Extract: Safe as Houses by Carol Anne Davis

The body went over the cliff like a weighted rag doll. He watched it fall, half-listening for a drawn out cry. There was none, because if she’d still been alive, they’d still be at the Secret House. Right now he’d be looking for ways to liven her up.

From first glimpse to last she’d needed livening. She’d been lolling against the bus stop when he’d driven past. Head to one side, brown hair against grey metal, legs crossed beneath a too-short skirt at the thigh.

Was she waiting for a bus or for business? He’d driven slowly round the block, concentrated hard on looking aimless. Vision trained sideways, checking for police cars, pimps.

Misspelt graffiti over damp brick walls: land of the wooden curtains. Finally he’d pulled over, breathed deeply, wound the window down.

‘Can I give you a lift anywhere?’

She’d flinched, looked away, thumbed the strap of her worn plastic holdall.

‘The bus service is lousy,’ he persevered. ‘I’m going into town.’

Silence. Insolence.

Just as his anger started to sweep over him, she’d moved towards the car. He’d opened the door, lips curving upwards, assessing but not staring as she swung into the front.

Fifteen – or trying to be. Not a hooker yet, but getting there. A Lycra scoop-neck which made the most of her budding cleavage. Food and grass stains near the midriff which suggested she’d put on the top the day before. He stared through the windscreen as the rain started up again. ‘You’d have drowned if you’d stayed out in this.’

She nodded her dampened head. Her hair still looked reasonable, for a runaway. He’d heard a customer at work mention dry shampoos. The Saturday girls used talcum powder to get the adolescent grease out. Silly bitches, giggling and fussing over the powdery grey. His Sunday night girl was playing with her hair now, muttering about the May rain, looking at him sideways as she finger-combed the fringe.

He wondered what else she played with, and his groin swelled slightly with anticipation. Unlikely she’d have found a boyfriend yet. He bet she’d hitched into Edinburgh yesterday or come in on the train or a coach. Turned up in the early evening expecting soft-voiced hospitality only to encounter other runaways with street cred PhDs.

Graveyards, basements, doorways: everyone had their outdoor sleeping space and was keeping it. He bet she’d spent the night in a skip. He’d kept warm in one the first week he’d left home, nestled down beneath the upholstery and flattened cushions of a three-seater settee.

Casually he took his right hand from the wheel and reached into his top pocket. The girl tensed. Good reflexes. Good everything. He watched her sag back against the seat cover when she saw the packet of sweets.

David took his time unwrapping one, popped it in his mouth, chewed, smiling. They drove past satellite dishes, a child, a too-thin dog. As they left the housing scheme he offered her the packet.

‘Thanks.’ Offhand again. If he had his way, she’d learn. She freed one from the tube, then dropped it. Scooped it up from her lap, unwrapped, ate.

‘Hey, you’re hungry.’ He reached into his other pocket and handed her a chocolate bar.

‘Cheers, I owe you one.’

Up close her skin was slightly patchy. She had that slowing down look people got when they’d missed a few meals. The sweets had perked her up no end though, and now she started on the chocolate. He saw defeat, despair replaced by hope – or was it greed? – in her eyes. His palms were damp on the wheel: he had to force himself to keep speaking.

‘There’s this place where we could get a cheeseburger.’

‘That’d be great.’ She turned sideways on the seat towards him, and her short black skirt crept further up her taut young thighs. Slender, silky. God knows, he thought distractedly, how long her stockings would last. So many snags around, unexpected obstacles. Not his problem, though: he was in control.

He looked in the car mirror at himself and saw what she saw. Black, wavy hair – slightly too long to be fashionable. Brown eyes, finely-sculpted but even features, a newly-pressed grandad shirt. Looks that spoke of money, of confidence. A man like this would buy a girl a meal. Out of kindness, and natural generosity, not because he expected sexual payment. She was young enough to be his daughter. She was also – the thought jarred slightly – not much younger than his wife.

Heartbeat accelerating, he turned off the road that led into town, towards The Secret House. He smiled, forcing casualness. ‘My treat.’

