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Claverdale Road was quiet as Giles pulled up into a spare space along the pavement. There wasn’t anyone around, and yet the whole street was packed with cars. Giles drove the entire length of the road before doubling back for another pass before she finally spotted a space large enough to squeeze the tiny Micra into. She clambered out on to the pavement and shot a glance up and down the road before striding off along the row of terraced houses.
The house she was looking for was about a hundred metres up the street. It was a similar size to those that were squashed up on either side of it, but the presence of a small magnolia tree in the tiny front garden made the whole house appear even smaller than its counterparts. As she moved up the long street, Giles felt Barker sidle into place behind her. Through the reflections of the car windows, she watched him peering up and down the street, scrutinising every high window as they made the long walk up to their ultimate destination.
She chuckled to herself in satisfaction and ducked under the branches of the magnolia as she strolled up the garden path. She stopped beside an old metal dustbin and, without pausing for thought, bent down and lifted the whole mass up. She reached under the metallic mass, her fingers pawing at the concrete slabs beneath, until her fingers closed around a small, door key, which she quickly retrieved and shoved into the lock. The lock clicked and the door swung open, blasting the two visitors with a rush of warm air and the faint scent of lavender that came from a dispenser sat on a small table nearby.
Barker stepped in behind her and quickly closed the door. He breathed a heavy sigh before turning his attention to the key in Giles’ hand. With a little nod, he muttered:
‘You lot still do that? How trusting…’
Giles slid the key into her pocket and tapped it confidently.
‘People round here keep a close eye on everyone else,’ she explained, stepping further into the entrance hall. ‘Trust me, you’re in the safest place in London right now.’
She disappeared down the hall, heading for a doorway at the far end, which opened up into a kitchen. Barker peered after her before tentatively stepping further into the house, staring up at a variety of photographs that were hung on the wall leading up to the top floor.
It was rather homely – for a safe house. The photographs seemed to show the same couple: a blonde woman in her late twenties and a slightly older man with darker hair. The man was good looking, despite the horn-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose. The house was clean and tidy, and the front room was warm and inviting. By the time Giles returned to it, Barker had settled himself down on the large, white sofa that dominated the room, and was busy staring past the large, flat-screened television and out of the window to the road outside.
‘Make yourself at home,’ Giles said, gesturing to the lace curtains that obscured them from the outside world. ‘You’re perfectly safe. Would you like a tea or anything?’
‘What is this place?’
‘Like I said, you’ll be safe here.’
With an encouraging smile, Giles disappeared back out of the front room, only to return a few moments later carrying a wooden chair that she set down to one side of the room.
Barker peered up at, a look of suspicion flashing across his face.
‘What’s that for?’
‘You’ll find out,’ Giles replied sternly, before retreating back into the kitchen.
This place was really unlike any safe house Barker had any seen before. Well, in point of fact, he hadn’t seen any in real life, but he’d seen plenty on television and not a single one looked as detailed as this.
Left to his own devices, he moved across the room to the mantelpiece where a series of photographs sat in immaculately shiny photo frames were perched along the clean surface.
Barker stared at these for a long time.
The family that stared back were the same from the pictures running up the staircase. A good, traditional, white family by the look of them. The blonde woman held a young, giggling girl high above her head whilst her husband cuddled her from behind.
They laughed. They smiled. They were happy.
There were wedding photographs too. And pictures of a young baby – presumably the girl. A whole life was played out on that mantelpiece. The lives of good British people with good British values.
They were so happy…
Giles returned with a cup of tea. She held it out to Barker, who accepted it without hesitation. He hadn’t drunk anything since the morning and any drink – even a poorly made excuse of a cup of tea – was welcome. As he took a sip and nodded towards the pictures.
‘Who lives here then?’ he asked. ‘This place obviously isn’t a safe house.’
‘My sister and her family,’ she replied. ‘They’re away at the moment so we won’t be disturbed…’
‘Your sister?’ Barker repeated, raising his eyebrow as he peered back at the photograph. ‘Well, well. Daddy finally got himself a real daughter…’
Giles’ lip curled in anger.
‘She adopted too,’ she replied, reaching forward and grabbing hold of the photographs.
She squirreled them out of the room, leaving Barker to drink his tea in the relaxed silence of this friendly house. After circling the room several times, he returned back to his seat on the sofa and continued to sip his tea. Having disposed of the photographs, Giles strolled back into the room, moved straight across to the window and peered out through the lace curtains. Barker watched her intently, his eyes snaking their way down her back until they settled on her firm, shapely buttocks.
