It turned out that half the party-organising committee being dead was not enough to cancel the actual party. Erica wasn’t sure if she should be happy or not that the police didn’t seem to have discovered the bodies yet. She knew it was highly probable she would find her name at the top of a lengthy suspects list, and that wasn’t something she really felt up to.
After Erica got home – she ran from the Elegancia Hotel and Spa without even caring whether she broke her high heels – she paced around her bedroom in alternating fits of giddy anxiety and a hollow, hopeless sadness. Once she’d dragged herself through around an hour of this, her mobile started trilling from the depths of her bag. A quick swipe of the lock-screen revealed that it was Lillian, smiling out from the grainy user ID photo.
Lillian Jones was a paid partier. She was also ineffaceably annoying. Erica was a professional events organiser, and liked to think that she was superior to most of the world. This gave Erica much higher social standing than Lillian, but Lillian never seemed ready to realise this and persisted in pretending that the two of them were friends.
Erica groaned, flopping backwards onto her bed. Her hair had fallen out from her bun, and sat around her shoulders like it could loiter there all day. She rolled over on to her stomach, and then figured that she should probably pick up the call in case it was something important.
Erica fiddled with the phone case before taking the call. (It was an odd light green colour, patterned with tiny, embossed hearts in varying shades of blue.) Maybe she'd had won the lottery or something vaguely exciting.
“Hello? This is Erica Woods,” she said, trying hard to sound a little less hopeless than she felt. She didn’t actually know why she bothered to ask the question ‘hello’ as she knew perfectly well that it was Lillian, but it made her feel a tiny particle more in control, just that little bit more every day, and that was worth something.
“Erica, darling, it’s Lillian,” said Lillian, even though she knew that Erica knew exactly who she was. Even if Erica hadn't had caller ID, she would have recognised Lillian's voice anywhere. There was no mistaking the shrill, artificial vibrato of it.
"Lillian. Hi," Erica muttered into her phone, both her spirits and her voice scraping along her fluffy bedroom carpet, lower than they ever had before.
Lillian audibly gasped down the phone, before finding the barrage of words she usually wielded. "Oh my God, what's the matter? You sound ill - are you sure you're okay? Is it drugs? Are you, like, on drugs or something? My sister Cecily almost died from a drugs overdose, you know? Maybe you should -"
"What the - no, Lillian, no, God no, of course I'm not on drugs!" said Erica. "What the hell?"
Lillian sniffed down the phone, clearly disgruntled. "I was just making sure you were okay. You don't sound okay. You sound like Cecily when she was suffering from withdrawal and she was so not okay that she made okay look like…like…"
"Look like what?" Erica rolled her eyes, trying to sound a little more like her usual self (rumours that she was on drugs were the last thing she needed). This was possibly the most difficult task she had set out to complete in her life, as half an events committee dead was not something her usual self had ever seen.
Seeing seven dead party organisers changed people – especially when Erica could easily have been Dead Party Organiser No. 8.
Pouting, Lillian shrugged it off. "Whatever. Learn to take a joke, darling. Anyway, are you ready for the after party tonight? It's going to be totally amazing – am I right or am I right? You know, I might finally get to meet the actual Alexander Rhys, can you believe it? He’s so hot, like, I can’t believe he’s even human. Do you think he has a girlfriend? Does he even want a girlfriend? I bet if he met me he'd be all over me. Guys like that always seem to love me. You know?"
Erica paled, forcing her mouth open and closed and hoping a suitable reply would escape. The party was still on? Even after half the organising committee had been mercilessly butchered in their last last-minute meeting? Didn't the police know? Didn't they plan to do...something?
She clawed at a response desperately, her voice sounding fragile and broken, as if rubbed raw by strips of sandpaper. "Yeah...Yeah, I- I can't wait. The after party. It's, erm... It's still on, right? Like, it hasn't been cancelled or anything? Because of, um... you know, like, no one's been, like, murdered or anything, have they? I- uh – heard about some people getting murdered near here…"
"Say that again? I think I must have misheard you, or...I…No, of course the after-party’s still on. I mean, Alexander’s concert would be so much more boring without a party afterwards. It wouldn’t be the same. Plus, everyone’s going to be there. It’s all arranged. Hell, you arranged it!” she said, then paused, presumably to take a breath but possibly just for the dramatic effect. “Look, Erica, are you sure you're feeling okay? You seem a bit..." Lillian trailed off, genuine concern slipping through the iron grating of her voice.
"No, no, I'm completely fine. Totally. Yes. Never been better." No. I'm not fine. I saw dead people. People who are dead and are meant to be alive. Lots of dead people, and if I hadn't been late I might also be dead right now. No. No way am I fine. I've never been worse.
"Kay-kay, well, if you're sure then I suppose...See you tonight, I guess?" bubbled Lillian. She was probably oozing sweetness. She was probably oozing all over her three bedroom apartment, and sooner or later there was going to be an announcement in the paper saying that Lillian had drowned in her own saccharine sickliness. It was so completely insipid that it was disgusting. Lillian disgusted Erica.
"Tonight," Erica confirmed feebly, hearing the other girl whisper something to someone in the background before abruptly cutting the call off. It was probably Lillian's boyfriend - Erica couldn't ever remember his name, though they'd been introduced several times. Something like Ted. Or Josh. Or maybe she was making things up and it was actually Malcolm or something.
She grunted, forcing herself to get up from her bed. She wasn't sure why anyone would actually want to kill a couple of fairly ordinary - frankly kind of boring - stuck-up events organisers. Still, she wasn't going to take any chances when some kind of psychopath was on the loose.
She needed to employ some kind of extra security for her house. A functioning alarm system would be a start. Her current burglar alarm had broken approximately three years ago, just after she'd first bought the apartment, and she'd never seen much point before in getting it fixed. Maybe she should steal a gun from somewhere.
It was ridiculous. This was London, and there was no way a glorified party planner could hope to purchase a gun other than give up London and everything she loved to run away and join the army.
Maybe she should join the army.
Falling back against the wall dramatically, Erica clutched at her face in horror, massaging her forehead. Then she reminded herself who she was - a professional - and she straightened herself up, running her fingers through her long, blonde hair. It had been a tawny brown colour originally, but it had looked ginger in some lights and she'd hated it. She’d looked like a slightly mouldy carrot, and the older kids hadn’t failed to tease her for it. Catching sight of herself in the Aztec patterned mirror hanging opposite, she decided she'd have to get her roots dyed again soon.
Erica stared at herself for a while longer, considering.
She checked over her shoulder hurriedly, as if she thought that somehow someone would be standing right behind her. Of course, there wasn’t anyone there, and so she posed in front of the mirror glass, trying to artfully mess her hair up the way she'd seen models do in magazines. Kicking her heels to one side, she pouted and strutted and danced across the room, admiring herself in the mirror all the while.
Erica felt a little better. This was the sort of thing she did for fun, after all. She smiled, just tiny hint at a grin, and opened up her wardrobe to prepare an outfit for the party.
After a while, Erica almost forgot she’d seen anyone dead in the first place. Almost. Not quite. The memory lingered on her mind like a vampire’s kiss lingers on the cool night air, and then it faded, just like the sundown.