We meet in a beer garden, find a table and sit down with two glasses of their finest brew. Andeanna is dressed in green, another of her high-collar, high-hem numbers. She sips from her glass. Her fingers are damp when she lets go. She runs them over the back of her neck and smiles. 'Hot,' she says.
'Yes.' I smile self-consciously and murmur, 'I've sold my book.'
She frowns. 'What book?'
'Spirit of the Fire. My agent - '
'Ed!' she squeals, and lunges across the table to hug me. 'That's wonderful! Who bought it? How much did you make? Have you started writing it? How can they buy a book that isn't written? What if you change your mind or get stuck?'
I take her questions one at a time, loosening up while I answer, and by the end of the explanations we're almost back to where we were before Andeanna dropped her bombshell. She touches my hands with her fingertips when she wants to make a point, stroking my knuckles unconsciously. For a while we chat about work, my trip to Devon, what she's been up to. I'd like to go on like this for ever but I can't. The elephant in the room has to be addressed.
'We need to talk about Mikis Menderes.'
Andeanna sighs but doesn't drop her gaze. 'I know.'
'I've been thinking about him constantly since we had our little disagreement.' She smiles at the understatement. 'It wasn't the lie that maddened me so much. It's what could have happened if he'd found out. I don't know Menderes - '
'Call him the Turk,' she interrupts. 'Everyone else does.'
' - but I know his reputation. He wouldn't have shrugged and made light of it if Bond Gardiner had seen us together, would he?'
'No,' she says. 'He'd have torn into me, then gone after you.'
'And if he caught up with me?'
She shrugs. 'A beating. Maybe worse. Mikis is a dangerous man.'
'That's what infuriated me. It looked to me like you were playing games, toying with me, setting me up for - '
'No,' she begs. 'Don't think that. Please, Ed.'
'I don't,' I sigh. Then, leaning across the table, 'I love you, Andeanna.'
Her eyes widen. 'No,' she whispers.
'I love you,' I repeat, louder this time. A couple at a nearby table glance at us and smile. 'I love you - ' I lower my voice - 'and I don't care who you're married to. I'll take my chances with the Turk if you love me too.'
'It's not that simple,' she says miserably. 'You're a writer. Before that you sold computers. You can't defend yourself against Mikis or Bond.'
'I can deal with the Turk,' I grunt.
'How?' she asks sceptically.
'I'm a black belt in karate,' I joke.
She raises an eyebrow, but I don't blink. Finally she grimaces. 'Where does this leave us, Ed?'
'That's down to you. Do you love me?'
On the wings of a long, trembling breath, she says, 'Yes.'
I take her hands and squeeze. 'Tell me about your marriage.'
Her story unfolds over the course of the night. She keeps jumping between the present and the past, so I have to concentrate to piece it together. She was young when she married Mikis Menderes. It was a shotgun wedding - she was pregnant with their son, Gregory, now a grown man in his twenties. (That caught me off guard. It means she's quite a lot older than I originally guessed. But that's OK, I like older women.)
It was an unhappy union from the start. She knew going in that it would be. Mikis was unpleasant even when they were dating. She endured the mild abuse in the beginning because he was older than her, he was a gangster, it was a thrill to be with him. Later, when he learnt of the pregnancy, she had no choice. He insisted she keep the baby and marry him. If she'd had her parents to turn to, she might have defied him, but they'd disowned her when she hooked up with Menderes, and she didn't dare approach them.
'He wouldn't let me wear white at the wedding,' she says, her eyes a pair of dark, bitter mirrors. 'I wanted to, even though I was five months pregnant, but he said white was for virgins, not whores. He called me a whore even though he was marrying me. He made me dress in red. It was a beautiful gown, but . . . '
Mikis has no respect for her, no love, no compassion. She's his wife, the mother of his only son, so she wants for nothing - the finest clothes and jewellery are hers for the asking. But no kind words, no fond caresses, no gentle gestures. He's proud of her - he takes her with him when he wants to impress, shows her off like a prize dog - but jealous too. He regularly accuses her of flirting with men and beats her for it. He hits her for a variety of reasons - speaking back, not making a fuss of him, sometimes just for looking at him askance - but more often than not because he believes she's considering infidelity.
