Given the choice, which would you prefer: that the person you love is making love to you and thinking about someone else, or that he, or she, is making love to someone else and thinking about you?
Amy considered the words on her screen. Was that an original thought or had she overheard it somewhere? She couldn’t be sure. She hesitated for a moment, weighing up the risks of unintended plagiarism, and then continued anyway.
Why can’t he, or she, be thinking about me as well as making love to me? you might ask
But you never do.
She frowned now, then finally added:
You don’t dare.
She stopped writing. Was this getting personal? Her finger dawdled on the delete button. Of course it was personal. Whatever else love was, a bunch of red roses, a metaphysical excuse for sex, a passing moment in human evolution, a confidence trick designed by nature, an accident, a song, a game, a poem or a pain, it was always personal. The telephone broke into her musings: a welcome distraction. “Amy!”
Her frown dissolved at the voice. “Oh, hello! Nice surprise. I was just thinking about you! You were very good this morning with that…” she searched for the right words, “that pre-Raphaelite loony. What are you doing? Can you get away, come over…?” As she’d been talking she’d been taking off her reading glasses.
“Amy, they’re on to us.” The famously mellifluent tones interrupted her.
“What? This is a joke! Right?”
“They may already be watching.”
She wanted to laugh. That morning on television he’d been the epitome of the urbane, metropolitan man gently ribbing an over-dramatic, tumbling haired actress whose view of the world ended at her mirror. Now his voice was as hushed as a conspirator. “Oh, come on! That’s just paranoia,” she scolded. “No-one’s watching us. I’d have noticed.” And swiveling around on her typing chair she rolled on casters across the polished wooden floor to her study window and looked down through the black winter trees which lined the drive below. “There you are, noth…” She began, then stopped and stood up to get a better view.
“Oh, my God!”
Two figures had emerged from the shadows of the bushes and were standing on the pavement, gazing up at her window. Seeing her, one of them appeared to say something to the other, then indicated her. Immediately a camera bearing a very large and long lens was pointed upwards.
She didn’t need to hear the automatic shutter. As she dropped to the carpet she knew what the pictures would show—a fair, pretty-ish woman in her early thirties in a pale blue working shirt and jeans, staring in dismay as the most exciting part of her life came to an abrupt end.
She was on the floor, dragging the curtains across the window. “How did they find out? How did they know?” she gabbled into the phone. “We’ve been so careful.”
“God knows! But don’t worry. We’ll sort it out.”
“‘Don’t worry!’ They’ll roast us. You’ll be skewered.”
“Not if we do the right thing.”
“But we’ve been doing the wrong thing!” She regretted saying that instantly. It wasn’t supposed to sound like a wail, either. She didn’t wail. She wasn’t the type. But she knew that in that moment her life had changed. What she’d most dreaded, yet always half expected, had happened. “It’s my fault,” she said, lifting the hem of the curtains and trying to peep outside. But, as the camera was raised again, she pulled back. “We’re being punished.”
In truth she wasn’t sure she meant that either. In fact she probably didn’t, not being at all certain that she believed in a God who dealt so arbitrarily in rewards and punishments. But this wasn’t the moment for reflections on the nature of divinity.
“Don’t be silly. We’ve done nothing to be punished for. Don’t panic,” he calmed.
“I’m not panicking,” she lied.
At the other end of the phone there was now a silence.
“Teddy?” she inquired at last. She recognised the sudden quiet. It worried her. He used it very effectively as a technique in his television interviews before asking outrageous questions.
“I was thinking…” he began. “Perhaps if you were to, you know, disappear …?” It came as a vague suggestion and question combined, but there was a emollient persuasion to the tone.
She was surprised. “You want me to go away?”
“Just for a few days. A holiday. You know, lie low. Go to ground, that sort of thing.”
“You mean, go into hiding?”
“Like a criminal? On the run?”
“But I’m working…”
“You can work anywhere.”
