Rush Of Blood: An Extract
by Mark Billingham
It’s all wrong.
The light winking on the blue mirror of the pool, the sunhats and the sweating beer bottles clutched in their fists. The drone of insects. The smell of warm skin slick with suntan lotion.
All of it.
It couldn’t really be any more unsuitable, bearing in mind what’s happening. One of them thinks there’s a word for it, for that . . . clash, but he can’t remember what the word is. The six of them just listen and shake their heads, trying their best not to let the woman see how awkward they’re feeling – God, that would be terrible, all things considered – but it only makes the situation worse. Now, they’re worried that they just look even more relaxed, even more insensitive. Like they don’t give a shit about the missing girl.
It makes them all feel even guiltier.
I mean, clearly it’s just a question of ‘context’ or whatever you call it, because for the previous thirteen days the picture could not have been more perfect. Wasn’t that exactly what they’d paid their money for, and weren’t they there to relax? But that was before the flashing lights on the roofs of cars were visible through the palm trees. Before there were cops and State Troopers running about and radios crackling.
On top of which, the woman herself seems pretty relaxed about it all.
‘It’s so crazy,’ she says, and raises her hands in a ‘stay where you are’ gesture when one of them tries to get up from the sunbed. ‘I feel stupid putting everyone to all this trouble.’ She takes a step away and says, ‘No, really,’ when another asks if there’s anything they can do. ‘It’s fine, honestly . . . ’
Later on, talking in whispers, one of the men says, ‘Why should we feel guilty? I mean, there was no shortage of people out looking for her, and it’s not like we didn’t offer to help, is it?’
His wife shrugs. ‘There’s not much we can do about the sunshine, is there?’
A couple of the others nod.
‘Disparity,’ one of them says. ‘Is that the word?’
So, they eat their final meal together and try to enjoy the last night of their holiday. They talk about how the woman’s daughter has probably just gone to the mall, if she hasn’t turned up already, and keep talking in much the same way even though the police cars are still around the following morning. On a full flight back to Gatwick, they try and fail to sleep. Scratchy-eyed, they eat their foil-wrapped meals and watch movies, and several pick at the skin that is already peeling from chests and shoulders. They stay cheerful, more or less, but each of them is thinking about the woman by the pool and a smile that quivered and died. That kept on dying, a little bit quicker each time it was cranked into place.
Thinking about her insistence that everything would be fine, that everything was fine, and the words – spoken with something approaching irritation – when she glimpsed what she took to be sympathy.
‘She’s missing,’ the woman says. ‘That’s all, just missing. So, don’t even think it.’ And her voice rises just a little and cracks, and just before she pushes her sunglasses back into place, there’s something fierce and tight around her eyes.
‘My daughter is not dead.’
ANGIE AND BARRY
From: Angela Finnegan email@example.com
Date: 16 May 17:31:01 BST
To: Susan Dunning firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: Marina Green email@example.com
You know how you meet people on holiday and say things like ‘we really must stay in touch’? I bet you’re regretting swapping those email addresses now. Ha ha!
Seriously though, it was an amazing holiday even if it did end a bit oddly, so I thought it would be great if we could all get together. So, me and Barry would love it if the four of you could come to dinner on Saturday, June 4th. I know it’s a bit of a trek down here to deepest, darkest Crawley but I do a mean bread and butter pud and I promise to send out sherpas if you get lost!!
Talk to the boys and let me know ASAP, but I really hope you can all make it.
PS. Been looking at the local papers on the internet and still no sign of that poor girl. Can’t imagine what her mother must be going through. Horrible, just horrible.
PPS. Can’t remember, but is anyone a veggie?
Angiemoved slowly along the aisle, nudging the trolley with its squeaky wheel past white meat and along to red, picking up some bacon – which they needed anyway – before turning and heading back again. Still trying to decide between chicken and lamb. Chops or coq au vin.
She’d originally wanted to do something themed. A holiday-style menu to remind them all of their fortnight in the sun, with piña coladas to kick things off. Seafood had been the obvious choice, a chowder perhaps – if she could find the clams – and then some sort of fish for a main. She had even gone online and found a recipe for Key Lime pie. Barry had said it was a stupid idea, so she’d let it go.
She glanced down into the trolley, wondered if she should get some ice cream to go with the frozen pizzas she’d picked out for the kids. It was all quick and easy and it would be handy to get dinner for the pair of them done and dusted before her guests arrived. She knew that Laura and Luke would be happy enough with that arrangement; keen to stay out of everyone’s way and not have to join in with boring grown-up conversations. One night in front of the computer couldn’t hurt, assuming that any homework had already been done.
