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Authors: Laura Elliot

Fragile Lies

BOOK: Fragile Lies
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Fragile Lies
Laura Elliot

by Bookouture - an imprint of StoryFire Ltd. 23 Sussex Road, Ickenham, UB10 8PN. United Kingdom

opyright © Laura
Elliot 2015

Fragile Lies
previously published as

Laura Elliot
has asserted her
right to be identified as the author of this work.

ll rights reserved
. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.

his book is
a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events other than those clearly in the public domain, are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-1-909490-79-6

o Sean – with love


ublin is a city with eyes
. A gossiping great-aunt who sees around corners or peers suspiciously through the walls of quiet pubs and dimly lit restaurants. For this reason he has booked overnight into their favourite hotel, a discreet, old-fashioned country house buried in the seclusion of the Wicklow hills. Over the years the Oakdale Arms has remained an oasis in their busy lives. They are familiar with the narrow corridors and thread-bare carpets, the flocked wallpaper that no longer has any discernable pattern and the grandfather clock in the lounge which, on the hour, gives forth a doleful boom, reminding them that time may only briefly be stolen. Its shabby ambience is due to neglect rather than a contrived nostalgia and, with no stylish attribute to lift it from the mundane, it remains a hidden place where none of their friends or acquaintances would dream of staying.

The bell jangles when they enter the lobby and a porter, stooped and worn as a cliché, insists on carrying their overnight bags to their room. They know him now, have laid an affectionate claim on him, as they would to a favourite pet, and have named him Igor. He exists in their minds only for the length of time they stay at the hotel and is as much a part of the furnishings as the curtains that drape with tired indifference from brass hoops or the faded paintings of fox hunts adorning the walls.

She showers and dresses for their evening meal. Satin and lace lingerie are concealed beneath a sheer silk dress of midnight-blue. She pirouettes before him, laughing in mock-protest and pointing at her watch when he tumbles her onto the bed. They tussle, not seriously – the night is only beginning and they are at an age where anticipation is more enjoyable when it smoulders across a restaurant table. His mobile phone rings as they are about to leave the room. His shoulder is hunched when he answers, his voice lowered, as if protecting her from the intrusion.

She closes the door behind her and walks towards the lift. The smell of turf smoke, pervasive and homely, reminds her that an open fire burns in the lounge. Later, after they have eaten, they will relax in the shabby chintz-covered armchairs with a glass of brandy before retiring for the night. A tour bus has arrived and the lobby is filled with big-boned American men in comfortable shoes, enquiring about the availability of ice-making machines. Their wives, an authoritative twang to their accents, busily supervise the removal of luggage to their rooms.

She has reached the restaurant when he calls her name, an apologetic sound, and catches up with her. Their waiter, deferential in black, greets them without a flicker of recognition and leads them to their favourite window seat. Weary-wise in the ways of illicit passion, and armed with a generous tip, he will forget their existence as soon as they walk from his table.

The food on offer is as unimaginative as ever, an emphasis on roast meats and over-boiled vegetables. The dessert menu reminds them of childhood treats: Banana Splits, Knickerbocker Glories, strawberry jelly and ice-cream. While they eat, their conversation skims over the names of forgotten toffee bars, sweets and biscuits. They regale each other with food horror stories, remembering their most hated meals and the tactics they used to avoid eating them. On holidays in Trabawn, she says, her uncle gathered mushrooms in the morning and fried them in butter for breakfast. Disgusting. They reminded her of slugs sliding down her throat. She makes a slight moue of disgust and traces her index finger across the rim of her wineglass. This is a trivial conversation yet preferable to long, tortuous discussions that move in a widening but nowhere circle. Surrounded by noisy tourists demanding jugs of iced water and a detailed analysis of the menu in case allergies lurk among the overcooked vegetables, they can relax and touch hands, lean over the table and stare into each other’s eyes, whisper words that promise much in the hours ahead.

Their meal is almost over when an elderly couple enter and are led to the only available table at the opposite end of the restaurant. Casually dressed in slacks and chunky sweaters, their sturdy boots well-worn and dusty, they have obviously been hill-walking. The shock of their arrival is so instantaneous that her hand freezes as she raises the wineglass to her lips. She remains in that position, her attention fixed on the couple who accept the menu and listen intently while the waiter describes a certain dish. Her companion has not yet noticed them. He continues talking until she quietly utters their names. His cutlery clatters against his plate. She winces, imagines the sound strumming across the room, can almost feel the jolt of disbelief between them and the couple should their eyes meet.

