The curry was good and Jenifer dove into it as though she hadn’t eaten for a week. Beth forked hers through and barely managed to eat any at all. She had no idea how much of what Jennifer had said was the truth. Jennifer cleared her plate in less than five minutes and said that she was going to her room to watch a DVD. Beth knew that she’d be lying flat on her bed with earphones glued to her head without a care in the world, but her mind was blurring with so many thoughts and mixed emotions. The overriding feeling that she couldn’t push away was fear. She felt as though a clock was ticking in her head. Jennifer was right about one thing, things were coming to a head. She stood at the sink washing up. If she could get a good night’s sleep, maybe she could clear her mind and just think of a way out for all of them. She felt as though her head was overfilled with information. There was too much in and no way to let it out. And then, just when she needed time for peace and contemplation, there was a loud hammering at the font door.
Nobody ever came here. She snuck into the hall and tried sliding up the wall to get closer to the door to see who was there through the leaded glass panel without being seen, but it was no good.
‘I can see you, Beth, open this fucking door, now, or I’m going to call the police.’ Beth didn’t know whether to be terrified or relived that it was Maggie. She went to the door and shouted in a whisper. ‘Maggie, go away, Jennifer’s here. I’ll come to your house, when I can get away.’
‘I’m not going anywhere. Where is he? I know you know something, Beth, open this door now. Or I swear.’
Beth opened the door and Maggie pushed her way in striding down the hall. She burst into the living room and checked that it was empty before coming out of there and moving to the kitchen, where she did the same.
‘I know you’ve got something to do with Colin going missing. Where the hell is he?’
Beth’s blood ran cold. After everything that had happened that day she felt that she couldn’t cope with any more and she felt herself shaking.
‘Maggie, what the hell’s got into you? What are you talking about? I don’t know where Colin is.’
‘Liar,’ Maggie spat at her. She raised her finger and pointed it at Beth. ‘You forget I know you. I know you inside out. Nobody understands you like I do. I should have seen it straight away. As soon as I mentioned Colin’s disappearance, you got jittery and acted shifty. I know when you’re lying, Beth. I knew it when you took that freak in, and I know it now.’
‘Maggie, you’d just spent an hour trying to tell me that Jennifer’s some kind of whacked-out murderer, and then you think I’m hiding something when I act a bit strained. Jesus Maggie. You want to get your facts straight before you go making accusations like that. ‘
‘I don’t believe you. Look at you, even now you’re shaking. You’ve started drying the pots in the middle of a life-important conversation, for God’s sake. It’s because you can’t keep your hands still. You can’t look me in the eye. You can’t stop your body from telling me that you are lying through your teeth.’
‘Look Maggie, you’re upset over Colin. I can understand that, so I’m not going to hold it against you, but you really need to go now. Think about what you’re saying, it’s ludicrous. Why the hell would I know where he is? I’ve hardly seen him since you two split up.’
‘So why is that cup more interesting than this conversation? Look at me, Beth. See, one quick glance and your eyes are back to the floor.’ Maggie marched over to stand beside Beth and Beth cringed away from her. Maggie picked up a cup and smashed it against the far wall. ‘You need to start talking to me, Beth.’
‘Have you gone bloody mad? Stop it.’ Beth looked towards the door and her eyes rose upwards as she listened.
‘Maggie picked up a plate and slammed it to the floor. ‘What’s the matter, Beth? Who’s upstairs that you don’t want to know I’m here. Just Jennifer, or Marc, as well? What do they know about my ex-husband’s disappearance? She picked up another plate and threw it. A door slammed upstairs and was followed by feet pounding down the stairs.
Maggie cupped her hands and shouted into them, ‘Marc, c’mon, be a man get yourself down here and face me. Where’s Colin, Marc. I’m going to call the police in ten seconds if you aren’t down here.
The door flew open and Jennifer burst though it in her stocking feet. ‘What the hell is going—’ she saw Maggie. ‘What’s she doing here? Get out.’ Her voice rose as Maggie strode towards her. ‘Get out of my house, now.’
‘Get out of my house, you mad cow. How do I know where he is?’
They were both screaming at each other. Maggie grabbed Jennifer by the shirt and slammed her into the wall. She used her greater strength against the slight girl to punctuate each word by pulling Jennifer away from the wall and slamming her hard back into it, banging her head against the wall with each thrust. ‘What have you done with Colin?’
Jennifer sounded terrified now. She’d had the wind knocked out of her and was gasping hard. ‘I don’t know,’ she croaked, ‘Beth get her off me.’
Beth was behind Maggie, pulling ineffectually at her shoulder, trying to get her to loosen her grip on Jennifer. Maggie was like a steel door.’ You’d better start talking or, so help me, I’m going to call the cops.’ She pushed Jennifer away and the girl slumped to the floor in a heap, gasping for breath. Maggie reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out her phone.
‘Maggie, don’t, wait,’ said Beth.
Maggie stopped. Beth thought that she had listened to her and didn’t know what the hell she was going to say to follow it up. But Maggie was staring at Jennifer’s feet. She ran over to her and the girl flinched back against the wall. Maggie picked up her leg and literally tore one of the socks off her foot.
‘Where did you get these socks?’
‘You crazy bitch, want a pair just like them, do you? Well you only had to ask.’
‘These are Colin’s socks. Where is he?’ Maggie whirled around and grabbed a knife from the draining board where minutes earlier, Beth had been washing up. Maggie was staring at the motive on the ankle of the sock. There was no mistake,’ Look Beth and now trying telling me that I’m wrong. You remember, the year after we were married we went to the ice hotel in Jukkasjarvi, in Sweden? The socks were souvenirs from their gift shop. Now you two had better tell me. Where is my children’s father?’
