The next day was rough. I phoned the boys in the morning and let them know what had happened. Glen asked if I needed help looking after Laura, if I wanted him to come round, but I figured she’d rather he didn’t. Peter went very quiet, thanked me, and hung up.
We had another round of questions with the cops later on. This time, they were all the same ones from the last time with Lynne. Had Samuel been happy, how had his life been lately, had I noticed any changes in his behaviour, had he been quieter than usual. It was all bullshit. We knew what to say.
Then Laura asked if she could go into Samuel’s flat to get her things. Given they must have already searched it and not found anything, they couldn’t really stop her.
“We’re going to need a car,” she told me on the way. “We’ll phone Glen when we get there.”
Laura’s actual stuff fit in a small pack. That wasn’t what she was after, though.
There were piles of sketches, and a handful of smaller canvases. Once, he’d drawn one of her breasts over and over again, until he’d got it right. There was a beautiful nude of her, in oils, with all of Samuel’s brilliance of colour and light and natural lines, and her easy sensuality. She barely glanced at it, heading for the wardrobe. “Give me a hand, Hera.”
The canvas she pulled free from behind it was about six feet square, the figures nearly life-sized. And it was the most achingly beautiful piece of art I’d ever seen.
Unlike everything else of his, this was almost devoid of colour, a night scene, black and white. In it, Laura stood in a bedroom, wrapped loosely in a white sheet, her long black hair rumpled and loose over her shoulders. She stood with her back to the bed, staring out a full-length window. It was dark outside, flecked with glimmers of street-light, and her reflection showed clearly in the glass. That reflection stood in the same pose, but she was Isis, in her white robes and her heavy jewellery, her hair braided and beaded. The detail was exact, down to the knot on her girdle. Her face was calm, kind, stunningly beautiful and utterly remote.
On the other side of the bed, almost entirely out of frame, lay a sleeping man. Samuel, his presence defined by its insignificance. The whole thing was full of power and longing and sadness. I’d never seen such a beautifully-executed suicide note.
I looked over at Laura, and her face was expressionless. “We can hang it in the House,” she said. “Over the stairs. It’s so sad that no-one else will ever be able to see it. It’s technically exquisite. Look at the light, the translucence…” She shook her head. “He painted these for me. They’re mine. This, especially.”
She was right, of course. She had a moral right. Me, I was trying to work out how the hell we were going to get it into the car.
We managed, of course, because we had to, and Glen and I hung it in the House, over the stairs. You couldn’t see it from the front door, you had to walk inside, but everyone going down to the cellar would see it every time. Laura directed the whole process, cool and remote. I looked at Glen and he just shrugged. There wasn’t a lot we could do. And in an awful way she’d won: not even Richard would complain about the painting now.
After we were done, she asked Glen to drop her back at her flat, and she seemed to have every intention of staying there by herself. So I gave him a quick kiss and a return of his shrug, and just went with her.
Her flatties were out, so I cooked her some food and sat with her while she ate it, and tried to get her talk. That turned out to not really be the problem. She’d talk about Samuel just fine, but never about how she felt, or with any emotion. Perhaps it was too soon and I should have left her, but her calmness was making me really nervous.
About eight o’clock, she said, “You know what? Let’s go out. Let’s head down to the Carnarvon and have a couple of drinks. I’d like to get out of the house.”
That seemed sensible, and safe, so she popped off to get ready. She was gone nearly an hour.
Now, the thing about Laura was that she was effortlessly beautiful. She hardly ever bothered with make-up, and if I hadn’t loved her, her ability to look devastating in jeans and a t-shirt would have made me hate her. Part of what made her attractive was how comfortable she was in her own skin, as if she couldn’t possibly imagine needing or wanting to look any better than she just did when she tumbled out of bed in the morning.
When she came out of her bedroom, she didn’t look like herself. She was wearing a stunning green dress that clung, her hair was piled up with artful little tendrils caressing her neck, and she was heavily made-up. She looked flawless, movie-star beautiful, and utterly cold. She could have been prepared by a hugely talented mortician. “Shall we go then?”
So we went. On the bus. With her looking like that, and me in the jeans I’d been wearing all day. I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything to her.
We pushed our way into the Carnarvon and through to the bar, and nudging and muttering followed us the whole way. She didn’t go for our normal booth, but hiked herself up on a stool at the bar, got herself a drink, and sat surveying the crowd, not speaking.
After a couple of minutes, she nodded. “That one.” She slipped smoothly down off her stool and went over to a table where a guy I didn’t really know was sitting with what was obviously his girlfriend. “You,” she said to him. “Come with me.”
Puzzled, he looked at his girlfriend, shrugged, and did what he was told. She was Laura, after all. And that was when I finally saw it coming, flat-out panicked, and ran for her office.
Peter wasn’t at his flat when I phoned. I had to get him at Gillian’s. “Gillian, it’s Hera, can I speak to Peter? It’s urgent.”
“Pete? He’s just popped out for food, he should be back any minute. What’s wrong, love?”
