Traffic noise. Car horns, the rumbling of heavy vehicles, and sirens wailing as emergency vehicles fought against the congested roads. It all came together to wake him up, better than any alarm clock. His watch told him it was after ten, and as he hadn’t left for work there were two possibilities. Either it hadn’t worked, or it was a weekend. Martin looked around the room, and could see out of the huge picture window. Tower Bridge. He was in a room right next to it. He must be just south of the river, as he could see The Tower of London on the other side of the bridge.
So, it had worked.
It was bright and spacious in the apartment, but not too big, not ostentatious. The furnishings were comfortable and classic, rather than sharp design pieces. A quick scout around showed him that it had three bedrooms in total, the smallest one serving as an office; with a small sofa in addition to the smart desk and office chair. There was an open plan kitchen-diner, a separate utility room, and a main bathroom as well as the en-suite in the master bedroom. He must be at the top of the building too, judging by the distance down to the river. Martin knew this location well. It was The Anchor Brewhouse, a former brewery that had been converted into luxury desirable apartments many years ago. A nice place to live, handy for The City, and with good transport links too. He had once considered buying there, before deciding on something else, in Canary Wharf. He switched on the huge TV, and selected the rolling news channel. It was indeed the weekend, a Saturday.
He found undeniable evidence that there was a woman living there too. Sliding open mirrored doors to a wall of wardrobes, one half was full of female clothing. Short and long dresses, rows of shoes, small drawers full of underwear; as well as compartments for socks and tights, all neatly rolled. Nothing looked like anything Vanessa would wear. Besides, the sizes were too small. But he was alone there, at least at the moment.
His first task was a good inspection of the study. He did have his own company, that was certain. Bank statements showed that his personal finances were very healthy indeed, but they were no longer from his former bank, and he had no recollection of ever changing. He found papers for another house too. A place in the country. Oxfordshire, at the edge of The Cotswolds. That was nice. Just the sort of thing he would like. There were no certificates around, at least none he could find, and no framed photos either. But in a large drawer to the right of the desk, he found his mobile phone, and the old Remington, zipped up in its case. That made him smile, and he relaxed as he sat back in the chair.
The next job was to shower and shave, after which he dressed in some very tasteful casual clothes he found, and went through to make some coffee. All he could do now was to wait.
The views from this place were so good, Martin was left wondering why he hadn’t taken the flat there before. An expensive-looking telescope stood in the main feature window, and he lost himself exploring the scenes going on up and down the river. The telescope was so powerful, he could make out the spots on the faces of tourists, as they posed for selfies on the famous bridge.
The door closed with a bang, and he could hear her talking, before he saw her. “Yes, that’s what I said. The delivery DID NOT arrive!” The tone was exasperation, just about holding off rage. The young woman walked into the room. She smiled at him, and raised her eyebrows. In her left hand were some shopping bags, and she dumped them on the floor. Holding the phone under her jaw, she reached down to unzip the knee-length boots in turn, then kicked them off by shaking each leg violently. With an annoyed nodding of her head, she dropped heavily onto one of the sofas, showing far too much leg, in a very short skirt. Martin was embarrassed, and looked away.
“Oh don’t tell me I have to go through all this again?” He turned back as she shouted into the phone. “Yes, I am speaking slowly. No I will not calm down. I was promised this delivery by eleven today. I paid extra for it, and it hasn’t arrived”. She smiled at him, and blew him a kiss. Then she raised the free hand to her mouth, making a drinking motion. When he didn’t react, she pointed at the coffee cup he was holding. Martin nodded, and walked away to get her some coffee. He thought it best not to ask if she took sugar and milk.
As he walked back into the room, she had changed her tone to one of resignation. “Yes, yes, let’s just start all over again, shall we? It is Mrs Daisy Harwood. That H A R W O O D, like Wood with a Har in front of it. Got that?” His hand started to shake, and he almost dropped the cup. He managed to pass it to her without spilling any, and quickly retreated into the office room. Slumping into the chair, he put his head in his hands. How could he be married to Daisy? And how could she be so grown up? The girl in the other room looked to be around twenty-five, not much off half of his age. Yesterday, she had been his eleven year-old daughter, and now she was his wife. He felt the coffee come up in his throat, and just about fought off the desire to vomit.
Reluctant to return to face her, he lurked in the office, and waited for the inevitable. She found him. “Well, that’s finally sorted out. I made those bastards refund my credit card. To hell with them, I will buy that make-up somewhere else. To Martin, it seemed to be a lot of fuss, about some cosmetics she didn’t really need. She draped her arms around his neck, and rested her head on his shoulder. “What’s up, darling? You look like you have the weight of the world on you this morning. Is it about tonight, the dinner party? No need to worry, I’m sure it will all go well”. He tried not to show his discomfort with her familiarity. “Dinner party?”
She kissed his cheek, and stood up straight. “Don’t pretend you have forgotten, Martin. After all this time, my Mum has finally agreed to come over. When she refused to come to our wedding, I thought I might never see her again. Maybe she’s mellowing? Anyway, so it’s not too awkward, I’ve invited Chloe too. You know, Chloe Harris, my friend from College. You will like her, I’m sure”. His head was spinning again. He was getting use to that feeling, he had to admit. “Pamela? Pamela is coming here, tonight? And this Chloe, how old is she?” Daisy had a worried look on her face. “Are you really OK? You look very pale. And why do you care how old Chloe is? She’s the same age as me of course”. She turned to go, muttering. “I have to get on. Things to do”. Moments later she reappeared in the doorway, a huge grin on her face. “And did you notice I didn’t bite on you getting my Mum’s name wrong? I knew you were teasing”.
“It has always been Vanessa, as well you know”.