Diamond White by Chris Green
Every night Natalie would come back home from St. Saviour’s Hospital, where she was an orthopaedic nurse, to find Shaun slumped in a chair in front of the television, watching darts. More often than not, Shaun’s friends, Bernie, Mac and Tosser would be there too, shouting their crude encouragement to fat darts players with monikers like Wolfie and Big Robbo as they aimed their arrows. They would be surrounded by empty cans of John Smiths Bitter and Domino’s pizza boxes. Sometimes the gelatinous remains of takeaways from Hard Wok Café or the leftover bones from KFC bucket meals. The laptop would be open on the BetFred webpage. The commentator’s demented cries of ‘one hundred and eiiiiiighty’ would be greeted by cheers or boos around the room.
‘You could, at least, empty the ashtray,’ Natalie might say to Shaun, as Double Dekker or The Dutch Destroyer slammed darts relentlessly into the sisal fibre. Or perhaps, she might say, ‘Tesco’s was murder tonight. Can you help me in with the shopping?’
‘Do it in a minute, love,’ he might reply to whatever the particular request was. ‘this is the last leg of the set.’
Natalie had no idea what the last leg might be. Or what a set was. Or a match. Was a set the same as a match maybe? It certainly appeared to have no finality about it. Nor did ‘nine-dart finishes’ actually finish anything. The World Matchplay Championship seemed to be going on forever. One pair of beery brutes with ridiculous sobriquets would be replaced instantly by another pair. Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor and Free Willy would become The Tornado and Sparky. The Assassin and the Undertaker would become Bravedart and Ironman. No-one ever seemed to be the outright winner. It took a while before she realised that the competition had been decided weeks before, and Shaun, Bernie, Mac and Tosser were now watching DVDs of previous championships. God knows what they were betting on. The winner of Celebrity Space Walk. Whose wife would be the first to leave them perhaps.
‘Have you walked the dog, Shaun?’ would not even be a question worth asking. Most nights Natalie would have to give Axel a quick run in the park around the corner to do his business, before her bath, and then it was time for bed.
In the morning, after a night disturbed by Shaun’s snoring, Natalie would get up, make an attempt to clear up the squalid mess and freshen the house with Febreze, before setting off once more to the hospital. Since Shaun had lost his job at the packaging plant, Natalie found herself working double shifts to pay the bills on their semi in Francis Bacon Close.
Natalie and Shaun had been together over twenty years. Shaun had once possessed a rugged charm and used to keep himself in shape. He would, even before it was fashionable, go to the gym several times a week and, until a year or two ago, was involved with Rod’s youth football team. Natalie had once thought of Shaun as an attractive man, although lately the illusion she had of his masculine physique was wearing thin. Shaun’s libido had taken a tumble too. Whereas once he had pressed all her buttons, now it was once a month, if she was lucky. Even then it was more of a grope and a fumble rather than an act of passion. It was sad to see a man go to seed, worse still that she was married to one. She couldn’t help but notice that lately she had to order larger sizes when buying his clothes out of the Great Universal catalogue. Shaun’s girth was beginning to resemble that of Bernie, Mac and Tosser, all of whom were a few years older and a few miles further down the road of self-destruction. Sometimes she would find one or other of them asleep on the rug when she got up, having failed to make it home. They were one step up from vagrants.
‘Why don’t you leave him?’ her colleague, Blessing suggested, almost daily. ‘Or better still boot him out. My life has moved forward in leaps and bounds since I got rid of Kofi.’
‘I know I should,’ Natalie would agree. ‘Especially now that Rod and Maggie have left home. But somehow I just can’t. He’s just going through a bad patch. He’s lost his focus a bit, that’s all. Besides, who would look after Axel while I was at work?’
