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‘It’s an intriguing picture you’ve created,’ Jo said. ‘But I wonder if it isn’t a bit too … well … impressionistic. I wonder if you aren’t perhaps leaving a little too much to the reader’s imagination.’
My previous editor – Lorraine – had really only been concerned with spelling and grammar. Jo was different. ‘I think your reader might appreciate a little more detail.’
‘Well, I should leave something to their imagination,’ I said.
‘Yes, something is fine. But as it stands, you’re leaving practically everything to their imagination. I mean … take Mrs McAllister. Jamie describes her as “an older woman”. Does that mean that she is 25?’
‘Well, no – Jamie’s about 25. I was thinking Mrs McAllister is more like … I don’t know … 50, 55? Or is that too old.’
Jo smiled. ‘It’s your story.’
She scrolled down another couple of pages – and then went back – and then forward again. ‘So, she’s 50 – or thereabouts. What does she look like? Tall? Short? Fat? Thin?’
‘I imagine her being about average. Certainly not skinny.’
‘Hmm … sort of shoulder length – straight – light brown with lighter streaks. Both out of a bottle. I imagine she goes to quite a good hairdresser.’
‘Pleased to hear it,’ Jo said. ‘Makeup?’
‘Not over the top. But, yes, well presented.’
‘And how does she smell?’
‘Oh, umm … perfume. Probably quite expensive.’
‘Floral? Citrus? Musky?
‘Hmm … probably more citrusy than anything. And light. Definitely not old-lady perfume.’
Jo nodded. ‘And when Jamie first sees her – masturbating – what does he see?’
‘Yeah, but what’s the picture? Where is she? How is she dressed? What is she doing? You don’t really show the reader any of this.’
‘Well, I thought they could each use their imagination to see whatever most turned them on.’
‘I think you’ll find that many of them are reading your story because they have, for the moment at least, run out of thoughts that turn them on,’ Jo said. ‘They want to see what Jamie sees. They want to feel what Jamie feels. The guys want to get hard with him; the girls want to feel the little electric tingle when they realise that this young man is watching them.’
She had a point.
I closed my eyes and tried to picture what Jamie had seen when he had first looked into the bedroom. ‘I think …’ I said, ‘she is sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. It’s a half-upholstered Georgian-style elbow chair. She has her eyes closed – that’s why she doesn’t notice Jamie – well, not at first anyway.
‘She’s sitting on the front edge of the chair and leaning back. And she’s naked. No. Make that almost naked. I think she’s probably wearing stockings. Black. With lace tops. Yes. But no shoes. Her shoes are lying on the floor where she has kicked them off.’
Jo jotted something on the notepad beside her keyboard.
‘Her boobs are not especially large, but they do droop a little. They look just slightly underinflated – but still rather attractive. You can imagine them being quite soft to the touch. And her nipples are a soft pink colour. And quite pointed.
‘She’s not fat, but neither is she thin. She does, however, have a bit of a tummy – which Jamie finds quite sexy.
‘She is sitting with her legs splayed. Her labia are quite prominent – and quite pink against the paler flesh tone of the rest of her vulva. Oh, and she has quite a large patch of pubic hair, but it’s soft and wispy with hints of silvery grey.’
‘And, as you say in here,’ (Jo tapped the screen of her laptop) ‘she’s masturbating.’
‘Yes. Right hand. Working her clit with her forefinger … I think.’
Jo nodded. ‘Good. Yes. That works for me,’ she said. ‘Shall I let you have another go at it?’
As I walked home from Jo’s place, I wondered where the image of Mrs McAllister had come from. The characters in my stories are usually based on someone I’ve known – or at least someone I have met. But Mrs McAllister was just one of those characters that seemed to come from out of nowhere. At least she seemed to come from out of nowhere when Jo got me to paint a detailed picture. Up until that point, she had just been a sort of sketchy cardboard cut-out for the reader to imagine as they might. Maybe the first Mrs McAllister was just a placeholder for the real Mrs McAllister.
By the time I got home, the sun had almost set but the temperature was still right up there. I kicked off my boat shoes, grabbed a cold beer from the fridge, and headed for my desk.
Had Barry said first on the right at the top of the stairs or first on the left at the top of the stairs? Jamie couldn’t remember. But the door on the right was partially open, so he’d start there. He poked his head around the door, and there she was. Of course, at that stage, he didn’t even know that it was Mrs McAllister. It was just a naked woman. And she was playing with her pussy.