'He's obsessed with the idea,' she hisses. 'He makes me mingle when he takes me to parties, forces me to talk with his associates or friends, to make him look good, so they go away saying what a charming wife old Mikis has. But then he attacks me for coming on to them. He accuses me of flaunting myself.' She sniffs. 'I've learnt not to argue. I stand and take it. It's easier that way. Once, I threw his accusations back in his face, said I'd fucked one of the guys I'd been talking with. I thought that might shut him up.
'I spent three weeks in hospital recovering. He's normally careful when he hits me, focuses on my shoulders, arms, breasts.' She touches the high collar of her dress. 'It's why I cover up so much, to hide the bruises. But that time he lost control and almost killed me. Since then I've taken my punishment without complaint.'
I would ask why she's stuck by him instead of fleeing, except I already know the answer - you don't run from men like Mikis Menderes. He'd hunt her, find her, kill her. Besides, he's been her whole life since they married. I'm sure she has no friends or allies of her own. Who could she turn to for help?
'Does he ever go after the men he accuses you of flirting with?' I ask.
'No,' she snorts. 'He knows I've never betrayed him. He just likes to act as if I have. He's betrayed me plenty, though, and he doesn't bother to hide it. He's had so many women. He taunts me with them when he's bored, phones them when he knows I'm listening, comes home with their lipstick all over him, moans their names while he's fucking me, tells me how much better they are.'
'Why doesn't he divorce you and marry one of his other women?' I snarl.
'He doesn't believe in divorce. I don't think he'd marry again, even if I died. He's in love with the idea of family.'
'What does your son think? Does he stand by and - '
'Greygo?' she interrupts with a smile. 'That's what we call him. Mikis insisted on naming him Gregory, but he has trouble pronouncing it.' She shakes her head. 'He doesn't know. Mikis never hits me in front of Greygo, and has threatened terrible things if I turn informer. He won't have his son thinking ill of him.'
She says that the beatings aren't the worst. The worst is when he makes love to her. Menderes believes that it's a wife's duty to satisfy her husband's every need. Even though he spends most of his nights with other women - hence her nocturnal freedom - he works in three or four 'shafting sessions' a month with his wife. He's horrible in bed and has grown more so with the passing years.
'In the early days our lovemaking was a comfort. He could be kind towards me. There were nights when he'd make slow, gentle love, then lie beside me and talk softly. I used to tell myself that things were taking a turn for the better. Now I haven't even got that false hope. He comes into my room and - '
'Please,' I stop her. 'I don't want to know. Imagining's awful enough. If I have to listen to a blow-by-blow account . . . '
'Of course.' She looks away. 'I don't want to bother you with my problems. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be waffling on like this.'
'That's not what I meant.' I take her chin gently between my fingers and turn her face back towards me. 'I want to listen. I want you to be open with me. I just can't stomach a graphic description. I'm not sure I could control myself.'
She sneers automatically. 'What could you do about it, Ed? Track down Mikis and whack him over the head with your laptop?'
'Maybe,' I deadpan. 'Or I could throw copies of my books at him until he begs for mercy.'
We share a smile. 'This is crazy,' she notes. 'There's nothing funny about Mikis or what he does to me.'
'I know,' I chortle, 'but I can't stop grinning.'
'Me neither. Let's order more beer. I feel like getting tipsy.'
The mood lightens after that, and even though Andeanna carries on describing her trials, the sting has gone from her tone and she talks blithely, as if about somebody else. She finds the humour in her situation. Mikis accused her of coming on to one of his uncles once, an elderly, incontinent, wheelchair-bound man. When she took driving lessons, he didn't trust her instructor, so he made one of his men accompany her and sit in the back seat, even during the test. And then, of course, he accused her of seducing her minder.
