Dan woke with a start as the train finally trundled its way out of the station in a series of short jerky movements, seemingly designed to wake up any passengers trying to catch a quick nap. The incessant drizzle streaked across the window, laying new patterns in the grime, tracing their way down his face’s reflection.
A woman sat across from him was paying him more than the customary attention of most passengers on this particular train. Her glances settled on him more than the others and the attention was as unnerving as it was unwelcome. She was obviously looking for an opening to say something.
Don’t make eye contact he told himself. Keep your personal bubble of enmity in place, the shield against human interaction that protected him from this unwanted intrusion into his grey world. Prolonged eye contact, damn! He thought, as he tried to stop himself from returning the gaze. The woman’s eyes kept landing on him, pinning him, from all the thousands of grey, weary people thrown together on this cold, and damp mechanical coffin. Slowly the scanning became less pronounced and as they settled on him finally, expectantly. He was trapped.
As he watched her slowly form the first words that would break the spell of privacy that was the big lie in any big city, he saw she seemed frightened, nervous of speaking. Great, a nutter, even better, he thought unkindly, a brief flash of guilt somewhere deep down surprised him. A brief tentative smile then she said, “Horrible night.”
After all the stress, and inner turmoil over this unwanted interaction, the banal utterance was almost disappointing.
“Yes,” he said, not smiling. The banality stakes rose, would she call or raise?
An uncomfortable silence, as the train trundled on. Other passengers glance their way briefly, like all commuters, glad not to have been the one to deal with it. Just say as little as possible, hopefully she’ll get off soon. Neither noble nor kind, but a true reflection of how he felt, the feeling mirrored by all of the other commuters near to this particular awkward social situation.
“These trains are always so hot,” she said breathlessly.
Just think of something non-committal to say and you’ll soon be back at home, front door closed to the world and safe. “Yes, very uncomfortable.” He hoped he was closing down all avenues of prolonged conversation. “You look like you’ve had a long day.”
Christ! This was getting serious, is she, is she flirting with me?He marveled at his vain, male ego. If a woman was wielding a kitchen knife a man would still pause (probably fatally) if thrown some flirtation. A new tack was needed, a plan to fight fire with fire, “Yes quite long, you?”
There it was the opening. She pounced, "Oh you know, just some shopping and a spot of lunch in town, I do like a bit of a shopping trip and Oxford Street is my Nirvana!”
Dan blinked. Once, twice, but no words came out, no easy patter or stock answer was on the tip of his tongue or anywhere remotely useful for that matter. This was going to be problematical, this nervous gushing was a bad omen, and a glib reply would not placate her. He was going to have to talk to her and use his negotiation skills and survival instinct to get out of this one.
Dan was no slouch when it came to talking to women, in fact he was pretty good at it, in the correct social setting. On the train, where personal space was sacrosanct, as was the right to ignore all human contact, well that was different. I’ll have to use the charm then, get out of this by pretending to chat her up. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d used charm to get what he wanted and he always got what he wanted, always. His slow smile, slightly crooked and designed to be charming, ”You going far?”
“Oh no! Just to East Dulwich,” still breathless but seemingly more in control.
Shit! That was his stop, of all the places to go and there was no chance of avoiding her at the station when they got off. Things were getting serious, he would now have to commit – not something that came naturally to him – to a full conversation. If he was trapped, then he might as well make it interesting. He was committed now and as he studied her more closely he realized that she was an attractive woman. Ahh, the other brain has kicked in he thought with a smile.
“You have a nice smile.” She said. It sounded uncensored, like something you’d say after a couple of drinks.
“ I was just thinking that’s also my stop.” He gave her the full advantage of his charm.
She looked at him, a brief look of cold appraisal clouded her innocent face for a brief instant. Dan looked closer at her, an open honest face with wide green eyes and hair that had the carefully cultured just climbed out of bed look.
hey smiled almost coyly at each other. The game had changed and they both knew it and there was nothing Dan liked better than a good chase. He looked out of the window, the rain still tracked crazy patterns down the glass, a brief flicker of lights from outside highlighted the murky streets below the embankment. New buildings flaunted their brightness in the face of older, wiser, architecture.
It was not a night to be out, but a good one to be tucked up in bed, nice and warm. That was when the challenge really started to excite him, the hunt, the capture and the best part, the power to hurt a women’s ego by letting them know they had been conquered, that was the best part of all. He wasn’t a bad person, he just liked to see the disappointment turn to self loathing when they realised they had been used. It had been done to him a few times so he knew what it felt like. But lately it became more important, the reason and not just part of the high. Was he really that cynical, that disaffected with is life that this was a high point in the drudgery of his life? Could this encounter ignite some passion into his otherwise drab and colourless world?