Jamie’s first instinct was to step backwards into the hallway. The woman had her eyes closed. She hadn’t şirinevler escort seen him. She couldn’t have seen him. One step back and she need never see him. But he was frozen to the spot.
The woman had an attractive roundish face and shoulder-length hair – light brown, with even lighter brown (almost blonde) streaks. She was wearing makeup that probably helped to make her look younger than she really was. Jamie noticed that her bright red lipstick was a perfect match for the red on her perfectly manicured fingernails. And she was moaning. Softly.
After the tanned, young bodies that Jamie was used to seeing on the beaches (and the Internet), the paleness of the fuller maternal body before him was something of a surprise. But it was a nice surprise. And even before he had really had a chance to take in the whole scene, he felt his cock beginning to stir.
‘Find it?’ a voice called out from the bottom of the stairs.
Even as Jamie’s cock rose, his heart sank. He stepped back – quickly – hopefully before the woman in the chair had a chance to open her eyes – and he listened. Nothing. Nothing further from the bottom of the stairs. And nothing from the woman in the chair. Slowly, very slowly, he leaned to his right and peered around the door. The chair was empty.
‘It should be on the wall just to the right of the bed,’ the voice from the bottom of the stairs called out.
Jamie coughed quietly to announce his presence and then knocked on the partially open door. There was no reply. He waited for a moment longer. There was still no reply. Eventually, Jamie pushed open the door and looked around the room. It was empty. Aside from the chair in the corner, there was not even any furniture – although there was a pair of shiny black patent leather shoes, just lying there, as if someone had carelessly kicked them off.
‘Hello? Is anyone there?’
I had left the French doors open to let a bit of air flow through the house and, when I walked through into the kitchen, there was a woman, 50-ish, casually dressed, standing in the open doorway. ‘Hello,’ she said. ‘My electricity doesn’t seem to be working.’
‘Yes,’ she said, and she nodded in the direction of Mill Cottage.
‘Well, umm, mine seems to be fine. Have you checked the circuit breaker?’
The woman frowned. ‘Circuit breaker?’
‘Yes. On the consumer board,’ I said. ‘Big switch thing. Probably should be down. The switch, I mean.’
The woman just frowned again – and shook her head slightly. ‘I’m not very good with electrical things,’ she said.
‘Would you like me to come and have a look?’
‘Umm … yes. I mean … thank you. Yes. Thank you.’ She seemed a bit nervous, a bit apprehensive.
‘Have you just moved in?’
The woman nodded. ‘Sort of.’
‘I’m Michael,’ I said.
She nodded again. ‘Yes. I’m … umm … Penelope. But I think I’m really Penny.’
‘OK, Penny. Just let me save the file – on my computer – and we’ll go and have a look.’
I went back to my computer, hit ctrl-S, and then, just to be sure, closed the file.
Mill Cottage had recently been totally renovated. Tradespeople had been coming and going for the best part of three months. And, even though Penny had all the windows open, there was still a strong smell of fresh paint and new carpet.
‘This is very nice,’ I said.
Penny nodded. ‘I think I’ll need some more things to sit on.’
I could see what she meant: it was rather sparsely furnished. Although what furniture there was, certainly seemed to be a notch or two above the stuff offered by the chain stores.
We found the consumer board and, sure enough, the main circuit breaker had tripped. I reset it, and showed Penny what to do if it happened again.
‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I’m not sure that I would even have found it – let alone known what to do with it if I did. I should give you something. I think there is some wine in the fridge. Would you like some wine? I think the sun is …’ She paused. ‘Well, wherever it’s supposed to be for drinking wine.’
I hesitated. But, before I had a chance to say that I really should get back to work, she had already taken a bottle of Pol Roget from the fridge and she was hunting for some glasses.
Penny looked vaguely familiar. I felt that I had seen her somewhere before. On TV perhaps. Or maybe she worked in the local bank or supermarket? The fact that she was wearing fashionably-crumpled loose-fitting linen pants, an oversized t-shirt, and a baseball cap probably didn’t help. I tried to picture her in a Tesco uniform – but, to be honest, that didn’t help either.
‘Cin Cin,’ she said.
‘Yes. Welcome to Blackthorn Lane.’
As I walked home for the second time that day, I realised that Penny had volunteered almost nothing about herself. We had met; we had sorted out her little electrical problem; we had sat at her scrubbed-pine kitchen table and sipped champagne from frosted glass tumblers (‘there should be flutes somewhere, but …’); I had almost şişli escort told her my entire life story; and yet she had said next-to-nothing about herself. Oh, well.
Now … where was I?
