Here are stories from The Farley Family.
They are fun, they are flighty.
They are unpredictable.
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The man in the black clothes crept carefully up the exotic garden's path. He stopped, looked round the corner, then moved out from behind the bushes and hid amongst the trees at the edge of the luxuriant flower beds. It was a bright summer morning, and he could have been seen easily against the foliage. Luckily for him, everyone was too busy in the hotel getting ready for the wedding. Nobody had time to gaze out of the rear windows of the converted manor house and see him skulking. Good. He could go about his evil mission without interruption.
He checked his mobile phone again. The message had got through, he was sure of it. Now all he had to do was wait for his victim to arrive.
It had been too easy. He knew the woman was getting ready, but he had worded the invitation too cleverly. She wasn't going to resist. She thought she would be meeting her lover, and though that was 'bad luck' on the day of the wedding, (as everyone said), he knew her passionate nature. Besides, the text was short and easily misinterpreted. It might seem that her fiancée was in trouble. Well, she'd rush down from upstairs, then. She had a protective nature, knowing he was in a foreign country – for him – she would worry about him, look after him, take care of him.
It would prove her undoing.
The man was pleased. It had been a long mission, carefully planned. He had managed to get himself into a position of trust. People liked him. He had the easy smile and ready wit of many service personnel. He had done similar undercover work in the past, of course, and the only worry for him was that people would remember his distinctive features, his heavy eyebrows and jet black hair. Next time, I need a change, he decided. Maybe I should dye my hair, change the style, everything. The clothes would be different, anyway, he knew.
His phone rang.
He cursed. He had been so keen to check it earlier, he had forgotten to switch it off. What could he do? It would be strange not to answer it. He didn't dare.
"Yes?" he barked savagely.
"Duchamp? It’s Le Clerc. Where are you?"
"Not now," the man in black answered and cut the connection, then switched the instrument off, as he should have done earlier. The fool, he was thinking. Can't the man do anything without me? It was ridiculous. Well, he would get back to him later, when he'd made the kill.
The man moved forward, into the shadow of the high brick wall. In front, and set back from the pool, were a long line of wooden cabins. They served as changing rooms for the outdoor swimming pool and were a perfect cover for him to lurk, and wait. There was no one else about, of course. They all were getting ready, looking forward to the ceremony in two hours. The man in black smiled wickedly. There would be no wedding. Not now.
He heard footsteps.
It could have been a member of staff, maybe one of the pool attendants, but the clicking of high heel shoes on the tiles beside the pool became unmistakable. The man moved back into the shadows, keeping low so that he couldn't be seen through the cabin's windows. He moved forward, towards the big house, knowing his victim was moving away from it. He hoped to work round, and get behind her.
He moved carefully and quietly between the two cabins nearest the mansion, and came out on the same side as the pool. He sneaked a look along the line of wooden shacks and was gratified to see the back of the bride, walking away from him. She reached the end of the line and looked left, then moved in that direction, disappearing. As predicted. His instructions had been quite clear. Go to the end and turn left. That's what he had told her, and, being a dutiful wife, she had obeyed the message she thought was from her future husband.
It was gratifying that she was dressed properly. He liked that. It was early yet, and he did think that she might have been more casual. Then he would have had the problem of recognising her. These English women – they all look the same, he had always thought. The wedding dress was a useful give-away. He could see who she was. There was no mistaking the outfit.
The man in black turned silently on the balls of his feet and retraced his steps along the side of the cabin. He stepped into the walkway at the back of the wooden building and stopped. The bride was facing him, less than twenty feet away.
He paused. She looked delightful. She had the full wedding dress on, the white bodice with lace sleeves, the swept out skirt and many-layered petticoat. And a veil. A wonderful, Olde Worlde touch. So few people bothered with that these days.
It was such a pity he had to kill her.
She stopped when she saw the man in black. It was clear that this wasn’t the person she was expecting. She was confused. She had been expecting her fiancée, a man filled with love. This man, so full of hate, was a complete surprise. She was puzzled more than frightened when he lifted a hand and pointed it straight towards her. She was still working it out when the silenced gun in his hand went off with a mild pop, and the muzzle flashed in the darkness behind the cabins.
It only took one bullet. An ugly red stain formed instantly in the middle of the bride’s chest, and she fell to the ground with a sigh. Her dress cushioned her fall in the restricted space, and she seemed to be going to sleep, so casually did she collapse.