Such a shame, he thought.
She wasn’t really that bad looking. If she’d been British, he might have tried it on with her. His wife wouldn’t have approved but, then again, when did she ever approve of his extra curricular relationships. He smacked his lips and took a last gulp of tea before setting the cup down on the floor.
‘So,’ he said. ‘What’s your sister’s name?’
‘We’re not talking about it.’
Barker chuckled. ‘Well, it seems we have some time on our hands so we may as well do something. What does she do?’
Giles glanced back at him.
‘She’s a doctor,’ she replied. ‘A paediatrician.’
‘A paediatrician.’ Barker smiled. ‘I bet Daddy was proud.’
‘He’s proud of both of us…’
‘Of course he is. But I bet she has more brownie points, right?’
‘We’re not having this discussion…’
‘Loving husband, a great looking kid. She ticks all the boxes…’
Giles span around, her eyes sparking with bitterness. She took two steps towards Barker, clenching her hands and tensing her arms as though sprawling for a fight.
‘What’s you point?’ she barked.
Barker looked her up and down once more. She really was quite attractive – for a chink…
‘What are we doing here, Giles?’ he asked slyly. ‘What are you trying to prove? You’ve got a good British family so that makes you just as good as the rest of us?’
Giles didn’t answer at first. She didn’t even look angry anymore. In fact, if Barker had to guess, she almost looked triumphant.
She turned back towards the lace curtain and peered outside once more. The next time she moved it was to make her way out of the room and to the front door. It came with no narration and no explanation. The anxiety that took hold of Barker was strong and instantaneous:
‘What are you doing?’ he asked, jumping to his feet.
‘Relax,’ Giles replied, letting loose a small smile. ‘I’ll be back in a moment. You’ll be safe here.’
‘Safe? Why? Where are you going?’
Giles reached the front door. ‘I’ll be back soon. Just watch the television or something…’
She was out the door before Barker had a chance to say any more. As he watched the door slam shut, he was tempted to bolt outside after her. But, as he reached for the door handle, a fear gripped hold of him like metal in a vice. He retreated back away from the door and back into the front room where he stood, frightened and apprehensive, staring through the lace curtains at the world outside.
It took Alison several attempts to find a space to pull in. Parallel parking was never her strong point and she didn’t want to draw too much attention to herself by having to make several botched attempts at it. On the third time down the street, she found a space that was far enough from the house that she didn’t mind spending a good few minutes making sure she was parked safely.
With her car safely nestled in amongst the others, she switched off the engine and clambered out. She wasn’t sure which house it was but a quick look at the house numbers gave her clue. She crossed over to the other side of the road and trooped smartly along the street, her eyes searching for the house number.
After a minute or two, she found the right house and, with her best attempt at subtlety, she slowed her pace and walked straight on by, peering at the lace curtains from the corner of her eye.
Something moved behind them, she was sure of it. As she ducked under the magnolia tree, the curtains had flickered slightly revealing a glimpse of a suited man peering back out at her.
She’d recognised him instantly. She had seen him enough times, although she doubted he would ever recognise her. He was one of those smarmy men who always looked past you if you were a woman – unless, of course, you were dressed in a skimpy dress and had the figure of a super model.
She continued on, trying to remain calm although her heart pounded relentlessly in her chest.
She’d been right. Giles hadn’t suspected a thing.
She came to a stop just a little way past the car and reached into her pocket. She pulled out her phone and quickly started to compose a text.
This means promotion for sure, she thought as she frantically typed the message. Finally people will start to take me seriously.
Alison didn’t even notice the footsteps of the person marching up behind her – she was too engrossed in her own excitement. Had she been a little bit quicker, she might have finished the message before she felt the gun barrel pressed into the small of her back.
In her panic, she let go of the phone and it crashed to the floor. It smashed into several pieces as it pummelled against the concrete pavement, but Alison wasn’t concerned. All she could think about was the person with their finger around the trigger – the person who was going to kill her…
‘Hello, Alison,’ Giles whispered, pushing the gun tighter against her friend’s back. ‘I think we need to have a little talk, don’t you?’
Nick R B Tingley is a crime writer from the UK. After several years working as a ghostwriter, Nick released his debut novel The Bluebell Informant– the first in his DS Evelyn Giles series. He is currently working on the second in the series – The Court of Obsessions – as well as a Victorian-era mystery novella called The Butcher of Barclay’s Hollow.
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