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Daddy's Here(8)

By: Lucy Wild



“Good evening, Miss Wilson,” I replied.

“How many times must I tell you, call me Vera.”

“As many times as I’ve told you there’s no need to bolt your door in your own building when I live downstairs.”

“Not all my tenants are as trustworthy as you, Jake.”

“A doctor, an accountant and a baker?”

“Exactly. Shifty, all of them. Especially that Gunnell fellow.”

“He’s training to be a surgeon, I doubt he’s doubling up as a burglar on the side.”

“You never know.”

“Listen, I have to go away for a while. I wondered if you wouldn’t mind…?”

“Watering your plants? Of course not. What kind of landlady would I be if I let your beloved peace lily die?”

“Thank you, Miss Wilson.”

“Any idea when you’ll be back, Jake?”

“Shouldn’t be too long,” I replied, turning to head back to the stairs.

“Famous last words,” she called after me, her door slamming and the bolts scraping loudly back into place as I descended the stairs to start my search for Isabel Fleming.





SIX


ISABEL





I’m not sure how I ended up in Gentle Falls. I didn’t really have a plan when I left the house. All I did was get in the car and start driving. I didn’t want to go too far, not until I worked out what I was going to do.

I’d been to Gentle Falls a few times with the girls, slumming it in cabins in the woods next to the town or hanging out on the campsite. It wasn’t really a town, more of a big village and I can’t even remember how we ended up there the first time we went. I do remember a lot of bottles of wine on the kitchen counter, illicit alcohol given our ages at the time. The rest of that first holiday was a haze that will probably never turn back into a proper memory. Still, it must have been good or we wouldn’t have gone back so many times.

There was only one year when I didn’t go with them. I’d just turned seventeen and I had decided to go and see Ben, only I didn’t go. I told them I was going, I made every plan to go but then I just didn’t. I stayed at home and pretended I’d gone, pretended I’d had an amazing time when in fact I hadn’t dared go see him in case he rejected me.

I had the train ticket ready but when it came to leaving the house, a tiny little voice in my head asked me what I’d do if he’d forgotten me, or worse, what would I do if he didn’t still love me? It had been years, after all. I couldn’t bear the thought of it and in the end I decided the agony of not knowing was more my style.

I couldn’t recreate the holidays I’d had with the girls this time but I could toast the memory of the past. I sat in Red or White, a wine bar that had seen far better days, draining one glass after another of the most expensive Merlot they had, playing with my phone whilst ignoring the sixty-two texts from my father. Sixty-three.

The latest one just said, ‘COME HOME NOW.’

No chance. If he thought I was going to play happy families with the son of a gangster, he had another thing coming. I thought about replying, telling him that, but I decided against it, better to keep quiet until he’d calmed down.

The more I drank, the less I cared about him anyway. I looked around at the others in the bar. There were a couple of people around my age in there, maybe a little older. Over in the corner, a man in a black suit kept staring at me. I ignored him. He was far too old for me. The guys sliding up to the bar were more my type, even if they were in tracksuits. They had muscles from too many hours at the gym, full of bravado as they nudged each other and glanced in my direction.

I turned away from them, let them come to me. That meant I was facing the guy on his own and he was still staring at me. I glanced back at the men, the bravest of them was already on his way over. I gave him the tiniest of smiles though with the amount of wine I’d drunk, it was hard to control my grin.

“Good evening,” he said, his voice slurred. “Want to come and join us?”

“I’m all right, thanks,” I replied, leaning on my elbow, spinning my empty glass slowly with my free hand.

He took the hint. “Can I get you another drink?”

“Why not?”

Within ten minutes I was in the middle of the three of them, the drinks continuing to pour. I felt like Queen of Gentle Falls, not even caring when a hand slid down my back, I was too far gone by then to realise the danger. We talked about something but I’ve no idea what. I can’t remember.

What I do remember is what happened when they began to move me towards the door. One moment I was in the middle of the three of them and the next I was stood alone. I heard a deep voice booming out, “Time for you gentlemen to leave.”

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