CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED AND ONE: FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS

 

It was time.

For the real work.

Redmond rose, tightened the belt around her coat, and, with her fingerprints all safe and sound behind the soft black leather of her gloves, removed her headband to let the ocean air wreak havoc with her curls.  She was drop-dead pretty.  It was as if the Reincarnation Gods and Goddesses had given her the natural tools she needed to see to the unfinished business from her former self, her inner Ada.  They’d given her the assets of seduction:  a beckoning smile, alluring eyes, and loop upon loop of sandy hair through which men longed to hook their fingers while she writhed into a state of demi-dress against them.

But backtracking to Redmond’s eyes, they were, ‘by-far-and-wide’, the most effective instrument of her profession.  Her irises were so damn green, you needed to lay down in them the way you’d lie down in a forest on a summer day and marvel at the leafy dome above.  Her irises were dappled too, exactly like said woodland sky.  And so, as people do with photosynthesis-esque realms, you trusted in the green of Redmond’s gaze.  You felt that it, and therefore she, was safe.

As Redmond stared down at Adrian, she remembered someone saying once that her eyes reminded him of the green pastures in Psalm 23 of the Bible, that although he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he feared no evil, not when looking into her green eyes.  Who’d said that to her?  Her father?  Her grandfather?  That, she couldn’t remember.  But, locking eyes with Adrian, she acknowledged that, presently, although he didn’t know it, the young man was very much in the valley of the shadow of death, and that the safety of her gaze was an illusion – at least for him – at least right now.

“Let’s walk,” Redmond said softly, slipping her headband deep inside her pocket.

“I – dunno,” Adrian responded, his words slurred slightly. “It’s late – early – God – like what time is it anyway?  I’m losing track –”

“I’ve lost track too,” said Redmond.  “Why not check your mobile?”

“Right – yeah – of course – God – I’m so out-of-it –” And Adrian stood, teetering slightly as he delved into his coat, fumbling for his phone, eventually pulling it out and looking at the time.  “Two o’clock – Jesus – two o’clock already –” He pushed the phone back into hiding.  “This – this – it’s a lot.”

“I know,” said Redmond.  “It is a lot.”

Adrian wavered in more ways than one.

Courtesy of the alcohol he’d consumed, he wavered physically, unfortunately reminding Redmond of those thin, inflatable figures to-and-froing in petrol station parking lots.  However, to give Adrian some aesthetic credit, he was more pleasing to the eye than your average inflatable man in the wind and, being of flesh and bone, he wasn’t wavering that much, even half-intoxicated.  He was swaying – slightly wavering – also in his decision on whether to walk with Redmond or not.

“Maybe – I dunno,” he said.

“You’ve said what you needed to say,” Redmond cooed, pulling up the edges of her coat collar to accentuate the gully of her throat exposed, the V where many a man had longed to plant his kisses and at least thirty-three of them, including F.Y.I., PhD., had succeeded. “It’s been intense.  It often is.  I get it.  Let’s walk it off for a bit.  That way, you’ll go home relaxed.”

“I’m not –”

“Sure?”  Redmond smiled her prettiest smile, the slanted one which came with a wink.  “Well maybe you don’t have to be sure to do something.  It’s just a walk.”  Again, she tightened the belt around her waist, but this time adding a toss of her curls, or her amenities for sex, depending on how you saw them. “Just a stroll to decompress.”

“Alright.”  Adrian said, losing himself in her gaze.  “A walk can’t hurt.”

“Unless you have a sprained ankle,” Redmond teased.  “Which you don’t.”

“I guess not.”

And then, Adrian fumbled in his pocket for another cigarette, cupping his hand around the flame from his lighter as he lit it up, inhaling hard, exhaling slowly, as if he couldn’t walk without the fix, as if he needed nicotine to move – at least to move in the direction of the sea with his uneven gait and shaky way of thinking.  But Jesus, she was pretty – the detective – what was she?  Forty?  Forty-five?  God, that was a travesty, to find her so beguiling – when he was only (or already) twenty-four.  What the hell was happening?  If he didn’t watch himself, he could easily let his guard down in tandem with his fly and – ‘shut the fuck up, Adrian’, he told himself in utter silence, ‘or you’ll get yourself arrested’ – ‘she’s a cop – for God’s sake – she’s a cop – you’ve got to keep your wits about you’ – ‘pull yourself together.’

“I often walk here,” Redmond said, strolling to the thin wire fence which ran the gamut of the green, stepping through the gap onto the ground which hemmed the drop toward the sea.

“I do too,” said Adrian.  “Always have done, even though we’re not supposed to.”

