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Angie moved slowly along the aisle, nudging the trolley with its squeaky wheel past white meat and along to red, picking up some bacon — which they needed anyway — before turning and heading back again. Still trying to decide between chicken and lamb. Chops or coq au vin.
She'd originally wanted to do something themed. A holiday-style menu to remind them all of their fortnight in the sun, with piña coladas to kick things off. Seafood had been the obvious choice, a chowder perhaps — if she could find the clams — and then some sort of fish for a main. She had even gone online and found a recipe for Key lime pie.
Barry had said it was a stupid idea, so she'd let it go.
She glanced down into the trolley, wondered if she should get some ice cream to go with the frozen pizzas she'd picked out for the kids. It was all quick and easy and it would be handy to get dinner for the pair of them done and dusted before her guests arrived. She knew that Laura and Luke would be happy enough with that arrangement; keen to stay out of everyone's way and not have to join in with boring grown-up conversations. One night in front of the computer couldn't hurt, assuming that any homework had already been done.
Barry was in charge of all that.
She picked up a large pack of chicken breasts. She saw that the meat was organic, clocked the price and quickly put it back again. Right idea though. Lamb was nice enough, but it could be a bit tricky, what with some people preferring it pinker than others, and Barry had always enjoyed her coq au vin. She reached for a cheaper pack ...
'I just thought it would have been nice,' she had said. 'A bit different.'
'I don't see the point.'
'There's no point, it's just a bit of fun, that's all. Cooking something Floridian.'
'Something that comes from Florida.'
'I know what the word means,' Barry said, eyes narrow. He crushed the empty beer can he was holding, opened the lid of the bin in the corner of the kitchen and tossed the can inside. 'I'm just trying to work out why the hell you're saying it. It's poncey.'
'Look, it doesn't matter.'
'The whole thing's poncey, you ask me.' He slammed the lid of the bin shut and walked across to the fridge. 'You'll make us look stupid.'
'Fine, I'll just do chicken or whatever.' Angie reached for the cloth that was draped over the edge of the sink. 'That OK, then?' Rubbing at a smear on the granite worktop, she watched as her husband stared into the fridge for almost half a minute, then closed the door again without taking anything out. There was a bit more hair gone at the back, she noticed, and the mottled roll of fat above his collar seemed that little bit thicker. Not that she was in any position to talk, of course. 'OK, then,' she said to herself.
'Yeah, fine, whatever.'
He walked behind her, put his hands on her shoulders and kissed the back of her head. She carried on rubbing at the granite, though the smear had already gone.
'Can't see why we're even bothering though, to be honest,' he said. He moved away and pulled out one of the seats at the breakfast bar. 'Haven't we got enough friends?'
'It's just a get-together, that's all. Sort of an add-on to the holiday kind of thing.'
'Why do we want to do that?' he asked. 'I mean, it all went a bit weird at the end.'
'Only at the end.'
'That girl and everything.'
'All the more reason. It's something we've got in common, isn't it?'
'So, because of that we have to go to all this trouble?'
'You don't have to do anything,' she said.
'You know what I mean.'
'You got on all right with Ed and Dave, didn't you?'
He shrugged. 'They were nice enough.'
'And the girls.'
Barry rolled his head slowly around on his neck. 'Ed's wife was all right, but that what's-her-face ... Marina ... got right on my nerves.'
'A bit full of herself, I reckon.'
Angie just nodded, happy to let him think he was being clever. She knew very well he was only pretending not to like Marina Green because he fancied the arse off her. Because he was a sucker for big tits and an over-the-top dye job. Angie had watched him ogling her on the sly, saucer-eyed behind his knock-off Oakleys, pretending he was still reading his paper as she climbed out of the pool in a bikini that anyone could see was too small for her.
'Well, I think she's nice,' Angie said.
'Up to you.'
'I think they're all nice, and providing you make an effort we'll have a nice evening.' She could hear raised voices in the lounge, an argument about what to watch on TV. She opened the kitchen door and shouted at her children to stop bickering. When she turned back into the kitchen, Barry was standing, rubbing the belly that strained against a maroon polo shirt.
'What about the diet?' he asked.
She considered the fact that he was almost certainly more concerned about her putting on a few pounds than him. She thought about the two cans of lager he'd got through in the half-hour since he'd come in from work and the empty crisp packets she was always digging out of his car. 'I'll do fruit for pudding,' she said. 'It's just one night.'
'It won't be though, will it?' He slid a hand beneath the shirt, began to scratch. 'We have them over here, then each of them invites us to their place, whatever.'
'What's wrong with that?'
'Like I told you, we've got enough friends.'
'Name them,' Angie said.
'Excuse me, could I just ...?'
Angie blinked and apologised to the man who was stretching to reach past her for something. She nudged the trolley with the squeaky wheel out of his way and wondered how long she had been standing there, staring blankly at the meat like a mad woman. She glanced down at the pack of chicken that was still in her hand.
The shiny pink flesh, pressed tight against the polythene wrap.