I think, if dawn could be put off for a week, we'd still be here talking about the Turk and his abuse of her. But the beer garden closes at midnight, and although we intend finding somewhere else to cuddle up, our legs turn to jelly when we stand and realize how much we've drunk.
'I can't handle a nightclub,' Andeanna says. Her face and neck are flushed from the beer. Knowing the truth about her, I think she looks more beautiful than ever. It's incredible, having endured what she's had to, that she's held on to her looks and spirit. Most women would have crumpled years ago in her place.
'We could get a cab and drive around for a while,' I suggest.
'Would you mind if we left things as they are?' she asks. 'I'd rather head home and get my head down. It's been a long night.'
'No problem. I feel the same way.'
Our smiles fade as we stare at one another.
'What now, Mr Sieveking?' Andeanna asks.
'We catch some shut-eye.'
'I mean tomorrow and the next day and - '
'I know what you mean.' Leaning forward, I kiss her. 'I won't run away,' I whisper when we break.
'What about Mikis?'
'He doesn't matter. If you loved him, that would be different. But I won't let a monster come between us.'
'If he finds out . . . ' She leaves the unspoken threat hanging in the air.
'Are you worried about what he might do?' I ask, and she nods silently. 'Will your fear drive us apart?'
'I don't want it to, but . . . '
I kiss her again. 'A simple yes or no. Do you want to stop seeing me?'
A long pause, then the softest of answers. 'No.'
'So we carry on, whatever the risks, and take it one day - one night - at a time. To hell with Mikis Menderes.'
'If you're sure . . . '
'Then so am I,' she says with a kiss, and our destiny is sealed.
Now that we've declared our love and reconciled ourselves to an uncertain future, I expect the physical side of our relationship to explode into passionate life. I'm not sure how to react when a week passes and it doesn't. I understand Andeanna's initial sexual hesitancy, but now there should be nothing to come between us. I know about the Turk. We've made a commitment to each other. So what's holding her back? Our petting has increased and her fingers roam more freely, but whenever I make heavy advances, she tacitly diverts me.
When I ask about it, she shrugs and says she wants to take things slowly. 'This is a big step,' she mutters, nuzzling my neck. 'I've become conditioned to the demands of sex. I'm used to surrendering my body, not giving it freely. I want it to be special between us, not like it is with Mikis. Will you be patient?'
I say that of course I will, but it's frustrating. I can feel the desire in her, the sexual longing. She wants me as much as I want her. So again I wonder - what's holding her back?
I try not to let my personal life interfere with Spirit of the Fire, which is chugging along nicely. I've been devoting a lot of time to the science side of the book and I've got a good idea of how to blend it with the horror elements. Soon I'll be ready to start.
Jonathan gets in touch to say he's in the process of finalizing the contract, but it might still take a few weeks. He's not going to rush them - he'll use the time to scout around for an American publisher. He asks if I'm free to return to the States if needed. I say I'll let him know, then discuss it with Andeanna. I mention the possibility of her accompanying me, but she vetoes the idea. There's no way the Turk would let her travel to America without him.
'But go if you must,' she urges. 'I don't want to hold you here. If your work takes you away, I won't interfere.'
'Don't say things like that,' I scowl. 'You know I won't leave you.'
'I know,' she smiles. 'But I don't want you thinking that you can't. It won't crush me if you call it quits. I'll survive. I'm quite accomplished at surviving.'
Though Andeanna rules out a trip to the States, Joe would love to go. I've told Jonathan about my partner, and while he isn't keen on the idea of a collaborator, he's accepted my decision to involve Joe and is preparing a contract for him. I told Joe he shouldn't sign if he doesn't want to, and I urged him to seek legal advice, but I don't think he paid any attention. He's so excited at the thought of being involved, he'd sign away all rights if a deal to that effect was placed before him.
I'm paging through a monstrously thick book about unusual deaths when my phone rings. It's Andeanna. 'Guess what?'
