Asking for the gravy had never before felt so entrenched in danger.
It should have been a simple act, one not laced with menace. Instead, delicious, thick gravy with a generous side of abject dread. And I certainly shouldn’t have felt the prickling of fear at the back of my neck whilst sat in such pleasant surroundings, the overwhelming sense of being trapped in Instagram-worthy opulence. I can see it now - #murder
So, I just styled it out to the best of my abilities. Theatre studies from way back in college finally coming to some use. I plumped for Stanislavski's approach, naturally. I was sure they didn't have any sort of inkling as to my rumbling of their cunning game.
I assume it’s some sort of game. That’s what it sounded like when I accidentally happened to eavesdrop upon them reiterating the rules to each other, huddled and cohesive in their bitter and bloody resolve. If it hadn’t been for my combination of good manners and forgetfulness, I’d still be oblivious of attack right now.
They’d thought the flushing toilet was a sign that I was still in the bathroom washing my hands. That I was still cloaked in the swooshing, all-consuming watery noise; that it provided a brief, yet safe time for a guaranteed spy-free family collusion. But I’d actually forgotten to flush in the standard pee/flush/wash hands/leave way and, having already washed and dried my hands like the good lad I am, I simply leaned back in through the still open doorway, flipped the handle on the toilet and walked away from the sound.
And that was when I walked past the slightly ajar door of the study where they were discussing how to kill me. Correction – how to kill me fairly. In line with the rules.
Ok, let me back up a bit. I’m being confusing. Tad vague thus far.
It all started with the sublimely beguiling Clarissa Hamilton. A stunning young woman that had seen, or so I had thought, some potential in the slightly older, and much rougher human that was me. Clarissa is my girlfriend. Was my girlfriend. Well, we’ll see how that pans out after today. Tall, elegant, long chestnut coloured hair that she seemed to always effortlessly pile on top of her head in a messy, yet damn sexy way. Delicate features, a smattering of freckles and a face that rarely needed make up. Athletic build, long legs. As sexy dressed down in jogging bottoms as she was dressed up, or even better, undressed.
Man, she was my type. Toned, slim, naturally pretty, and posh.
OK, she was one of my many types, but she fit perfectly the mould of my favourite type.
She was posh and gorgeous. She was also bloody funny, hugely intelligent and damned sexy when she wanted to be. Which was nearly all the time behind closed doors. She was fairly filthy, in fact. Finger up the bum filthy to be precise. Too much too soon? Sorry.
Anyway, I’d been riding a wave of euphoria and disbelief in the three months since she approached me in the spit-and-sawdust pub down the road from me. I love an empowered woman and I delight in being pulled by them. She had plucked me out of my OK life in front of my slack-jawed beered up mates and led me away to hedonistic times involving matching underwear. Bra and knickers that were the same pattern!
I had tried to take each day as it had come, and not get too hooked; believing it was a finite thing, doomed to fail. Yet it had burned brighter each day, the bond both mentally and sexually growing ever permanent. I had thrown entire weekends away, previously planned with mates; guiltless eating, drinking and fucking up a sweat in her beautiful pad. Somewhere along the line I’d fallen hook, line and sinker for her and had readily agreed to meet her parents at the city apartment on this fateful day.
Yes. Specifically their city apartment. They were so damn rich that each of their properties had a prefix. City apartment. Country house. Holiday home. Spanish villa. Needless to say, I’d felt like a pauper just knowing that and had rocked up this morning with Clarissa, more than a little nervous, yet armed with all of my Ps and Qs. Dressed in my best ‘grown up but not staid’ cloth and finery. Shiny brogues. Best face. Manicured and neat. My phone had been confiscated so that I didn't slip off somewhere to check Twitter or some such thing. Clever, that. I was a buffered, smart and phone free suckling pig to the feast.
“Just be yourself” Clarissa had reiterated downstairs as I craned my neck looking up at the huge slab of prime London bricks and mortar that towered in front of me. Gargoyles peered down, mocking my social standing. A supercar roared by, voicing its throaty disapproval at my very presence in this choice postcode. I was pond life writ large.
“Ha. Yeah, that’ll do it” I muttered back, overawed, despite Clarissa’s gentle unfolding of the facts regarding her family’s wealth over the previous few days. She had very unhurriedly eased me into the full story, and I thought I’d got it, that I’d got my head around the huge them-and-us-ness of it all. I’d thought I could get by in their company, using the charm and wit that were my tools. That was until I’d seen this building, this huge block of apartments, each of which was easily worth seven figures. No, I really hadn’t got it up until I stood agape at the front of the affluent edifice.
