Authors: H Elliston
TICK TOCK RUN
Copyright © 2011 by H.C.Elliston
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form or by any means whatsoever without prior written permission from the author.
The moral right of H.C.Elliston to be identified as the author of this work of fiction has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual events or real persons, either living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For my parents who’ve always stood by me, my sister for being a soundboard, my fiancé for putting up with me while I wrote this, my critique buddies for their help, encouragement, and for keeping me going when I was ready to give up, and for my two fabulous dogs... I heart you!
To readers, a huge thanks for your support! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I loved writing it.
didn’t want anything to spoil Laura’s special night, which was exactly why I’d decided not to mention what had happened to me earlier today. Not yet. “She’ll go mad, Emma. You know Laura doesn’t like being the centre of attention. Cancel the stripper.”
“You worry too much.” Emma pulled a bottle of Champagne out of the ice bucket in the limousine. “Top up, anyone?”
I held my glass out. “You’d better fill Laura’s, too,” I muttered, dreading what the night had in store for her. I settled back into my seat and drank from Champagne flutes with my friends. Electric blue dots rained down on us from the mirrored ceiling. The confetti lightshow created a magical atmosphere for Laura’s hen evening. Everyone seemed so happy, chatting and singing along to Usher as we travelled. The air smelled impossibly sweet and floral.
“You think these badges’ll work?” Claire asked, pinning one on her dress.
“It’s worth a shot,” Emma replied. “I figured posing as reporters doing a piece on the local night life might win us a few free drinks. If nothing else, it’s a twist on the usual ‘L’ plates and wedding veil.”
I smiled at the bride-to-be, decided to worry about the stripper later. “That red dress looks awesome on you, Laura. You’re turning heads tonight.”
“Thanks, although it doesn’t really go with this stupid Dictaphone for a necklace. Emma gave it to me. I prefer it to having condoms stuck in my hair.”
The limousine stopped.
A blinding light flashed my way from Jayne’s long-lense reporter-style camera. “Gotcha!” she said, before the chauffeur cracked open the limousine door. “This camera works fine, Laura. You said it was broken.”
“I thought it was.”
One by one we stepped outside, and a rainbow of seven glitzy dresses lined the path. We smoothed our outfits over our hips then linked arms.
Emma led us inside the second bar of the evening. “Listen up, everyone. We’ve got one hour in here, and then pile back to the limo. This place is Laura’s choice. God knows why. It’s more my style.”
Multicoloured spotlights shone down on us in the bar. Hot air swept over my face. The place was crammed full. Forty, fifty punters, probably even more. Many of them were squashed shoulder to shoulder in a place not even double the ground floor of my small house. Countless eyes gazed at us while our heels clicked a drum-roll entry across the tiled floor.
At the far end of the room, light glinted on a chrome dance pole positioned on a stage against a black backdrop. Jayne waved at some guys in the corner to our left while we waited to be served. Emma winked, passed me two drinks, then weaved her way towards the pole followed by Claire, Megan, Jayne and Jess. Laura lingered near the bar. I stayed with her.
“Just think.” I leaned into Laura. “One week today and you’ll be married. I’m so glad you’ve got... you know... on track again.”
Laura seemed to be so much happier lately, or at least pretended to be. She gave me a playful nudge with her elbow. “It’s time you moved on, too, Chelsea. Plenty of guys to choose from in here.”
“Soon,” I muttered half-heartedly. The mere thought of anything to do with dating still sent a shiver of dread wriggling down my spine. I hoped this feeling would disappear come her wedding at the weekend. I turned my attention to our friends who were lining up for the dance pole. I didn’t dare approach the damn thing in case someone thought I too was queuing up for it. “What made you want to come
on your hen evening?” I scanned the bar, taking in its sleaziness.
“I used to know someone who liked it here.”
I faced Laura. “Who?”
She lifted her voice against the loudening music. “No one you know. I just felt the need to check the place out. But, I’m certainly not making a fool out of myself by flashing my knickers on that... pole contraption. Apparently, anyone’s allowed to have a go.”
Laughter rippled across the bar when Claire took to the dance pole. Laura giggled, and so did I. The word graceful did not spring to mind when we watched her awkwardly spinning around the pole, not unlike a baby chick attempting first flight. At least she received a few claps for her bravery.
