Authors: Diana Hockley
The Naked Room
by Diana Hockley
Copyright © Diana Hockley 2010. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission
in writing from the publisher.
The Naked Room
ebook Published by
Diana Hockley 2010
Book layout and cover design
by Publicious Pty Ltd
Also available in paperback
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious,
any resemblance to real persons, living or dead,
or any events past or present are purely coincidental.
Copyright © Diana Hockley 2010.
For my patient husband, Andrew, who has endured hours of silent madness from me over the last three years, and for my dear friend, Pam Cairncross, who has sustained me with her support and optimism in spite of my wailing and whining. And for my sweet granddaughter, Ally, may you always be safe.
A stranger told me I am going to die tonight.
Table of contents
In The Dark
Saturday: before dawn.
My head feels like it’s crammed in a vice. I force my stiff muscles to move, my fingers to unknot, then rub my hands over my bare icy arms. My feet are numb. I stare into the blackness; there’s not a glimmer of light. Is it night?
I’m in a hammock or a sling of some sort, resting on a hard surface. I wrap my hands around the lengths of covered pipes and then slide them along. It feels like a camping stretcher. I can’t keep my eyes open
He clings to a sharp outcrop. The wind buffets him. His thin t-shirt whips up, exposes his skinny little body. A foot slips, he teeters. ‘Ally! Allyeeeeeeeee! Save me!’ He is torn away. Dressed in a tuxedo, he screams as he sails over the ocean, his bloodied right leg dangling…
The nightmare’s back. Just when I think it’s gone forever, it comes back, like a never-ending price I have to pay. I’m drenched with sweat; my heart is about to burst from my chest. Try to be calm. Slow your breathing, deep breaths. My head is pounding; my mouth is so dry, I can hear air rasping over my tongue.
It’s daylight. The room spins then slows. Slim brown female legs appear beside me. I struggle to sit up as they back away. I draw up my legs. Pain hits, my knees scream as I roll hard to the right. The stretcher tilts and drops me onto the floor; my knees slam into the floorboards. I grab the woman’s wrist, almost pull her off balance and drag myself halfway to my feet. She glares over the top of a surgical mask and jerks her hand away. The hatred in her eyes stuns me. As I open my mouth to shout at her, she turns and rushes out the door.
I scramble to my feet, but before I can take more than a couple of steps I slam into a man who grabs my upper arms. My legs collapse and I sag against his rock-hard body, my fingers scrabbling to hold onto the overalls he’s wearing. His hot breath fans my face. The brown eyes staring coldly through the holes of his green knitted balaclava show no mercy. He’s a snake primed to strike. No! His fingers dig into my flesh.
‘Let me go!’ My voice is a croak. I struggle weakly and reach for his hood. He twists aside and rams me back against the wall, so hard that the impact knocks the breath out of me. My chest heaves for whatever skerrick of air I can grasp, forcing a strangled moan from deep in my throat. Splinters prick the skin of my back through the thin material of my top; my bare feet fight for a foothold on the cold, wooden, floor.
His muscular body crushes mine and the woollen balaclava rasps my face as he forces my head back with his forehead. I close my eyes. He smells of lemons and garlic. His erection presses into the cleft of my legs.’
‘Get away from me!’
His hand moves down. Oh no, not that! Something flashes in my face, light glinting along serrated silver. My head slams back into the wall when he slaps his hand across my mouth, blocking my nostrils. The cold edge of the blade presses under my jaw.
Freeze. I suck at the air around his palm.
‘Settle down or we’ll drug you again. Behave and you’ll get something to eat. Carry on fighting, you get nothing. Do I make myself clear?’ His voice sounds as though it’s coming from the bottom of kerosene tin.
The woman returns with a small paper bag and a covered styrofoam cup, which she sets on the floor and leaves. The smell of coffee is nauseating, but I force my stomach to behave.
The man’s smile stretches the wool of his balaclava. He maintains eye contact as he backs after her and whisks out, closing the door. I lunge after them but the door slams in my face. The key turns in the lock and they’re gone. My hands are stinging and glowing red from pounding on the door. I press the hem of my skimpy glittering cammie to my face, quelling tears. The beading scrapes my mouth. An elf in my chest is pounding away at my heart with a hammer.
Don’t panic. Deep breathe. What in God’s name is happening?
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I take the lid off the cup of coffee, not stopping to savour the aroma before taking a mouthful. The warm, sweetened liquid rolls around my dry mouth, calming my mind and my stomach, relaxing my clenched muscles just a little. Is it drugged? Too late now, I’ve swallowed.
Steel security mesh covers a tinted window, the only source of light. The expanse of lawn below looks grey through the heavily-tinted pane. There’s a tiny gap of about a centimetre under the sill. I finish the coffee and stick my fingers into the gap to try to pull the window up. Of course it won’t budge. I lean back and peer through the mesh at the window frame. It’s nailed shut. I poke my fingers through the square holes in the steel, but can’t reach the glass.