They must leave immediately. She makes the decision without hesitation. Their love is a two-edged blade where discretion and passion hone each other to a dangerous edge. This balance must be respected. She will collect their luggage from the room. He will settle their bill at Reception. He nods agreement. Observing his stricken face, she hopes he will have the necessary self-control to leave the restaurant without attracting attention.

Sheltered by sturdy American shoulders, she looks neither to right or left as she walks away. Within a few minutes she has packed their clothes and switched off the light. She avoids the old-fashioned lift and moves swiftly down the back stairs, which are steep and have a way of meandering off into culs-de-sac or laundry rooms. Eventually, she exits from the side entrance of the hotel. She recognises the hill walkers’ red Toyota, which is parked behind bushes, and hurries onwards to where he is waiting for her, already strapped into the car and with the ignition running.

“Can you believe it? Jesus Christ! Can you credit that for a fucking incredible coincidence?” He drives down the avenue and out through the high spiked gates. Trees line the road on either side, oak, beech and chestnut, leafless now that November is here.

“Did they notice you leaving?” Her pulse still races and she releases her breath in a long drawn-out sigh when he shakes his head.

“What shall we do now?” he asks. “It’s too risky to stay around here.”

“We can’t risk a hotel in Dublin,” she replies.

“What then?”

“Your house is empty.”

“I think not.” His foot presses harder on the accelerator.

“Just a thought.” She rests her head against the back of the seat then slumps, relaxing her shoulders. “We should do the sensible thing and call it a night. I’m still in shock after that experience.”

“It could be difficult explaining why you’re home tonight instead of tomorrow?”

“Not really. I’ll tell him the seminar was so well organised it wasn’t necessary to stay overnight.”

“Will he believe you?”

“Oh yes, I expect he will.”

He leaves the quiet roads and speeds along the motorway. He bypasses Bray, heads towards Blackrock, stops at the level crossing beside the Merrion Gates. A DART speeds northwards, windows flashing. Traffic is light along Strand Road. They pass the Martello Tower and the tall palm trees, the empty park benches and esplanade, the sand palely gleaming on the retreating tide. She stares across the sea towards the jetties and wharfs glittering reflectively on the waters of Dublin Bay.

“Remember the time –” She touches his wrist and he nods, instantly picking up on the memory.

“It’ll be quiet there now.” He turns right at the end of the road. His smile washes over her. “We can’t let our night be completely ruined.”

She laughs, unsure whether or not he is serious. “You’re asking me to make out in a car?”

“It’s been a while, eh?” He is relaxed now, his hand teasing its way between her knees.

“A while,” she agrees. “And it’s a daft idea.”

“But a good one. What do you say?”

She nods and thinks, this is crazy, the two of them behaving so recklessly, but there is also the long-forgotten thrill of being in the open, playing perilous deceptive games.

He drives between houses and parklands, passes a factory with jagged rooftops, follows the flow of cars heading in the direction of the East-Link. Before reaching the toll-bridge which separates the north and south of the city he turns at the South Port roundabout and drives deep into the industrial zone.

The terrain changes, becomes darker, more isolated. This is a place with few charms, filled mainly with offices, oil-storage depots and an occasional abandoned factory site. He continues towards a small car-park overlooking the bay. A number of cars are already parked, possessively claiming space in the shadows. Without a word he reverses back out onto the pitted road leading to the Great South Wall. As he brakes beside a shed with high brick walls, the headlights flare into the dark recesses of the pier.

He cups her face and bends towards her. They are impatient now but she moves slowly, teasingly. He watches the sensuous glide of her dress along her legs, the revealing glimpse of lacy stocking tops and lingerie. He sighs, moves her hands aside to draw down the first stocking, then the other. She arches against him, knowing by the urgency with which they touch each other that this will not last long. They are not teenagers, even though they feel ageless, and there is some discomfort as they awkwardly manoeuvre themselves beyond the reach of steering-wheel and gear stick.

