I've been sleeping quite well since I started seeing Deleena but I know tonight's going to be a bad one. Back in my hotel room, I dig the knife from the restaurant out of my pocket and study it solemnly. I'm amazed by how quickly the old instincts kicked in. If we had been attacked, I'd already played out various scenarios in my mind's eye, plotted my defensive strokes and our route of escape. The knife isn't the sharpest or sturdiest, but I'd automatically accounted for that. In my hands it would have been an adequate weapon.
I remember other nights and other knives. Drunken nights when I wept like a baby and held the tip of a knife before one of my eyes, wanting to drive it through my eyeball and deep into my brain, the ghosts egging me on, silently urging me to follow through and join them in their shady sub-world.
They press closer towards me now, eagerly searching for any chink that they might be able to manipulate to their advantage. It doesn't matter if they're not real, if they're only projections of my inner turmoil. At times like this they present an all-too-real threat. They look so hateful. An observer who could see them would think I was a victim, a sympathetic figure under attack from malevolent forces.
I know better. I deserve my ghosts. They're entitled to their spite.
I lay the knife aside and sigh. 'Knock yourselves out,' I tell the disappointed spirits, then I start to get ready for bed and the nightmares that I'm sure will find and torment me.
Joe and I have been driving around, looking for places I might be able to use in the book. I'm keen on the back streets which spread out from the oddly named Elephant and Castle. Very centrally located, yet many of the shabby old houses look like they're stuck in the past. The area has a grim, eerie feel to it. I take notes of street names, parks, schools, shops, deserted buildings.
Joe is behind the wheel. He's moodier than usual, hasn't said much. Finally, once we've wound up the scouting mission and have crossed the river, he says, 'Do you think you can use any of those places in the book?'
'Probably. I like the Elephant and Castle. Any idea where the name comes from?' Joe grunts negatively and takes a sharp, aggressive left turn. I study him curiously. 'How's your mother?' I ask.
'Same old.' He looks across at me. 'What's with the questions?'
'You seem out of sorts.'
He grunts again, then slows and finds a place to pull over. For a couple of minutes he doesn't say anything, and nor do I. In the end, he sighs. 'You're gonna hate me. I shouldn't say anything. I wasn't going to and I still don't know if I should.'
'What's up, Joe?' I ask, worried now.
'I wasn't prying,' he says. 'I wasn't poking my nose in. I just . . . You remember I told you I'd been asking my friends about Deleena?'
That wasn't what I'd been anticipating. I thought he'd been digging around in my past. I let out my breath and nod, relieved.
'I went to see Shar's boyfriend last night,' Joe says. 'He has an old VCR that was on the fritz. I asked Shar about Deleena. I was curious.'
'Uh-huh.' I'm not sure what's coming, but at least it has nothing to do with my past.
Joe hesitates, then comes out with it. 'Shar doesn't know her.'
I digest the information, then seek clarification. 'Shar doesn't know Deleena?'
'She doesn't have a Deleena Emerson on her books. None of her clients even has a name like Deleena Emerson.'
'Did you describe Deleena to her? Maybe she uses another name when - '
'How could I describe her?' he cuts in. 'I've never seen her.'
'Oh. Right.' I stare at the dashboard, bewildered.
'I should have kept my mouth shut,' Joe mumbles.
'No. You were right to tell me.'
'What will . . . ?'
'Please. No questions. Just leave it with me.'
'OK.' He taps the steering wheel. 'You want to hang out here a while or go back to the hotel?'
'Back to the hotel.' I smile humourlessly. 'I've got a date to prepare for.'
We meet in a pizza house. Deleena is a woman of varied tastes. A Michelin-starred restaurant one night, Burger King the next. I order a ham and mushroom pizza, Deleena opts for pepperoni. A bottle of house white.
I've been keeping conversation to a minimum. Deleena senses something wrong but pretends that all is normal. She tells me about her day at work and how much she enjoyed last night - we went to a beer festival and drank from massive wooden pitchers - and makes suggestions for tomorrow. I respond with sniffs and shrugs, waiting for her to get frustrated and force the issue.
'OK,' she finally says, laying down her knife and fork. 'What have I done?'
I finish the slice of pizza I was working on and wash it down with a mouthful of wine before replying. 'I know that you've been lying to me.' Deleena stiffens but says nothing. 'Shar doesn't know you. You're not one of her clients.'
She rocks forwards and backwards, face neutral, hands on the table, fingers at rest. 'You can leave now if you want,' she offers. 'I'll take care of the bill.'
'I'm going nowhere until you explain.'
'Why bother?' she says. 'If I've lied once, I'll probably lie to you again. The wise thing would be to walk away, delete my number from your phone and hang up if you ever hear from me again.'
'I thought about that. A week ago I might have. But now . . . ' I want to reach across and shake answers from her, but I settle for a glare. 'Is Deleena even your real name?'
'No,' she says coolly. 'It's Andeanna. I am a client of Shar's - that much is true. Check with her. She'll recognize the name this time.'
'Why feed me an alias?'
'I'm sure you can guess. It's not especially complicated.'
'You're married?' I ask, and she nods. That simple gesture almost drives me from the table and out of her life. Only her expression of utter misery holds me. 'Do you love him?'
'Christ, Ed!' She laughs blackly.
'Do you love me?'
She's shaking now. Can't look me in the eye. Slides her hands under the table so I can't see them trembling. 'It's not as simple as that,' she croaks. 'There are things you don't know.'
'So tell me.'
She raises her head. Tears are welling in her eyes. I ignore them and focus on her lips, reading the words as they form, alert for lies. 'You remember that man we ran into? Bond Gardiner?'
'He's your husband?'
'No. Emerson is my maiden name. My married name is Menderes. My husband is - '
'Mikis Menderes,' I interrupt, one jump ahead of her.
She blinks, taken aback. 'You know him?'
'Mikis Menderes, aka the Turk.'
'You know who he is? What he is?'
'I've read about him in the papers,' I lie
'He makes the papers in the States?' she frowns.
'No,' I correct myself, quickly tweaking my story. 'I read about him here, on one of my previous trips to the UK.'
'Then you know why I've been so afraid to get close to you,' she says. 'Why my heart beat with terror the first time we kissed. Why I didn't want to let things go any further. You know why you should walk away and never look back. Because if Mikis finds out about us . . . if he even suspects . . . '
She can't continue, and I can't think of anything to get her started again. We sit, staring at one another, until a waiter checks to see if we're finished. I nod, and he asks if we'd like anything for dessert. 'No thank you,' I mumble, then pay up and escort Deleena - Andeanna, Mrs Menderes, wife of one of London's most notorious gangsters - outside into the uncertainty of the sultry, menacing night.
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