Read The Ties That Bind Online

Authors: Erin Kelly

Tags: #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction

The Ties That Bind (3 page)

‘And did it work?’

‘Oh yeah,’ Luke gestured to the waitress. ‘Look at the tits on that.’

Jeremy laughed, then grew serious. ‘So what are you working on at the moment?’

The awful truth was that his freelance career had been strangled at birth thanks to a spectacular piece of self-sabotage. But Jeremy didn’t need to know that. ‘What I’m really interested in is sort of true crime, old gangland wars, trying to find an old mobster to write a biography of. I’ve got an agent who’s interested, and I’m chasing this one lead who could make it all happen. Len Earnshaw? He was a safecracker in the sixties but they didn’t catch him till the eighties. He worked every city in the North, he knew
everyone
, from the Quality Street Gang to the Krays – and he’s never gone on record before now.’

‘Sounds fascinating,’ said Jeremy. He sounded like he meant it, so, ignoring Viggo’s rolling eyes, Luke pulled his notebook out of his satchel and found a spotlight on the table that they could just about read by. The notebook bulged with pasted scraps, photocopied newspaper cuttings and a few notes cribbed from true crime books. ‘Here’s Earnshaw,’ he said, pointing to a stylish mugshot. Jeremy had to lean in close. He smelled delicious: clean and musky at the same time. Luke felt the first stirrings of attraction quicken and condense into desire.

‘What’s a nice boy like you doing writing about violence like this?’ asked Jeremy. He’s flirting with
me
, thought Luke. Not Viggo, but
me
.

‘I’m just fascinated by it. I did my dissertation on homosexuality and gangland culture in the sixties.’

‘Mine was on operational resources and statistics. You must think me terribly boring.’ But Luke didn’t, obeying the law that we are always interested in those who are fascinated by us. He suddenly wanted Jeremy’s opinion on his work in progress, and wondered if he should offer to show him the opening chapter, which he thought nicely conveyed the North of the sixties and the social context; he wanted someone else’s opinion, but his new friend’s focus had drifted.

‘Do you know him?’ He nodded over Luke and Viggo’s shoulders to where Charlene was gesticulating at the bouncer from the other side of the rope.

‘That’s not a him, that’s Charlene,’ said Viggo. At his wave, she was allowed in.

‘Why can’t you just drink at the bar like normal people?’ she said.

‘Jeremy, Charlene, Charlene, Jeremy,’ said Luke.

‘All right?’ said Charlene.

‘How do you do?’ said Jeremy. He stared at Charlene, as people often did on their first encounter, because she looked like an unnervingly beautiful underage boy. She kept her hair in a short-back-and-sides with a quiff at the front and tonight she had on a fifties Hawaiian shirt and jeans with turn-ups. At Jeremy’s nod, another glass and a fresh bottle appeared on their table.

‘How’s your dad?’ said Viggo, filling her glass, and then, to Jeremy, ‘Charlene had to move back down south to look after her dad. He’s not well.’

‘Don’t want to talk about it. I’ve got a respite carer living in until the day after tomorrow, so I intend to drink my way through it.’ She emptied her glass. ‘Who wants to dance?’

Luke and Jeremy shook their heads, but Viggo let her pull him to the dancefloor and up onto a podium. Luke watched Jeremy watch Viggo. The way he looked under the lights – golden hair and skin, rippling arms – was just one of the reasons Viggo rarely went home alone.

‘Are you much of a dancer, Jeremy?’ asked Luke, hoping the answer would be no.

‘Call me Jem. Jeremy makes me sound like an accountant.’

‘Ok, Jem. What
do
you do?’

‘I’m an accountant,’ he deadpanned, making Luke laugh. ‘Well, an actuary really.’ He took an engraved, pale green business card from his wallet that read, ‘Jeremy Gilchrist, Partner, Gilchrist Fonseca, Actuarial Consultants’.

‘Yeah, what
is
that?’ said Luke, flexing the card between his fingers. ‘I know it’s a specialist kind of accountant, but . . .’

‘It’s about risk, about assessment. Say a multinational wants to open a new branch somewhere. I need to see whether they’re good for it.’

As Luke wondered how he would steer the conversation back to something with a bit more erotic potential, Charlene and Viggo returned, falling on the free champagne as though afraid it would be taken away at any moment.

‘Dancefloor’s full of
children
,’ said Charlene. ‘I must be getting old.’