They drove on, the rain increasing. Perfect. Fewer people went out when it was this wet. Those who did go kept their heads down and their eyes half shut, paid little attention to passing cars. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked into the silence. He’d wanted her to ask him first, had wanted interest, appreciation, a measure of respect. He’d given her his time, his presence, escape from the housing scheme. He’d offered his food, the watertight sanctuary of his car.

‘I’m Kim.’ It sounded like a dog’s name: she’d probably made it up to keep him at bay. ‘Yours?’

It was obviously an afterthought, a token gesture. Irritation gave him fresh energy, fuelled fresh plans. Pressing down on the accelerator, he turned the car towards the Secret House. ‘David, call me David.’ He’d decided not to lie about his name. He might want to see her for many months, make her his tenant. He’d be her mentor, her lover. She’d be so grateful, she’d be his to command.

‘Area like this looks too good for a burger place,’ she said, straightening slightly. She’d think otherwise in a moment, he thought. That was the beauty of this area, residential houses all around the slum part. He’d used it when he was younger to impress the other kids. Getting off the school bus, pointing: ‘I live over there.’ Prestige could be bought, for a while, with symbols and lies. Few of them knew that cutting through a sidestreet and expanse of waste ground brought them to his real house. Even fewer knew the pretty shortcut to some of the meanest and most hopeless tenements in town.

His tenement. Correction: his father’s tenement.

He lived in a decent flat now, surrounded by decent folk. People who thought about life, and who discussed it. People who had quiet debates rather than endless days of screams and shouts.

The girl wasn’t shouting yet, but she soon would be. He wanted her to cry out as she came. To moan, ‘David, you’re the best ever.’ To beg him to make love to her again.

Fragments of classic song lyrics were raging through his head like hailstones: ‘All Night Long’, ‘Touch Too Much’. They’d be so good together, he and his little Kim girl. His wife, Jeanette, with her long work hours and early bedtimes would never know.

Kim would lick him, suck him, brushing his juice-filled balls with her knowing fingers. She’d squeeze her tits together and he’d shoot off in between.

He turned to her, turned down the sidestreet that led to No Man’s Land. That’s what the newspapers had called it when he and his parents lived there. Now that it was uninhabited – was truly no man’s land – they didn’t call it anything at all.

‘Hey, this isn’t the way to the city centre,’ Kim said, craning forward.

Know that, do you baby? Done the tourist bit?

He’d driven faster, faster, keeping an eye out for police cars.

‘I didn’t say it was.’ He had to keep calm now, stress-free. Once she saw what he had to offer, recognised his gifts.

‘But the burger house.?’

‘We’ll be there in a moment. First, I’ve something to show you, something you’ll really like.’

As he spoke, he pulled into the kerb outside his childhood home. His was the only vehicle. Even through the darkness and rain, the derelict nature of the tenements was clear.

‘I don’t like it here. I want to go home. I want to.’

It was a cry from the heart: she obviously recognised his power. He liked that. Liked respect. Liked the increasing up and down lifting of her breasts beneath the clinging top.

‘I could offer you a different home,’ he said carefully, ‘I’ve got this special place.’ She made a lunge for the door, and he pulled her back, hooking his forearm round her neck till she started to choke. ‘Don’t scream or I’ll tighten this,’ he muttered, pushing his arm against her soft flesh for emphasis. She gagged audibly and he loosened the pressure slightly, still kept an unbreakable grip.

‘Aaagh,’ she said. ‘Uuuh, uuuh.’

Was she pretending she couldn’t breath to confuse him? He relaxed his arm another millimetre.

‘Don’t make a noise and you won’t get hurt.’

Jesus, he sounded like someone from one of those black and white gangster movies. He hadn’t meant his evening to end like this. Esmond had been screaming, Jeanette trying to comfort him. He’d felt the tension rising, had known he had to escape from the house. He’d wanted someone to listen to him, to make love to him. Someone who saw not who he was, but who he would become.

Moving carefully in the small car, he manoeuvred his body till it was over the joystick. Now he was facing the passenger window, with her body armlocked in front. ‘We’re going straight ahead,’ he said, staring at the deserted tenement. ‘Just keep quiet and we’ll get along fine.’

Other than little half-sobs – quite attractive, really – she did what she was told. She obviously needed a mentor, someone to instruct and guide her, to keep her right. She could give him the female viewpoint of most situations, help him to vary his work.

