Chapter 1 – Amy Louise Peters
Amy found herself following an aroma and walking towards the small alcove of the newly refurbished offices without having the memory of getting up from her desk or getting to the place she’d reached that was near the Italian and Greek insurance desks. Her mind was elsewhere. She was following the unfathomable smell that only vending machines that variously dispense tea, coffee and hot chocolate can produce and for once she was not inwardly snarling at what she deemed to be the horrible, silk, artificial pot plants with dusty leaves, today she didn’t even know they were there. She hadn’t walked towards coffee through a thirst or need of a stimulant but from the boredom of her admin job that she found she couldn’t concentrate on. When she was feeling alive and grounded and confident she could hold the job she was working on in her memory to ensure that she didn’t need a fresh start on returning to her desk but not today, not for the last week, not since the last time she felt alive. I wonder if other people saw the end coming but didn’t tell me? Maybe it was talked about and they wondered why I was so blind, it usually happens that way. It had to be my fault that it failed but I don’t know what I did wrong, how long had he been seeing her? Was he sleeping with her then coming home and sleeping with me? Do I need to be tested with the insurance implications that raises? It’s not as if we drifted apart slowly, at least I didn’t think that way. One minute we were fine and the next…. Her thoughts were rudely interrupted.
“Amy, I was hoping to bump into you, have you got five minutes? Can you pop to my office when you’re ready?” The voice was loud, efficient, monotone and without feeling for Amy’s situation or feelings. It was Nicole, who used to sit opposite Amy on the French and Spanish insurance desk, both of them being fluent in both those languages and they used to have a laugh with each other in a colleague sort of way. A giggle that was in French or Spanish if the laugh was at someone else’s expense. A laugh that she couldn’t yet have with the new girl who was serious and out to impress. Amy and Nicole had been equals, boosted each other, helped each other but now one of them had risen, the other sunk. Nicole’s attitude had changed when she was made section head. Mostly for her own affirmation than that of others, Nicole constantly let everyone know that she was the boss by talking the way she did. There was, it was generally agreed, a huge chip on her shoulder because she was fully aware that everyone in the building, not just her section, the whole building, knew that she didn’t deserve her position and just happened to be screwing the guy doing the interviews, coincidentally just at the right time as the section head’s position needed filling. It wasn’t something that Nicole could talk about, admit or acknowledge that everyone around her knew but it was talked about quite often and was fodder for more than a few jokes in various languages “What is her position exactly?” “I think she’s under that bloke in personnel.” That sort of thing, childish but barbed. Everyone assumed that Nicole was aware of this. Nicole hoped, each day, that her style of management, basically the manner in which she spoke, was enough to allow her to be seen as deserving of her position.
Nicole had never been openly jealous of Amy’s slim height and thin legs nor, in particular her long blond hair but she was extremely jealous of her overall looks and perceived ‘pulling power’ making her ‘most desirable in the office’ among the male colleagues and which meant that Nicole felt that she had to try that little bit harder to stand out. She knew that being jealous of Amy’s looks while she was married was pointless but now that they were both single she would have to try even harder. Nicole achieved her looks, or so Amy believed, with expensive clothes and shoes and expensive weekly visits to the hairdressers and beauty parlour and Amy knew that these were clothes that were out of her own price range for an evening out, never mind for work clothes and anyway, what was wrong with doing your own nails. “Pop in when you’re ready will you, I’ll leave the door open.”
“Yes, I’ll pop in when I get my coffee if it’s okay to bring my coffee in.” Amy was not in the mood for listening to what she deemed to be ‘the other woman’ in an affair but had to act nicely, now needing her wages even more than ever. The heat passing from the coffee, through the plastic cup, into her fingers snapped her mind back into her body as she wondered how many more coffees she could buy before she would run out of change and have to break into yet another note.
Nicole sat and waited, making sure her desk looked clean and tidy and therefore efficient by lining up her stapler, hole-punch and rule. She sat with her lower arms on the large free area of her desk and practiced her concerned look for when Amy arrived. Every woman, she knew as a fact, had at sometime in their life, made a list, be it in their head or on paper. I wish my (inset body part here) was smaller, bigger, taller, shorter, longer, firmer, higher, curvier, straighter. If you knew Amy you could finish each combination of sentences with the words “like Amy’s.” She had it all and seemed to defy nature. Nicole had often wondered how it could be possible to be tall and thin and yet be so curvy at the same time. It didn’t seem fair. All women that she knew said that if they as much as looked at a cake the weight went straight to whichever body part. Where did it go on Amy? Seemingly nowhere unless it was stored in her boobs, leaving her waist, hips and bum as they had always looked.