This irritated. It wasn’t true, but he wouldn’t understand. He never did, and she’d given up trying to explain to him that writers work best at the same desk in the same room day after day. She’d been pathetic about that. Now she was giving in again. “Where would I go?” she heard herself ask, and realized she’d already agreed.
“Anywhere.” He was coaxing now, cooing almost. “Somewhere anonymous and quiet until I can…” He stopped and corrected himself. “Until we can, you know, sort things out.”
He’s getting rid of me, she thought. I’m in the way. And, still on the floor, she gazed around her study walls at the silver framed posters of the novels she’d written, the trophies which charted the somehow largely vicarious life she’d been living until she met him. Finally her eyes came to rest on the blinking cursor of her computer, still waiting for her to finish her paragraph. She wouldn’t be doing that tonight. Would she ever finish it? When it comes down to it, she thought, he’s just a married man, a very famously, happily married man. And for a single woman, particularly one with a well known name, to be in love with such a man had suddenly become an inconvenience he could do without.
Will Abbott contemplated the top floor window of the apartment block. It would be an expensive place to own in such a fashionable area. But then she was a successful girl. Pity she’d spotted them so soon.
At his side the photographer, cocooned in wet-weather gear, sniffed. He’d be complaining soon. Photographers always complained. But stake-outs weren’t fun for anyone on a cold and wet February evening. Famous adulterers would be doing everybody a favour if they only let themselves be outed in the summer. Their pictures would come out better then, too.
Rubber brakes squeaked quietly behind them as a bicycle bumped on to the kerb and came to rest. A gawky girl in a school raincoat, a brace on her teeth and a South Park transfer on her helmet stood astride the pedals, watching them. “Her name’s Amy Miller,” the girl volunteered at last. “She writes romantic fiction.”
We’re so obvious, thought Abbott, the policemen of celebrity morals. The photographer wiped his lens, amused.
The girl indicated Amy’s window. “I read one once. It wasn’t bad. But the sex was a bit on the tepid side.”
Abbott chose to ignore that observation. She was all of thirteen. “Have you…er… have you ever seen anyone visit her?” he asked. “Anyone famous, I mean.”
The girl considered him without expression.
Reaching inside his overcoat for his wallet he withdrew a ten pound note.
“More famous than that,” she said scornfully. But now she smiled.
They settled at twenty, which he could later inflate to forty for his expenses. The girl’s name was Polly.
“Yes, I’ve seen someone,” she confided with quiet glee. “Teddy Farrow from TheTeddy Farrow Show. He usually comes at night when I’m finishing my homework. He parks his car around the corner. It’s a black BMW. Then he sneaks in…and…sneaks out again…much later!!” She smirked knowingly when she said “much later”, as though she had some personal experience of what occurred when Teddy Farrow came to call.
Abbott looked again at the sixth floor window. There was now no sign of activity behind the drawn curtains, no shadows. “Do you live here?” he asked.
“And you know Amy Miller?”
“I’ve seen her. That’s all.”
He was pleased about that. It meant no loyalties would be compromised. He smiled at the girl, as though taking her into his confidence, flirting really, if one could flirt with a child. “You know, Polly, this may be really important. I don’t know. But it might help if you could invite us into the building so that we could talk to the lady,” he said.
Legally it would, he knew, still count as trespass, but as Amy Miller was now aware that they were there she could stay inside for days, and Teddy Farrow certainly wouldn’t be coming around for a while. The old rules of reporting always applied. It was no use standing in the porch speaking into an intercom that could be slammed down at any moment. Until you actually knocked on the door and confronted your quarry eye to eye you never knew what reaction you might get.
She was racing. Dashing from bathroom to bedroom, she was quickly filling a large canvas bag with jeans, shirts, underclothes, shoes and sweaters. In her study she copied her work on to a disc and slid it into her laptop case. Then, turning off all the lights, she grabbed her coat and car keys, and, opening her front door, stepped out on to the landing.
