The Savages

Sasha faced each parent in turn.
‘You might as well know now. Jack is… well, not like us.’
‘In what way?’ asked Titus
‘He’s a vegetarian.’
For a second it looked as if both Titus and Angelica Savage had frozen in time.
Sasha reminded herself to breathe, and then decided it might be best for everyone if she left the table…

Meet the Savages, a breed apart from your average household – and a darkly delicious treat for anyone who’s ever been embarrassed by their own flesh and blood.


1. 1

Titus Savage cursed silently when the phone in his pocket began to ring. He had meant to put it on mute, and simply forgotten. There wasn’t much he could do about it at the time. He was lying back with his hands clasped across his chest and his mouth wide open.


‘Do you want to answer that?’ asked the dental hygienist. At the same time she teased a sickle-shaped scaling instru­ment between his back molars, which made it impossible for Titus to reply. By the time she removed the scaler from his mouth, the hook impaled with a fine shred of meat, his mobile had stopped ringing. The hygienist appeared not to notice. Instead, she held the instrument under the lamp for inspection. Her mouth and nose were covered by a mask, but the gleam in her eyes made it clear she was elated by her catch. ‘You’re a red meat fan, Mr Savage, am I right?’


Titus plucked a tissue from the box on the steel-topped trolley beside him.


‘I eat well,’ he said, dabbing at his mouth. ‘Better than most, in fact.’


The hygienist wiped the scaler on the back of her glove. Titus eyed the shred, which had probably been there for no more than twenty-four hours, and wished he had flossed that morning. He had a meeting to attend in the next ten minutes, only now he risked having to endure a lecture.


‘Can I ask about your brushing routine, Mr Savage?


‘Trust me,’ he said, and balled the tissue in his fist. ‘I appreciate how important it is to do a thorough job.’


Titus Savage enjoyed a formidable reputation in the City. The investment company he founded many years earlier sought to assist struggling businesses by restructuring them. It was only recently, following the investigation, that the true nature of the operation became clear. Back then, had anyone accused him of ‘predatory working practices’, chances are they would’ve been sued. Titus was a familiar figure in the Square Mile, with his bald dome, penetrating blue eyes and the signature silk scarf which he folded around his neck on leaving the dental surgery. He glanced at his watch next. Satisfied that he was still in time for his meeting, Titus began to walk briskly in the direction of the office, buttoning his coat as he went.


It was a bright morning, but with so many towering buildings the sun rarely made it to ground level. Unusually, for a man of Russian stock, Titus always felt the chill. He sometimes joked that this was down to the fact he’d never visited the motherland. He certainly looked on the Slavic side, but had been born and raised in England. London was his home, and the city his stalking ground. Titus Savage knew every restaurant, coffee shop and cut-through, which at first explained why he ducked unexpectedly into a back street within yards of the office doors.


Instead of heading for a side entrance to the building, however, Titus took to the gloom under a fire escape. There, he stood with his back to the wall and explored his freshly cleaned teeth with his tongue.


Three minutes later, a man in a suit hurried off the main street. He looked nervous, as if far from his natural environ­ment. Seeing Titus Savage step out of the shadows did little for his manner.


‘You’re late,’ said Titus. ‘And I’m busy.’


‘I’m sorry.’ The man raised his palms. Perspiration needled his forehead. He wore rounded glasses that began to steam now he had stopped. ‘This isn’t easy for me, Mr Savage. I’m toast if anyone from the firm knows I’m talking to you.’


‘Your firm is toast if you don’t talk to me.’ Titus produced an envelope from the inside pocket of his coat. He offered it to the man, and then tipped it away from his grasp when he reached for it. ‘The memory stick?’ he said, as if to remind him why they had arranged to meet.

Hurriedly, the man found the stick in his pocket and completed the exchange.


‘It’s all there,’ he assured Titus. ‘The balance sheet for the last quarter and the minutes from this week’s meeting with the bank.’


‘I hear they’re playing hardball.’


‘We’re being hammered,’ the man said. ‘On their terms, we just can’t meet the interest payment.’