‘Bad patch?’ Suki thought. At what point would Natalie see it as terminal decline. Twenty years ago Shaun had been a high flier. He was swept along by the ‘loadsamoney’ culture. He had a flat in docklands and a Saab 900 Turbo. Over a few years as the family grew, he went from being ‘something in the city’ to ‘something in the town, and later ‘nothing in the town.’ A series of factory jobs had followed. Eventually, even the packaging plant gave up on him. That was probably three years ago. Since then he had gone from bad to worse. He had even stopped going to the pub and the bookies. Rod and Maggie were too ashamed to visit. ‘Bad patch?’ Suki did not want to upset Natalie. She said nothing. Natalie would have to decide for herself.
Natalie met Kane at Fortnum and Mason. Her friend, Claudia had taken her to London to cheer her up and was treating her to lunch at The Fountain Restaurant. Claudia had been worried about her lately, she said. They ordered the recommended whitebait starter and the fish pie, along with a bottle of New World Sauvignon Blanc. A jazz trio played. Out of the blue, a tall man with Mediterranean good looks came over and sat with them. He was an imposing figure. From the cut of his suit and his diamond-encrusted Girard Perregaux watch, Natalie wondered if perhaps he was Mr Fortnum or Mr Mason. Or maybe Simon Templar. With a brisk flick of his hand, he called the wine waiter over, ordered a bottle of Château something or other with a fancy name and introduced himself as Kane.
As the fine wine massaged their palettes, the conversation touched upon air travel, the theatre, Venice, Henley Regatta, Japanese food, Hispano Suizas, haute couture, Shakespearean lovers, The Cocteau Twins, château vineyards and graphite cooled tennis rackets. Darts did not come up at all. Kane did most of the talking and laughed a lot, showing a set of teeth that were whiter than a Klu Klux Clan parade. He had noticed her the moment she walked in, he said, and had not been able to take his eyes off her. He described her as sexy, radiant and beguiling, not terms that she was used to hearing in relation to herself of late. Most embarrassing perhaps was when the band played ‘Embraceable You’, dedicated to her. Before he left Kane asked for her phone number. Perhaps he was an incurable flirt and did this to women all the time, Natalie thought. Surely he would not phone. The next day however he called her and after flattering her with comparisons to Hollywood starlets (smile like Jessica Alba, hair like Eva Mendes), invited her down to his pile in Dorset for the weekend. Natalie did not know what to say. She had never had this kind of approach from a stranger before. Certainly not a suave, sophisticated one like Kane. She stalled him by saying she would check her diary and could he phone her later. She then phoned Claudia and asked her what she should do.
‘I know what I would do in your position,’ said Claudia. ‘Besides, what have you got to lose.’
As things had been particularly fraught with Shaun over the previous few days and it was her weekend off, she felt she needed a bit of a lift. When Kane called back an hour later, she accepted. He had found out her address he said, and would send his chauffeur round at six on Friday evening.
Natalie was unaccustomed to a lifestyle of fast cars, heliports, ranch styled villas, and private beaches. She had not been to Monte Carlo or Venice. She had not been to Thailand or Singapore. The most exotic place she had been were the Costa Brava and Majorca and this had been when Shaun was earning proper money, before he had lost his entrepreneurial verve. But when Kane suggested she ‘throw a sickie’, to spend some time travelling, she did so. In fact, his personal physician with a Harley Street address signed her off for six months with Synaesthesia, a form of scrambled perception. Faraway places with strange sounding names beckoned. They started with the Caribbean. To most people a holiday in these seas means Barbados or St. Lucia. Few have heard of Pine Cay in the Turks & Caicos or Canouan, St. Vincent. These were off limits to all but the very wealthy. Kane was very wealthy. Siesta Key, off the Florida coast, is best experienced at sunset, when its white beach gently takes on an orange glow and the sky is painted with strokes of tangerine and vermilion. Fortunate then that Kane owned one of the best-situated residences in the Siesta Key village, along with a modest forty-footer to cruise to dockland fish restaurants or explore the mangrove.