Amy entered the little corner office and closed the door behind her knowing that the conversation would be private. She tried to concentrate, sat at the immaculately tidy desk that looked as though no work had been done on it for weeks, and gave Nicole a smile of resignation with her lips pressed tightly together. It was a smile that was obviously false and forced and didn’t reach her dead eyes as she placed her coffee on the coaster that Nicole had hurriedly produced to save her desk. I’m known for my confidence, famous for it. Temporary setback. Act confident as if I’m handling things. Her stomach was telling her otherwise.
“As you know Amy we’re all about numbers here, claims processed, claims rejected, that sort of thing. Noticed your numbers are down lately but haven’t said anything, knowing your…um…circumstances.”
I think you’ll find you’re saying something about it now while using the words ‘haven’t said anything.’
Nicole was not the type you would want to confide in normally, not even when they had been equals on the same desk, but there was nobody else. Amy and Christopher had isolated themselves from society, only needing each other or so he had said and she’d believed him although she’d begun to wonder lately whether it had all been pre-planned, whether Christopher had deliberately kept her away from other couples and away from other husbands.
“My circumstances Nicole are bloody awful at this moment in time. Since Christopher moved in with that young trollop, left me with no money but generously leaving me the flat that I can’t afford to pay the rent on. I eat very little and as cheaply as I can and catch the bus to work with an untaxed car in my off road parking area. I didn’t think things could get much worse when up pops my greasy, slime-ball of a landlord to tell me how much back-rent I owe and suggesting, with a leering smile, that there are ‘other ways’ of paying if I would like to think about it. Yes my numbers are down…temporarily I promise.”
A drop from a great height was the phrase going through Nicole’s mind. Amy had seemed to have had everything that she’d wanted and even had the ultimate accessory of a muscular, as tall as her, husband with ebony skin that showed off his white teeth and the heavy gold that he wore. Either the heavy gold or the body had seen him trap easily the girl that Nicole had seen him with at a club, weeks before the split up was announced. She was short, demure, looking vulnerable and, most importantly, looking very, very young. Just about the complete opposite of Amy.
“Have you changed your status on social media?” Nicole said it as if it was an important act and might help her concentrate on her work more. Amy stared back at her for slightly too long before answering.
“No. Should I be telling the world that he walked out? It’s not something I’m boasting about at the moment and I’m not desperate to face another male thank you very much, before you suggest it. I’ve decided to have at least a year man-free. Besides, we’re not divorced and I haven’t even seen a solicitor, so if he wants to marry the young trollop than he will have to work at it. I remain Status: Married.”
Nicole excused the bitterness and straight talking and attempted to imagine what Amy was going through but it was difficult, not having ever been married and all her long term relationships having been ended by her when she wanted them to end so that she’d never really ever experienced being dumped.
“Anyone to help you? Financially I mean, family, close friends perhaps?”
Amy sucked air in, looked upward at the new ceiling tiles and pretended to think for the first time whether there was anyone to help her. Gosh, Nicole, well done, I’d not thought of that.
“Nope. Parents disowned me when I married Christopher. Apparently his skin wasn’t the colour that they preferred, a black protestant not being ‘in’ that year amongst their snobby friends. Wrote me out of their will in favour of their money going to the church and my dear, loving mother tried to soften the blow by telling me that I’d go to hell for not marrying in the Catholic Church, or was it purgatory? Still, no matter. Of course, they’d be thrilled that he’s walked out now but I’m not going back, cap in hand, just for them to tell me they told me so, even if I knew where they lived now. Nicole I’ll be straight with you, if I lose this job because my numbers are down then I’m on the streets. Literally on the streets, I’m talking shop doorway, sleeping bag and begging bowl or is it plastic coffee cup these days. If it’s that or sleeping with a slime-ball landlord it will be the shop doorway” She looked at her coffee cup on the desk and wondered briefly if she should keep it safe somewhere.
“I can’t see that happening Amy.” Nicole was smiling and desperate to lighten the mood.
“Ah, I don’t think you knew Pauline’s secret. Pauline who left about a year ago? I found out by accident that the reason she disappeared from the office once a week, with permission, was that she worked for The Samaritans on the end of a phone. Had official time off to do it. She told me something I’ll never forget. She told me that she listened to lots of people who thought they’d been happy and in total control of their lives and were shocked at how everything could go pear shaped in a matter of weeks, yes weeks, and they could end up on the streets. Very often did end up on the streets. She mentioned the domino effect of bits of your life falling over and the rest crashing.”