The man in black took the silencer off the revolver, then put both items back in his slick jacket pocket. He smiled with satisfaction. A job well done.
This will do it, he was thinking with glee.
This will get their attention.
The telephone in the plush hotel room shrilled for attention. Young Marlie picked it up gingerly.
"Ms Topsham?" a polite young voice enquired. "Reception here. Mr Dutson, Trainee Manager. The Duty Manager has just informed me that the flowers have arrived and are being taken to the Banqueting Suite. I thought it prudent to let you know. So you won’t worry."
“Thank you,” she said, slightly overwhelmed at all the attention. Deep down, she wasn’t sure if she deserved it – except for the fact that it was her wedding day, and if a girl can’t be spoiled on her wedding day, when can she be?
“And,” the young man added. “I’ve been on Reception, checking people in. Your mother has arrived, with your sister. They say they’re going to their respective bedrooms to unpack and will join you shortly.”
Heavens, Marlie thought to herself, but managed to squeeze out a ‘Thank you’ for the hotel man. She put the phone down and caught sight of herself in the full length mirror by the door. She looked wonderful, she knew, but it wasn’t right. She was wearing her wedding dress. Already. Her mother had set her heart on helping her to dress, but Marlie had been so excited, she couldn’t wait for the promised assistance. She was desperate to try on the magnificent material. It belonged to her future husband’s family and had had to be teased and cleaned, pleated and taken in, so that it fitted perfectly. Marlie had been patient through all those fitting sessions, but today was the day. She was finally going to get to wear it for real.
It had been so difficult getting time off to go into the big city to the tailoring salon, but it was Drasic had wanted. At least, it was what his family wanted, he told her. They had been so apologetic that they weren’t going to be there for the actual ceremony, but they would see her soon, they assured her. That would be when he took her over for the honeymoon and showed her where they were going to live in his wonderful country on the edge of the Mediterranean. Marlie smiled to think of it. They were going to spend their first real night together in this exclusive hotel, here, in the heart of England, and in the morning, a limousine would arrive to take them to the airport. Her own family would have to say goodbye to her then. She was sorry about that, which was why she wanted their hours together today to be the best. She wanted her mother to have something to remember, of her little girl, when she was so far away.
Marlie sighed. She been so careful when the dress was delivered to her flat yesterday, the day before she needed it. But now, alone in her hotel room, with the ceremony two hours away, she couldn’t wait any longer. It had to be now. She had to try it on. It was a truly wonderful feeling at first, as the swirling silk had covered her anxious shoulders, but suddenly she was filled with guilt. There was only one thing for it. She’d have to take it off, she knew, so that her mother and sister could do their ‘duty’ – and their great pleasure – in helping her to dress for the wedding.
Just one more minute, she promised herself.
She twirled and preened, admiring herself some more in the full-length mirror. Why not? she thought ecstatically. It wasn’t every day she had the chance to look so good, but for such an agonisingly short time. Marlie knew that she was no beauty. Her friends all agreed she was nice, a lovely person, but definitely ‘average’ in the good looks stakes. But now – with the glowing white dress (and the delightful veil to be added later), she looked a picture. It made her seem slimmer than ever, and accentuated her legs. Her feet would look graceful when she put on the white leather slippers. Her manicured hands already glistened in the sunlight. Her hair had been set that morning, and was more golden than its usual tawny self. She looked good. She felt good. Well, she decided, it was definitely going to be a wonderful day.
Marlie walked to the window of the luxurious hotel room and looked down on the glorious grounds at the rear of the hotel. Shrigley Manor had once been the country seat of one of the most important Dukes in England, but now that he had fallen on hard times, it had been sold to the private sector and turned into a Five-star hotel and Country Club. Ideal for weddings, with its ornate fittings, its lofty rooms, and its impressive sweeping drive. It had been updated at enormous expense. One of the ‘new’ features was a full-size outdoor swimming pool in place of the former fountains at the back of the building. Marlie looked down, admiring the mid-day sun shining on the dappled water. She could see that Britain in May was such a summery place. She loved it. It would be a trial to have to leave.
But she had vowed she would. She had promised her intended husband that she would go and live with him in the Balkans. It would be a tremendous upheaval, and a terrific wrench to have to put her family behind her, but knowing the importance of family, she believed Drasic when he told her he had to go back to his. As his wife and lifetime partner, she knew she would have to go where he went, follow him wherever love and fortune took her. That was an agreement that came as part of the vows she was about to take.