‘Why don’t you come back to my place?’ said Jem. ‘It’s just round the corner.’ The invitation was addressed to all of them.

‘Nah,’ said Charlene. ‘I’ve had enough of being indoors to last me all year. I think I’ll stay here, see who else turns up.’

Luke stared hard at Viggo, hoping he would take the silent hint, but he didn’t.

Chapter 3

Jem’s flat was further along the River Aire, beside the cobbled banks where the Royal Armories Museum stood among old redbrick mills and factories reborn as flats and offices. The neighbourhood was only half-gentrified: the coffee bars and Pilates studios hadn’t quite nudged out the greasy spoon cafes and tattoo parlours.

They turned into a dock, where old-fashioned barges were moored beneath a brand new glass-and-chrome apartment block. The penthouse, reached by a gleaming steel lift, occupied the entire top floor.

‘What a
view
,’ said Viggo, standing before the huge plate window. It had begun to drizzle, turning lights into streamers all over the city.

Jem walked up behind Viggo – their closeness made Luke fizz with anxiety – and tapped the glass twice. Immediately it became opaque.

‘No way!’ said Viggo, jumping back and laughing. ‘Jem, can we smoke?’

The hesitation was barely perceptible. ‘Sure,’ said Jem. At the touch of an unseen button, the window slid open to reveal a balcony.

Jem retreated into a kitchen and they heard ice tumble into glasses. In the sitting room, the walls were bare and bookshelves empty apart from a Bose music dock. Luke had never seen a place look so uninhabited. When e-readers had first come out, he’d joked to Viggo that now that people’s books were all hidden away in digital form instead of on display on bookshelves, it was much harder to know whether to sleep with them. It hadn’t occurred to him that he might want to sleep with someone who didn’t have
any
.

Jem came back with an ice bucket, three glasses and, this time, a bottle of Laurent Perrier that dripped with condensation. Luke didn’t know many people who kept £40 bottles of champagne in the fridge the way he and Viggo kept milk.

‘You can see why I needed to buy some art. Only just moved in. That’s where he’s going to hang,’ he said, gesturing to the largest blank wall.

‘Where’d you live before?’ asked Viggo.

‘Headingley,’ said Jem. He flushed slightly. ‘With my wife. Soon to be ex.’ His voice took on a confessional tone. ‘I haven’t actually been out very long. Six months. It’s still a novelty going into a bar without taking off my wedding ring first.’

There was a short silence while Luke and Viggo took this in.

‘I don’t think I was ever
in
,’ said Viggo. ‘My mum says she knew when I was three.’

‘What about you?’ He turned to Luke.

‘I was out at high school in Sydney, so about seventeen.’

‘At
school
? I didn’t even come out to
myself
until I was thirty. And I was eight years married by then.’

‘Sounds lonely,’ said Luke. Viggo had lost interest, and bent over the dock, scrolling through Jem’s iPod.

‘It was, for both of us. I’m very sorry that I didn’t have the courage to leave Serena ten years ago, and I’m sorry I went behind her back. I loved her very much, in a platonic sort of way. I still do. I miss her terribly.’ He looked down at his left hand, as though checking for a ring. ‘But there was no
investment
, no risk. I didn’t give anything of myself to lose. And that wasn’t fair on either of us. It’s ironic, isn’t it, given what I do for work? I wasted the best years of her life, as her friends all told me before they decided never to speak to me again. I can’t say I blame them.’

‘Where is she now?’

‘She’s still in our old house in Headingley, living our old life without me.’ He looked desperately sad.

Viggo had finally located music that met with his approval – some jazz that Luke didn’t recognise – and, playlist sorted, he shimmied his way to the toilet, leaving Luke and Jem alone together. When he disappeared, it was as though the lights had been turned down.

Jem leaned in, pressed one finger to Luke’s collarbone and took his lower lip between his teeth. Luke only remembered Viggo when the front door slammed, shocking them apart.

‘Sorry,’ said Jem. ‘I’ve made things awkward with your friend. I couldn’t help it. Just . . . look at you.’ He slid a warm palm down Luke’s chest, over his belly, under the buckle. ‘How do you keep that stomach so flat, anyway?’

‘I’m twenty-eight and poor,’ said Luke, joking to mask the nerves that suddenly butterflied about his body. But Jem wasn’t joking. He looked more serious, more intent, than Luke had ever seen anyone before. He felt naked even before he was undressed.