Barry was in charge of all that.
She picked up a large pack of chicken breasts. She saw that the meat was organic, clocked the price and quickly put it back again. Right idea though. Lamb was nice enough, but it could be a bit tricky, what with some people preferring it pinker than others, and Barry had always enjoyed her coq au vin. She reached for a cheaper pack . . .
‘I just thought it would have been nice,’ she had said. ‘A bit different.’
‘I don’t see the point.’
‘There’s no point, it’s just a bit of fun, that’s all. Cooking something Floridian.’
‘Something that comes from Florida.’
‘I know what the word means,’ Barry said, eyes narrow. He crushed the empty beer can he was holding, opened the lid of the bin in the corner of the kitchen and tossed the can inside. ‘I’m just trying to work out why the hell you’re saying it. It’s poncey.’
‘Look, it doesn’t matter.’
‘The whole thing’s poncey, you ask me.’ He slammed the lid of the bin shut and walked across to the fridge. ‘You’ll make us look stupid.’
‘Fine, I’ll just do chicken or whatever.’ Angie reached for the cloth that was draped over the edge of the sink. ‘That OK, then?’ Rubbing at a smear on the granite worktop, she watched as her husband stared into the fridge for almost half a minute, then closed the door again without taking anything out. There was a bit more hair gone at the back, she noticed, and the mottled roll of fat above his collar seemed that little bit thicker. Not that she was in any position to talk, of course. ‘OK, then,’ she said to herself.
‘Yeah, fine, whatever.’
He walked behind her, put his hands on her shoulders and kissed the back of her head. She carried on rubbing at the granite, though the smear had already gone.
‘Can’t see why we’re even bothering though, to be honest,’ he said. He moved away and pulled out one of the seats at the breakfast bar. ‘Haven’t we got enough friends?’
‘It’s just a get-together, that’s all. Sort of an add-on to the holiday kind of thing.’
‘Why do we want to do that?’ he asked. ‘I mean, it all went a bit weird at the end.’
‘Only at the end.’
‘That girl and everything.’
‘All the more reason. It’s something we’ve got in common, isn’t it?’
‘So, because of that we have to go to all this trouble?’
‘You don’t have to do anything,’ she said.
‘You know what I mean.’
‘You got on all right with Ed and Dave, didn’t you?’
He shrugged. ‘They were nice enough.’
‘And the girls.’
Barry rolled his head slowly around on his neck. ‘Ed’s wife was all right, but that what’s-her-face . . . Marina . . . got right on my nerves.’
‘A bit full of herself, I reckon.’
Angie just nodded, happy to let him think he was being clever. She knew very well he was only pretending not to like Marina Green because he fancied the arse off her. Because he was a sucker for big tits and an over-the-top dye job. Angie had watched him ogling her on the sly, saucer-eyed behind his knock-off Oakleys, pretending he was still reading his paper as she climbed out of the pool in a bikini that anyone could see was too small for her.
‘Well, I think she’s nice,’ Angie said.
‘Up to you.’
‘I think they’re all nice, and providing you make an effort we’ll have a nice evening.’ She could hear raised voices in the lounge, an argument about what to watch on TV. She opened the kitchen door and shouted at her children to stop bickering. When she turned back into the kitchen, Barry was standing, rubbing the belly that strained against a maroon polo shirt.
‘What about the diet?’ he asked.
She considered the fact that he was almost certainly more concerned about her putting on a few pounds than him. She thought about the two cans of lager he’d got through in the half-hour since he’d come in from work and the empty crisp packets she was always digging out of his car. ‘I’ll do fruit for pudding,’ she said. ‘It’s just one night.’
‘It won’t be though, will it?’ He slid a hand beneath the shirt, began to scratch. ‘We have them over here, then each of them invites us to their place, whatever.’
‘What’s wrong with that?’
‘Like I told you, we’ve got enough friends.’
‘Name them,’ Angie said.
‘Excuse me, could I just . . . ?’
Angie blinked and apologised to the man who was stretching to reach past her for something. She nudged the trolley with the squeaky wheel out of his way and wondered how long she had been standing there, staring blankly at the meat like a mad woman. She glanced down at the pack of chicken that was still in her hand.
The shiny pink flesh, pressed tight against the polythene wrap.
She dropped the meat into her trolley and moved quickly towards the till. Remembering that last meal the six of them had eaten, the blood-red sunset and all the police cars back at the resort. It would be strange, she thought, to see them all again, eight weeks and a world away from where they had met.
A holiday to remember, in spite of everything.
Buy it now