Friday, 12 May 2017

The Last Halloween

The Last Halloween

I used to love Halloween. It was always one of the big nights in my yearly calendar and wherever I was that day I'd make an effort to dress up, hang out with friends, go to parties and generally have a really good time. Now of course the day is a reminder of the very last time I saw my brother Eric in 2015 before he disappeared from our lives several months later. I blame myself for letting the months in-between slip away without checking up on him more. I was busy with work and I had that whole travelling around thing going on, working on the Doctor Strange film for Disney that was so exciting, especially since I'm a huge Benedict Bandersnatch fan, and I just didn't have time during the Winter to spend time and hang out with my family. You always think they're going to be there for you, no matter what, and then when one day they're gone you realise all the missed opportunities you've thrown away in the pursuit of your career.

The case is still open of course, though the fortnightly visits by the police support officer soon turned into monthly visits and then regular phone updates and now it's basically a case of we'll call you when we have something new to say. Mum has taken it really hard of course. She's gone into that same downward spiral that I saw her in when Dad walked out on us when I was a young girl. I keep thinking back to the Halloween night in 2015 and I keep thinking did I miss some obvious signs that Eric was unhappy? If I'd paid more attention would I have seen some indication that he was going to just disappear a few months later on?
I know about his secret life now of course, for the police broke the news about the dresses and the wigs and the makeup, and the high heels. They've told us that the psychological profile they've built for him suggests he may well have 'killed' Eric Michael Anderson in order to breathe life into 'Emma'. It's their theory that he's living a new life out there somewhere as a transgender girl and that eventually he/she will surface because these days it's very difficult to live a life without leaving an electronic footprint. It's just a matter of time they say.

I don't believe them, of course. I cannot and will not believe that Eric would put us through such an ordeal. He would have been in contact with me at least. We were always very close, as far back as I can remember. I think he used to hero worship me, which I thought was weird at the time, but I suppose looking back maybe the absence of a male role model in the form of Dad being around did that to him.

No, I can't believe Eric would have just abandoned us like that. It's not the way he is. Whenever I suggest that to the police though I see the same sympathetic, friendly, supportive faces, listening, but not taking it in. They're trained like that to listen with compassion, to let me talk, and then they patiently explain that they've seen cases like this before, and they know the psychology of why people decide to disappear and start a new life, and they tell me that everything they've found fits that profile, and that harsh as the truth may be, I have to come to terms and accept it.

But I won't. I swore to mum that if it takes me the rest of my life I'll find out what happened to Eric. I will. I just do not believe he could be so cruel to us.

I was in London for a few days in late October last year, staying in a Hilton hotel while I met with some representatives from Marvel studios to discuss the job offer. As you can imagine I was really excited and I couldn't wait to catch up with Eric and tell him the good news. Besides which it would give me the opportunity to drop off his birthday present in advance. And it was Halloween, and I suddenly had this crazy idea that it would be so cool to spend Halloween night with my little bother. In fact I had a very crazy idea indeed, and that morning I stopped off at a few shops to pick up some things before I rocked up to his flat on the south bank near Tower Bridge.   

I texted in advance to let him know I was dropping by. 'Better hide all your porn – big sis is ringing your doorbell in half an hour. Bea x'. I got a reply back within a couple of minutes: 'you're in London? Great! Come on over. Eric. x'

I turned up on his doorstep with two shopping bags and a wicked expression on my face as he buzzed me in to the lobby. Eric has, or rather had, quite a nice flat, rented of course, in a quiet road. I was wearing what looked like black leggings that in actual fact were 60 denier tights, a stretchy blue and white checked mini-skirt, some layered floppy tops, including a cowl necked sweater of light doe cashmere wool, and a pair of ankle boots with a one and a half inch heel. I wore a little light foundation, some eyeliner from the Urban Decay range, and one of the new Rosie lip glosses from M&S. I checked my face in a compact mirror before I went up the stairs because I knew Eric always made a big thing of complimenting me on my make up. I used to think he had a strange eye for detail, but of course now I know the truth. He was probably making mental notes every time I casually mentioned the products.

“Bea!” He looked excited to see me as we hugged in his doorway.

“Little Eric,” I kissed him on the cheek and walked inside, depositing my bags in his hallway.