“Some of life’s best things are the things we’re not supposed to do,” Redmond returned with a laugh. “Delights off-limits. That’s why so many people get into trouble.  But, in this case, it’s just a walk, just a view, got at through a fence already broken.  No one’s fault.  I’ve never arrested anyone for walking.”

“What about for walking away from a crime scene?”

While walking away – perhaps a few times.”

Adrian wanted to speak his mind.  He wanted to tell this detective – no – this woman – this angel with the corkscrew curls and ‘fuck-me’ eyes – that he thought she was beautiful.  ‘Pretty’, his adjective of choice before, was far too weak a word right now.  Besides, from his experience, women preferred to be called beautiful over pretty – but hang on – maybe brilliant over beautiful – or insightful – strong – God – the words stretched like a landmine in his consciousness.

“Isn’t it breathtaking, Adrian,” Redmond called even though she was beside him.

That was the word he’d been looking for: breathtaking.

Gemma (ditch the fucking Redmond now) was breathtaking.  There she was.  Green eyes misty.  Sandy curls amok.  Black coat tight, and collar raised, but open.  He was on the edge, not just of the green, but on the edge of saying something emotionally incriminating like, ‘I think you’re breathtaking, and I want to kiss you, even if there are twenty-five years and a police badge in between us.’  But he didn’t.  He didn’t say a thing.  He just kept walking in the night-wind, smoking, fantasising, looking at the sea.

Then, there they were – below – the chalk stacks rising from the water.

“They’re beautiful,” said Redmond.  “Particularly at night.”

“It’s morning now.”

And following Redmond’s lead, Adrian sat down beside her, smoking still.

“Do you know the history of these stacks?”  Pressing her gloved palms into the ground of either side of her, Redmond looked at Adrian.

“No,” Adrian replied.  “They’re here.  They’ve always been here.  That’s all I know.”

“Hmmm.”  Redmond turned away from Adrian and looked back at the stacks, pointing at the one before them with the tip of her boot.  “Well, there’s a bit of a history,” she said, leaning forward.  “There used to be a bridge of rock joining this green to this first stack” Again, she pointed with her toe.  “That stack was joined to the mainland here.  But the bridge eroded and collapsed in 1965.”

“Really?  How do you know that?”

“I saw an old photo once,” Redmond said, but really, she was watching herself as Ada standing in the past, arguing with George under the shadow of the bridge.  “Before the archway crumbled.”

“I can’t imagine it,” said Adrian.  “I should look it up online.”

“You should,” echoed Redmond.  “Tomorrow – well, today now, I suppose.”

They sat in silence for a time, listening to the sea, the rhythm of the waves which came in softly from what seemed the dark expanse of nowhere.

“Did you ever come here with Aubrey?” Redmond asked eventually.

“Yes, I did.”

And there.

The fantasy of kissing Gemma was gone, replaced with grief, at all the could’ve-beens with Aubrey Holloway that hadn’t happened.  “We came here – just like this.”

“You know,” said Redmond quietly. “I’d love to see her photograph.”

Without responding, Adrian ground his cigarette out on the green and delved into his pocket, pulling out his mobile, tapping, scrolling—scrolling—scrolling backward through the months until he got to Aubrey.  And it was shattering for him to face her vibrant gaze, her open arms, her soft blond hair, her naughty grin which burst onto the scene sometimes, and then, her intense artsy self emerging from a photographic shadow.  And the overwhelming ache of grief began to rise inside him, pushing a lump into his throat, and sending tears into his eyes.  The ‘what-had-happened’ was too much, too raw, too heavy, and his grip was floundering.  He was going to cry right there, right then.

Redmond felt the young man’s sorrow coming, and she placed her right palm on his back to soothe him, while she whispered, “God, Adrian, I’m so sorry.  Let me see that.  She was a lovely girl –”

“She – was –”

Adrian, sagging with emotion, let the detective take the mobile from him.

And everything was in the timing.

For the instant Redmond had the mobile in her keeping, she ‘ever-so-gently’ pushed Adrian Kettering from the cliff and watched him plummet ‘down—down—down’ into the shallow water lapping up around the chalk stack where, as Ada Wells, she’d fought with George over another lover in another century.  Reaching sideways, she plucked the cigarette butt from the grass, and flicked it down into the water.  Then, the mobile safely in her grip, she rose, and peered down at the figure which looked like it was twitching for a second, but then remained dead still, face-down in the water.

In that instant, all Redmond’s natural tools of the trade – her wink, her smile, her sultry voice, her sensuality – retracted, leaving her without remorse, turning her to stone.