Her husband, she thought dreamily. Then she saw him. She gasped, looking down, as she noticed his unmistakable figure emerge from one of the changing cabins at the side of the long pool, under the trees. He strode forward and dived into the beautiful rippling water. She pulled back from the windows, into the shadows. She didn’t want him to see her. It would be the most tremendous bad luck for them to see each other before the event. She had been most strict on that, and insisted that he spend the former day away, while she checked into the plush hotel first and got herself prepared.
He shouldn’t see her, but she couldn’t help but want to see him. He was so wonderful in the pool. That was one of the things that had first attracted her about him, when they met on holiday. He was a top class swimmer, and had nearly made it into the Olympic team for his native country, he told her. She admired his strength and grace. He had broad, straight shoulders and a narrow waist. His hair was cropped short and jet black, but his skin was golden, olive brown and gleaming in the sunshine as he climbed back onto the side of the swimming pool and relaxed in the mid-day sunshine. How typical of him to find time for a last minute swim, she thought, admiringly. Everyone else would be fussing, running around, panicking, but Drasic was always calm, always sure. Marlie felt her love go out to him, as he stood there. He was like a mountain to her, solid and secure, and she knew she loved him with every inch of her being. In three hours I will be Mrs Drasic Mranan, she was thinking. Can I honestly say I’ve ever been happier?
Then something horrible happened.
Drasic had turned back to the pool, as if to dive in again, when two short men in dark clothes suddenly appeared from the bushes at the side of the changing rooms and grabbed him, one each side. They dragged him backward, stumbling, and they all disappeared behind the cabins. Drasic vanished from sight.
Marlie was stunned, then confused, then distraught. What could be happening? There was a scream in her throat, but it seemed to catch. She wasn’t sure what she had just seen. Were the men Drasic’s friends, perhaps from his home country, playing some kind of joke? Were they having fun? Just then, as if to confirm her worse fears, Marlie saw Drasic re-appear for an instant. He had one man hanging grimly onto his arm, and he was obviously trying to get away. He was struggling with the man, but although Drasic was young and fit, he was finding it a challenge. At that moment the other man appeared behind him. He viciously swung something small and dark at Drasic’s head. Drasic stumbled, and seemed to go limp. The two men took an arm each, as before, and dragged him backward.
That’s when Marlie screamed. Someone should be helping him. She shouted, but there was no answer. Where is everyone? she gasped. There must be several hundred people in this hotel, she reasoned, at least one hundred of them preparing for her wedding, and many more for the other event of the day. Yet nobody was in sight. Were they all hiding?
Marlie spun around. Something bad had happened, but she had no idea what it was. She should be sensible and call for assistance. She should pick up the phone and dial Reception, that was the first step. Perhaps they would call the police. She needed to be sensible. Marlie grimaced. ‘Sensible’ wasn’t her strong suit. Her mother always called her ‘impulsive’, (especially when referring to her forthcoming wedding).
Trembling, Marlie picked up the telephone and dialled ‘0’ as it said on the dial. ‘0’ for Reception. It rang, rang and rang. Then it rang some more. Nobody picked up. Marlie started breathing fast, panic a few breaths away. Where were they? They’d been quick enough just before, with all that news about the flowers. Surely they could answer now, she fumed. They couldn’t be that busy. But they be, she reasoned. What other reason could there be? No voice was answering. No one was heeding the endless rings.
Who else could she call? The manager had said her mother and sister had checked in. But what room were they in? If she’d known their room number, Marlie could have called them on the internal phone. But she didn’t know it. They had picked their own rooms, refusing to let Marlie book for them, (even though it was part of the job she did five, six, seven days a week). So she didn’t have a clue where they were, even what floor they were on. This was hopeless, she thought, her concern turning to irritation.
Okay, Marlie said angrily to herself, I’ve tried ‘sensible’. Now it’s ‘impulsive’.
She exploded out of that room and ran helter-skelter down the hotel corridor, desperately searching for someone – anyone – who could help. There was no one. Surely there were staff, around here somewhere, she found herself thinking. Chambermaids? Security? Room Service? And guests. People were arriving all the time. Weren’t they?