From the left of the staged area, Jayne raised the camera above the crowd and pointed it our way. I pressed my cheek against Laura’s and smiled as it flashed. Then, Jayne waved us over to the pole. While mouthing to her, ‘not in a million,’ a tall man bashed into me, sending me tumbling onto someone behind.
“Hey! Watch what you’re doing,” I cried out. I aimed a heated stare at the tall, animated man while unknown hands pressed into my lower back and pushed me upright. Drink fizzed over the rim of my beer bottle and spilled onto my dress. “Oh, that’s just great!”
Busy wolf-whistling, the tall man in front was clearly not going to apologise for knocking me off my feet. He seemed too preoccupied ogling Emma, whose dress inched higher up her tanned thighs with every spin around the pole.
I was about to shout at him when Laura tugged me back a few steps. “Let’s keep our distance. I think he’s drunk, or on something. Please ignore him, Chelsea. I don’t want any trouble tonight.” She produced a wad of tissues from her bag. “Here. Use these. You’re soaked.”
“Soaked? I look like I’ve peed myself.” I dabbed my dress and wiped my wet thighs, then whirled around to face the guy who’d pushed me back onto my feet. He was of similar age to us, drinking with six other guys in the corner. They were the group that Jayne had waved to. They all wore dark clothes, and not one smile existed between them.
“Thanks for catching me. Sorry for banging into you.” I looked away and sipped what remained of my drink.
“Want another beer?” Laura asked. “How about a shot?”
I grinned. “Tequila slammers? Give it a few minutes. The bar’s three deep.”
Snippets of a conversation drifted across from the group of men behind me while we waited for the queue at the bar to go down. “Message... Your number’s up... tick... have you seen this?”
The words pulled at my memory.
Laura tapped my arm. “Seen something you like?”
I faced her. “What?”
“A guy. Who’s caught your eye?”
“No one. I was listening, not eyeing them up.”
“It’s not a crime to fancy someone. Which one do you like?”
“It’s not a guy, all right?”
I paused, considering keeping schtum. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but I opened a really weird email before the limousine picked me up tonight.”
A phrase from a random email struck me as an odd topic for a group of men in a bar bursting with enough scantily-clad women to fuel conversation for the whole night. Even so, I tilted my head their way to listen again.
The words ‘It sounds like they’re talking about a similar...’ were ready to come out of my mouth to Laura, when I heard the same guy say, “Yeah. Strange. So, he sent
to your mobile?”
I whispered into Laura’s ear. “False alarm. They’re talking about text messages.”
Laura tucked a tendril of glossy, black hair behind her ear. Looking disinterested, she swigged her drink and stared around the bar.
“It was kind of creepy, though.”
She met my gaze again. “What was? Listening to those guys?”
“No, silly. The email. When I opened it, the background flashed black at first, but then, a golden countdown timer appeared on the screen.”
Laura arched an eyebrow. “A timer?”
I nodded. “It started ticking through the speakers, and the words beneath it were, ‘Tick, tock, your number’s up, people have to pay for what they’ve—’”
Laura flinched, banging the spout of her bottle on her teeth. “Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“I didn’t want to worry you.”
“I told you last week
to open your junk mail. They might contain viruses, and I know you don’t back up your computer files. I’m only thinking of you.”
I picked at the label on my bottle. “I clicked on it by accident. Anyway, this was quite abusive, personal even. It contained my full name and even called me a slag.”
“Slag! You’re kidding me?”
I shook my head.
“It’ll be a virus, Chelsea. Make sure you delete it straight away.”
I nodded. “I’m sure you’re right. I guess it’s on my mind because my car’s been keyed. There’s a long scratch on the passenger side.”
“Really? When did this happen?”
“Don’t worry, I know someone who can fix it, cheap.” Laura glanced over my shoulder at the group of men. Something flashed in her eyes which I couldn’t place. “It’s noisy in here. You misheard. They won’t be talking about the same thing. Follow me. Let’s get those shots and try these reporter badges out for size.”
I scanned the serving area. The queue had thinned, so we headed over. “Two bottles of beer and two tequila slammers, please,” I shouted, pouting and nudging my way to the front, ensuring my badge clipped above my left breast was in full view. The barman winked at me, then lined up our drinks. I paid him, poured a sprinkling of salt onto the back of Laura’s hand, and did the same on mine as the guy next to me complained that he’d been queuing longer than I had.