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CHAPTER ONE



You could argue Will’s reaction wasn’t normal for a man in his position. If you suspected your partner of having an affair with one of your colleagues - knowing they’d met up at your house whilst you were working away from home - what would you do? Will sat in his car eating a muffin, feverishly rubbing the remnants of icing from his unkempt moustache. Shaving hadn’t been high on his list of priorities of late, the strain of the last few weeks clearly apparent on his drawn, dishevelled face. His tired eyes narrowed as he methodically ran his tongue along his top lip from one corner of his mouth to the other.

What am I doing? Get a grip Will, concentrate, concentrate.

Will sighed, shifting uneasily in the driver’s seat of his clapped-out Ford Fiesta, attempting to regain his focus. He could be excused for the overzealous demolition of the iced muffin. It was after all his thirty-second birthday. Having not eaten since early morning, he’d devoured the home baked sponge in double quick time. Charlotte had baked it for him. She’d even stuck a candle in.

I know we go back a long way, but it comes to something when the receptionist from work is the only person to remember your birthday.

Charlotte knew of Will’s current predicament. He’d updated her on the situation over a series of coffee breaks and had always found her easy to talk to. There was something homely and reassuring about her, Will thought. Down to earth and level headed, she often succeeded in providing a clearer perspective on numerous troubled situations during their lengthy friendship. She had a knack of doing or saying the right thing at the right time, without accusation, without judgement. In times of trouble, Will had also always been there for Charlotte although these occasions were much more rare. She tended to play her cards much closer to her chest. Regardless, there wasn’t much they didn’t know about each other. That said, Charlotte would never have imagined how Will was spending evening of his birthday, eating the muffin she’d made, sat in his car a few doors down from his own house. It wasn’t the first time he’d found himself staking it out, the house he shared with his fiancée Emma. He could in fact categorically confirm this was the sixth occasion, having meticulously made a note of dates and times in his diary. It had become a disturbingly common occurrence.

Will didn’t have a particularly brilliant career or a rousing job title, but as an assistant project engineer for a building contractor, he earned enough money to pay the mortgage and indulge Emma in the odd treat. It was never going to be a luxurious existence but then Will had never been a career man. Rarely enthused by his work but clueless as to what else he fancied turning his hand to, he flitted from company to company in the hope he’d be inspired by the change. The spark never materialised and the resulting lack of continuity ensured he was never destined for promotion. More recently however, his attitude had changed. Since becoming engaged to Emma he longed for more stability in his employment and had worked for his current firm for much longer than the usual twelve months. As he’d always suspected though, loyalty was not rewarded, the powers that be deciding a transfer to Bristol would be ‘beneficial’.

‘Beneficial for whom?’ he’d grumbled.

Off the record, he’d been given an ultimatum: unless he took the transfer, he ran the risk of being fired. The package on offer was by no means paltry and it was important to Will to maintain a regular income. The subsistence allowance was good and he received a lump sum bonus for each month he worked away as well as food and accommodation expenses. All in all he made a tidy sum, so he towed the company line. The fact he had a scam with the landlady of his grotty bed and breakfast was an added bonus. Whilst he continued to charge the company the full rate for his Bristol lodgings, he’d negotiated a ten-pound a night discount with the proprietor on the basis his stay would be long-term. Whilst fleecing the company of an additional forty quid a week was satisfying, there were times when being away from home – and Emma – was hard. The additional money, buying her bunches of flowers and boxes of chocolates for on his Friday night returns were little compensation for being away from his fiancée. Out of work hours were the worst, when his mind wasn’t occupied. At times it was intolerable. In the mornings he sat in the cramped dining room, suffocated by drab flock wallpaper, stabbing unenthusiastically at his oily cooked breakfast. More often than not his only companion was the grandfather clock, the doleful ticking counting down to the time his mind could concentrate on work matters rather than on what Emma might be doing. Evenings weren’t much better. The ideal way to while away the evenings would have been to spend time with Charlotte but Emma had made it known early on she wasn’t at all happy with such an arrangement. Options were therefore mainly limited to his room. Boredom is a terrible thing and the novelty of having time on your hands soon wears off. Reading books or spending hours squinting at a tiny portable television with poor reception, only a bent coat hanger for an aerial is tantamount to torture.  Phone calls, back and forth between the engaged couple, were frequent to begin with but had diminished over time. With a life revolving around the quality of his breakfast, work and television, sometimes Will had nothing to say. Other times the line was engaged or his calls never returned. With time on his hands, his mind wandered and he became suspicious. Emma always had a feasible explanation for the unanswered calls. Maybe she had worked late. Maybe she hadn’t quite put the phone correctly back in the cradle causing the battery to run flat. There was only one way to find out. One day, Will made the long drive south after work to surprise her and hopefully allay his fears. He hadn’t however bargained on Finn’s car being parked outside his house.