“You must have been commuting for a while?” It was a statement, rather than a question.
“Yes I have, five years to be exact. Why, does it show?” He replied.
“Well, my husband did this same commute for 30 years, I see that same look in your eyes.” She looked away, an almost angry look on her face.
“I’m sorr…” he started to say.
“Why? Why are you sorry? You didn’t even know him, you don’t even know me! How can I expect you to be sorry!
The outburst shocked him. It didn’t even seem to be directed at him, her internal strife had come to the fore and broke free. He felt uncomfortable.
“I’m sorr…I mean it’s expected isn’t it. A social convention, of course I don’t know you or him enough to be sorry and I just, well…I don’t know really, what else is there to say?”He smiled weakly.
“No it’s me that should be sorry. You were being polite and nice and I do appreciate it, makes things so much simpler.” This was a tricky path to tread, saying the wrong thing now could blow his chances. He looked at her reflection in the window as she stared into the dark night.
“You seem sad,” he said, trying to sound neutral. “Do you come into town often to shop?”
“Did you just ask me if I come here often?”
Dan looked at her, she was teasing him. A complete turnaround in behavior that should have set him on his guard, but she intrigued him.
“He died!” She said venomously, real anger that turned other heads further down the carriage.
Woah that touched a raw nerve! He thought.He changed the subject, a true English response to overt displays of feelings, ”Sorry, a bit clumsy. Not all my patter is that bad, I promise.”
“Glad to hear it,” She said with a smile.
“Let me do something I never really do,” he said brightly, trying to lighten the mood.
“Go on,” she replied.
“Tell you my name.”
“Why don’t you do that? Doesn’t that make it a bit hard to do business in the city?"
“Oh God,” he groaned, is it that obvious?
“Yes. I was married to a City man for a long time you know. It’s the confidence, the ability to see what you want and grab it.” She looked him in the eye, her steady gaze again unnerving .
“I mean with strangers. On a train, I don’t, engage”
“ I know, you tried to ignore me for ages. Makes a girl mad!” Again that flirty look and smile, tinged with something else that Dan couldn’t quite place. Danger?
“I’m joking with you silly. I’m Belle.”
“Dan,” he said, holding out his hand before he realised how ridiculous that was.
Belle stared at him, then in one sweeping movement settled into the seat next to him. Their shoulders pressed hard against each other.
“All stress and no trust, is that a way to live a live Dan? My husband was the same, couldn’t trust people. Didn’t trust me.” She said with a faraway look in her eye.
“Well you know how it is,” he trailed of weakly.
“Forget it! Friends should forgive shouldn’t they?”
He wasn’t sure what she was talking about, they’d only known each other a few minutes. She was perceptive indeed, but there seemed to be turmoil on the inside that bubbled over now and again, disconcertingly.
“Er yes. Of course they should Belle.”
She turned to look at him directly, her face close to his, “And you want to be my friend don’t you Dan?”
He smiled at her warmly, “Of course I do Belle.”
That sat for the rest of the journey leant in to each other, talking easily of more mundane things and Dan started to really enjoy her company. Ulterior motives aside she was a great conversationalist and could spin a yarn or two. As the train slowed she leapt up, “Come on I know a great little place for a drink and a bite.”
He let himself be pulled from the seat and followed her out on the wet platform. The rain was now a fine drizzle that didn’t seem to come from any particular direction and was soft on the exposed skin.
They exited the station and Belle took his arm guiding him on the slick pavement.
“So where’s this great place then? Bandini’s, the Pheasant?”
“Oh no, much better than that,” She said excitedly, “Just you wait and see!”
They walked down the road for a while past many likely spots knew, but Belle seemed determined on a direction and walked on past the bright lights and cosy looking restaurants.
“So where are we going then?”Dan said.
She stopped and turned to face him, “Do you really have to ask Dan, really?”
Just when Dan thought she was sending him on a wild goose chase, they turned into in a quiet cul-de-sac branching off from the main street. The drizzle filled Dan’s eyes making the lights blur in the dimly light road. At the end of the road a detached house sat darkly, save for a porch light trying gamely to light the path that lead to its door.
“Ahh,” he said. Now he understood, “Your place?”
“Clever you!” she said and dashed off to the house. He heard her keys rattle in the lock and heard the creak of the sodden, old door as she opened it.
“Come one,” she said in a theatrical whisper.”
For a moment Dan stood still, weighing his options. What’s this, second thoughts? Not like you at all.
Through the dim light of the porch he could see her walk up the stairs, a moment later a light on the top floor came on. Still he stood rooted to the spot, something gnawed at him deep down. He knew he should just walk away, he also knew he wouldn’t.