“Been shopping?” He closed the door behind me and motioned towards the lounge/kitchen combo. “I'll make us some coffee.”

“Oh yes. And just wait until you see what I've got. Oh, and happy birthday in advance.” I squatted down and opened one of the two bags carefully without giving away what else was in there, and fished out two wrapped presents. “This one you don't open until your birthday, but this one you can open now.”

Eric took the oblong box in the birthday wrapping and weighed it in his hand. “How come I get to open one now?”

“Because I want to see your reaction when you do.” I sat down on the arm of his only armchair and gestured with my hand. “Come on, pretend you're still five years old and really excited when you get a present from me.”

I watched as Eric rolled his eyes and then set about ripping the papers away. He laughed and pulled the perspex fronted box from the wrapping. It was a doll – a Barbie doll dressed up as Wonder Woman to be exact.

“Bea, what's this?” He held it up with a 'are you teasing me ' expression on his face.     

“Remember how you used to always play with my Barbie dolls when you were small? Well, I thought I'd at last get you one of your own. Especially as you have a thing about Wonder Woman.” I gazed at the large framed print of Wonder Woman that hung on his living room wall. I could see on the bookshelf some Wonder Woman graphic novels.

“It's wonderful, Bea. Thank you,” he laughed as he kissed me again. “It'll sit pride of place on top of my book shelf.”

 “Damn right it will. I'll check it's there next time I visit.” I began to notice the music Eric had been playing when I arrived. It was early Bowie, and it looked like it was coming from an actual record turntable, something I hadn't seen for a long time. “What is this? It sounds like Ziggy Stardust but not as I remember it.”

It's a live concert recording.” Eric picked up a second hand record sleeve and showed it to me.

“You're buying records now?” I saw a humble selection of maybe a dozen or so twelve inch vinyl records propped up against a wall, with a box of maybe another twenty to thirty records next to the turntable. “When did you get that?”

“About four months ago. Vinyl is really cool at the moment. It's like a hipster thing I guess. I was at Abi's dinner party and her boyfriend had bought a turntable and was showing it off and I thought that was cool.”

When he said Abi he of course was referring to Abi Forrester, THE 'girl who could have been'... Eric and Abi were inseparable at school during their teenage years, to the point where everyone assumed they were dating, only, they never really did. Every lunch break and pretty much every other evening after school, Eric would be chatting on the phone or spending time hanging out with Abi. They went shopping together, swapped books, hung out at the cinema multiplex – everything except actually fucking. It just never seemed to happen. And then eventually school was over and Abi went to St Andrews university and she met Geoff there and a few years later they were married. I often asked Eric “why didn't you?” and he always shrugged and replied, “I wanted to, but...” and left it at that.

My dumb younger brother. I think Abi Forrester was the teenage love of his life and it never came to anything.

“How is Abi?” I turned the record sleeve over while Bowie sang 'Moonage Daydream'. I could tell right away from the production value of the sleeve that this was a bootleg record, not an official release.

“Good. Though, Abi and Geoff have been having some problems lately. Sexual problems, you know.”

“She told you that?”

“We're still very close. We Skype a lot.”

I wasn't going to ask for details. The record was entitled 'Hang on to Yourself – Live at Oakhampton Town Hall 1972'. “There are some cool photos from the gig in the gatefold,” I said as I opened it up. Several pictures of Bowie and the Spiders From Mars on stage, and a couple of crowd shots, including one of some very young fans dressed up and queueing outside to get in. “Look at this girl in her glitter make up, mini-skirt, feather boa and Biba top. She's wearing calf high white suede boots and all! She looks so excited.”

“That was the style then I guess,” said Eric as he glanced briefly down at the picture. “She's very pretty. Strange to think she'll be some middle age plump house wife now.”

“I wonder if mum ever dressed like that,” I said as I put the record away. “And Dad too. Can you imagine Dad in stack heels and eyeliner!”

“No. No I can't. But then I don't really want to imagine Dad at all. Fuck him.”

Eric had been hit very hard when Dad had left us. He'd only been what, four, maybe five years old? Just old enough to understand, but not old enough to cope, as the saying goes.      

