I’d not attached any significance.

            There it was.

            ‘She’s got a sort of stud thing in her nostril,’ I say. ‘Your friend Maya has one of those, hasn’t she? And Maya’s blonde? In fact … she’s pretty much the same shape, isn’t she?’

            ‘You think this is Maya, Malone? You think that my friend is a fucking prostitute? Fucking hell Malone … you supposed to be my friend. Fuck you, guapo!’

            Mr P growls at me, jumping onto the arm of the chair and the moral high ground.

            ‘Everyone has to earn a crust. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hookers … you know my views on this very well, Maria. And no … I’m not suggesting for one moment that Maya is a hooker. But if she was, I for one wouldn’t have a problem with her career move.’

            ‘Anyway, she was with me last night. You not remember? You left here about ten …  you said were having an early night. Only you did not look like you were having an early night.’

            ‘Enlighten me?’

            ‘You were … how you say … pumped? Like you are when you going to meet someone to get you leg under.’

            ‘Over,’ I correct, balancing my loss of moral high ground with literalism.

            ‘Anyway … I was right; you didn’t go home … you went to the Monkey Bar and met some … some bimbo. But I can tell you whoever she was, it wasn’t Maya because she was with me all night. Well, until four anyway. I cannot vouch for where was she after that.

            Maria replaced the photos in the envelope and handed it back to me.

            ‘Recognise the handwriting?’ I ask, clutching at straws. She studied the note.

            ‘No,’ she replies, ‘definitely a woman though.’

            ‘Why?’

            She shrugs.

            ‘It’s how a woman would write it. That’s all.’

            ‘Not much to go on.’

            ‘Trust me. It’s a woman.’ She sips her beer and does that wrinkling thing with her nose I find borderline sexy. ‘Mandy?’          

            ‘The thought had occurred to me. But I think I can safely say she’s removed that particular chip from her shoulder – almost certainly to make room for others – by now.’

            If you’ve not read Losing The Plot, Mandy was the bitch that tried to have me killed, after she orchestrated an attempt at blackmail, this one with a Ukrainian hooker. On that occasion, it had been unsuccessful – because I managed, largely by good fortune – to outmanoeuvre her.

            Mandy had been my partner for twelve years before she decided she preferred pussy to what I had to offer and left me for another woman. But when I started “seeing” Sam, this somehow flicked her psycho switch, and she decided that if she couldn’t have me back, then nobody else could. See? I seem to have this effect on women. And it’s not a good thing, I can tell you.

            ‘You said she didn’t like what you write about her in your last book. So maybe she want to fuck up your life again?’

            Clearly it’s a possibility.

            ‘Well, despite her best efforts, she didn’t actually manage to fuck it up … not entirely.’

            But here was someone capable of causing serious shit … someone who possessed both the technical ability and downright nastiness to ruin your life in the blink of an eye. She’d demonstrated that by what she’d done to her ex-husband, fitting him up as a serial shagger who used several dodgy ‘dating’ websites, and was also a frequent flyer with hookers. The poor sap had never been with a hooker in his life. And he didn’t even know about the email account she’d created on his behalf, until he ended up in court and he was forced to cough up half of the one point five mil he declared each year from his architectural firm, half of the proceeds from the sale of the château in the Dordogne, ditto the chalet in St Moritz, and half of a pension fund that would have funded NASA for a decade.

            So you mess with Mandy at your peril.

            And my portrayal of a character bearing … shall we say, certain similarities, to Mandy, in Losing The Plot had not gone down well. This I had learned from mutual friends in Hull who were still in touch with her. But that was two years ago, so surely her long-burning fuse cannot still be aglow?

            I finish my beer, and toss a mental coin as to whether to go home or to make a night of it.

            Home wins.

            ‘So … I’m no further on, am I?’

            ‘You think I might have something to fucking do with it Malone?’

            As I’ve said, the thought had occurred to me.

            Just as Mandy has form for decimating people’s lives, Maria has form for being less than altruistic, albeit with considerable justification.

            ‘Of course not,’ I reply with a smile. ‘I just wanted to eliminate the impossible. Everything else, however improbable – is now a distinct possibility.’