No, she couldn’t be sure. Her room was at the back of the hotel. If she’d be overlooking the main entrance, perhaps she would have seen cars, people, arrivals. But it was true that in the hours that she’d been in the hotel she hadn’t seen a soul. Or heard them. Her room was remarkably quiet. There was no chatter from rooms nearby, no music. Not enough footsteps or talking outside in the corridor. No doors banging open or closed. Up to that point, that had suited her fine – she wanted to be left alone. Now it was the opposite. She needed people, and she needed them fast.
She reached the end of the well-carpeted corridor, past all the doors that looked exactly the same, and reached the small lobby where the lifts were. So far, she had encountered not a single soul. Her mind was racing. My future husband has just been – what? – kidnapped? Assaulted, certainly. Beaten up? Abducted? What can be happening?
Marlie jabbed angrily at the button. Where on earth was the lift, now? She looked up and saw that the indicator said ‘2’. She gaped. What was on floor 2? She couldn’t remember. She’d been shown round the hotel when they came to make the booking, but that was months ago. She knew that the Ballroom wasn’t on the ground floor. Was it floor 1? Or 2? But the Banqueting Suite, the one they had booked for their celebration, it wasn’t on the ground floor either. Was that on floor 2? She hadn’t thought about it. She knew that she had paid for the ‘Deluxe’ service, which meant that when she was ready the Hotel Manager would come to take her down to the ceremony. It was necessary. She had no father to give her away, (not anymore), and Drasic had no family coming, so the hotel had agreed to provide the escort.
Marlie stabbed the button again. The lift didn’t seem to be moving, and the light stubbornly stayed on the same number it had been showing before. Why would it stick on one floor? Were they loading? Or unloading?
She spun round again. There were too many questions, and she didn't have one single answer. There was only one thing she knew for sure – she wasn’t going to wait around for the lift. That wasn’t her way at all. She saw a sign saying ‘Exit’ over on the far wall. She rushed over and hauled the door open. Sure enough, there were stairs. Down and up. She chose ‘down’.
Hurrying down the back stairs of a hotel, even a 5-star hotel, is not something to do in a full-length wedding dress, but Marlie was way past caring. The man she had determined to spend the rest of her days with was in some kind of trouble, and she knew that she had to do something – anything. In two hours they had planned to stand opposite each other and make all kinds of promises to each other. Well, why weren’t those items true now? She would promise then to be by his side, no matter what. No time like the present, she thought grimly. I’d better start as I mean to go on. If he’s got problems, then they’re my problems too. We’ll face them together.
Unfortunately, Marlie wasn’t wearing shoes – she didn’t have time to put them on. It slowed her progress, and made her awkward and stumbling. As she took a corner, too fast, her bare heel became entangled in the hem of her dress. She nearly pitched forward and tumbled down the next flight. It stopped her dead. That was lucky. As she struggled with the layers of gossamer material, the door banged open on the floor below and some people came into the stairwell.
She heard voices. For some strange reason Marlie stopped what she was doing abruptly, and kept perfectly still. She didn’t call out. She had been clattering down the stairs before, and her first thought had been to find help. But when she heard muttering, it made her pause. Who was talking? Maybe they weren’t hotel staff. Or guests. Or Security. Maybe they were the ‘kidnappers’. Or worse.
Marlie peaked out over the balustrade, pushing the layers of perfectly coiffured hair gently out of her eyes. She could see that there were two men stuck in the doorway a floor below her. She looked up to where she had come from again. Judging the flights she had travelled down, she guessed the men were on the ground floor. Then why were they hesitating?
She listened intently.
The first man was saying, his voice low and mean: “What do you mean, ‘Have we got him?’ What’s that got to do with us? It’s not our job to ‘get him’. Our job is to get the car. That’s what the boss said. ‘Get the car and bring it round the side.’ That’s what he said. So why are you arguing?”
“I’m not arguing,” the second man whined, his nasal voice grating and irritating. “I’m just trying to work out why Duchamp gets all the best jobs and we end up driving. All the time. He used to be the driver! What’s changed?”
“I’m not even going to bother answering that. You know what Duchamp has got and we haven’t. So, I tell you what I’m going to do,” the first man said, patiently, but harshly. “I’m going to go down to the basement garage and I’m going to get the car out, like I was told. You are free to join me. On the other hand, you could stay here, no matter what the boss said, or what you think he didn’t say. In which case, you could end up with a bullet. Like that first person.”