Maggie dragged Jennifer up by her throat. ‘Where is he?’
Something snapped in Jennifer. She’d recovered from the initial shock of finding Maggie there and had got over the fear of the big woman going for her. Her temper had flipped and she was cool and calculating. The end game was on, and much like her damned snake, Jennifer was going to play with her prey. ‘Chill, woman, He lent me his socks when we got out of bed this morning. That’s after we spent all night having sex and he kept telling me what a fat ugly cow, you are. What’s the big deal?’
Maggie had the knife up against her throat. She stared at the blade; saw it indenting Jennifer’s flesh. She threw the knife behind her and punched Jennifer in the face. There was a loud crack of bone, and blood flew from Jennifer’s nose. Jennifer shook her head to clear it of stars. She licked some blood from the stream flowing from her broken nose. ‘Go on, hit me again, baby, that’s just how I like it.’ Her voice was brave but her legs were beginning to buckle. ‘Want to know where your precious Colin is, he’s strapped to a bed in a hidden vault upstairs.’
Maggie punched her again. ‘Where’s Co—’ She released her hold on Jennifer and both of them fell to the floor. Jennifer landed on her hands and knees and she held steady gasping, trying to regain her breath and clear her head. The second blow had landed in her right eye; she could feel it swelling.
Maggie slumped to the floor in a swish of escaping breath as it left her body like a gasp in a wind tunnel and she lay unconscious on the floor. Beth hadn’t intended to hit her. She had the cast iron frying pan in her hand. She’d hit her lifelong best friend, but she had no recollection of doing it. She stood over Maggie watching blood spill from a gash in her forehead.
Jennifer had risen behind Maggie and came from nowhere with the large kitchen knife in her hand. She brought it down in an overhand stabbing motion and sunk it to the hilt in Maggie’s side. She grunted as she pulled it out and brought it down again, and then again, and again, and again.
Beth held the heavy frying pan limp in her two hands. She made whimpering noises. ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ She muttered. ‘This is terrible. I’m going to get Colin. He’ll know what to do. He’ll help us. Maggie will be all right.’
‘No,’ Jennifer screamed. She pulled the knife from deep inside Maggie’s chest and rose to her feet. She turned to face Beth and moved towards her. Raising the knife above her head, she brought it down in a swift motion, towards Beth’s head. Galvanised into action Beth made a dash for the door. ‘Stop, don’t you dare go to the vault. Get back here, now.’ Jennifer was slow from the multiple bangs to her head and her facial injuries. Her right eye was fully closed now and she bounced into the wall as her balance failed her. Beth was already halfway up the first flight of stairs. She was fast on her feet, but her mind was in trouble. She kept muttering Colin’s name like a mantra, over and over. She fumbled over the vault lock. As she burst into the room, Jennifer was only feet behind her.
Beth ran over to Colin screaming his name. She already had the key for the cuffs in her hand and she desperately tried to get them into the lock of the handcuffs. Her fingers were all thumbs and she sobbed loudly as she tried to fill Colin in on what had just happened. ‘She’s killed Maggie, stabbed her, stabbed her over and over,’ she screamed.
‘Hurry,’ yelled Colin turning his hands to help her get them undone.
Jennifer had made it to the bed and Beth backed away, she hadn’t managed to unlock the handcuffs. Jennifer put her face close to Colin’s, sneering. ‘It wasn’t me who killed your precious wife. Beth, hit her over the head with a frying pan.’ As she talked Colin brought his arm up. Despite being cuffed to the bed he managed to raise his elbow far enough to grab Jennifer’s head in the crook of his arm. He used every ounce of his strength to lift her and drop his arm to her throat with a grimace on his face. He squeezed. Colin lifted his face to Beth’s. His expression was pained. He stared at Beth with hatred on his face. ‘You killed Maggie?’ He asked. ‘You…killed…Maggie.’ He punctuated each word by squeezing down harder on Jennifer’s windpipe. ‘I’m going to kill her,’ he said motioning with his head down to Jennifer.
‘And then I’m going to kill you.’
As Colin squeezed the life out of Jennifer, her tongue protruded from her mouth, she made noises from her nose and her eyes bulged in their sockets as her face turned red and swelled with the trapped blood. A fresh stream of new blood ran from her nose. She looked out towards Beth and weakly raised one hand, begging her to help. Her other hand grabbed uselessly at Colin’s forearm, tried to get loose. And then she stopped even trying. Her body went limp and she slumped against Colin’s forearm. He looked at the top of her head and then raised his elbow to release her. Jennifer fell to the floor and didn’t move again.
Beth had been trying to get the key in the handcuffs to release Colin, but he kept moving as he grabbed for her. She’d dropped the keys and bent to pick them up, still trying desperately to free him. And then he was killing Jennifer. And then he said he was going to kill Beth. And then Beth stopped. She stepped slowly away from the bed and watched as Jennifer’s eyes bulged. Jennifer fell to the floor and Colin turned his head to look at her. ‘He’s going to kill me,’ she muttered detached from reality and gabbling to herself.
Colin saw her phasing out and realised that he needed her to keep it together to release him. ‘C’mon now Beth, Don’t be stupid. Come on, it’s going to be all right. You know me. You known I didn’t mean it. I was just angry. I’ll make everything all right. It’s over now. You’ve got to let me go.’
Beth had had enough. She had to get away from all of them. She turned and walked out of the room. She slammed the door behind her. The last thing she heard before the door locked on the soundproofed room, was Colin screaming hysterically for her to let him go.
She walked along the corridor and down the first flight of stairs. She rounded the bend and walked slowly down the second flight of stairs and along the downstairs hall. Beth opened the front door, walked out and slammed it to lock behind her.