Cold, dank air sweeps in from somewhere across the room, not far above his head.
Where he is, how he got here, and for how long he had been unconscious? He has no idea.
Neither has he memory of anything in his recent past; his trawl for a morsel of information that may begin to explain what has happened to him yields nothing.
What does he know? He knows who he is, what he does for a living, fragments of a past that involves violence and a fragment that involves women, but not in the context of each other … a bunch of static that does nothing to put together moments, hours or even days leading up to this burgeoning reality, or helps him appraise how significant the level of danger he now faces.
Nor does he even know which country he is in.
Spain? Maybe … perhaps more likely Poland, because that is the last place he can remember. And he cannot rule out Ireland, where he was held captive once before. But that was a lifetime away, and all has been resolved; or so he believes. But who knows when anything is truly resolved?
Around him, all is cold; all is dark, his eyes shrouded by a blindfold.
He moves to rip it off with his left hand only to find it restrained by a metal clasp anchored to the wall that supports him. The clanking of chains tells him this, and also informs him that both his feet are similarly shackled.
But his right hand is unfettered, and with this he rips away the cloth, only to reveal more darkness. In the distance, a slither of light seeps through the tiny aperture it shares with the air ushered in from the world outside.
‘Dungeon fucking Diaries,’ he mutters, managing a rye smile at the irony of a predicament that places him in the same fusty hellhole as the main protagonist of his second novel. Is this coincidence or is it deliberate? Has to be the latter, he figures. His right hand had been free, and this allowed him to perform the operations that had set his book above all others as a work of supremely crafted pornographic fiction.
Right now, nothing could be farther from his mind.
‘It wasn’t your book,’ the voice reminds him. ‘It was—
‘Shut. The. Fuck. Up.’ He has no need to be reminded that it had been written under his female pseudonym.
‘Let me tell you,’ he says quietly, and despite the wretchedness of his situation, he feels a vein of grudging admiration. The room stank of cliché, but wasn’t that what was so clever about it? ‘Whoever you are who did this, you know what you are doing. Respect. And you somehow also know who I am.’ His voice rises to a scream, ‘BUT I AM GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU WHEN I GET OUT OF HERE.’
A pause. He listens harder. Nothing. Just the dripping of water to his left he had not noticed before. Drip … drip.
‘So … unless you want me to kill you, I would strongly … strongly, advise you to come the fuck down here, unlock this fucking clasp, and let me out. Of. Here.’
Nothing. More silence.
Something … maybe a rat scurries across the floor, and then he hears it.
A door opens to his left, five metres above him. Footsteps, light and even descend a stone staircase. Ten, maybe twelve metres away now.
A woman. Almost certainly a woman. And one who wears the unmistakable scent of Yves Saint Laurent’s Black Opium.
Heels clack across a stone floor. A confident clack. Slow and steady. No hurry to get this over with. The wearer holds the upper hand and knows it. She, if indeed it is a she – for he’s been wrong here before – really … is in no hurry to get this over with.
She stops close to him. He can feel his heart beat. Faster.
He feels the flurry of movement almost before it happens and then the vortex of air and he knows that the knife is about to strike him. It could, of course, be a hammer, or some such blunt instrument, but a knife is so much more likely to inflict significant damage, even if it doesn’t quite find the target.
A knife it is.
He rolls, at the last instant before the knife, that otherwise would have struck his throat, catches him between the shoulder and the sternum.
Pain, excruciating, severe pain, worse than every other pain he had ever experienced throughout his life, all put together … pain, that brings flashes of white light to his tight-sealed eyes and it is all he can do not to scream.
He waits for his assailant to reclaim the weapon, and stab again.
But she doesn’t.
Instead, he is aware of steps retreating, unhurriedly climbing stairs and the door opening.
He grabs the knife, plucks it from the wound and throws it to the floor before ripping fabric from his shirt and attempting to staunch the flow of blood. He can smell the pungency of blood, the butcher-shop stench of the wound.
He cannot tell how much blood he has lost already, but his instinct and experience tell him that it is a significant amount.
Richard knows this is not the end of it.
It is as unlikely that the wound will kill him, as it is that his assailant will not be back.
‘You’d better kill me,” he yells, bravado he does not feel scaffolding his voice. “Because—
‘Oh I will kill you,’ the voice is disguised. She – if it is a she – is using some form of voice changer.
‘But I will kill you. I will kill you physically in the same way that you killed me emotionally.’
The door closes and she is gone.
Richard picks up the knife and pulls it tight against his skin.
‘Death by a thousand cuts?’ The voice says. ‘I don’t think so.’
Hardly aware of his departed lover, his world turns black once more.
I will have the first word.
That’s appropriate – you’ll soon see why, amigo.
I am in relationships – very different relationships – with two women and I am simply going to refer to them as ‘X’ and ‘Y’.
I’ll come to that in a minute but first, let me tell you a bit about myself.
I am fifty-two years old, incredibly good-looking – think Richard Gere-stroke-Keanu Reeves here – and probably what you might possibly refer to as a complete and utter bastard when it comes to women. Let’s just say, I’m used to getting what I want.
But I owe my existence and the two best-selling novels I’ve written to Richard. Truth be told, without him I would not exist.
I suppose I should be grateful but I’m not, because recently he has done everything to vilify me and curtail my pleasures, purely to assuage the guilt he feels for what went on last summer, and what still goes on now … or at least, went on until yesterday. And I know that there’s worse to come… much worse.
It’s down to him that I am incarcerated, without hope of remission, when I could be having fun, fun, fun in the Marbella sun.
Him… and his fucking guilt.
He is trying to kill me off, but I am stronger than he is. And if he pushes me, I will kill him, even if that means that I die too.
So you see how important this is to me?
Wednesday, July 11th
One of the things that Richard could never understand about Richie was quite why he got so excited over stuff that really wasn’t that important.
Take the Pet Shop Boys gig for example. Did Richie genuinely believe that this was one of the most memorable nights of his life, or did he just have a very short and de-selective memory?
As Richard recalls, it wasn’t that special. And anyway he was still reeling from the guilt of fucking the Brazilian hooker that Richie had booked for him the night before, when, just at the point when he started to enjoy himself, one of the women in his party managed to kick over both of his beers; a feat Richard regarded to be – at best – carelessness almost beyond redemption and – at worst – one of extreme hostility because he refused to have sex with her.
And because of the hooker incident – which, by the way, Richard had sufficiently guilt side-lined to conclude that what Richie had got him into just happened to be the best sex he had ever had and well worth the three hundred euro – Richard had sulked like a child for most of the day and had even considered not going.
But the energy, the laser show and the almost vaudeville sweaty campness of it all on that hot Marbella July night, had washed away Richard’s frustrations. And so there he was, up on his seat, as erect as a teenaged prick in Y Fronts, singing along to Always On My Mind with everyone else whose carefree youth had reached the dark dawn of adulthood in the eighties.
And now, three months’ later, back in Poland, Richard thought of that long, wild summer, but in purely financial terms as wasted money; and he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – share Richie’s view that even in middle age, if it could be considered to be life changing, or could be justified as experiential, it was therefore worth every cent.