Jamie found the switch that he was looking for on the wall facing the shuttered window and pushed it. Immediately, a light started to flash on the landing at the top of the stairs and the house was filled with the sounds of an alarm. And then, just as quickly as it had started, it stopped again.
‘That certainly seems to be working now,’ a voice called out from somewhere downstairs.
Jamie took one last look around the near-empty room, grabbed his tool bag, and headed downstairs.
‘So, what was the problem?’
Barry – tall, gangly, with a coarse shock of grey hair – frowned and shook his head. ‘Dunno. It was like there was a loose connection somewhere. But it’s all hardwired, so I don’t know how that could be.’ And then, after a moment or two, he said: ‘We should probably check the terminals on the battery unit. D’you want to do that? It’s in the wall behind the painting in the dining room.’
Jamie nodded and headed off in the direction in which Barry was looking.
The dining room was dominated by a large mahogany dining table and eight chairs. Jamie had watched enough episodes of The Antiques Roadshow to decide that it was probably Georgian and worth a few bob.
To the right of the table there was an elegant marble fireplace, probably also Georgian. And, on the opposite wall, above a mahogany sideboard covered with silver-framed photographs, was the painting. It was a painting of a woman – the same woman that Jamie had seen sitting in the chair in the otherwise-empty bedroom. Yes, Jamie thought, that’s definitely the same woman. Younger, but definitely her.
Carefully, he removed the painting, and then used his key to unlock the camouflaged panel that covered the battery compartment. He checked the terminal connections. They appeared to be fine. He closed and locked the cover, and picked up the painting to replace it on the wall. By then, Barry had also come into the dining room.
‘Posh totty,’ Barry said.
‘You know her?’
‘The woman who owns this place,’ Barry said. ‘Mrs McAllister. A bit younger then, of course.’
Jamie nodded. ‘And she’s the one who disappeared?’
‘Well … according to the newspaper.’
Under the headline ‘Concern for reclusive Chalfont woman’, the local weekly newspaper had reported that, on the previous Friday morning, Mrs McAllister had been seen by both the milkman and the postman – although neither had spoken to her. Two hours later, a number of people thought that they had seen Mrs McAllister’s dark grey BMW in High Wycombe. And then twice that afternoon the burglar alarm at her Habden Place home had gone off. On both occasions a guard from Blue Steel Security had responded. And on both occasions there had been nobody at home and no sign of forced entry.
Shortly after 3:20 on the afternoon of the following Sunday, Mrs McAllister’s car was involved in an accident in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. The driver – who was apprehended ‘legging it’ from the scene – was Rufus Loveday Washington, a man well known to the Birmingham police as a petty criminal. Mr Washington said that he had just ‘found’ the car in a supermarket carpark. Attempts to contact Mrs McAllister were unsuccessful. Local police said that they had not been contacted.
‘Is there a Mr McAllister?’ Jamie asked.
Barry shrugged his shoulders. ‘He’s the bloke what went missing on that yacht race.’
‘That was the name of the yacht, wasn’t it? Jump?’
My phone rang. It was Jo.
‘I hope this isn’t too late,’ she said.
‘No. Fine. I’m just doing a bit of … tinkering.’
‘Oh, good. I’ve been thinking … the bit where Jamie tells Barry about seeing Mrs McAllister … I think you should leave that out. I think it works better if Jamie keeps it to himself. What do you reckon?’
I quickly read through the bit she was talking about. She had a point. Barry was only an incidental character. He didn’t need to know what Jamie had seen in the bedroom. The reader did; but Barry didn’t. In fact, it was probably better if Jamie kept it as a secret. ‘OK,’ I said.
‘Right. That’s us done,’ Barry said. ‘You didn’t leave any lights on upstairs did you?’
‘Don’t think so,’ Jamie replied. ‘But I’ll go and check if you like.’
Barry nodded. ‘Yeah. Probably should. You know … just in case. Tell you what, you do that and I’ll get the first round in.’
‘OK. I’ll meet you there in about five minutes.’ Jamie zipped up his tool bag, placed it at the foot of the stairs, and went up to check on the lights.
‘I’m pleased you came back. I didn’t know if you would.’ It was a woman’s voice. ‘But I hoped that you would.’
‘I just came to …’
‘See if I was still here?’
‘Well, no … check the lights actually.’
‘It’s alright,’ the woman (who Jamie now knew was Mrs suadiye escort McAllister) said. ‘There’s just the light at the top of the stairs – and I would have switched that off.’