‘As I predicted several months ago,’ said Titus. ‘You’ve allowed yourself to become too bloated as a business. It needs carving up if you’re going to survive.’


‘Which is why I want to help you,’ the man cut in. He looked around one more time. ‘I know in your hands the firm is finished in its current form, and I’m grateful for the cash you’ve just paid for the stick. But what I need more than anything, Titus, is a promise that I’ll still have a job once you’ve cut out all the fat. I have a family that relies on my income. Without it, we’re finished.’


Titus Savage smiled and clapped the man on the shoulder.


‘How are the kids?’ he asked.


The man seemed uncomfortable about answering the question for a moment.


‘Good,’ he said eventually. ‘Yours?’


‘The same,’ Titus answered. ‘Sasha has some issues which I plan to work on, but my boy is really beginning to shine.’


For the second time that week, Ivan Savage took a seat in the office of the school’s deputy head teacher. She sat across from him with both hands flat on the table, one on top of the other, and her mouth pressed tight. She had said nothing beyond summoning him into her office. Ivan looked up at her, well aware that she was awaiting some explanation.


‘It was meant to be funny,’ he reasoned. ‘Those girls just have no sense of humour.’


The deputy head teacher was a fair-skinned woman with shoulder-length red hair she tied back in a band. At home and weekends, when she let it fall in corkscrews, she was known as Gemma. In school, to staff and pupils, Ms Turner was not someone who thrived on having her patience tested.


‘What is funny,’ she asked eventually, ‘in finding thumb tacks in your school meal?’


The boy shrugged, like she just didn’t get it.


‘I wanted to liven up lunch break. That’s all.’


‘Ivan, you could’ve seriously harmed three of my students. There’s nothing amusing about pain and suffering. You should consider yourself very lucky that one of the dinner ladies saw what you were doing.’


Ivan sat on his hands and stared at the floor. With his skewed tie and one shirt tail hanging free, he didn’t look like a pupil capable of getting full marks in the sciences and mathematics. Still, that’s what he was achieving. So long as the subject contained logic at its core, the boy would thrive. At the same time, Ivan was seriously struggling with the arts. Ms Turner had his pupil report in front of her, in fact. It concluded that while Ivan was an enthusiastic student, his critical, creative and interpretive skills were often deemed inappropriate. Ms Turner had an example right in front of her. It was taken from a short story Ivan had written about the day in the life of an animal. While most of his classmates picked playful pets, the boy had opted to write five hundred words from the point of view of a mouse being swallowed alive by an Anaconda. The piece was capably written, but had left his English teacher so disturbed that she reported it to Ivan’s head of year.


‘Are you going to tell my dad?’ Ivan looked up. He seemed troubled at the thought. It was something Ms Turner spotted straight away.


‘What do you think might happen if I did inform your father, Ivan? What would he do?’


‘To me?’ Ivan said with some surprise. ‘Oh, nothing. I was worried about you.’


Ms Turner blinked and tipped her head to one side. She drew breath to question just what the boy had meant by that, but then thought better of it. The kid was just weird.


‘Ivan, I’ve consulted with your head of year. We’ve agreed that it would be good for you to have a session with Mrs Risbie.’


‘But she’s the school counsellor,’ complained Ivan. ‘I don’t need to see a shrink. Everyone will make fun of me and I’ll just get cross with them.’


‘Then what would happen?’ asked Ms Turner.


‘Nothing.’ Ivan shrugged and looked to the table. ‘Not straight away,’ he added under his breath.


‘The session with Mrs Risbie would be an informal arrangement,’ Ms Turner stressed. ‘A one-off.’




Ms Turner closed the report in front of her.


‘School is an opportunity, Ivan. A chance for you to make the most of what we can offer in order to bring out the best in yourself. If you want any incentive, just look at what your sister has achieved.’


* * *


Two minutes after the lunch-break bell sounded, Sasha Savage had still to peel off from an intense and passionate kiss with her new boyfriend. Jack Greenway had a lot to offer. To celebrate passing his driving test, and the beginning of his new life as a sixth former, the young man’s father had gifted him a second-hand hybrid car. The vehicle ran on a combination of diesel and battery. Its low carbon emissions were in tune with Jack’s commitment to the environment. When parked behind the sixth form, it also proved to be the perfect place to make out with someone as fit as Sasha.