In the bedroom, Luke’s awareness of his own imperfections briefly flared and threatened everything; he felt every one of his freckles, every crazy strand of hair. Jem’s body was crafted to rival anything in a gallery. Smooth, even skin wrapped tight around solid muscle. Arousal triumphed over insecurity and Luke surrendered to it, lost himself in this man who was warm velvet and expensive leather and – yes! – wood.

 

When Luke woke up, Jem was in bed beside him, reading his notebook.

‘Morning,’ said Jem. ‘I was torn between reading this and watching you. You look very lovely asleep. Not sure how cool you are now, though. Can you still be a hipster with your clothes off?’

‘Huh,’ said Luke.

‘So, I’ve just been transported back fifty years to Manchester in the sixties. I didn’t mean to look, and then I couldn’t stop,’ said Jem. ‘It’s
good
. When you said true crime, I was thinking of pictures of guns and handcuffs but this is . . . better than it needs to be.’

He had flattered Luke into alertness. ‘I was thinking along the lines of
In Cold Blood
. Do you know it?’ Jem shook his head. ‘Truman Capote. It’s an account of a real-life murder in Kansas only it’s . . . serious, and literary.’

‘Righty ho,’ said Jem, waving the notebook. ‘Well, you’ll be signing copies of
this
before you know it. I hope you’ve practised your autograph.’

There was a pen on the bedside table. Luke uncapped it and signed his name with a flourish on Jem’s side. Jem got out of bed and admired the signature in the mirrored door of the wardrobe.

‘You’ve made your mark on me all right,’ he said, lightly tracing the letters with his fingertips.

‘What time is it?’ asked Luke, wondering how long they had before their hangovers kicked in.

‘Half seven.’

‘It’s the crack of bloody dawn,’ said Luke, pulling the covers over his head. ‘Don’t go to work. Chuck a sickie, stay in bed with me.’

‘I
couldn’t
,’ said Jem gleefully. When he put the call in, he was clearly leaving a message not for a boss, but a secretary. ‘I’ve got nothing in for breakfast,’ he said. ‘I usually have it at the gym. I’ll go out and get coffee, fresh orange, some pretentious carbohydrates with a French name. Maybe some papers.’

‘OK,’ said Luke. He rolled over and immediately began to dream. They were in a subterranean club with whitewashed brickwork arches. Jem was there dressed as a sixties gangster, drinking and comparing guns with Len Earnshaw. Truman Capote was in the corner holding court and on a tiny stage, Judy Garland sang, spotlit against a glittering curtain. The dream seemed to last for ever, but it must have been one of those micro-sleeps you heard about because when Luke woke and called out Jem’s name he still wasn’t back.

He had a shower, using Jem’s caviar shampoo for silver hair and the body wash whose price tag was more than he made on a night shift in the gallery. He towelled off and waited in the sitting room. He tapped the window and was suddenly stark-bollock naked in front of the dock that now thronged with office workers and shoppers. After hurriedly dressing, he explored the flat; there was little to see. All the surfaces were as bare as the shelves. The only thing to show anyone lived there was a little dish by the front door containing a set of car keys, some loose change and Jem’s driving licence, which showed that he was thirty-nine and still gave his old address in Headingley.

Eventually the smooth buzz of the lift heralded Jem’s return. The aroma of coffee and pastry came first but Jem’s face was the same colour as his hair and Luke looked down to see a thin bloodstain threading its way through his white shirt.

‘Jesus Christ, Jem. Have you been stabbed?’ He threw a glance out of the window as if he’d be able to see the knifeman running off into the mêlée. Jem lifted the cotton and gently peeled away a wad of gauze to reveal Luke’s signature, now raised, swollen and oozing blood.

‘I went to the tattoo parlour,’ he said. ‘I wanted to show you I had faith in your writing. I can be a signed first edition.’

Chapter 4

When Luke arrived for his shift in the gallery, he still felt lit up where Jem had touched him. His skin glowed in anticipation of more to come later that night, and he wondered if he could leave an hour early. Already he was concerned about the clash between his late nights and Jem’s early mornings. Had he ever thought of a relationship in such practical, permanent terms after only one encounter?

Viggo was running late. Taking the glasses out of the dishwasher, Luke hoped that he had taken last night’s defeat in good grace. After all, how many times had he had to sit through tales of Viggo’s conquests? But when he finally got there, half an hour behind schedule, he wasn’t sulking but bouncing around like Tigger.

‘I’m going to be an author!’ he screamed, virtually headbutting Luke. ‘Aminah wants me to write her books for her!’

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