A COMIC/SERIOUS IMMORALITY TALE FOR OUR TIMES (a fantasy if it’s your sort of scene)
The story starts in London just over two years ago, beginning in March 2017, when Britain was – albeit unaware of the fact – heading towards a General Election. Miss Lulu is a dominatrix with a sharp mind and sharp heels, full of intellectual curiosity and sexual know-how. She meets Rory Smith, a journalist, in a hotel bar in Soho and their relationship begins over a conversation about politics, morals and the world in general. There’s a bit of bondage and a lot of badinage, some sex-related villainy and a nascent love story. It also reflects contemporary politics – Trump, May, Brexit et al. Put another way, this is the story of a strong woman with a stable of admirers. Among these is a young woman called Summer, a person in whom Lulu can see something of her former self and with whom she strikes up an unusual friendship. Love is a Battlefield is an acerbic take on the cocktail that is modern Britain. It’s zeitgeist on the rocks.
LONDON MAY 2017
Lulu went on one of her favourite walks, beginning by taking the tube to Regent’s Park station. She crossed the Marylebone Road and went into Regent’s Park. She walked and walked, eventually leaving the park, crossing Prince Albert Road, climbing Primrose Hill and from the top taking in the splendour of the London skyline on a scintillatingly gorgeous early afternoon in late spring.
After a short while she descended and went into Primrose Hill village, admiring the gloriously coloured houses in Chalcot Square as she made her way south, arriving at the Engineer pub at the junction of Gloucester Avenue and Princess Road. She walked through the bar and out into the beer garden. Beer garden? More like a kindergarten. It was rammed with kids, most of them babies. Oh, and mothers as well. One of them was Saskia.
They hugged and chatted, mostly about kids and babies – manifestly not Lulu’s favourite subjects – but not exclusively.
“So U-Turn Theresa doesn’t look so strong and stable now, does she?” remarked Saskia. “A couple of objections about her social-care proposals and she totally changes her mind. What was it Thatcher famously said – the lady’s not for turning? It seems this one will swivel on demand.”
Lulu laughed. “I know what you mean. You have to fear that there goes our ability to play hardball with the EU over Brexit.” She paused. “Well, always assuming she’s going to win.”
“Of course she’s going to win, Cathy. Although I got a Conservative leaflet through the letter box this morning – you know, the choice is between her ‘strong and stable’ bollocks or a ‘coalition of chaos’ with Corbyn, Sturgeon and Farron. It’s infantile. She won’t lose and I have no love of Corbyn but it would serve her right if she did.”
Lulu smiled. “I mostly don’t dislike her but I hate the crap from her since that awful attack in Manchester on Monday. She’s the prime minister. She’s supposed to know what’s going on; what to do. She should be a calming influence. Instead she’s ramping everything up – raising the terrorist threat level, ordering soldiers on the streets, awarding those bastard monsters the publicity they crave, generally encouraging panic. Horribly, I’m sure she figures this will help her in the election, which is why she’s doing it.”
“Horribly, I think you’re right. Somebody wrote the other day about what Rudy Giuliani said after the 9/11 attacks, when he was mayor of New York. ‘Buy a pizza, take the kids to the park, see a show.’ That is being a statesman.”
“I agree,” said Lulu. She looked around and smiled. “Well, you and your friends have certainly done the taking the kids out bit.” She paused. “Also the pizza part, I see.”
They hugged and Saskia promised to find time for them to meet without children being around.
“That would be great,” said Lulu. “If you can get a sitter organised, let’s meet up near mine some time soon. I’ll text you…”
For the next 24 hours or so, Lulu felt uncharacteristically listless. She read a book and a few magazines and watched a couple of movies on Netflix, even though outside the weather seemed to think it was already mid-summer. She only saw one client, and she felt fine about that. She felt less fine about seeing Rory’s phone number flash up on the mobile for which he had the number but she was resolved it was for the best not to see him again; that is, for the best for him more than it was for her. She turned in early on the Friday evening, which was just as well…
At 5 o’clock on Saturday morning, one of her phones went off. Ma-fucking-rimba. Drowsily, she reached for it.
She didn’t recognise the number but then it was one which first-time punters used, so that was no surprise.
“Yes,” she said sharply, “who’s this?”
“The name’s Silva,” the voice said to her unsteadily.
“Sorry, I was sleeping,” she said, her brain kicking into gear. There might be good money in this and he sounded like he probably wouldn’t have noticed her initial brusqueness. “What do you want?”
He told her.
“And how much are you proposing to pay me for this?”
He told her that, too.
“Well in that case, yes. And where are you?”
He told her that as well.
“OK, I hope you’re being serious about this. Give me 45 minutes.”
She hung up.
She finished fixing her make-up in the minicab – God knows the company’s drivers must have seen her do this too many times before – and got to the hotel within 15 minutes. She walked up to reception and said: “Mr Silva’s expecting me. Room 425, I believe.”
The girl gave her a look of monumental disapproval. Lulu went up to the fourth floor and knocked on the door. After a few moments an overweight man of Latin appearance opened it. He was clearly pretty much off his head.
“Great,” he slurred. “You have the stuff?”
“Yes,” she replied. “First, just so you know, reception knows I’m in this room, so don’t try any funny tricks.”
“No tricks. Just give me a phial.”
She removed a package from her handbag and handed it over.
“Here you go. Now where’s the money?”
“It’s over there.”