            ‘Now you talking like shit, Malone,’ she goes with a dusky laugh.

            I air kiss her, pat Mr P on the head, which triggers another growl and one of his trademark Jack Nicolson grins, and leave the Moët.

            If I’m honest, I’d been hoping for some sort of explanation … even one that I might not like, but at least one that would remove the sword of Damocles from above my head. None was forthcoming.

            And the spectre of Mandy and the havoc that fucking bitch has the potential to unleash does little to lighten my mood.

seven

Monday evening comes and, truth be told, I’m feeling slightly nervous.

            And this is for two reasons, a) I have a pathological hatred of geeky technology and, b) I feel that my work is under the microscope – which of course it is – and this is a feeling I haven’t had for a long time.

            But, on reflection, I think as I try to sign into the online video conferencing thing … there’s a third reason: I’m not wholly happy with the story I’m about to read? It’s a good story …  but it’s just not a reflection of my best work; I mean, if it doesn’t pass muster Hal will hock it to somebody – probably The Big Tissue again – the name of that publication is a pretty good indicator of the seediness it espouses.

            But I would be the first to admit that it’s not something I would want to be remembered by.

            I’ve had two days to reflect – in between waiting for the phone to ring and the blackmailer to make his or her demands – and I’ve decided that this is an opportunity worth putting some effort into. If it falls short of the necessary approval rating, despite what I tell myself, I will be seriously pissed off.

            I try not to overdo the Stella, limiting myself to four before I get started.

            Eventually I’m logged in.

            The Chair of the forum – as she calls herself – is Monica Durston. I know Monica from way back … I happens to also know two things about her: first, she worked as commissioning editor for Paul Raymond Publications for years, and secondly that she’s being trying to fuck me for a similar length of time. The fact that I resisted her considerable charms was more down to professional eccentricity than anything else. Besides sometime it’s tactically sound not to fuck a fuckable woman, because once fucked you can’t unfuck her, and that means you’re either stuck with her or you fall out. And if she works in your industry, there are usually unpleasant consequences of either outcome.

            The procedure, Hal had told me, is that no one on the panel knows who the applicant is; so you could be a newbie writer who’s struck lucky, or an old hack like me who wants to earn both seriously decent money and a bit of literary respectability, while still plying a slightly less tacky flavour of his trademark product.

            Mandy introduces me as Mr Jones and I deduce from the look she gives him that I’m going to have to screw up totally not to get her vote.

            She introduces the rest of the panel. The names are of no consequence and float past me, apart from one – top left of screen is Alexia. I’m guessing that – being female … because that’s how things are – she’s a commissioning editor. But what grabs my attention is her looks. She’s an absolute stunner; a dead ringer for Gigi Hadid, right down to the full lips, high cultured cheekbones, the slightly catlike eyes and the chaotic hair that I’d give a year’s worth of my potential earnings from Fluffer to have cascaded over my groin.  I asks her if she’s often mistaken for the model, and she repays me with a smile that tells me that I have a better than average chance of getting her number as well as her vote.

            There are ten of them – plus Monica – and I’ve pretty much worked out who’s who. Six women, most of whom I figure work in the industry – and apart from Alexia – I realise that they’re going to be the toughest nuts to crack. All of the males are younger than thirty, which defines my market somewhat; two of them are wannabe writers and the other two are beta readers.

            ‘Okay,’ Monica draws proceedings to a start, ‘Mr Jones, let’s start with the title of your story, please.’

            I clear his throat and take a gulp of Stella, cunningly concealed in my plastic Pooh Bear mug.

            ‘Well, I haven’t really got a title for it just yet.’

            ‘Surely not?’

            ‘No … it’s the way I work. I write the story first then I add the title. I don’t like to get locked into an angle that’s driven by a title leading me in a direction I may not want to go.’

            ‘So, can you at least give us a sort of, I don’t know – working title? Just something we can link it to.’ This will be one of the beta readers, I’m thinking.

            ‘Sure,’ I reply. ‘If I had to give it a working title, I suppose I’d call it “A Wank in The City.”’