Gasping slightly, he pushed forward, and got the two of them through the passenger door. Once they were out on the pavement, it was simple, easy as a lie. Just ten hurried steps, moving like a beast with two backs, to the entrance of the tenement close.

They’d just made it when he realised that he hadn’t locked the driver’s door. Damn and blast it. He could hardly drag her all the way back. He hoped no one took his old but very well polished Escort. Cars gave you status, freedom, power.

The close smelt as abandoned it had on his last few visits. No vagrant’s faeces or signs that kids had been lighting fires. Once this place had been alive with time-killing and idly chatting neighbours. He’d bounced his ball down here, against the dusty concrete, whenever the weather was bad.

Bad to linger. Blinking slightly, he pushed her through fifty feet or so of tile-chipped passageway and out the other side. On, on, on, over the uncut grass and up the sloping grounds to his very own secret place.

His Secret House. His girl. His. Afterwards he found himself staring down at her body, wondering how much time had passed since they’d arrived here. Hours? Minutes? The shutters over the windows were fastened down. Impossible to tell if it was dark outside, or if it had gotten light whilst he lay curled here. He put on a third and fourth flashlight, and the shadows flickered. He didn’t feel strong enough to unlock the door just yet. Or look at her face.

Carefully he pulled up her top and let it cover her features. He knew they’d be distorted. They had been when he’d taken his aching hands from her neck. Why had she struggled and screamed when.? He’d only wanted to. He stared into the middle distance, feeling weak and slightly sick.

The sickness passed. As it did so, he felt compelled to look at her body again, the lace-edged bra cups. Bolder now, he let his eyes feast on the swell of flesh within. That texture. It was worth a song in itself, was pale perfection. But writing was emotion recollected in tranquillity, and he wasn’t tranquil – not yet.

Carefully he traced a thumb from her cleavage to her waistband. So rib-hard slender. He himself was slim, too slim. Better than being seriously obese, though: that took much of the dignity out of life.

Women gave a little tilt of their hips when they got out of skirts and trousers. He’d seen Jeanette do it when he’d surprised her getting ready for work. Kim couldn’t assist, so undressing her was awkward. Her cool arms flopped back as he lifted her at the waist.

Finally he found two concealed side buttons and undid them. Gotcha. The stockings turned out to be tights. Going, going. He rolled them off, after removing her stilettos. Her panties came down at the same time.

He left the bra till last, though its presence irked him. He could remember once seeing his mother in her bra. He’d gotten up early that morning, feeling hungry. She’d been standing with her back to the fire, pulling on her skirt. Her face had been turned towards the window, looking dreamy, her top half immobilised in cross-your-heart cups. He’d thought that someone with breasts that substantial should be able to sort out his father. Surely any man would want to please breasts like that?

This girl had small breasts. It wasn’t going to be the same, punishing breasts that small. He shook his head slightly and stared round the large, square room. What was he talking about? He didn’t want to punish Kim. He just wanted to explore a little, to look.

And feel. Crouching astride her, he ran his palms over her deep pink nipples. Jeanette’s nipples were larger, but they were brown. Not that nowadays he. Well, it didn’t seem right, somehow. After all, she was his wife, his helper and the mother of his child.

Not like this little bint. She didn’t have ties with anyone – not anyone that mattered. She wasn’t deferential or respectful, or even especially nice. All promise, and no delivery – overselling her tits in a too-tight top. Now, though, she’d do anything he wanted her to. Like offering her vulva. Like spreading these pale and slender thighs.

As he parted her legs he was surprised at the temperature of her body. Ah, the inadequacies of language. She was still warm, he the stiff. He pushed forward, slid in easily. A lubricated freeway. Maybe, despite her struggles, she’d fancied him? Young girls didn’t know what they wanted half the time. Take his teenage customers: they ran hot and cold, like taps.

Wetness. Warmth.

Afterwards he dressed her and carried her like a baby in his outstretched arms. She’d look like a sleeping drunk if they were seen. Or someone who’d gotten a bit too much brick dust in their veins along with the heroin. People often carried their relatives about around here.

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About Carol Anne Davis

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