Still, I slapped the grin back on my face, and scattered my charm bullets as if from a Gatling gun at each person I came across. The doorman. The lift monkey. The housekeeper. And then finally, Daddy, Mummy and Bro. Even at 27 that is what she called them all.
Posh girls, eh? They'll be the death of me.
My fears were soon made smooth in a gentle tide of perfectly polished social etiquette that engulfed and embraced me. Daddy (call me Johnathan, old boy) had rained upon me many a friendly back slap and chumly arm punch. Mummy (Eddie, shot for Edwina, sweetie) had held my gaze with an almost flirty, mischievous glint, a constant subtext of humour or horniness. Robert (call me Bobby, buddy, everybody does) had engaged in energetic talk of music and gigs that we’d both been to. Common ground deftly found.
Nicely done, bro.
To put it simply, bonding had been extremely swift and efficient. Craft beer and heady, good wine had flowed freely, lubricating the afternoon through to evening, and I was held in a bubble of bliss. But then the sobering smack around the face as I’d slid past the door, when their errant words of skulduggery had befallen my ears. Talk of your imminent death will do that to a good mood. Bit of a buzz kill.
The subsequent immediate and logical doubt at what I’d heard had been crushed when I saw them reflected in a mirror beside them, all brandishing their chosen weapons. The angle of their heads meant they hadn’t seen me; but I had certainly seen them, and more importantly, the large butcher’s knife, lethal looking ice pick, what I assumed was a nail-gun and a bloody metal baseball bat. Who even has those in England?
There was none of that “..and I was rooted to the spot in fear” malarkey you read so much about. No, screw that. The human brain moves damn fast when it needs to. Without another thought I’d slid away, plush carpet footfalls almost soundless toward the front door, only to find it bolstered and bolted through with two huge metal bars that spanned the door’s width and disappeared with a sense of finality, into the door frame.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so I’d decided at that point to play it out and have the element of surprise on my side. What else could I do?
Their false smiles matched mine as we congregated back in the lounge when dinner was announced with a demure shake of a hand bell. And here we were, sat in front of chestnut, stilton and truffle soup with a cloud of expectation raining silently down upon us. The tinkle of fine cutlery on lavish crockery accompanied our perfectly poised small talk and soothing laughter. We existed under a mist of treachery, time ticking by toward inevitability.
Clarissa sat next to me with her hand on my left thigh, and I would wager, the butcher knife in her left hand. We were sat on the long section of the slab of mahogany that was the dining room table, as was her brother, sat opposite us. He’d had the contraption that I’d clocked as a nail gun. He’d have to go first if I was to stand a chance. Mater and Pater were at each head of the table either end, so unless they had swapped, I had a baseball bat to my right and an ice pick to my left, on the other side of my beautiful and treacherous Clarissa. I looked at her angelic face. Fucking evil bitch.
Time stretched languidly, laden with untold duplicity.
Staff silently took the soup smeared bowls, and replaced them with plates of what would normally have had my taste buds in rapture. Talk around the table took a turn towards what was done in the name of fun. Or rather, what I did. Did I do any sports? Did I lift weights? Any martial arts? Could I handle myself when the great unwashed inevitably rioted down the pub on a Friday night?
Of course, I could see where it was going, but kept an innocent air about me and my abilities. They didn’t need to know that I could handle myself. No one really knew that.
Sideways glances and meaningful looks cut through the airspace above the table, missiles over the slick small talk that bounced around beneath, superficially innocent, rolling below the razor steel peeks.
I was a coiled spring below my neck. A powerful engine, warmed and ready to roar. I was a storm coming. A smile played on my face, words, flowing and friendly fell from my mouth, maintaining the frothy pretense that all was well; my head lighthoused those assembled and armed around me. All five of us were talking, yet saying nothing. Eyes darting. Looks meaningful. Hands busy. The air felt as if it was crackling.
I asked for the gravy.
It was like the puff of dust that lifts off the ground and seems to hang, suspended momentarily, when a nuclear weapon detonates in the distance. A sign that all hell was about to break loose.
And then the lights went out. And all hell broke loose.