Rage curls inside me. I want out!
There is a line of trees and thick bush a few hundred metres away on the other side of the paddock. This place is obviously out of town, but there is nothing to tell me where it might be.
I turn my attention to the rest of the room. The bare walls are made of rough wood. The ceiling is very high, like in a tower room or attic. I can just see the outline of a manhole into the roof, but there is no way to reach it. There are vents just below the ceiling line and a wisp of air wafts through a crack between two of the floorboards. The stretcher and a portable toilet in the corner are the only other things in the room. They have left me one toilet roll.
Crying’s not going to solve anything. Get control. Think. Who are they and why would they want to lock me up? If it’s money they’re after, a concert pianist at the beginning of her career is not a gold-mine. I’m not rich and nor is my mother. None of my friends could afford to pay a ransom, with the exception of my godmother, Georgie.
A wave of dizziness sweeps over me. I prop myself against the wall, waiting for my throbbing head to tumble off and roll around the floor. Slivers of pain shoot through my stiff muscles. I slide down to sit on the floor. Fear threatens to overwhelm me. Am I here for—are they going to rape me? Or make me a sex slave? But there’s a woman involved surely she wouldn’t allow that? Don’t be so sure…for some reason she hates me, I saw it in her eyes. I’m sure I’ve never seen her before, so why on earth does she feel that way about me? I’m not sure she’d protect me. At least I’m not tied up, but are they so confident of the man’s strength that they don’t need to?
I’ve been here all night—my God, the concert! Brie, Sir James and the orchestra management surely realise I wouldn’t miss a concert, or even a rehearsal. They must be looking for me by now. I feel I’m going to suffocate in here! Bloody hell, pull yourself together. That’s it, slowly. Breathe into the palm of your hand. ‘Get real, start acting rationally, Ally. Think. First things first…’
What time is it? My wristwatch is missing, handbag gone. Reading glasses, earrings, keys and driver’s licence. Now, they have my name. Cold prickles run up my arms. Of course they know who you are. How do you think you got here? Is this a sick joke, or some kind of Pacific Orchestra ritual to initiate guest artists? Will the door suddenly open and everyone be standing there, laughing? No, it’s too nasty.
Anger sweeps over me. No joke and definitely not my friends.
I bend down, pick up the paper bag and open it; two sandwiches, an egg and a ham. There’s a piece of paper inserted between them. I draw it out and smooth it flat on my thigh.
The printed message is perfectly clear: You can go when you’re paid for.
The Empty Piano
A spider popped out of a narrow crack in the ceiling and scuttled along his silken rope to grab a tiny entangled fly, then scooted back to its web and disappeared. A perfect analogy for my life—Ally snaring me, wrapping me up and then disappearing without a word on the night I planned to tell her I loved her.
What a miserable start to a shit of a day.
Scenes from a few hours before shunted like a power point presentation through my mind, my frantic search when she disappeared, the pain, and then the blow to the gut after I approached the doorman at the entrance to the club.
‘Have you seen a girl with long red hair? Black skirt, sparkly top and handbag. ‘I held my hand at eye-level. ‘She’s about so high.’
‘Who are you?’ he snapped, looking at me belligerently.
‘Briece Mochrie, I—’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Listen, Mr
there’s so many girls wandering in and out of here, I can’t remember squat.’ He began to turn away, and then paused. ‘As a matter of fact I do remember a redhead, with hair down to there,’ he placed his hand just above the curve of his arse, ‘and wearing a black coat. Left with a bloke about an hour ago now, wrapped around each other like two koalas. I heard him call her Ally, so if that’s your girl’s name, mate, she’s shot through. Didn’t see any more, I was busy.’ He winked. ‘Dumped ya did she? Well, it happens to the best of us.’
My imagination pounced on scenes of her lying in her lover’s embrace in some posh penthouse suite. His appearance was unimportant. The thought of their arms and legs tangled together, her smiling eyes as he bent over her naked body…shit.
She could have told me she wasn’t interested anymore. Why agree to come back here after we’d been to the club, but then go off without a word? We both knew what it was all about. How could I be so fucking gullible? I’d never have taken Ally for a cock tease. I could’ve sworn she wanted me as much I wanted her. Yeah, sure.
I couldn’t stay hiding in my bed like a wombat in its burrow. I threw off the bed covers and headed for the bathroom. My eyes stared back at me from the mirror like an animal in a pet shop. Fuck shaving. I ducked into the shower and turned on the tap. The cold water hit my chest, caused me to shudder. Rehearsal would start in a couple of hours.