He entered the house closing the porch door behind him and stepped into the house. It was warm, the central heating ticked away and felt like it had been on for a while.
“Hello?” He called up the stairs that came out in to the hallway on his right.
“Right with you.” Came the reply, “Make yourself at home.”
He slipped out of his raincoat and hung it on a rack next to, what he guessed, was a couple of her husband’s old coats. She probably didn’t want to part with them he thought, though it’s been a while. He shrugged and carried on down the hall into the vague darkness of the house. He looked for a light on the wall as the darkness grew greater the further he went from the porch. He could see paintings and sculptures in the gloom, obviously Belle lived a good life and she’d probably been well provided for.
“Not to my taste most of this you know.”
Dan jumped visibly as Belle spoke and the light came on simultaneously.
“Oh,” was all he could manage as he struggled to control his pounding heart.”
“Sorry darling, did I make you jump?”
“A bit,” he admitted sheepishly.
“Straight on down the hall to the left is the lounge, switch immediately to your right. Drinks cabinet on the far wall and rustle me up a large Scotch will you, lots of ice.”
As she turned to go back up the stairs Dan noticed she was profiled against the light of the porch in a sheer white dressing gown. He admired her curves openly and she rewarded him with a coy smile.
“Plenty of time to see more of that,” she said and disappeared up the stairs again.
Dan couldn’t help but begin to feel aroused and alert to the possibilities of the night. All reticence faded as he watched her slowly go back up the stairs, her gown falling open at the front with every upward step. He forced himself to turn and find the lounge, the room, lights and drinks all being where she had directed him to. A big comfortable sofa beckoned and he obeyed, taking their drinks over and placing them on a small side table.
He looked around, he saw that much of the room was taken up with art, sculpture and many bookshelves dotted around the large room.
“My husband liked to collect,” she said, again appearing silently at the door.
She was dressed in the same dressing gown, “I didn’t think there was much point in changing into anything else.” Dan looked greedily at her, “Come here and have a drink with me.” “Not my taste at all really, all this,” she swept her hand round the room indicating the pictures and sculptures that littered the walls. “But he did like to collect,” she paused, “Things. Women most of all.”
“What do you mean?” Said Dan.
He was starting to feel a little flushed, even though he’s only had one small drink. He felt tired and the room was getting warmer as he slumped lower and lower, watching Belle move her way slowly towards him.
“Oh you know, the usual. Powerful man of a certain age gets what he wants, always gets what he wants, fucks some young whore whilst trophy wife at home knows nothing!”
She stood directly in front of him, talking loudly at him, her stance aggressive. She’s really pissed off he thought. As she bent closer to him he saw her face was flushed red, a warm post coital glow at her throat transfixed him as the rest of the room blurred at the edge of his vision. He was slumping further down by the minute, trying to remember how much he’s drunk.
He tried to talk, “Hummm,” was all he could manage.
“Why Dan are you drunk? Are you even listening.” She glared at him, her face inches from his.
“Drink more, that will solve everything, or at least make this all feel a bit better.”
She straddled him, and grabbed the back of his head, her nails digging into his head. The pain registered far away as she continued to speak.
“Don’t be a fucking idiot Dan, this is what you wanted isn’t it?” Me on top as you bashed away.”
She ground her hips into his groin, but he could feel anything. He knew instinctively that it wasn’t a sexual act, it was too full of spite, anger and hatred.
Dan couldn’t take in this strange and frightening turn of events, his vision was fading and couldn’t even speak. His hazy mind was telling him he was in trouble in a lazy, far away voice. He knew though, that he had been drugged and that his life was in danger.
Belle stood up suddenly, “You bastards are all the fucking same. Stick your dick anywhere you like and fuck the consequences.”
She glowered at him, it barely registered with Dan now, “Honey, there are going to be some pretty fucking unpleasant consequences for you, I can assure you.” With that she strode out of the room.
The fog that clouded his thoughts and sight was now almost complete. He tried desperately to concentrate his will and move himself but nothing replied to his pitiful efforts. The last thing he saw was a blurred close up of her showing him something close to his face. His final tactile response was to the cold silver blade that she drew slowly down his cheek and the faint awareness of cold on his teeth, like biting into ice cubes and the tears that followed them.
“Why Dan, are those tears? Are those tears or are you just scared? Well too fucking late and Dan, this is going to take a while.”
Belle stood and slid out of her dressing gown, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. She had done the same with her husband, watching him sleep peacefully after destroying her whole life. The knife, this knife, solved that just as it would now. She smiled, it was always more pleasant when they were asleep, of course he wouldn’t be asleep for long, 6 inches of cold Sheffield steel in the chest brought them round soon enough.