“I see you’re part of the skinny jeans revolution these days,” I said. Eric had been dressing very metro-sexual, almost androgynous these last few years since finishing university. As I watched him make coffee, I noticed the way the jeans were cut very tight at the groin, and their correspondingly small hip pockets. “Are those women’s jeans you’re wearing, little brother?”

“Um, I don’t know. I just picked them off a rail in a vintage shop in Brighton.” He blushed a little which spoke volumes that he knew exactly what they were.

“I think they are. Hey, turn around for me a moment.”


“Big sister’s in charge,” I said, mimicking what I’d occasionally say when I was a teenager and Eric was several years younger than me. He turned round reluctantly and I admired the tight cut of the jeans that showed off his bum. “They are girl jeans, aren’t they? You’re practically bootylicious.” Eric blushed, bless him and muttered something about ‘they’re just jeans’.

“Hey, it’s okay. I think they look good on you. They’re not that different from some of the ultra skinny boy jeans I’ve seen in Top Shop. Girls will always notice the difference though. How’s that coffee coming along?”

“Almost ready.” Eric stirred the contents of the cafetiere and prepped two mugs. “You still take sugar?”

“I certainly do. Just the one though.” I wandered over to his shelves of books and ran my finger along the tattered spines. These were mostly books from his teenage years that he had stored in flat pack boxes in mum’s attic while he was at Uni. Now that he had a place of his own he had obviously brought them down and took them back from his flat. “You were such a geek,” I said as I picked out a Conan novel with a picture of a bronzed barbarian standing on a heap of corpses with a naked girl clinging to his leg. The paperbacks were double stacked to save precious shelf space for the flat wasn't very large, and I could now see another row of books behind this one. “I’m not familiar with these.” I said as I noticed a series of seven paperbacks all called 'something of Gor' tucked away behind the front row of books. I picked one out at random – 'Assassin of Gor' - and studied the cover design of a man on a giant bird flying down to attack a group of armed men. “Is this like Game of Thrones?” I waved the paperback towards the kitchen.

“Um, not really.” He seemed a little alarmed as I picked out another of the Gor books. “They’re probably not really your sort of thing, Bea…”

I gazed at one of the others and raised my eyebrows at a heavily creased volume entitled ‘Slave-girl of Gor’. The cover depicted a naked woman on a beach sitting at the feet of a Greek looking warrior who was holding a length of chain connected to her collar. “Is this what you were reading as a teenager?” I flicked through the pages at random. “Let me guess, is this how you used to fantasise about Abi Forrester when you were 15?” The more embarrassed Eric looked by my discovery, the more I couldn’t resist teasing him about it. “Yeah, I bet that was it. You'd be in bed with this, reading one-handed, thinking, 'Abi Forrester - Slave-Girl of Gor.' Wow, you are a dark horse, lil’ brother.”

“It's not like that.” He looked very embarrassed now. “I don’t know why I kept those. I should just throw them out really…”

“Hey, so you like a bit of bondage, big deal.” I slid the book back into the shelf. “I’ve done a few things that would probably scare you in my time.”

“Stop! Don’t tell me!” Eric held his hand up. “You can’t imagine how much I don’t want to hear about what my sister gets up to in bed with guys.”

“Who said it was guys?” I couldn’t resist that. The look on his face! “Yeah, it’s guys. Sorry to spoil the alternative thought. Talking of which, so I’ve had a thought about tonight,” I said as I sat down on the sofa with my feet up off the floor, sipping my coffee. “Do you have any plans for Halloween?”

“No.” Eric shrugged. “Not really. Probably just watch a couple of old horror movies.”

“Boring. Boring with a capital Boring. How about we go out together tonight. Let me dress you up. It’ll be fun. It’ll be exciting.”

“I’m not really big on fancy dress, Bea. It’s not really my thing.”

“Well I was thinking we could both go out tonight as girls. You and me. How wild would that be? Hmm? Let me make you up, Eric. I think you’d love it. Don’t pretend you’ve never been curious?”

The startled look in his face was a joy to behold. I remember a couple of years ago suggesting the same thing to my then boyfriend and I could see right away that he loved the idea of his girlfriend dressing him up, but he couldn’t, and wouldn’t admit it. He’d reluctantly agreed after some half hearted protests. I think he was very surprised by how big an erection he got when I made him dress in some of my lingerie. I had to try very hard not to laugh at the shock on his face. He was mortified that I could see how it was turning him on. We had a great night and the sex afterwards had been intense.

