BREAKFAST at the Cheap Sleep saw Nancy swipe the screen of her slimline Samsung which vomited a string of texts. ‘Where R U?’ ‘Where the FK R U?’ ‘Call us, N 4 FKS sake!’ ‘Cop asking Qs about U.’ ‘Your job on the line.’ ‘Sheila going mad.’ ‘Ring us, you bloody mong!’ Alongside each text, mug shots appeared to pull faces intended or not. The gurning mouth of Sheila, the goggle eyes of Cora, the puckered sulk of Bex. Nancy’s own was little better: a premenstrual cob-on that passed for a smile. Nancy had an off button that did not change who she was.
Mr. Cuban Heels approached the only nurse of the establishment to lower the ribbed sock of his right foot. ‘Dodgy ankle,’ he explained. ‘What is this couch potato to do to replace squash?’ Nancy suggested he put his Cubans to bed and drained her coffee. Just Call Me Stu wanted very much to be her patient but Nancy explained her books were full.
Vince’s gates gave no sign anything was amiss as Nancy pointed her device. The gates complied. Nancy knit her lip. She parked her Punto on a marked space in front of Vince’s garage. Henry’s land rover could not be seen.
Moments later, Vince’s drinks trolley ferried tea, toast and jam to the drawing room. She knew moments before pushing the trolley through that an empty couch would greet her. Something nagged her despite everything appearing as it should. The stench of betrayal gathered in the air. Nancy hoped she was wrong but many times Sheila had proved her right.
Nancy’s eyes made a scan of the room before lowering herself. A scavenge along the maw of the couch brought her fingertips against plastic. Through layers of upholstery, she dragged out three pill bottles. Her mouth twisted at the sight. She dropped the bottles into her jacket pocket.
The stench of betrayal clung to her like a wet mantle as she made her way to the gallery. First door to the right surprised her with a warm waft of seashell. She nudged the door to find a tiled area with a footbath, towels, shower and coals in a bucket. Steam bubbled from beneath a wooden door. Such arrogance from another human being left her aghast. He should have been awaiting her at the gates this morning or busy in the surveillance room prying out her gum with a paperclip or engaged in some similar activity that gained him an advantage. But no. Such efforts were beneath Mr. Vincent Jonas who enjoyed his morning saunas and a pop of uppers of an evening. Mr. Vincent Jonas had a scheduled flight to Cannes this evening. Amy with the override code would transcend Nancy’s gum. Dapper, even with crutches, Vince could order with clipped tone to have this sick fraud removed from his home. Desperation was not Vince’s style; no imposter was worth it.
Nancy proceeded to the maintenance room. She pushed Vince’s wheelchair aside and grasped the end of a yard-brush. She made her way back to the sauna and pushed the shaft into the closed space of the door handle. The gap below belched another steamy thermal. Nancy proceeded to the foyer to shortcut through the surveillance room. She could forgive his arrogance; she could not forgive the pills.
Movement on the monitor screen snagged her progress. The bottom right feed informed her Henry was talking to the black man of the white Mazda. The front wheel of Nancy’s Punto flickered in the corner. Both men would see her if she stepped into the kitchen.
Henry snuck a hand into his jeans pocket and used the other to nudge his glasses to the bridge of his nose. Mazda Man continued to twirl his lips around syllables. Henry kept nudging his glasses before leaning in. His brand of arm-crossing emitted a restive signal. Mazda Man liked to talk and he wasn’t listening.
A resonant barrage oscillated beneath her feet. Nancy jerked away, almost slipping over the swivel chair. She planted her hand against the wall and elbowed the access way door ajar. Suddenly, the thudding sharpened in frequency to a round of clacks that caused her knuckles to rattle against the doorframe. In a panic, Nancy reversed through the surveillance room, but she had forgotten herself. Amid the din, water percolated through a single faucet over the sink. Below, Henry’s ruddy hands writhed. Mazda Man had gone from the window but the pounding continued. Henry killed the flow and gave his hands a flick before grabbing a cloth. He turned and his slightly magnified eyes came to rest upon hers.