            Unsurprisingly, this is greeted by deafening silence, although I imagine I detect the hint of a smirk from both Mandy and Alexia. Game on.

            ‘I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard that right,’ Beta Boy goes, ‘You mean “A Walk in the City”?’

            ‘No,’ I reply, ‘I said “A wank.” W-A-N-K. As in masturbation.’

            ‘Oh … okay, thanks for clearing that up.’

            Silence.

            Eleven faces look at a screen that shows my face; reflected in each is a mawkish expectancy. This is going to be car crash compelling, and suddenly I know I’ve got them where I want them.

            ‘Let’s not get too hung up on the title,’ Monica says.

            I clear my throat and begin.

            I went to the city for a wank.

            That may not have been my primary objective as I started the car and drove away that morning.

            But when I locked my apartment door and pondered what was going to occupy me for the next two hours before the package arrived, the thought jumped into my head and I considered it as good a way to pass the time as any other I could think of.

Ten minutes later, I’ve finished and I know that I’ve nailed it.

            I surreptitiously pour more Stella into Pooh Bear and flash my best George Clooney smile at Alexia. She smiles back and I wish I’d chosen another mug.

            Still, two birds with one stone. God, sometimes it’s just so good to be alive.

eight

The Fluffer gig worked out pretty well for me, in more ways than one.

            At least until Sam found out.

            So it’s about ten days after the online focus group thing and I get an email from Monica Durston telling me I’ve got the gig. They liked my pitch and she wants me to do a bi-monthly column, called A City Wank.

            That’s a lot of wanking.

            The format is that I go to the city (London) every fortnight, choose a landmark, a pub, a beauty spot, an historical building, a stadium or anything else that typifies the capital, and surreptitiously beat off while I’m espousing the virtues of my venue and fantasising about the women I find there. And I do this in a literary sort of way. It needs to be more than a ‘why this is such a terrific place to beat off’ piece.         

            And if I can tie it in with something that’s topical or in vogue … so much the better. But try to avoid statues, she said, because they’re passé, and – in any case – there won’t be many of them left soon. And stay away from places like The Zoo, as kids go there and that kind of publicity-stroke-litigation would bankrupt Fluffer. Like I couldn’t have worked that out for myself? I don’t even like zoos anyway.

            Of course I don’t actually beat off; I just describe it as an imagined experience.

            Heck no, if I were to get arrested for exposing myself and masturbating in a public place, it would do for me what The Ballad of Reading Gaol did for Oscar Wilde’s career prospects. It’s a kind of performance art without the performance, and it’s actually more challenging than it sounds.

            The idea appealed immediately, and for three reasons: first, the money; second, my column will appear under my own name, and my post-forum research informed me that Fluffer has some seriously well–known and highly respected devotees in the ranks of its subscribers. And that they’re happy to endorse the magazine, gives it an aura of respectability. And thirdly, it gives me a watertight excuse to visit London at least once a month … in the interest of “research” and … well, I’ll leave that one to your imagination.

            So the one thing I don’t do – but with hindsight perhaps should have done – is to tell Sam precisely what it is we’re celebrating as I pop the cork of a bottle of Dom Pérignon Vintage 2009; not the shitty stuff – the Tokujin Yoshioka Limited Edition variety. Neither do I tell her precisely why I will be making regular trips to London. I manage to keep details of the publication that has taken me on pretty vague. Being a lawyer, she buys into all that confidentiality guff … and anyway I owe her this, because she once refused to let me into what precisely it was that Dempsey was up to, before she sprang him from Mountjoy Prison and almost got me killed.

            Then, the day after this, I get a text from Alexia. Remember her? The dead ringer for Gigi Hadid, who I figured was a commissioning editor. It turns out she is a commissioning editor; she had been instrumental in my engagement and now wants the favour returned, under the guise of discussing the assignment.

            Happy days.

            I book a flight to London and we meet in the Fluffer offices in Holland Street, just behind the Tate Modern.

            Monica drops in to congratulate me, and I make a quip about how my first feature could be based on a threesome in the bin compound behind the Tate.