His car, his gleaming red Audi TT coupe must be the best part of £25,000.

What the hell had it been doing there? Tormented by his imagination, he became obsessed, but too afraid to ask questions. Some nights, he’d drive down from Bristol on a whim, purely to spy on the house, to see if Finn’s car would appear. More often than not it did. On a couple of occasions, in an attempt to quench his morbid fascination and in the absence of Emma’s car, he’d sneaked inside the house - his own house - in search of clues. Nothing incriminating or untoward had ever been found. Snooping around his own house did nothing to calm his heart rate, making him feel as though he was the one in the wrong. Of late, he’d simply sat in his car, fervidly watching for any activity. But his decision not to mention any of this to Emma, never confronting her with the situation, only increased his anxiety, pushing his mind to bursting point with possible scenarios.

Finn had been a work colleague of Will’s back in the early days. They’d completed their training together and although Will eventually moved to another company, they’d stayed in touch, going out for the odd drink and playing football. It’s fair to say they had been good friends until Finn discovered his fiancée in bed with another man. Events took a nasty turn after the split, Finn’s personality transformed almost overnight. The one-time stable, ‘nice bloke’ became a coarse, crass womaniser whose only allies were similar single young blokes, frustrated middle-aged married men … and women. Not all women of course. A few recognised that Finn verged on the misogynistic. Common sense would suggest that a person who blatantly hates women would be easy to detect, but not in Finn’s case. He wanted to get back at women, all women. He used his charm to snare them. Once he got chatting, and eventually taking them out, he soon gained their trust. It was only a matter of time, after the required number of quiet drinks, windy walks and romantic dates, before he’d lure them into having sex. This was his prize. Only once they had fallen for Finn - this loving, passionate, understanding yet misunderstood and emotionally scarred paradigm - would he stop. He’d stop buying presents, stop phoning them, stop returning their calls, stop seeing and talking to them. He stopped acknowledging their existence. More often than not, this sequence of events destroyed even the most resilient of female hearts. Sure, there were some who shrugged their shoulders and got on with life and most of them recovered over varying periods of time, but Finn thrived on the feeling of power and control. There was an added adrenalin rush if the female concerned was already in a relationship. To him it was the icing on the cake. If he could fuck up a perfectly happy courting or married couple along the way, he became almost hysterical with glee. It was as if he were trying to punish as many women and destroy as many relationships as possible, a reprisal for his own unfortunate downfall.
Will and Finn soon drifted apart. Finn had chucked his job and, rather bizarrely, moved to France to work on the river taxis in Paris. That was the last anyone had seen of him until a few months back when - as cool and as confident as ever - he wandered into the Bournemouth office to announce the firm had taken him back on. Will attempted to build bridges. He, Finn and Emma had occasionally gone out but it soon became apparent he was still the twisted character they’d come to despise. Finn had even adopted the nickname ‘sicko’ although this was more to do with the number of days he’d been signed off ill, than his questionable treatment of women. Why was it Finn always seemed to land on his feet? Considering the number of working days he squandered, and the length of time he’d served with the company, surely he should have been sidelined to Bristol, not Will.
Will had moaned to Charlotte about it. He felt comfortable enough to offload his angst onto her, having known her for as long as he’d known Finn. Charlotte had been the receptionist when they’d all started out. She now worked on the desk in Bristol and had always passed judgement on Finn’s dubious character, some of the experiences she’d had with him verging on sexual harassment. It wasn’t like Charlotte to be vindictive or tell tales. Surprised by the ferocity of her attacks, Will eventually shared his concerns about the goings on outside his house.
‘It’ll only keep rattling round inside your head if you don’t do something about it,’ she’d concluded. ‘You’ll just make yourself ill with the worry. Isn’t it best you sort it out?’ There was surely only one logical explanation why that car was always parked outside his house.

Will thumped the steering wheel, furious he hadn’t lifted a finger to resolve the situation sooner, too scared of what he might find if he mustered the courage to charge in. Tonight though, his stomach churned with anticipation. Will had finally had enough. Charlotte was right. Something had to be done.