Timing.

It was everything.

Abandoning the cliff, Redmond made haste toward the Triumph parked beyond the green.  Opening the boot, she took the telescopic magnetic tool from its resting place, closed the boot, then climbed into the driver’s seat, setting the tool on the passenger seat beside her.  Glancing in the rear-view mirror, she pulled both Adrian’s mobile and her spare one from her pocket, setting them on her lap.

And then, as if it were second nature, Redmond removed the malachite earring from her left lobe, admiring the tiny green stone before she used the tip of the earring’s hook to pry the SIM card and the memory card from Adrian’s phone.  Placing the earring on the dashboard, Redmond took up each card, pressing the tiny tiles against the telescopic magnetic tool, rubbing quickly, flipping, and rubbing again to obliterate the information.  Then, retrieving her manicure kit from the glove compartment, she took out the nail scissors and snipped the cards into the paper cup half-filled with coffee in her console, setting the scissors on the passenger seat beside the magnetic tool.

With the cards from Adrian’s phone destroyed, Redmond nabbed her own phone, retrieving the earring from the dashboard and, just as she had with Adrian’s mobile, using it to extract the SIM card from the device.  As she did, she thought of Dewy, and smiled.

They were as thick as thieves, were she and Dewy.

They had a particular arrangement in which, from time to time, she paid him cash for unlocked mobiles, their SIM cards registered under the names of his flowers – Daisy, Rose, Dahlia, Lily, Poppy, Heather, Jasmine, Holly and, this time, Iris.  And in return, she turned a blind eye to his nefarious goings-on which wasn’t hard because, just like her car, her blind spot was built in.

Hooking her earring back into her lobe, and scissoring the SIM card into the paper cup, Redmond thought about this phone, and this SIM card

“What flower tickles yer fancy today, Luv?”  Dewy echoed in her brain.

“Iris, I should think,” Redmond heard herself reply.

“Then iris it shall be, Luv.  Iris it shall be.  How ‘bout yer come back ‘ere in an hour, Luv.  Give me time to get them bundled up all nice and pretty?”

“That’d be smashing, Dewy.  How much will I owe you?”

“Hundred quid even, Luv.  Ninety pound even.”

“Jolly good.  See you in an hour then.”

Redmond had known the routine.

£10 for the flowers.

£50 for the mobile.

£30 to unlock it.

£10 for the SIM card registered to Iris.  Last name?  Ramos, the Spanish word for Bouquets.

Redmond closed her eyes for a split second, remembering how she’d gone back into Dewy’s and taken up the large bouquet wrapped in thick mauve paper, how she’d handed Dewy the cash, then headed to the precinct kitchen to put the flowers in a vase.  She recalled how she’d unwrapped the flowers, taking in their indigo and yellow petals as she snatched the mobile tucked inside their stems.  This device would be her ally in the crime ahead, its number on reserve for those she’d need to hear, but then to silence if they should suspect her of the pending deed.  If anyone should call it, and she should need to kill all records of that call, she would destroy the SIM card and the phone, of course, but, if that call were traced to the destroyed device, it would be traced to Iris, not to a detective by the name of Gemma Redmond.  She would remain unscathed, and undetected.

With that thought, Redmond drove five minutes down shore, and went to the sea where she hurled the phones as far as they would fly into the water.  Another five minutes down, she dumped the fragments of the memory card and the SIM cards into the ocean, waiting for a wave to carry them away. And there, they went – the marred, dismembered images of Aubrey Holloway – the record of Adrian’s last phone call.

It wasn’t a foolproof act.

Redmond knew that much.

It was only a matter of time before investigators, by way of the mobile’s serial number, would trace the missing phone to Adrian Kettering, then discover when and where and to which number he’d made his final call.   Though, to be fair, it would take a genius to link that call to her, as her spare phone had been ‘pay-as-you-incognito-go’ courtesy of Dewy down at Gallows.

And people dug their own graves, didn’t they?  Redmond ruminated as she drove away.  For anyone who looked up Adrian’s life would see he was a heavy drinker, teetering precariously on the edge of his own life, susceptible to falls both figurative and literal.  So, he’d been grieving Aubrey’s death, and he’d be drinking, stumbling down Memory Lane so dangerously above the chalk stacks.  And that had nothing whatsoever to do with her.

As Redmond left Botany Bay behind her, she silently explained the sand.

Of course, I had sand in my boots, in my hair, in my car, she thought vehemently.  I was in Broadstairs.  Everybody knew I was in Broadstairs.  It was never a secret.  And I’m always coming to Broadstairs.  It’s been my go-to getaway for years.