“I’m only saying - ” the second man complained.
Marlie heard their footsteps as they started down the stairs. She wanted to lean over and try and see them, catch a look at their faces, but she froze. Her heart had skipped a beat. Who was the ‘first person’ they were talking about, and why did he get a bullet? What were the possibilities – was it someone she knew? Was it another guest? Worst of all, was it evenly remotely possible it was Drasic?
Marlie was stopped in her tracks. She couldn’t move. So, there were armed men down on the ground floor. Something had happened, and someone had been shot. What could she do now? What would anyone do, in those circumstances? One thing was clear, she couldn’t act alone. She was a strong, resourceful woman, but this was a little too much for her. It wasn’t one of the more normal office crises she coped with every day, like lack of transport, or cheques not being cleared, or customers getting lost in the middle of a foreign city.
She took a deep breath and counted to ten. Now, she knew, she had been foolish to set off so abruptly. She pulled her feet clear, hoisted her dress over one arm, and turned upward again. She was determined now. She would go back to her room. I shall call the police, she decided, and ask for help. There was only one place she was sure she could find a phone and not be seen or overheard. Her bedroom.
She trod carefully back up the stairs, stepping nimbly, anxious not to trip again. Her thoughts were racing, but she was fighting to keep calm. Her over-active imagination was full of images of men being shot, bullets flying. Desperately, she was trying to keep Drasic out of that picture. He must be safe, she reassured herself. He must be. He’s got a wedding to go to, and he’s got a woman to wed. Me.
Deep inside Marlie, lurking at the back of her mind, was a terrible doubt. She realised then, if ever she needed reminding, that she didn’t know that much about the man she loved. They had met on a beach, on one of the endless Adriatic tours that Marlie’s company organised. It had been an instant attraction, of course, and – as her mother reminded her – a ‘whirlwind’ romance. They had kissed under the stars and hugged in the evening breeze blowing gently from the Mediterranean, and pledged their endless love for each other. Marlie’s work took her back to England, of course, and she kept in touch, as she knew she would, but it still might never have amounted to anything but for one fact. He followed her. He packed up whatever business he was doing in the small town, found himself a flight and arrived at her door in the suburbs of Manchester. Her mother was scandalised, and insisted that they didn’t live together. Drasic scoured Northern England and eventually found a flat that suited him. He opened an office of his import and export business and worked hard at saving money so that he could impress Marlie’s family and win her hand in marriage. Marlie’s father had been dead for two years, unfortunately, so he couldn’t be asked, but her mother was there, and wasn’t about to let her daughter go to the first man who turned up. In fact, thought Marlie bitterly, she had managed to defeat a few suitors over the years. Drasic was different, which was another thing she loved about him. He was committed, and he was patient. He waited for Marlie, that was the truth, and, more importantly, he won her mother over with his colossal Olde Worlde charm. He was handsome, he was rich, he had good manners. Gradually, Marlie’s mother came to see that this was the best man ever to come into Marlie’s life. It took her only a little more time to make up her mind that she wasn’t going to let him go either. You and me both, Marlie agreed. I want him too. He’s going to be my husband, no matter what.
Reaching the door back to her floor, Marlie opened it carefully, gingerly, still trying to be quiet. She didn’t want to alert anyone to the fact she was there. Still, she didn’t really expect anyone to be about – the place had been completely deserted when she set out on her rescue mission, a few short minutes before. But things were different now. Marlie could hear noises. Crashes. Bangs. Like – like furniture being turned over, and drawers being searched. She walked silently along the thick carpet of the hallway, but as she got closer to her room, she realised with horror that the noises were coming from inside there, her own room. It didn’t seem possible. Why was she being targeted? Was grabbing Drasic the first step in some ‘master plan’, something that involved her too?
The door was open and a light was streaming out of it, even though it was the middle of the day. Who was in there? she wondered. Who could be making such a racket? She saw a housemaid’s trolley in the corridor nearby. Had the cleaning service arrived? But it didn’t sound like they were tidying. It sounded like they were demolishing the room, and making a first class job of it.
At that very scary moment a dark figure came stumbling out of the door, outlined against the light. It was impossible to make out the features, but it was a man, a big man.
'Well, what have we here?' a deep voice said to the approaching young woman. 'This is perfect. Seems to me you're just the gal we've been looking for.'
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