Would baby brother feel the same way? Only time would tell.

“Go on.” I nudged him now with my elbow. “It’s Halloween. You’re not really going to stay in with some dumb films are you? Let me do your makeup and get you some clothes. Let’s rock London tonight. Go on, go on, go on…” I could tell he didn’t really need a lot of persuading. This was going to be so much fun.

“Bea, I’d look silly…” he said as he nibbled his lower lip nervously.

“You’ve got great cheek bones. I’ll make you look wonderful. Promise.” I crossed my fingers together.


He so wanted to! I could tell. Baby brother really, really fancied the idea of going out with me as a girl. “It’s what Halloween is for,” I said. “Live on the wild side once in a while.”

“Why do you want to do this, Bea?” I could tell from his voice that he was actually a bit excited. So many guys are. They love the idea of being given that nudge, to experiment with something totally taboo. They love the idea of a girl 'forcing' them to put on a skirt and a bit of makeup. I knew Eric would have a great time if he tried it.

“I just thought it would be fun. I'd love to see how I can make you look. And hey, I've done some shopping for tonight. Guess what's in the bags?” I gave him an evil grin.

“No, you haven't... tell me you haven't...” his eyes were drawn immediately to the two bags sitting in his hallway. I leapt off the sofa and grabbed the first of the bags.

“Just imagine going out with me tonight, you wearing... this...” I pulled a gorgeous indigo mini silk dress with three quarter length sleeves and a v-neck, and a wide stretch black belt that clipped together at the buckle. I saw my brother swallow and just stand there as I resisted a smile and went for the money shot. “Underwear too,” I lifted out a matching bra and high leg knickers in peach silk from M&S. “And look at these shoes.” They were strappy three and a half inch heels with diamante designs down the front.

“If... if... this is something you... want me to do...” He seemed lost for words.

“I've even got a wig for you.” I pulled out a long tousled blonde wig with a side parting and fluffed it into shape with my fingers. “This has got to be wilder and more exciting than sitting at home on the sofa watching horror movies?”

Yeah, he was putty in my hands.

We had a few glasses of wine early in the evening before I set to town on his face. I'd brought my makeup with me and I sat Eric down on a kitchen chair as I applied moisturiser, primer and then foundation to his skin.

“Hey, do you remember Susan Reynolds?” I asked as I picked up a kabuki brush and began to set his foundation with some powder.

“Susan Reynolds from University?” said Eric. “Of course I do. Haven't heard from her in years though.”

“She was on the news the other day. Apparently she's a missing person. Her parents are really worried. Just skipped town without a trace. Didn't report in to work, didn't say anything to her boyfriend, just vanished one day. Poof! Cleaned out her flat, so she's obviously got tired of the way things were and decided to make a new start. Hold still now, I'm going to start work on your eyes.”

“I really fancied Susan,” said Eric as I began applying eyeshadow and eyeliner. “She always wore such wonderful clothes.”

“I remember. You always used to go on about how she was this fashion plate whenever you came home between terms. You should have done a fashion course at Uni. You've got a real interest in clothes. You know...” I paused for a moment as I concentrated on his eyeliner. “You know, if you ever wanted to come out and tell me you're gay, I wouldn't have a problem with it.”

“I'm not gay,” laughed Eric. And from the natural way he laughed, I knew he wasn't lying. “You keep worrying about that. But really, Bea, I'm not gay. I don't fancy men. I'd tell you if I did.”

“Mum used to worry you were. Especially when you were really young and you'd come down stairs in my old school uniform. Dad really freaked out about that. They used to talk about it after you went to bed.”

“What can I say, Bea. I don't like men. They're all... icky.”

“You are just so full of contradictions, lil' brother.” I turned his head and tapped him on the nose with a powder brush. “Wow, your eyes really pop out like that. We are going to be so hot tonight. I bet we won't have to pay for a single drink the whole night!”

I watched him squirm a little on the chair as I selected a couple of lip liners and lipsticks from Urban Decay. I was going to use two lip liners on him: 'Nighthawk' around the edge of his lips and 'Gubby' in the centre, with 'Backdoor' and 'Gubby' lipsticks to finish. It's a sophisticated look that would match his smokey eyes perfectly. Then it was just a case of contouring his cheek bones, highlighting the bridge of his nose, under eyes and tip of the forehead and applying a little blusher with my finger tips.