            ‘You can fantasise and beat off over that Malone, if it does it for you,’ Monica replies. ‘Call me a traditional sort of girl, but I make it a matter of principle never to fuck someone next to bins. Even you,’ she adds with a smile that suggests that the thought didn’t turn her off entirely.

            So Alexia and I end up, via the Blue Garden Restaurant, back at her sumptuous but shoebox-sized Notting Hill pad where she opens a bottle of Rothbury Estate Grey Label Chardonnay, and lays it on the line.

            She begins with a question I’ve not been asked before.

            ‘Are you any good in bed, Malone?’

            Okay, so although I’d figured that this might well be the direction of travel … this, for me is problematical. Normally I would reply with something like, ‘that’s for me to know and for you to find out.’ But remember what I’ve said about fucking a fuckable woman who works in your industry? However, being Richie Malone, my resistance lasts about as long as that of a dog that’s been told to sit for his dinner when his master leaves the room.

            ‘I’ve not had many complaints,’ I reply.

            ‘Good,’ she says, lighting a cigarette and topping up my glass. ‘Because I’ve not had sex for eight months, three weeks and two days, and I really need to be fucked by someone who knows what they’re doing.’

            I suppose I could have asked why. After all, a woman this attractive would only need to walk into a bar, tap a bloke on the shoulder and say, ‘you’ve pulled, mate … get your coat’. Abstention maybe? Respect …  I couldn’t have done the two days. Anyway, I deem the answer irrelevant and therefore the question not worth asking.

            With that, she unfastens the belt of her Louis Vuitton sleeveless wrap dress – which to be honest, I had considered a tad formal for the workplace. But now I understood the method in the proverbial madness. The belt falls to the floor, closely followed by the dress, to reveal a Victoria’s Secret Marseille embroidered mesh black push-up bra – which she doesn’t actually need – and a Nova black thong.

            ‘I’m impressed,’ I go. And I am, as well as for once being virtually lost for words. She is simply stunning, and I already have a Viagra-unaided boner trying to escape my boxers.

            ‘Well, let’s just hope I am as well,’ she replies.

            And that, amigo, is where we park that one. You know I never divulge intimate details of my sexual shenanigans.

            But let’s just say, I recorded no negative remarks on that particular post-coital customer satisfaction survey.

nine

Women, I’ve learnt over the years, are stratospherically cleverer than men, when it comes to getting what they want.

            There are exceptions of course, but let’s just say, that when it comes to strategic planning, they can run rings around us poor pussy-pensive male morons.

            And it didn’t take me long to work out that here I have a fine example of the above in Alexia.

            Vince Lombardi once said that luck was where preparation met opportunity, and around a week later I was to get a masterclass in how this actually works.

            So I’m ‘en casa’ finishing a very acceptable light lunch of gazpacho andaluz and a Waldorf salad prepared by Isabella.

            I’m watching her clean the windows with nothing much on my mind, other than trying to avoid thinking about what I would like to do to her if she wasn’t an employee. 

            She’s demure but pretty – possibly even beautiful – if one were to remove her bifocals and let her hair down …

            And yes, I know, that’s such a cliché, but it’s actually true in Isabella’s case.

            Despite her best efforts to look as plain as possible, she’s a fine young thing with a gloriously curvaceous body. Even the baggy white Tee can’t conceal the promise of what lies beneath and her faded charcoal leggings bow at the alter of false concealment. But she is my employment, and even Richie Malone has certain rules, which moderate the consequences of his actions, and therefore are used to apply the libido brake in certain circumstances.

            I’m spared further deliberation on the matter by my phone ringing.

            It’s Alexia.

            ‘Hey, Malone.’

            “Hey back. What can I do for you?’

            ‘Not so much what you can do me, but what I can do for you.’

            ‘Go on.’

            ‘Sure. So where are you planning to have your next wank, then?

            It takes me a second or two to process this question.