'Mikis has been called away on business. He'll be gone for three days. I have the house to myself.'
I lay the book aside. 'What about bodyguards? I thought he didn't leave you alone at home.'
'He doesn't. A guy called Axel Nelke is guarding me. But things aren't so hot between Axel and his wife. He could do with some extra time at home with her. I told him I wouldn't tell Mikis if he didn't.' She lowers her voice and does a pretty good Mae West impression. 'So why don't cha come up and see me some time?'
'I can't,' I reply solemnly.
'Why not?' she asks, perturbed.
'I don't have your address.'
'Funny guy,' she drawls, and tells me where she lives, describing the quickest route from my hotel. I jot down directions, grab my keys and hurry downstairs, not bothering to change my clothes.
The Menderes mansion lies tucked off the main road in the northern suburbs of London, hidden behind a scattering of trees. The electrified gate opens as I approach and closes smoothly behind me. It's a short drive to the house, where Andeanna waits on the steps of the front porch. Rolling down the window, I ask where I should park.
'Here is fine,' she says, so I cut the engine and step out. She glides down the steps to greet me, wraps her arms around me and buries me in a long, eager kiss. It's a kiss I'm in no hurry to break, but then I catch a glimpse of a security camera overhead.
'You have CCTV?' I snap.
'Of course,' she says.
I stare at the camera, feeling my stomach drop.
'But you don't have to worry about it,' she smirks.
'How come?' I frown.
'I sneaked in and switched off the record function.'
'Won't somebody notice that when they check?'
'Don't worry,' she smiles. 'I'll turn it back on when you leave. I do this every time I slip in and out. It's second nature now.'
I grunt uneasily. I trust her, but the camera sets me on edge all the same and I start thinking about other things that could go wrong. 'What about the staff?' I ask.
'All gone,' she says, tugging me up the steps. 'Mikis can't tolerate servants. He employs the slimmest of crews and gets them in and out as swiftly as possible. The maids, cleaners and gardeners come in the morning and are gone by early afternoon.'
'Who does the cooking?' I ask.
'Me. Except when we have guests. Then Mikis hires caterers. But when it's just us, he keeps the help at arm's length. That's one of the reasons I feel so lonely. I have to stay in all day with bodyguards who never talk with me. I don't know how I'd survive if I wasn't able to slip out at night and mix with real people.'
'Does the Turk know about your nightly escapades?'
She shakes her head. 'He doesn't think I could be so bold. He believes I'm locked away all the time.'
'Don't your guards tell him?'
'I retire early every night - I always have done, so there's no call for them to be suspicious - then disable the CCTV and sneak out.'
'You'll be caught eventually,' I warn her.
She laughs. 'Not as long as there's sport on the telly for them to watch.'
Taking my hand, Andeanna leads the way inside. She's nervous, and so am I. Regardless of her guarantees, I can't shake the thought from my head that this is the Turk's stronghold. I expect him to burst in on us at any moment.
Andeanna takes me on a tour of the house. I feel edgy, and it's not just the feeling you get when you enter somebody's home without the owner's permission. There's a chill in the air. The rooms are larger than normal. Sounds echo through them. And there's a . . . I don't know if I can describe it . . . a solemnity to the atmosphere. This feels like a house of mourning. Even my ghosts look sombre.
Each room is a hall of garish wonders. Crystal chandeliers, mounted heads of lions and deer, banisters studded with jewels, paintings by artists whose names are familiar even to me, leopard-skin rugs adorning the hearths, lots of marble and gold leaf. It's been a long time since I visited such a monument to lavish, vulgar taste.
'You don't like it,' Andeanna notes.
'No, it's lovely, I . . . '
'Don't lie,' she laughs. 'I hate the place too. It's Mikis's dream home, not mine. He took control of the plans. He even designed my bedroom and makes me keep it the way he wants.'
'That's a room I'd like to see,' I mumble artlessly.