“Voila. And seriously, once I get that wig on you, you're going to want to fuck yourself,” I said with a laugh. I could see Eric was anxious to see what he looked like, so I wasted no time in picking up the wig, and stretching it over his head. He was squirming again on his seat and I knew he was getting a real kick out of this. Can you imagine – being feminised by your big sister for a laugh? Who wouldn't want that?

And then I turned him round so he could see himself in he mirror in the hallway. Of course he was only wearing his skinny girl jeans and a t-shirt, but his face was perfect.

“Oh God, Bea. That's incredible.”

I folded my arms and looked very pleased with myself as Eric moved closer to the mirror and turned to the left and right, studying himself closely.

“Work it, lil' brother, Just work it! And just wait until you're wearing the dress.” I saw him draw a breath as I said that and so I took the indigo silk dress down from the coat hanger. “Take the underwear and get changed in the bathroom. I'll have the dress ready for you when you come out.” 

I watched Eric pick up the knickers, bra, a pair of cheap bra enhancers and some opaque tights and head off into the bathroom. He was really turned on by this. It made you wonder really, and now that I look back in hindsight with the knowledge of what the police discovered in his flat, in his wardrobes, I suppose I was making his dream come true. I actually like the thought that the last time I ever saw my little brother, I was making him happy. That comforts me a lot now that he's gone.

When Eric came back out he was looking so feminine. He stood there, looking pensive as he shifted his weight from his left foot to his right and back again.

“Eric... do you shave your legs?” I had deliberately chosen opaque tights expecting him to have some fuzz, but the tights looked flawless on him.

“A lot of guys do these days,” he said in a very apprehensive way.

“You shave your chest too?” There wasn't a hair in sight.

“Uh, yeah, I just... kind of like it that way.” He actually looked shy and awkward and so I quickly smiled to reassure him.

“You look lovely. Now try on the dress.” I unzipped it at the back and helped Eric step into it.

“You have done such an amazing job on me, Bea. Really you have. I can't believe this...” He really did look happy In fact, he looked the happiest I had seen him since he was a small boy. I sat there, watching my little brother as he hurried over to a chair to sit down and fasten the strappy heels and as he grinned at me, I thought  to myself, 'this may be your first time, but I bet it won't be your last.' Of course, I had no idea that he had been doing this for some time in secret, and that even as I sat in his flat, nursing my lukewarm coffee, there was a wardrobe full of girl clothes hidden away in the bedroom nearby. Why didn't Eric ever tell me? Did he think I would have been ashamed of him? Did he really not know me that well? I think of the excitement in his face as we prepared to go out that night and I think, if that's all it took to make him really happy, then how could he have just left like he did without offering me at last a single word of explanation? It just doesn't make sense.

We hit the bars in Soho and I watched another side of my brother come to life.

“What am I going to call you?” I said with a beaming smile as we sashayed up to the bar to order drinks. “Ericka perhaps?”

“No. Can you call me Emma?”

“Emma? That didn't take long. And here I was thinking you'd be pondering girl names all night long.”

“No, Bea. Emma will do.” He kissed me and giggled, drunk on the irresistible high of being in a silk mini-dress and high heels in a bar with his equally glam sister. I wore a glittery black mini skirt and a white sleeveless low cut top. We were out to slay men stone dead.

“Come here.” I squirted some perfume on Eric's throat and rubbed it in with my fingers. “Wrists too,” I said and squirted some perfume there. Eric rubbed his wrists together and then breathed in the scent. “Two mojitos!” I shouted at the barman and handed over some money. “You having a good Halloween?” I asked Eric.

“The best! This is such a crazy, great idea! You're the best sister I could ever have.”

“You betcha. Hey. Why don't you check out that guy over there. The one in the dark shirt and designer jeans. He's so checking you out, girlfriend.” I nudged Eric until he saw the guy at the other end of the bar. He raised his glass with a smile and began to come over, taking our glances as an open invite.

“Oh shit, Bea! Why did you do that? Look, he's going to talk to us.”

“That's what happens when you're dressed the way you are tonight.”