            ‘Hey … that piece you wrote about the threesome in the Tate Modern was brilliant. It got over ten thousand likes on Instagram and pushed us into the UK’s Top Ten Magazine by Circulation ranking. We’re only just behind InStyle—‘

            ‘It wasn’t in the Tate Modern, it was in the bin compound of the Tate Modern,’ I reply, a little defensively, sensing that she’s probably not even bothered to read it.

            ‘Yeah, whatever. Anyway, Malone … answer the question?’

            Truth be told, I’d not given it much thought. I’m a ‘leave it to the last moment’ sort of guy and there was almost a week before the due date for my copy.

            ‘I don’t know,’ I reply, ‘I’m working through a shortlist right now.’

            ‘Well you can scrap it, because I have the ideal venue. Better still, I’ve got us access to the ultimate traditional bastion of male chauvinism. It’s perfect.’

            ‘Us?’

            ‘Yeah, us … I’m going to give you a little help with this one … a little inspiration.’ She laughs, as if at a notion I’m supposed to instantly buy into. But if you know me, amigo, you’ll know that I am notoriously slow on the uptake at times. ‘And if you’re a good boy, I’ll even reward you later.’

            ‘So where, may I ask, is this ‘ultimate traditional bastion of male chauvinism?’

            ‘Lord’s Cricket Ground … you know, The Home of Cricket. Daddy’s got a friend who’s a member, and he’s going to get us into the pavilion.’

            ‘I fucking hate cricket.’

            ‘The cricket will be irrelevant, sweetie. Your eyes will be glued to the thong I’ll be wearing beneath my Bec and Bridge classic red mini dress, and not to the contest between ball and stick.’

            ‘I didn’t think women were allowed. Anyway, from what little I know about cricket, it’s not called a stick … it’s a bat.’

            ‘Whatever. Well they are now, darling … even slutty women, like I intend to be. So book a flight. I’ll meet you by the Grace Gates at eleven sharp next Thursday.’

            You see, this is very thing I was talking about? This is the sort of excitement my life has been missing. This is what I crave and this is what I am unable to resist. The only undesirable factor embedded within this equation is the cricket, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a deal breaker.

            ‘Oh, one other thing Malone.’

            ‘Sure.’

            ‘Wear a suit and a tie. If you’ve don’t own one, buy one.

 *

It’s Thursday morning and I’m standing at the appointed place, dressed appropriately.

            It’s five to eleven and there’s no sign of Alexia and our host who – I would imagine – has only bought into this because he thinks there could be an outside chance of getting his ancient veiny mitts into Alexia’s knickers.

            I’m not going to have a problem spotting them though, because there is little more than a trickle of picnic-basket wielding geriatrics shuffling through the gates, most of whom are wearing red and yellow striped ties, and some have extended the sartorial theme to include similarly decorated blazers.

            For a moment I wonder if I’m about to wander into some sort of ghastly pork pie eating, ginger beer swilling seventy-five-year prep school reunion.

            And with that thought I clock both the redness and the shortness of Alexia’s dress marching urgently towards the Grace Gates, leaving spirals of beachy-waved hair trailing behind her.

            ‘Malone,’ she yells. Most of the geriatrics must have their hearing aids turned down or off, but those who don’t, turn to ogle the sublime elegance of this incongruous beauty – their eyes out on the proverbial organ stops – who is literally stopping traffic. Taxi drivers and builders who haven’t wolf whistled a woman since the ‘80s are making up for lost time.

            She kisses me on both cheeks.

            ‘Malone, this is Myles. Myles Fotherington-Smythe. He’s an old friend of daddy’s. They fought together in some war or other.’

            Old doesn’t do him justice. My mental arithmetic had placed Alexia in her late twenties, so that would put ‘daddy’ in his fifties … maybe sixties? History isn’t my strong suit, but if they are of the same vintage, the war they’d fought together in must have been conducted in trenches.

            So we settle down to endure the cricket. We’re on the top balcony of the pavilion, which has a fantastic aspect, but is spoiled by white slatted benches that turn your arse totally numb after ten minutes. This must be another prep school thing.

            There are about twenty other spectators on our level, all elderly men, probably only here to get out from under the wife’s feet.   I recognise one of them … a former Prime Minister who was in Number Ten at the same time I was serving on his behest in Northern Ireland, trying the rid the Realm of scumbags such as Dempsey.