Andeanna looks at me without saying a word, then turns on her heel and marches upstairs. I follow silently, eyes glued to her shapely calves as she climbs the stairs ahead of me. At the top she takes a left and escorts me to a room at the end of the corridor. Another huge chamber, soft blue wallpaper, billowing curtains, antique dressing table, walk-in wardrobe and an en suite bathroom. A four-poster bed occupies a full quarter of the floor. Several framed wedding photos of Andeanna and Mikis adorn the walls. She's hardly aged at all.
While Andeanna stands just within the doorway, I stroll to the dressing table and study the few personal artefacts scattered across it - brushes, a compact, hair pins. A photo album rests next to a powder box. I pick it up and flick through. Snapshots of Andeanna and her son. He's young in most of them, but there's a recent shot of him near the back. He's shaved his hair off and the glow of his scalp creates a halo-like impression. 'Gregory?' I ask.
'Greygo. Yes.' She comes over and stares at the smiling young man.
'Handsome,' I note.
'He thinks so,' she laughs, 'but that bald head's awful! He's an actor. Very talented, and that's not just his mother talking, the critics have often said so too.'
'Have I seen him in anything?'
'I doubt it. He prefers the stage to movies or the telly, and he likes to take small, interesting character roles. That's why he shaved his head - he wears a lot of wigs, darting from one play to another.'
My eyes flick from the photo to Andeanna. 'He favours you.'
'Yes,' she says proudly. 'He inherited my finer characteristics and hardly any of Mikis's lesser features. It drove Mikis mad. He hated the fact that his son looked more like me than him. I used to lie and tell him that Greygo has his eyes and mouth. Over the years he's come to believe that. But it isn't true. He's mine.'
Her fingers brush across her son's face, then she takes the album from me and closes it. 'Mikis insisted on a blood test. When Greygo didn't look like him, he dragged us to our doctor to make sure he was the father. If there'd been even a shadow of a doubt, we would have wound up at the bottom of the Thames. Mikis isn't the sort who'd bring up another man's child, or allow him to live.'
'Where is Greygo?' I ask.
'On tour with a rep company. He spends a lot of time on the road. I think he finds it easier that way.'
'What do you mean?'
She sighs. 'Greygo loves his father, and it's reciprocal, but he knows he's a disappointment. Mikis wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, but Greygo fell in love with acting when he was a child. Mikis tried to dissuade him, but Greygo was adamant. When Mikis refused to support him, he won a scholarship to RADA. Any other parent would have been bursting with pride - do you know how hard it is to get into RADA? - but Mikis went into depression. I think he was worried because so many actors are gay - at least that's the myth. He was afraid Greygo might go pink. To a man like Mikis, there's nothing worse than a gay son.'
She's babbling because she's nervous. I gently bring her back to the point I was trying to make. 'So we're alone,' I remark.
She nods tensely. 'Yes.' Then, trembling, she offers her lips. Our kiss is brief. When we separate, she looks troubled. 'I know you've been patient, and I know how hard it's been. I don't want to keep you hanging in suspense, but I . . . '
'It's OK,' I tell her.
'There are things I haven't told you, things . . . ' I silence her with a kiss, but she's determined to say her piece. 'Mikis forces me to submit to gynaecological tests. My doctor is one of his oldest friends. She answers directly to him.' I stare at her, understanding at last why she's been keeping me at arm's length. 'He springs her on me without warning. Sometimes months pass between examinations. Then she'll test me three times in a week.' Andeanna looks up, tears forming. 'She's a godawful bitch and thorough as the devil. No matter what precautions we took, I couldn't be sure that she wouldn't find a trace of you. That's why . . . '
'Oh God,' I groan, embracing her. 'You should have told me. If I'd known . . . Christ, I wouldn't . . . I'd never have . . . '
'I want to give myself to you,' she cries. 'I want to be with you properly, but if she found out and told Mikis . . . '
'It's OK,' I whisper, kissing her forehead. 'I can wait.'