“Hi girls, mind if I join you? I'm Steve.” He grinned as he stood close to Eric and gazed down the front of his dress. I had contoured between his bra and had given him some cleavage that looked extremely realistic in the bar room lighting. Eric squirmed and looked up at me in alarm.

“Hi, I'm Bea, and this is Emma. It's her first time out in a dress tonight. Can you believe it?”

“Your boy friend?” he asked.

“Nah. Little brother. What do you think?”

“She looks really good. The Adam's Apple gives him away, but you've done an amazing job on him. Very sexy, and very feminine. And she has legs to die for. How do you feel, Emma?”

“Nervous,” said Eric as he squirmed again on the bar stool, keeping his thighs pressed close together, his right hand tugging the hemline of his dress down. “I feel like I'm on the menu tonight.”

Steve laughed. “You could well be. I haven't eaten yet.” He noticed the drinks we had lined up and he nodded to the barman as he handed over a twenty pound note. “Another two of those please.” His hand strayed onto Eric's thigh and I saw my brother almost jump in shock.

“You okay, Emma?” I asked as I gazed round the bar and caught sight of something that intrigued me.

“Um, Bea...” Eric gave me a 'look' and then quickly nodded imperceptibly at the hand on his thigh. I pretended to ignore it.

“Look, how about you two just chat for a while and I'll be back in a few minutes.” I kissed Eric on the cheek and loved the way he suddenly looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an approaching car as I waved my fingers and slipped through the crowd towards a side booth, leaving them to make a 'connection'.

The woman was sitting there on her own, though there were a couple of other drinks left unattended, suggesting she had friends nearby. She was black and extremely beautiful. There was also something vaguely familiar about her.

“Hi, I'm Bea.” I slipped onto one of the stools and brushed my hair back with my right hand. “I just wanted to say, I'm not his girlfriend. I'm his sister.”

“You're not?” She sipped a Mai Tai and glanced towards Eric.

“I noticed you've been checking him out these last few minutes. So I just wanted to let you know he's single. No pressure, but he's single, and I could introduce you if you like?”

The woman laughed softly. “I have been checking him out. I have an interest in men like that. I'm Udumi.”

“You're with friends?” I glanced at the two glasses of spirits that were left unattended.

“Something like that. A pleasure to meet you, Bea. What's her name?”

“Emma, apparently. Well it is tonight. Udumi?” Suddenly it clicked. “Not the superstar model, Udumi?”

“The same. Tell me, Bea, have you ever done any modelling?”

“Me?” I laughed. “Of course not.” The idea seemed preposterous.

“Really? I think you have the look. Why don't you give me your number. I could put some work your way. It's good money. Exclusive advertising clients. I'm simply too busy to take on all the work I'm offered. I'm in London for a few days on... business. I have some business to attend to tonight. I was really only here to meet some colleagues before moving on, but perhaps we could hook up next time I'm in England.” She glanced at Eric and smiled.

“Well, okay. I guess.” I found a piece of paper in my hand bag and I scribbled my number down.

“It's been lovely meeting you, Bea. And yes, Emma looks lovely.” She glanced at Eric again. “I'll phone you when I'm next in London and we'll have to arrange something.” As she rose from the table I saw her nod imperceptibly to two men who stood close to the door talking quietly between themselves. They were both tall, dark haired, and looked like gym freaks. They said nothing as Udumi walked past, but simply trailed her, glancing to the left and right like professional bodyguards, which I assumed they were. She was something of a super model after all. 

I look back on that night now and I wonder was there anything more I could have done to persuade Eric to open up to me about whatever it was that troubled him so much that he had to leave a few months later without saying goodbye? One year on now, and it's Halloween 2016 and I feel that sense of bitterness in my stomach as I constantly think over and over again, what could I have done, what could I have changed in my relationship with Eric to have made things right?

Why did you leave us, Eric? Not a day goes by that I don't think of him. Mum is on prozac now after having suffered a nervous breakdown. I see her every week, but it's difficult getting through to her these days. She has a really old photo of Dad on the coffee table – he's holding a sword in it, can you believe that? - and once or twice I've heard her speak to it while she nurses a glass of gin or vodka at far too early an hour and she says weird things like “bring him back. Please bring back my son.” I don't know. I'm really worried about Mum.