Nicole wasn’t sure how to handle the rest of the conversation and tried to steer it back towards work. “Well, listen, if there’s anything that we can do to help, to…”
Carry on droning on Nicole with your next stupid question, we both know this is not about my numbers and is just about you proving to yourself that you’re the boss. I can be deep in thought and listen to you at the same time, you’re so shallow. It’s jogged my mind on my parents though. I’m still trying to remember me having a hug, after seeing that mother and teenage daughter hugging in the mall the other day. I’m sure I must have had a hug from one of them over all the years I lived at home. I’m just struggling to remember one single occasion. Every parent hugs their child, surely. They were affluent so people said I had everything I could wish for. It wasn’t true. What was that last question?
“Yes Nicole, I think French numbers are okay and I’m behind with the Spanish pile.”
Maybe I hated them. My parents. I loved Christopher, loved him dearly but I wonder if there was an element of having a go at them knowing how much he didn’t fit in with their wishes for me. Perhaps I took this job instead of a big international job to get at them as well because they wanted me to take my languages to Strasbourg. Or perhaps I took this job because Christopher didn’t want me out of the country for long periods. Perhaps I’ve structured my life around other people and it’s time to structure it around me.
I’ve often wondered if they’re at the same address or whether they moved at some time, without letting me know. But then again, how would they know where I was to be able to let me know where they were?
While Amy was day dreaming Nicole eventually said something constructive and announced that she had a solution but couldn’t think of a way to build up to it so had to jump in feet first. “Amy have you ever thought about bored but rich businessmen taking you out on a date and you being paid to go? Escort work I mean. Bloody good money for enjoying yourself and, I know what you’re thinking, a posh name for prostitution but you’re wrong. You can set your own standards and let the agency know in advance what your limits are. They pass that on to the clients. I’ve done it off and on for about two years, but would appreciate you keeping that to yourself, and I’ve only slept with one of them, the third time we met and I thought, well hoped really, that the relationship was going somewhere. I’ve been single for too long now.”
“And did it? Go anywhere I mean.” My God you’re telling me about that guy from personnel! Too much detail and I just asked for more!
“Yes, it went straight back to his wife. You’ll find they lie a lot; more than most men in fact. Obvious if you think about it – which I very obviously didn’t – do they tell their wives they pay for an escort, no, therefore they lie, therefore they’ll lie about anything. Just remember that. Look, have a think, there’s no rush, but then from what you’ve just told me I suppose there might be. Here’s the card of the agency that I use in the High Street, think of the extra money, think about men taking you out, buying you drinks, giving you a good time away from work, paying you attention and making you feel like a woman again, getting you away from your flat. Amy, I hate seeing you in this state. Like I said, I choose when I need the extra cash, to buy some new clothes or something nice and the agency gets me work every time that I ask for it. If they can do that for me then, let’s face it, what can they do for a tall, skinny legged blond with high cheek bones and big boobs?”
Ah, the jealous streak again. She thinks it’s great to be tall without heels, to have to wear flats all the time to work, to bend your head almost onto your shoulder to be at eye level with the person you’re talking to. Keep smiling in agreement though.
Amy walked back to her desk completely unaware of the last job she’d been working on. She was also completely unaware of the other workers in her office, looking at her, not knowing what to say to her so staying silent. She was, yet again, in a dream. So the guy from personnel comes here for a couple of days, from head office, and wants female company, away from his wife. Does he look at a catalogue? Is it all on the internet? Somehow he sees Nicole, recognises her and pays for her. I’d love to have been there when they met. Was Nicole thinking “oh shit, I know him” or was it “whoopee, promotion at last”? Amy then reached her desk, shook her head and the image of the two of them entangled together was gone. One thing was clear however; the realisation that Nicole funded her exquisite wardrobe from her earnings from her evening work, that her evening work demanded that sort of clothing to show that she was high class and that buying workwear clothing wasn’t required as when she bought new expensive clothes and shoes for her night work, the old posh stuff came to the office with her and also saw her home in her posh new car. It was a far cry from Amy’s long skirt, baggy jumper and the long coat that she put on at five o’clock, ready for a walk through the Welsh drizzle to the long wait in the queue for her bus journey home. Her coat kept her mostly dry but the bottom of her skirt was acting like a sponge to the drizzle making her feel miserable that she hadn’t chosen boots that morning. She tilted her umbrella upward to look at the steel grey sky; neither black nor white but grey like her pathetic life. A drip came from the umbrella spoke onto her nose and she wiped it off gently knowing that her sniffing through the day had probably made her nose red and wiping it now would make it even redder.
Described as a "Thriller in the sun" Kitto's Angels has a strong female hero for those that enjoy novels of a strong female adventure type. Our strong girl hero takes us from home to Paris to South West France in an adventure novel for adults.
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