The headlights of an approaching car swamp them. The presence of strangers feels like shivery fingers on her neck. They are safe, hidden in steamy seclusion, but even the hint of exposure brings the all-too-familiar tension to the fore. The driver brakes and turns off the lights. A door is opened. Her stomach clenches, imagining the indignity of a vice-squad intrusion but there is no rap on the window, no gruff demand for identification. A voice does call out, male and almost inaudible. It floats towards them. There is something urgent in the sound that unsettles her. The driver returns to the car and once again illuminates them before departing.

When they kiss again there is no conviction in the feel of his mouth. His aftershave, her perfume, the cigarettes they smoked, even the subtle, intimate odour of sex, which she senses rather then smells, suddenly seem oppressive, heavy. She is only now beginning to notice the faint fumes of paint which grow stronger even as she tries to ignore them.

“Why couldn’t we spend the night in your house?” she demands.

He pulls away from her, peers at her face to see if she is joking. “You can’t really be serious.”

“Try me.” She hears her voice, sharper, demanding she knows not what. They are floundering, she suspects, within this intimate sphere they have created, unable to move back but equally incapable of moving forward. They need more from this relationship – yet when she tries to imagine what this “more” entails she is unable to give it shape or substance.

“Are we going to totally destroy the night with a row?” he demands.

“It was destroyed the moment they walked into the hotel,” she retorts. Ignoring his protests, she slips on her shoes, straightens her clothes and steps outside. The night air refreshes her. For November the weather is exceptionally mild. She begins to breathe freely again. Behind her, the tall Pigeon House chimneys funnel smoke into the atmosphere. This place, with its cracks and warning notices, is hazardous, he warns, following her, trying to calm her down. She allows him to catch up with her and soon they are walking with one step. He steers her towards the shelter of the shed. They walk cautiously along the narrow path surrounding it and stop when the pier is out of sight. Only the cry of seabirds and the wash of waves on the rocks below disturb their solitude. They are impatient now. No time or space for the slow removal of clothes. He opens her coat, pulls her dress to her waist. She is ready when he enters her and their pleasure, heightened by their argument and the events of the night, is swift and intense.

When it is over he lights two cigarettes, hands one to her. Their rituals are as exact as if they have been married for many years. But the familiarity created within marriage has never touched their relationship and even this simple act of smoking, their exhaled smoke mingling unseen in the dark, is imbued with meaning. They are about to return to the car when the shriek of the alarm freezes them. The noise ceases for an instant, almost teasingly, then starts to whirr again. The reverberations press against her ears. He begins to run. She flings her cigarette towards the sea and follows him.

When he presses the off-alarm the instant silence is almost as shocking as the high-pitched clamour. The door on the driver’s side is ajar, the window broken. Loose wires hang from the dashboard and there is a gap where the stereo has been pulled loose. She hadn’t locked the boot in her haste to leave the hotel and the intruder did not have to force it open. Inside it, wooden picture frames still lie on top of each other but their briefcases are missing. She is relieved to see their overnight bags have not been touched. The pier now seems deserted yet this only increases her nervousness. She senses eyes watching them, violence waiting, preparing to strike again.

A short distance away she finds their briefcases. Documents are scattered along the pier. Some have already blown into the sea. She gathers those she can find and watches the remainder flutter eerily above the water before floating away. Back in the car she glances through the salvaged documents, sorting them into individual batches and stuffing them back into the briefcases. Glass has been scattered across the driver’s seat. He carefully picks up the pieces, cries out when a shard cuts deep into his hand. His handkerchief is quickly saturated with blood and he reaches into his briefcase, cursing with frustration as he tries to locate a packet of tissues. Silencing him, she bandages the wound, finding a clean cloth among the jumble of paint-stained rags and brushes in the glove compartment. Her movements are swift and efficient. The night has turned into a fiasco which she wants to end as soon as possible.

Ignoring his protests, she insists on driving. On the first try the engine fails to start. She gently coaxes it into life and drives carefully towards the road. In the distance a ferry looms out of the night, sailing towards the North Wall terminal. Its lights glitter on the black sea. It begins to rain. The wipers are no longer working but the rain is light, a slight drizzle gleaming on the windscreen. Across the bay the lights from the ferry terminal blur against the glass. She accelerates, passes the car-park, empty now, and wonders if any of the other cars were vandalised in the same random way. He is still clasping his hand but blood has not yet seeped through the wad of tissues.

BOOK: Fragile Lies
9.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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