She sniffs. 'There's no wait. I love you, but I won't risk my life for you. If we could run away - if I thought he couldn't find us - I'd light out in an instant. I'd give it all up, this house, the lifestyle, everything. Even Greygo. I love you that much. But he'd find us. He'd kill us.'
'Not if we killed him first.' It's barely a whisper.
She giggles. 'Right. With copies of Soul Vultures.'
'I'm serious. With a gun. A knife. Mikis Menderes is human. He can be killed. I could - '
'Stop,' she smiles. 'It's cute - no, not cute, volunteering to kill a man can't be cute - but you're being silly. You're a writer, not a thug. You couldn't kill anyone and I don't expect you to, so quit with the macho crap. It doesn't become you.'
'And if it wasn't crap? If I could really kill him?'
She pinches the love handles I've developed over the last few years. 'Stop.'
'OK.' I force a smile. 'I won't kill your husband.'
She laughs, then grows serious and steps back. 'Now that you know. Now that you realize how impossible it is. Do you want to go on seeing me?' She stares at the floor. 'I'll understand if you don't. Our only hope is if Mikis drops dead of a heart attack or if one of his rivals eliminates him. I don't think that will happen. Although he's older than either of us, he's fit as a fiddle, and he leads a charmed life. He may live to be a hundred.'
'Andeanna.' She looks up, hopeful, fearful. 'I love you. Nothing can change that. If I can't have it all, I'll take whatever I can.'
'You don't mind?' She sounds doubtful.
'Of course I mind! Being with you and not having you tears me to pieces. But it's better than not being with you at all. Just to see you, to talk with you, to hold and kiss you . . . ' I stop when I feel a lump in my throat. I haven't cried (except when drunk and pitiful) since I was a kid, and I don't want to embarrass myself by starting now.
'Oh, Ed,' she sobs, and throws herself on me. I hold her and whisper and tell her everything's fine, the sex doesn't matter, simply having her with me like this is enough.
Eventually Andeanna pushes herself away, grabs tissues from the table and wipes around her eyes, then sits and applies make-up. I watch, amused. She notices my grin in the mirror and lowers her head. 'Force of habit,' she mutters, then stands and clears her throat. 'There are things we can do, if we're careful.'
'What are you talking about?'
She blushes and whispers something beneath her breath.
'I can't hear you,' I tell her.
She looks at me straight, defiant this time, and with a twinkle in her eye. 'I could give you a handjob.'
I laugh out loud at the unexpected proposal.
'What?' Andeanna snaps, pretending to be offended. 'I'll have you know I have very skilled hands.'
'I'm sure you do,' I smirk.
She wriggles her fingers. 'Kings would offer fortunes for a few quick jerks from me.'
I explode in a fit of giggles, and I can't recall the last time that ever happened to me. 'Stop!' I gasp, clutching my sides.
'Well, I'm glad I can make you laugh, even if I can't satisfy your carnal desires,' Andeanna sniffs, then flexes her fingers at me again. As I chuckle, she gets up, grabs hold of me and pulls me down on to the bed. We wrestle with each other, playfully. She tickles me. I kiss her and start to slide a hand up between her legs, drawing a delighted squeal. I stop before she pushes me away, respecting the boundaries the Turk has forced on her.
After a while she falls still and rests her head on my shoulder. 'I'm sorry,' she murmurs. 'I want you more than anything else in the world. I want to give myself to you. Not being able to . . . '
'Don't let it get you down,' I tell her, kissing the top of her head, running my hands through her hair, relishing even this much contact, content to have to stop here. 'Our time will come. Things will work out.'
'You really think so?' she asks sceptically.
'Sure,' I sigh. 'It happens in fairy tales all the time, and you're as beautiful as any fairy-tale princess, so . . . '
'Bullshitter,' she says, pinching me lovingly. Then we hold each other tight, smiling, kissing, letting our warm breath mingle. If I was to be truthful with her, I'd have to admit that I don't know if I can settle for a chaste relationship in the long term. But for the time being, it doesn't matter. She has me and I have her. That's enough. For now.
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