CHAPTER TWO

Concealed from the glare of the streetlights, Will sat tensely in his car under one of the monkey-puzzle trees lining his street. Contemplating his options, he gently strummed the dashboard with one hand and smoked his second cigarette with the other. He held the filter up to his lips and inhaled deeply. Closing his eyes, he took a moment’s pleasure as the smoke warmed his chest cavity. He stopped strumming, his long fingers now sweeping back his mop of thick black hair, shaking with uncertainty. Pondering the possible scenarios of the next hour, he cracked open the window a little further, allowing the clogged air to circulate. The crisp December evening had become rather warmer all of a sudden. He considered confronting the problem head on, all guns blazing. The element of surprise was sure to catch them both off guard.

I’ll storm into the house, throw down my things and say, ‘Hey, get the fuck out of my house before I do something I live to regret.’

He screwed up his face at the thought of attempting such a show of machismo. Following the initial shock, Emma would be sure to laugh.

O.K, point sternly at Finn and say, ‘This all looks very cosy. Would someone like to explain to me what the hell is going on?’ Yeah that’s better, calm but authoritative.

Will smiled, nodding to himself in appreciation of his plan but whilst blowing smoke out through his nose, he wondered if even this approach was too heavy handed.

What if they were sat on opposing sides of the room quietly watching television?

Will straightened his hair in the rear view mirror then sat motionless for a few moments, seemingly unable to move. A young couple stopped on the corner of the street under one of the trees. The man grabbed the girl firmly around the waist. They laughed before engaging in a long and passionate kiss.

What if … what if they are at it? What will I say? What will I do?

The flicking of his cigarette ash - most of which ended up blowing back into the car - became more and more frenzied.

Will there be a fight? Do I have the guts to start a fight? Will Finn fight back? Would Emma break us up if he did?

Will’s seat creaked as he fidgeted, uneasy with his thoughts as he considered the odds of him beating Finn in a fight and the consequences of winning or losing.

Would he have any clothes on? I couldn’t hit someone who hasn’t got any …

Will’s thought processes were severed as the front door of the house swung open and a fully clothed Finn Dixon emerged. Now back on the defensive Will cowered beneath the dashboard, his heart pounding at the thought of being spotted. With the base of his ribcage pushing into his knees, he realised how ridiculous he must look. Even if they were going to come over to the car, is this how he wanted to be discovered, shrinking in the foot well of his own car, on his own street? What would Charlotte say if she could see him now? The hairs bristled on the back of his neck as he imagined her stood on the pavement, rolling her eyes with hands on her hips, looking in at this pathetic specimen. She’d be telling him to pull himself together, stop being such a baby and confront the problem. A sense of daring washed over him. He wasn’t the one who was in the wrong. What was the worst that could happen? This guy had to be taught a lesson.
He sat bolt upright and watched with morbid curiosity. Emma and Finn stood face to face on the doorstep - talking for a while - a serious discussion from the look of things, Emma occasionally furrowing her brow. The tone then appeared to shift. Struggling to make out what they were saying, his imagination worked overtime as they began to giggle like school children.

‘… and Will thinks I sit in all night and watch the telly, ha, ha, ha,’ he imagined.

He carefully wound the window down further in an effort to hear what the ‘couple’ were saying. It squeaked with the condensation. Will lowered his head as Emma turned sharply to look along the road. He held his cigarette down between his knees, preventing the orange glow from illuminating his face. He watched Finn gently kiss Emma on the cheek, wrapping his coat tighter around himself as he took the short walk along the path to his car. Emma hugged herself on the doorstep and swayed gently from side to side to keep warm, careful to keep the weight off her still heavily bandaged ankle from her moped accident. Will had always told her they were a death trap but like so much of what Will said these days, she hadn’t listened. Had her mind always been elsewhere, Will wondered, as she gestured towards the car, the reflection of her wave almost shimmering in the immaculate bodywork of the Audi? As Finn’s car purred into life, Emma gave one final wave before shutting the door.
Will had seen quite enough. Gripped with nausea, it was as if his innards had amassed into one, his heart sinking to join the congealed lump in his stomach. Despondent and feeling betrayed, his eyes - red with rage - reflected the brake lights of Finn’s car as it came to a halt at the T-Junction. Taking one last sharp drag from his cigarette, he threw the butt out onto the pavement before winding up the window and starting the car. This couldn’t be allowed to play on his mind any longer. It had to be sorted. It had to be sorted tonight.