            It’s a glorious early June day, comfortably warm and without the hint of a cloud to mar the North-Western London sky. Half an hour has elapsed, and most of our fellow bench-sitters are either asleep or battling with either The Times or The Telegraph crossword.

            Myles tells us that this is a County Championship game, which – he says, with a hint of resigned disappointment at the way the world appears to be going – explains the lack of interest. There are around four hundred souls in a ground that has a capacity … I’m guessing here, of about thirty thousand? Middlesex are playing Glamorgan, and this game apparently lasts for four days. Today is the third day, and according to Myles, things appear to be heading towards a draw.     That’s how pointless cricket is.

            Having imparted this extraneous information, off he fucks, saying that he needs to see some chap or other about a dog.

            Alexia squeezes my knee, and smiles.

            Apart from the cricket, there is little I would change in the world of Richie Malone.

            So it’s an hour later and we’re downstairs in what’s called the Long Room, seated at one of the massive open windows that fronts the Pavilion. The room is festooned with paintings of famous players and administrators, dating back hundreds – maybe thousands – of years. Other than Ian Botham, with whom I once downed a decent bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in record time at a party in Mick Jagger’s pad in Antigua, I’ve never heard of any of them.

            There are a few ‘old farts’ milling about and the only other woman I’ve clocked so far is this cute, leggy blonde, stood behind a table in servers’ uniform, looking bored and dishing out hot drinks.

            Alexia is sipping a Pimms and I’m enjoying a pint of Pedigree when she grabs my hand and places it above her knee. She parts her legs slightly so her dress rides up, revealing more of her delectable, shapely brown thighs.

            ‘Touch my pussy, Malone. Go on … I dare you.’ She guides my hand beneath her dress, which gives slightly as my hand advances. Again, she has clearly thought this out with impressive military precision. ‘Cricket makes me so fucking horny.’

            ‘What I love about you, Alexia, is the irresistible romanticism of your small talk,’ I reply and obey.

            My fingers home in on my target and I’m slightly surprised to discover an absence of underwear. She smiles at me.

            ‘Perfect preparation prevents piss poor performance.’

            I look around the room.

            No one has a baldy what’s going on, and the thought strikes me that maybe a plaque should be erected in recognition of the first person to have fingered pussy in the Long Room. There can’t be too many other contenders for this award.

            She moans softly, her dampness rewarding my touch.

            ‘You know what would make this perfect?’ she whispers into my ear.

            ‘An early declaration?’ I suggest. She laughs.

            ‘I thought you knew nothing about cricket?’

            ‘Perfect preparation prevents piss poor performance.’

            ‘Touché. No … what would make this absolutely perfect,’ she says, glancing over my shoulder, ‘would be to get that divine creature with the big tits to join us. See … the girl pouring tea? She’s brazen all right, I’ve clocked her looking at us a couple of times … she’d definitely be game on. Oh … by the way, did I tell you I’m bisexual?’

            ‘Congratulations,’ I reply, and continue to pleasure her pussy.

            All done for effect, I’m thinking, but it works for me. I have an erection that would stop an elephant being chased by men wearing pith helmets and brandishing muskets, and it has nothing to do with the cricket.

            She moans, a little louder this time, and I shush her. Receiving a lifetime ban from The Home of Cricket wouldn’t unduly upset me, but the accompanying publicity would devastate Sam, and I doubt very much if I could count on her to defend me if charges were pressed.

            ‘You’re good, Malone … so fucking good. But what I need is for you to fuck me … and right now.’

            ‘What? Here?’

            ‘Downstairs. Ladies toilets are on the left. Follow me out in three minutes.’

            And that, amigo, is where we must leave this one, although I’ve shared – by way of relevant background information – rather more than I normally do of my encounters of the sexual kind.

            But let’s just say that this meticulously planned act of depravity had nothing to do with inspiration for my piece.

            It had everything to do with a woman using me to fulfil her fantasy and to boldly go where no woman has almost certainly gone before.

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