Even before she’d finished locking the door she realised that the chase had entered the building. She could hear the hunters murmuring to each other about the swankiness of the place as they came up the stairs. Tip-toeing along the landing she reached the lift. A red-light read “Occupied”. She winced. Her plan had been to take the lift down to the garage, and then drive out at speed, taking her tormentors by surprise. That was no longer an option.
“Next floor,” she heard a man’s echo in the stairwell.
Had her top floor neighbour been at home she might have sought sanctuary in his flat. But this was professional London. Nobody was ever around when you needed them.
She glanced at her door. It was too late. She would be spotted now if she tried to get back.
Taking off her shoes she shoved them into her coat pockets and crept silently further up the stairs to the top landing. There was only one door. Pushing down the bar of the fire lock, she opened it, she stepped out on to the flat roof of the apartment block.
He knew she hadn’t gone down because Polly, the neighbourhood snitch, was earning an extra fiver in the lobby blocking the lift door with her bike. But she wasn’t answering her door either. He rang the bell one more time. Nothing.
Kneeling down the photographer tried to see through the letter box, then shook his head.
She could, of course, have been sitting inside the flat with the lights turned off, waiting for them to give up and leave. On the other hand: Abbott looked up the stairs to the top floor.
Holding on to the handrail, the other hand gripping her bag and laptop, she carefully felt her way down the iron steps of the fire escape. Soon she was passing the lighted, deckchair curtained windows of flats lower down the block. Snatches of dialogue from The Simpsons and then BBC News 24 followed her, voices welding together so that it sounded as though Homer was running the war on terror. She was already regretting her decision to leave, wondering what on earth she was doing, hating herself for being so easily persuaded. But to turn around now and face her pursuers was out of the question. People with nothing to hide didn’t run, they’d say, and they’d be right. All the same this was the most out of character thing she’d ever done. Teddy’s anxieties had infected her.
From above she could hear footsteps and voices on the roof and instinctively she tried to make herself smaller. Pressing close against the wall, she realised she was peering into a sitting room. A couple of fifteen year olds were sitting on an island of large purple and yellow cushions, the girl watching a rock video on television around the side of the boy’s hooded head while he snogged her, one hand up the back of her sweater trying to unfasten her bra.
Amy looked quickly away. This would be all she needed: a conviction as a Peeping Tom. She half turned to continue down the steps, but further mutterings from above stopped her. She waited, and inevitably, almost magnetically, found herself looking back into the room.
With her eyes still on the television, the boy’s mouth still stuck to hers, the girl now had both hands behind her back and was helpfully unfastening the clip of her bra.
Amy closed her eyes and waited for deliverance of some kind. There was none. When she opened them again it was worse. The boy was now putting an exploratory hand up the girl’s cherry red skirt.
Just then, perhaps disturbed by the boy’s new approach, or just bored with the record playing, the girl peeled away from the television. Her eyes met Amy’s gaze.
For a moment Amy just stared back, rooted with embarrassment. Dear God, they’ll think I’ve gone mad, she thought. Perhaps I have. So be it. “Hello!” she mouthed with a wave and a smile, as though she always left the building by the fire escape. Then disregarding the hounds above, she hurried on down the iron staircase.
The girl on the sofa didn’t move. The boy, more interestingly occupied, didn’t notice.
Amy didn’t even think about going back for her car. As her feet hit the garden she was already running through the rhododendrons towards the drive, the road and the yellow, for-hire light of an approaching taxi. She just had to get away before this night got any worse.
Abbott watched her go from the roof. When he’d received the tip from the television researcher about Amy Miller and Teddy Farrow he’d been disinclined to believe it. Farrow had built his daytime-TV image on an unblemished image as a family man, now with sensible, grown-up children and a clever, attractive wife. Amy Miller was the pretty bookworm who led a quiet, unreported life, didn’t give interviews and sold, it was said, mountain ranges of books—girls’ books.
But now Abbott had no doubts. As the photographer cursed his luck at missing her getaway, and made his way back to the fire door, Abbott smiled to himself. The cute runaway author and the goody-goody TV star making the beast with two backs. It was going to be an interesting chase.