She dropped the meat into her trolley and moved quickly towards the till. Remembering that last meal the six of them had eaten, the blood-red sunset and all the police cars back at the resort. It would be strange, she thought, to see them all again, eight weeks and a world away from where they had met.
A holiday to remember, in spite of everything.
Finnegan Bros. That's what it said on the signs and on the sides of the vans and on that overpriced headed notepaper he never wanted in the first place.
Bros. Brothers. Two of them ...
You wouldn't know that though, Barry thought. Not the way he was spoken to sometimes, and dismissed. The way he got given the runaround like he was just another employee.
Adrian was the younger brother, that's what made it even harder to stomach. Three years younger, but while Barry had been getting his hands dirty, Adrian was the one swanning about at college just long enough to get some poxy business management qualification. Now he seemed to think he was Alan Sugar or something and that some pointless bit of paper made his contribution to the firm more important than Barry's.
Well, it fucking didn't.
Barry slammed the heel of his hand against the steering wheel, pulled it left and put his foot down hard to take the Audi past some idiot doing forty miles an hour in the outside lane like a tit in a trance.
Forty-five minutes each way, just to take abuse from some moron who was still complaining that work on his loft extension had 'not been completed to a satisfactory standard'. A window that didn't shut properly, a radiator that leaked, shit like that. Forty-five minutes each way, on a Saturday afternoon, while his brother sat at home watching Sky Sports and playing with his kids.
His jammy bastard brother, who still got to see his sodding kids.
A Saturday, for crying out loud, when he'd been working his arse off all week ... and to cap it all, the punter had still not been happy. Whined like an old woman, called him a cowboy, then, after all that, said he might just as well phone Adrian to get it sorted out.
'Should have spoken to the organ-grinder in the first place.' That's what the cheeky bastard had said. Took a good deal of self-control on Barry's part to keep his fist from flying into the little turd's sweaty, red face ... a job he'd certainly have completed to a satisfactory standard.
It was time to get things straight with his brother, Barry knew that. Time to have it out. It was a speech he had rehearsed often enough and the list of grievances just kept on getting longer.
'Saturday, Ade? You're taking the piss, same as you always do ...'
Not that he hadn't been happy enough to get himself out of the house while Angie was busy cleaning the place from top to bottom, digging out the flash crockery, getting everything ready for dinner. And he guessed that she was equally glad to see the back of him while she arranged the candles and polished the sodding cat.
'You should say something to him.' He could hear her saying it. Had heard her saying it, too many times. 'You need to tell him you're not putting up with it any more.'
Easy for her to say. Same crap he used to get from his ex.
Stand up to him, you're the eldest.
Be a man ...
He leaned on the horn, up the arse of some other idiot who refused to move out of the way. He saw the bloke check his rear-view. Barry raised his arms and shouted, 'Come on ...'
'Barry's the practical side of the firm and I'm the nous.' Adrian was fond of trotting that one out. A hand on Barry's shoulder, like as not, while Barry did his best to smile about it.
'He's the muscle and I'm the charm ...'
He was though, that was the problem. Always had been. Your little brother ... birds from the trees ... sand to the Arabs ... all that carry-on. Adrian was the one who found the customers and pitched them quotes at just the right level. Who kept them sweet when every job went over time and over budget. He was the one who kept the fresh contracts rolling in, which was what paid for the Audi and the child support and the holidays to effing Florida, which was why Angie needed to shut the hell up and stop needling him.
Which was why, for the time being at least, that speech would stay undelivered.
Barry pushed in the cigarette lighter then reached across to the passenger seat for his Benson & Hedges. A sigh became a belch as he flipped open the lid of the gold pack. The last thing he needed was this stupid dinner party.
What was it she'd wanted to cook? Something Floridian? Christ on a bike ...
'Make an effort,' she'd said, more than once, and 'Behave yourself,' which he knew damn well meant 'try not to get pissed and show me up'. It was a shame, because having a few drinks and sneaking the odd look down Marina Green's shirt were just about the only things he was actually looking forward to. Besides, Angie was a fine one to talk, the way she'd been putting it away lately. Truth was, she'd been off her face on wine and pricey cocktails almost every night on that holiday; talking too loud and laughing at Ed's stupid jokes, so all things considered it was a bit rich, her telling him to mind his Ps and Qs.
She needed to show a bit more respect, Barry thought.
He lit his cigarette and cracked the window an inch to let the smoke out.
Bad as his brother ...
He'd tell more of his stupid jokes, Ed would, and Dave would laugh along and Susan would roll her eyes. They'd talk about how quickly their tans had faded and how polite and friendly everyone was in the shops over there, not like the surly bastards you got here.
Ed would drawl 'Have a nice day' in his crap American accent.
Then later on they'd talk about the missing girl, bound to.