He pointed to a sideboard on which there was a large white envelope, not sealed but brimming with notes. They were mostly 50s but also several 20s, some 10s and even a few fivers. She counted it and then turned to him quite fiercely.
“You said it would be £2,500. This is just under £1600.”
He gave her a slow drunken grin. “Sorry,” he mumbled, “in that case there must have been a misunderstanding.”
“There was no misunderstanding. We were very clear about this on the phone. Have you no more money?”
Again the slow drunken grin. “Sorry. No.”
Semi-exasperated at not making the money she’d been expecting, but happy at now having an excuse to bail after making…well, a lot of cash for doing next to nothing but count it, she turned to leave the room. She noticed an unopened mobile phone package on a table next to a near-empty bottle of whisky and a half-full glass of red wine. She walked over to it and realised it was the latest model. Hey, why not have a brief negotiation with a guy who was too pissed to argue?
“OK,” she said. “I’ll take this as well then.”
He waved at her dismissively “Fine. Whatever you want.” Pointing at her handbag he said: “Just give me the rest of those.”
She gestured at the remnants of the lines of coke on the table top.
“I hope you have a reliable dealer for this.”
He gave her a drunken leer.
“Oh yes. One of the best.”
She handed over the phials and he collapsed into a chair by the table. This time she did make it to the door, except now she saw a business card on a small table beside it. The writing was in a very distinctive capitalized font that she’d only ever seen on one person’s cards before – Raul’s. She knew him as Raul Martin, ‘Financial Consultant’. This card said Raul Carlos, ‘Emilia Entertainment’ and the phone number and email address were different from the ones she had.
She snatched the card, which aroused Silva from his torpor.
“Hey, put that down,” he slurred with vehemence. “I need to do business with that guy.”
“No, I think I do,” she said, leaving the room with the card in her hand and slamming the door behind her.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” she muttered to herself. What was it Raul had said about the specific calligraphy on his business card when she’d mentioned its unusualness to him? “I somehow feel it’s me.”
‘What are you doing, Raul?’ she thought. ‘You’ve been a naughty boy, haven’t you?’
She got a cab home, went straight to her computer and searched for Emilia Entertainment. The website looked classy alright, but she knew this territory from times past. “You bastard, Raul,” she whispered. “You’re a fucking pimp.”
She wracked her mind. What had he said on that voice-mail the night in March when he’d cancelled her at short notice? He’d broken off mid-message to speak to someone else in the room: “Something’s come up to do with Amelia.” That was it, or something like that. She’d assumed it was something to do with his wife (she’d assumed he had one), or perhaps a daughter. But it wasn’t that. It was this. He’d called off meeting her because something had unexpectedly cropped up in his disgusting business.
Suddenly urgent, she went to look at the font options on her computer. It didn’t take long to find the one she was looking for. It was called ‘Desdemona’. On a horrible hunch, she searched Othello. Emilia was Iago’s wife. She started to cry.
She didn’t know how Colin filled his days but by Tuesday afternoon she had managed to track him down in his office and first of all established that he did indeed still have contacts within the vice squad or whatever it was called these days.
“Why, Miss Cathy? What could you possibly want to know about that for?”
She told him. “Briefly, Colin, I met someone who I thought was an honest upstanding businessman. He’s not. He’s an uber-pimp and probably a drug dealer. He needs taking out, of the picture if not from this world.”
Her story did have one or two variations on the truth – Sliva was now an interior designer she’d met for lunch and the business card had slipped out of his wallet, rather than been grabbed by her, as he got out a credit card to pay for the meal. She had recognised the typeface and…well, there wasn’t too much fabrication necessary from that point on other than to gloss over why she knew comparatively so much about the sex industry and trust that Colin wouldn’t probe too deeply, which he didn’t other than to declare “I have to say, Miss Cathy, there’s more to you than meets the eye.”
She granted him an acknowledgement of that – “actually, Colin, I’m afraid there’s quite often a bit more to me than meets the eye” – and he didn’t push it any further.
“I’ll give you the contact details I have for him but I really don’t want my name involved,” she said. “The police will know what they’re looking for. I don’t want him to come looking for me.”
She had already thanked her lucky stars more times than was healthy for the fact that Raul did not know her address; their only contact had been by mobile. And the whole situation was like that scene in Casablanca. Of all the websites in all the world, Silva had visited hers. Why? How? That would have been the last direction Raul would have sent him, risking a connection between his different worlds. She would never have made such a reckless mistake herself and she wasn’t a criminal. No, he’d been done for by happenstance. And following the coincidence, she was taking enemy action.
“I understand,” Colin was saying. “Leave it with me. As you say, the police will know how to pursue this and indeed if he has done anything wrong. But you’re sure about this?” A small grin. “Don’t want to have you up for wasting police time, do we?”
“I am sure, Colin. It’s not just what’s on the internet. It’s him. Any man who rejoices in celebrating the name Desdemona either doesn’t know his Shakespeare or he knows it well enough. And he’ll know it well enough.”
She paused before deciding to carry on; she needed Colin to follow through with this. “It’s indicative of how he sees the role of a woman. As a victim. Or as a means to an end – in his case, I suspect, as a means of making a lot of money.”
She let him kiss her on both cheeks as she left, adding for good measure: “I owe you a drink at the pub – make that several – if you can help me here, Colin.”
She hoped that would do the trick.
THE FINAL PART WILL BE PUBLISHED ON JUNE 1