‘You’re so beautiful,’ murmured Jack, who took a breath before going in again.


‘I really should be going.’ Sasha placed two fingers on his lips. ‘It’s Chemistry next.’


She watched his mouth stretch into a lazy smile and then moved her fingers away.


This is chemistry,’ he told her, before finding her lips once more.


Nobody was surprised when Jack and Sasha started dating. If anything, it should’ve been something that happened earlier. Instead, Jack went out with a string of older girls, most of whom had now left for university, while in her year Sasha was just one of those types that tended to intimidate boys. She didn’t do so on purpose. In a way, her striking looks could work against her. Sasha was willow-tall with long, slender limbs and carried herself like a ghost in human form. You could tell she had Russian blood in her by that heart-shaped face, delicate nose and high cheek­bones. Complete with the clearest blue eyes in school, she was out of this world in every way. Not that she recognised this in herself. Sasha wasn’t shy. Just cautious. Unfortunately all those lads who gave it a shot found the power of speech failed them. That is until everyone returned for the start of the new school year and Jack looked around to see what was on offer.


Unlike Sasha, Jack knew that he had been blessed with good looks. Every girl in school placed him at the top of their list. Even from behind, his broad shoulders and tight hips told you this one was worth checking out when he turned. But it wasn’t so much Jack’s dramatically shaggy cut and easy smile that charmed as much as his manner. It was something he hoped Sasha was about to discover for herself, by climbing into her orbit with such passion that anything else of importance in her life just fell away. In such a spin, her world would surely come to revolve around him. For now, however, Sasha was officially late for lessons.


‘OK. Time out. I don’t want to get into trouble.’


‘Another minute, eh?’ Jack breathed out with a faint moan and dipped down to nuzzle her throat.


‘Oh, this isn’t fair!’ Sasha protested weakly. She half closed her eyes for a moment, only to snap them wide open on feeling his teeth find her neck. ‘Er, what are you doing?’


‘Tasting you,’ he said, before drawing her skin between his lips.


‘Jack!’ This time Sasha pulled away. She pressed a hand to her neck, looking both shocked and surprised. ‘A love bite? Really?’


‘Just a little gesture.’ Jack grinned and pushed a hand through his hair. ‘I’m happy for everyone to know you’re mine.’


‘What are you, like twelve years old? Nobody does love bites any more.’ Sasha examined her fingertips as if to check he hadn’t drawn blood. Then she glanced back at Jack, and grinned despite herself. ‘Promise me you’ll never do that again,’ she said. ‘It wouldn’t go down well at home.’


Jack stretched an arm across the back of Sasha’s seat.


‘Relax. We’ve been dating for what? Three weeks?’


‘Four,’ said Sasha, and flipped the visor down so she could check her reflection in the mirror. She lifted her head, just to be sure Jack hadn’t left a mark, and then examined her lips. As she did so, Jack leaned across to kiss her on the cheek.


‘Then we should celebrate our one-month anniversary,’ he suggested. ‘How about I cook for you on Saturday night? My parents are away. We’d have the house to ourselves and I can do you my signature dish. A pinto bean chilli with courgettes and red pepper.’


By now, Sasha was beginning to feel deeply anxious about being late. Her Chemistry tutor would only ask her where she’d been, and everyone would know before she’d even summoned an excuse.


‘Supper sounds great,’ she said, and reached for the car door handle.


‘I’ll pick you up at seven thirty.’


‘Don’t worry. I’ll walk round.’ Sasha grabbed her school bag and pushed open the door. ‘I have legs.’


‘It’s no problem,’ insisted Jack. ‘I’m beginning to think you’re ashamed of introducing me to the folks!


Standing now, Sasha hoisted her bag strap onto her shoulder. ‘Had I let you get away with that love bite,’ she warned him, smiling warmly at the same time, ‘my dad would’ve eaten you alive.’

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