“Can you tell him… Fuck. Can you tell him he needs to come down to the Carnarvon? I’m sorry, but it’s important. Really important. Please, gods, Gillian, something horrible is going to happen and I don’t know how to stop it. He needs to get down here and talk some sense into Laura, and I don’t think anyone else can.”
Gillian suddenly sounded all sensible and determined. “I’ll tell him. I’ll go catch him now. Don’t worry, love, Pete’ll be right on his way.”
Halfway back to the bar it struck me that perhaps Gillian might decide to come with him, which would be unbelievably awful. There wasn’t much I could do about it now, though.
Back in the bar, I saw pretty much what I’d expected. Girlfriend was sitting at her table watching, with a thunderous look on her face. Boyfriend was sitting at the bar with Laura, an odd expression on his face, like he’d been hypnotised. She was smiling and talking and stroking his arm.
I went up on her other side and put my hand on her shoulder. “Laura? Can I have a word for a minute?”
“Not now, Hera,” she said without looking at me. “I’m busy.”
“Laura, please, I really need-”
She looked at me then. “I find, darling, I don’t really give much of a fuck what you need. I… need things too.” Turning back to her prey, she smiled. “What I want right now is you,” she said, leaning into him. The green dress did fascinating things to her breasts. Or vice versa. There were breasts. They were fascinating. “And you know what? You’re going to come with me, now. We’re going to have some sex which I guarantee will be the best you’ve ever had. You may be as brutal and rough and selfish as you like.”
She stood up, and held out her hand to him. “Come on.” He put down his glass, got to his feet, and then his eyes widened and he took a step backwards.
“Laura,” Peter said, taking hold of her arm. Possibly for the only time in our lives, I hadn’t noticed him. “No. We’re going. Hera, give me a hand.”
I couldn’t think why he’d need one until he started dragging her away, and she punched him. I grabbed her free arm, started pushing, and looked back over my shoulder. We were attracting quite a bit of attention, even before Laura started yelling abuse at Peter. Boyfriend was still watching helplessly. “Get out,” I told him. “Go back to your girlfriend and just… go.”
We shoved Laura through the dance room, and she fought us the whole way, yanking on her arms and kicking and swearing. We got her into the office and I let go, throwing myself at the door and locking it before Laura could get free.
Then Peter finally let her go and she stood there, glaring hate at him. She was panting, her dress was a mess, and her hair was falling down around her face. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You don’t get to decide what I do, Peter! Not ever! I can’t believe… what the hell made you think…”
He reached out to her, and she pushed his hand away. On the return she hit him again. He grabbed her arm and slapped her hard across the face. I sat down quietly in the corner until either of them could possibly remember I was there.
“Fuck you, Laura!” he said. “Do you think I’m going to let you use this Club as a stud farm? And it won’t help! It’s not going to make you feel any better if you nick some girl’s boyfriend and fuck him for a couple of hours and then kick him out. You bet I get to say you can’t do that!”
“What the hell would you know? Have you tried? No. You have all your sex in sweet little long-term relationships with doormats. You have no idea how it feels, hours of fucking angry sex with someone whose name you are never going to remember. Don’t you fucking lecture me! I need…”
He pulled her closer. Neither of them had let go of the other’s arm. His voice was quiet now. He’d heard the burgeoning tears in her voice, just like I had. “What do you need, Laura?”
She twisted her head away, trying not to look him in the eyes. “I need… to get away. I need to not be. I can’t take this. Fuck! Why didn’t I see it? Why didn’t I fucking see it coming? I should have known!”
He hugged her, and pulled her face against his neck. I could hardly hear her crying. “I know. Gods, Laura, don’t you think I know? I never saw it. I lived with her, and she was so unhappy she wanted to die, and I never noticed. What kind of an arsehole misses something like that? I let her down so badly. I don’t know what I could have done, but if I’d known… at least I could have tried.”
He sat her down on the fold-out couch, and I strongly considered leaving. If I left them alone, now, maybe… But I’d have to get the key out and unlock the door and if I so much as moved, I’d break it, what was happening with them.
He held her, and she cried helplessly. Sometimes there were words in the sobbing, how awful she was, how self-absorbed. She told him she wasn’t going to be like that any more, and he leaned his head back on the couch so she wouldn’t see his rueful smile. What I saw then were the tears on his face and his utter belief that they couldn’t stop being who they were.
After a while she calmed down and wiped her face. She got blotchy and snotty when she cried, just like a normal person. She was a tiny fractured fragment of herself and it was painful to see. “Is it better, the way you do it? Maybe I should just… choose someone and give up. Then I can’t do any more damage.”
“Oh Laura.” He kissed her forehead, pushing back her damp hair. “You couldn’t give up if you tried, and I don’t want you to. I couldn’t bear to see you caged. You can’t…” He stopped, and took a deep, shaking breath. “You can’t take responsibility for other people’s lives. Take it from me.” He gave her a hesitant smile. “Also… Could you not do this again? With the hair, and the face? You look like a robot sent from the future to seduce all of humanity, a task you could manage without really raising a sweat.”
She laughed, a choked teary sound. “Oh darling. It’s no fun if you don’t raise a sweat.”