Which Barry didn't much fancy.CHAPTER 2
'Sarasota has all the great beaches anyone could ask for and a stunning array of wildlife ... while the variety of museums, galleries, concerts, and other artistic activities on offer have led to the area being known as the Culture Coast.' Angela Finnegan lays down the complementary tourist guide that was handed to her when she and her husband picked up their hire car. 'Sounds good, doesn't it, love? Be nice to see some wildlife.'
The man behind her grunts, not really listening.
She opens the small, photocopied 'brochure' she was given when checking in to their accommodation and continues to read out loud. 'Siesta Key is one of several barrier islands which separate Sarasota Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. At its centre, the bars, souvenir shops, and restaurants of Siesta Village are clustered around the beach road, and, ideally located at the heart of this vibrant community, the Pelican Palms Resort offers premium quality rentals to holidaymakers and snowbirds alike.' She puts the brochure down and closes her eyes. 'Well, no complaints so far. I think it's lovely, don't you?'
Actually, Resort is probably overstating the case a little. It's a complex of fifteen units: one, two or three bedrooms, each with separate entrance, private patio and barbecue grill; a communal swimming pool and two hot tubs. At $615 per week for a queen-bedded unit that sleeps two, it prides itself on being reasonably priced, especially considering that each cabin comes with a fully equipped — if modestly sized — kitchen and that the resort is a 'stone's throw from a dozen or more great places to eat and five minutes' walk from the award-winning beach'.
'Paradise on a budget'. Of course, you can never be sure just how genuine any of the comments left on these websites are, but that was how one satisfied customer of the Pelican Palms had described the place. On the second morning of their holiday — just after eleven and already 28 degrees and climbing — that's more or less what Angela Finnegan is saying to her husband.
'It's not as though we're going to be spending much time here anyway, is it?' she says.
'I suppose not,' he says.
'Not inside the cabin at any rate. I think it's pretty good value, for what it is.'
She is dangling her legs in the pool, while behind her, Barry is spreading towels across their sunbeds. His gut hangs over the waistband of his multi-coloured Vilebrequin shorts and his shoulders are already burned having overdone it on the previous day. Like her husband, Angie is thirty-six years old and second generation London-Irish. Unlike him, she is content to keep her belly out of sight beneath a diaphanous floral wrap and a navy-blue one-piece swimming costume.
'Which factor sun cream do you want?' Barry asks.
A woman walks up and, in an English accent, asks if the empty sunbed next to Barry's is going spare. Barry says he thinks so and when Angie turns round, the woman looks over and says, 'I think we were on the same flight out.'
When Angie sits down on the edge of her sunbed, the woman sits on the edge of the spare one. 'Where are you from?' Angie asks.
'We're from Forest Hill,' the woman says. 'South London.' She nods across to a man who waves back at her from one of the hot tubs. He is pale and wiry with fair hair that looks greasy but might just be damp and a wisp of beard. 'That's Dave and I'm Marina.' She smiles, showing a lot of straight, square teeth, and when Angie and Barry introduce themselves she says, 'Nice to meet you.'
Marina Green is thirty-two. She is mixed race, pretty with straight black hair dyed red at the tips, and though her body is not perfect, she is happy enough to show off her best bits in the white and gold bikini she bought from Monsoon at the airport.
'What about you?' Marina asks.
'Sorry?' Angie says.
'Where are you from?'
'Crawley,' Angie says. 'About five miles from Gatwick.'
'That's handy,' Marina says.
Barry laughs. 'I knew there was a reason we were living there.'
'It's not so bad,' Angie says. 'The schools are pretty good.'
'Oh.' Marina looks around. 'I didn't see any kids.'
Angie grins and leans towards her then lowers her voice, mock-conspiratorial. 'We left them at home. We wanted a bit of peace and quiet.'
Marina smiles back. 'Actually, it's one of the reasons we chose this place,' she says. 'On the website it said there weren't usually too many screaming kids running around.'
'Same here,' Angie says.
'How many kids have you got?'
'Three between us,' Angie says. She casts a quick glance in Barry's direction. He is slathering sun cream on to his chest and does not appear to be paying a great deal of attention. 'Only my two live with us, though.'
Marina says, 'Right,' and raises her face up to the sun for a few seconds.
'I like that,' Angie says. She points to the small diamond stud in Marina's nose.
'Oh, thank you,' Marina says.
'Did it hurt?'
'I can't remember.' Marina places the tip of her finger to the diamond. 'Had it done when I was a teenager. I think I was just trying to annoy my mum.' She notices a man walking around the edge of the pool carrying two bottles of beer and nods towards him. 'They're Brits as well,' she says. 'From north London.' The man kicks off his sandals and sets one of the bottles down next to a woman who appears to be asleep, face down on a sunbed.
When the man turns round, Marina waves. The man raises his beer bottle in salute, has a drink then slips his sandals on again. They watch as he walks towards them.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rush of Blood"
Copyright © 2012 Mark Billingham Ltd.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Also by Mark Billingham,
Part One Angie and Barry,
Part Two Sue and Ed,
Part Three Marina and Dave,
Part Four Sue,