Udumi was true to her word and she did get in touch on her return to England. I saw her in early January, and then again in March, a few weeks after Eric disappeared. I had mentioned to her in an e-mail what had happened and she actually flew over from New York to spend a night talking to me. She was very sympathetic and said if there was anything I needed, just ask. A few months later she persuaded me to do some modelling work for a lingerie shoot. It did pay really well, and it was a lot of fun. The men in charge of the shoot though were very serious and it was hard work.

“I'll be in London again shortly on business,” Udumi had e-mailed me in August. “It'll be short notice, but I'll call you to catch up.” 

And so she did.

The doorbell rang pretty much bang on time, for Udumi was never late. I crossed the room and unlocked the latch to see Udumi standing there in tight black jeans, a pale oyster silk blouse, Jimmy Choo heels and an investment shoulder bag from some Milanese label I wasn't familiar with. She handed me an expensive bottle of wine as she introduced, much to my surprise, a tall man standing just behind her.

“Bea, this is Kaine. Kaine, this is Bea.”

“Oh. Uh, hi.” He was massive. Six Feet six inches tall, if I wasn't mistaken, and dressed in a dark charcoal suit that did nothing to disguise his wide shoulders and muscles. “I wasn't expecting someone else...”

“Oh, sorry, Bea, should have mentioned.” Udumi entered the flat before I could say anything else. Kaine followed her, carrying a heavy duffel bag that he set down on the floor of my hallway before regarding me with a twisted smile. There was a muffled clink from inside it.

“You are as beautiful as she suggested you were,” he said as he now checked his gold wrist watch. “We need to be at the field in one and a half hours,” he reminded Udumi. “You were late last time by seventeen minutes. Delays like that are dangerous for us.”

“I know.” Udumi shot him a stoic look. “The schedule will be observed.”

“You're both going somewhere tonight?” I had been under the impression that Udumi was going to spend some time with me tonight. She had phoned up out of the blue after a month or two of silence, and she had asked me whether I had any plans for Halloween. When I told her that I'd be staying in tonight she seemed very pleased and asked whether she could come round with some wine. “I want to talk to you about Eric,” she had said, but wouldn't say any more until we met.

“Yes we are.” Udumi walked into my kitchen, selected a corkscrew and opened the wine while I regarded her friend. He stood near the door with his arms folded, impassively.

“Do you always walk around town with that much luggage?” I said as I regarded the heavy duffel bag.

“Don't mind Kaine,” said Udumi as she re-entered the room with two glasses of red wine. “He's working tonight. That's his professional face. Didn't I mention he'd be with me?”  

“No you didn't.” I took the glass and put it to my lips. I was conscious that he was looking closely at my legs. Something about the way he looked at me made me feel uncomfortable. I decided I didn't really like this man, Kaine, and I rather wished Udumi hadn't brought him without telling me.   

“That's a very pretty skirt,” said Udumi as she sat down in my arm chair. “Isn't that a pretty skirt, Kaine?”

He nodded as I drank some of the wine. It definitely had a wow factor. But then Udumi was someone who could afford the very best. I had seen her several times over the last year and had been paid handsomely for the lingerie photographing modelling session that she had pushed my way.

“What's in the heavy duffel bag?” I asked Udumi. It seemed strange to bring it to my flat.

“Work tools. Like I said, Kaine's working tonight.”

“Oh? What line of work.”

“He arranges shipments of valuable goods. What do you think of the wine?”

“It's lovely, but I can feel it going straight to my head. Wow. It must be quite strong. I'm normally quite used to wine.”

Udumi smiled. “Tell me, Bea. If I could help you find out tonight, in the next hour or so, exactly what happened to your brother Eric earlier this year, would you want that?”

Excuse me a moment, I need to sit down.” I suddenly felt very light headed as I landed with a thump on the sofa. I was aware of Kaine continuing to stare at my legs in my short skirt. I scowled and flashed him a look of annoyance but that didn't seem to change his attitude. “What did you say?”

I said, if you could find out what had really happened to Eric, would you say yes?” She toyed with her glass of wine as I drank some more of mine.

“Yes. Yes, of course.” My words seemed a bit slurred for some reason.

“I thought as much. Kaine, perhaps we should show pretty little Bea what you have in your duffel bag now...”

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