My kitchen reminded me of last night’s failure. My sister’s bright table cloth, the highly polished cutlery and two wine glasses mocked me. I cleared the setting, shovelled it back into the cupboards and organised a caffeine hit. The cat bullied me until I fed her.
Then I sought refuge in my music, which normally sustains me through life’s stuff-ups. My double bass stood in its case on its rack in the third bedroom cum practice room; my cello leaned against the piano. I thumped the coffee mug onto the side table and picked up the score for Elgar’s Concerto in E Minor.
Burning rubber along the tunnel under the concert hall worked off some of my anger, but not the dread in my belly. The machine at the car park accepted my musician’s card. Once in my favourite spot at the far corner, I loaded my cello onto its trolley, pushed it to the lift and hit the button. By the time it reached the stage level, pain and embarrassment was swamped by enough rage to burn the whole fucking place down.
The depths of concert halls are the same all over the world, fuggy with conditioned air and the reek of oil-based make-up, perfume and aftershave mingled with boiled sweets. A faint clatter of dishes came from the distant canteen.
I stalked belligerently onto the stage, where eighty musicians tuned instruments, discussed yesterday’s football results and argued over the cricket scores. Some rustled newspapers. The lighting and sound technicians clunked stuff high above us, and Centre staff fussed around in the gloom of the auditorium. A glittering audience, flushed with good food, wine and anticipation, would fill every seat that night.
Pam pounced on me the moment I stepped onto the stage. ‘Ally’s not here.’
‘Not my problem. She’s probably still shagging her new boyfriend.’ I edged toward the other cellists. ‘Give it a rest, okay?’
She persisted, her voice raised. ‘No, listen to me, you Irish git, Ally would never miss a rehearsal. You know how dedicated she is. She’s not answering her mobile and I can only get the machine.’
‘Perhaps it’s out of range. Look, stop trying to defend her.’ Pam and I were going to fall out shortly.
‘Damn it, Brie, she’s a professional, the solo artist for tonight, for God’s sake! She’s never let us down and or put her career in jeopardy. You know that.’ Pam tended to scatter italics like rice at a wedding, when she was agitated.
‘Look,’ I said. ‘We all searched for her, but the doorman told me she left with another bloke.’
‘I’m not sure Ally went of her own accord. What if he was mistaken?’
‘I didn’t dream it. Perhaps her car broke down this morning and she couldn’t get a taxi.’ I was getting rattled. Somewhere deep inside me uncertainty stirred, like a carpet python waking from hibernation.
‘For God’s sake, it’s Saturday, Brie, not a work day. Taxis are easy to get. Anyway, she’d have phoned me for a lift, if she couldn’t start the car.’ Pam rolled her eyes. ‘And if she has a new boyfriend—which I don’t believe for a moment—he would have brought her in for rehearsal!’
Michael chimed in. ‘Have you spoken to her this morning?’
I whipped around. ‘For God’s sake, are you both mad? Of course, I haven’t.’ I bent down and started dragging things out of my tote bag. The tightness in my throat forced me to straighten and face them. We shared a moment of wordless dread, turned and headed for the orchestra manager, standing in the wings of the stage near the vacant piano.
Pam recounted the attempts she’d made to contact Ally. He frowned as he carefully clipped the pen into his shirt pocket. The conductor, Sir James McPherson, loomed behind us, eyebrows raised in inquiry. In a voice which sounded as though he’d eaten poison, he asked why we were at a nightclub. We described, yet again, the celebration at Traynor’s after finishing the day before’s recording session Ally disappeared. ‘I’ll go and see if I can find her,’ I offered, gritting my teeth.
McPherson intervened. ‘No, Briece, I need everybody here. Regardless of Ally’s absence, we’ve got to get on with the rehearsal. John, you go.’ Finished, he loped to the podium.
Fear and guilt vied each other for dominance. If only I’d listened to Pam and Michael when they suggested something might be wrong. Maybe the doorman misheard. Perhaps, it was Alice? Pam had defended Ally’s integrity from the start. Why hadn’t I listened, for chrissakes? I wanted to punch walls.
Sir James tapped his baton for our attention. ‘Our pianist is late, so we’ll begin with the Beethoven.’ He stared without expression at his score for a few moments as we scuffled through our music. Whispers rustled across the stage. Jessica’s laughter erupted amongst the violins. Hans, second cello seated by me, almost fell off his chair as he leaned over to whisper. ‘Bet she’s gone off with some lucky bastard!’ He hauled his chunky body upright, laughing. Damn bloody Jess and her big mouth. Something stirred in my memory and then vanished before I could grasp it. I finished tuning up, placed my cello in position and waited for Sir James to lift his baton.
Then it hit me. Pam said Ally wore a short skirt and glittery camisole top. She hadn’t mentioned the black coat the doorman described.
So, who did the coat belong to and why was it wrapped around her?