Mrs McAllister was leaning, casually, against the wall. Her arms were folded and she was wearing what appeared to be a man’s shirt. The shirt was unbuttoned and, although her arms more or less covered her breasts, her fur-covered pubic mound was clearly on display. ‘You’re frowning,’ she said. ‘Is something wrong?’
‘I was wondering how you managed to disappear,’ Jamie said.
‘A lot of people have been wondering that lately,’ Mrs McAllister said.
‘One moment you were …’
‘Sitting in the chair?’
‘Yes. And then you weren’t.’
She smiled. ‘I didn’t want to distract you from your work,’ she said. ‘But I take it that you’ve finished now.’
‘Good. Then I can distract you.’
At 4:07 (digital time), I was awoken by a bright flash of lightning followed, just a couple of seconds later, by a loud peal of thunder. A few more seconds and there was more lightning and more thunder. Then a really bright flash. And a crash of thunder that shook the house. After that, rain: torrential rain – although it only lasted for a minute or so. But, by then, I was well and truly awake.
I rolled out of bed and padded off to the kitchen. Even though the rain had stopped, I could still hear the heavy drops of water falling from the trees outside the partially open window. And through the trees and across the stream I could see a light. It appeared to be coming from Mill Cottage. It seems that I wasn’t the only person who had been woken by the storm.
I grabbed a glass of water and took it through to the small room that served as my study.
Jamie said nothing.
A couple of possibilities: he could be imaging the whole thing (although that seemed unlikely); or it could all be part of some elaborate practical joke. His cousin, Harry, was an illusionist. He cut women in half and made rabbits appear and disappear. But even Harry needed props. Aside from the chair – which did not seem to have any secret compartments – the room was quite empty.
Mrs McAllister crossed the room, gracefully, her shirttails parting, exposing the unquestionably womanly body that Jamie found so arousing. ‘Yes. I’m glad you came back,’ she said. She reached out, gently-but-firmly placed a hand on the back of his head, and guided his lips to hers.
‘Well, that felt real enough,’ Jamie said.
Mrs McAllister smiled. ‘And so does this,’ she said, placing her hand on the growing bulge in the front of Jamie’s trousers. Deftly, she unbuckled his belt and lowered his zip. Jamie’s cock came free. ‘Mmm … just what I was hoping to find,’ she said. ‘I think it might be easier if these came off completely.’ And, before Jamie had an opportunity to offer an opinion of his own, she had his trousers down around his ankles. At least he had left his work boots at the front door.
Mrs McAllister looked around the near-empty room. ‘I think it will have to be the chair,’ she said. She was not wrong. The arms of the chair were just the right height. Leaning forward and placing a hand on each arm, and spreading her stocking-clad legs, her posterior was positioned almost perfectly. ‘I think you know what to do,’ she said with a definite smile in her voice.
Jamie slid the index finger of his right hand along the groove between Mrs McAllister’s buttocks until he reached her slippery entrance. ‘Gosh! Someone’s wet and ready to go,’ he said.
‘Well, I did have a bit of a practice lap,’ Mrs McAllister reminded him.
I wrote the next sentence at least a dozen times. And each time I trashed it. Eventually, I decided that I needed a cup of tea.
As I waited for the kettle to boil, I looked out in the direction of the stream and beyond. The light that had been winking through the trees had gone. Mill Cottage appeared to be in darkness once more. Perhaps Penny, too, had got up to make a cup of tea. And now, having drunk her tea, she had returned upstairs to her girly bedroom overlooking the mill stream.
I imagined her lying there. Wide awake. Maybe she too was listening to the drips falling from the trees. Or perhaps listening to the water passing over the stony bed of the stream.
In my imagination, she was wearing pink satin pyjamas. I imagined the slippery pink fabric lying softly across her breasts and her thighs. I imagined her hand casually, absent-mindedly, stroking her breast through the fabric. Maybe her other hand was tracing the outline of her vulva.
The water in the kettle reached the boil and the kettle turned itself off. But my mind was still on Penny: Penny absent-mindedly exploring her body through the slippery fabric of her pink pyjamas. I imagined her slipping her hand beneath the waistband of her pyjama trousers, her fingers moving down, down through her wispy-soft pubic hair until they reached her warm, damp crevice.
Jamie dipped a second finger into Mrs McAllister’s juicy honeypot.
‘Oh, yes,’ she said.
Briefly, Jamie withdrew his now-wet fingers and smeared Mrs McAllister’s lubricious juices over the head of his hard cock. It felt good. His cock felt good and, somehow, the slippery, warm, cunt juice made it look and feel even better.
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