Although he seemed to own property in every corner of the world, the source of Kane’s wealth and prosperity was slow in revealing itself to Natalie. He never once referred to the origins of his fortune and offered no clues. He didn’t go to the office as such. He took no interest in the stock market and there were no clandestine meetings with business associates so far as she could gather, so it was unlikely he was in finance or in commerce. The only time he used the phone or the internet were to make travel arrangements, or make some frivolous purchase. She had variously entertained the idea that he might be a key secret service agent, minor royalty from a deposed dynasty, or Raffles, but the truth was though that she didn’t know. They moved from place to place, but she only discovered small fragments on a need to know basis.
‘How do they do that,’ she asked him at El Circo de la Magia in La Habana Vieja. The elephant had just vanished before their eyes.
‘It’s all done with mirrors,’ he said. ‘It’s an illusion. There is only one reality.’
Natalie was left wondering what this reality was. If there was only one reality, why did people see things in different ways, and where did those night-time images come from that inhabited her dreams? Perhaps the waking world was, like the vanishing elephant, no more than an illusion. One thing was certain, Kane was surrounded by mystery.
From time to time, she would phone or email Claudia with a concern, for instance that Kane appeared to have no family, or that she did not even know what nationality he was. Claudia’s advice was always to count her blessings. In her experience, it was never an advantage for a partner to have a nimiety of relations or a wealth of surplus baggage.
‘I don’t even know how old he is,’ she said. ‘He’s never said, and he doesn’t know that I’m 43 because he’s never asked. He must be a few years younger than me, though. What if he gets tired of me?’
‘Cross that bridge when we come to it.’
‘I spend hours a day applying Cle de Peau’s Beaute La Creme and ReVive’s Intensite Volumizing Serum to fight off the ageing process. I have Evian rose petal baths, Oriental Harmony rubdowns, and I have my own hairdresser and a portable gym shipped everywhere we go. ‘
‘Sounds great. I can’t see what the problem is. I would swap places with you,’ said Claudia.
‘Then there’s the Yoga, the Indian head massages and the pelvic floor exercises.’
‘And the Brazilian waxes?’
‘No. I have my own personal stylist. He’s given me a Kyla Cole trim. ‘
‘ Kyle Cole, she’s a Slovakian glamour model. We had her over to the hotel for a threesome when we were in Vienna.’
‘You little hussy.’
‘It was fun actually.’
‘You seem to be having a fabulous time. Its all good surely. I’d swap places with you.’
‘We went to see a Buddhist monk in Saigon. He told us that there is no light without shadow and no shadow without light. There is no good and no bad. Good and bad are not stable entities. They are continually trading places. The most important thing is to maintain the balance between the two. Balance itself is the good.’
‘So you are worried that that there is no balance to your life at the moment? You’re afraid that the bubble’s going to burst?’
‘I just have nagging doubts about it all sometimes.’
Natalie also discovered that Kane carried no cash, never seemed to have to pay for anything and the name on his correspondence and credit cards just read ‘Kane’, neither a Christian name or a surname. When they travelled, Customs never bothered them. Wherever they went, even Teheran and Moscow, they were always waved on through, no consideration given to they might be bringing in or out. Kane remained a man of mystery. Once or twice she even considered he might be an international drugs dealer or a weapons trader.
One night in Barranquilla, Colombia, she tackled him on the subject.
‘I know next to nothing about who you are,’ she said. ‘Sometimes when we’re walking I check to see that you have a shadow and I even look in the mirror to check that you have a reflection.’
Kane listed some of the things that she did know about him, mostly concerning the physical characteristics of his lovemaking.
‘And you’ve completely taken me over. I don’t know who I am anymore. You don’t even let me pack my own suitcase. Everywhere we go we have brand new ones, packed with a brand new wardrobe. Why do we have to keep travelling anyway? Sometimes I’d like to just stay in one place.’
Her wish was granted. Kane owned a substantial villa on the shores of Lake Garda that had once belonged to Mussolini. Here they spent the month of July among the olive groves and vineyards, taking his Vivace speedboat out now and again to visit the stunning scenery of Sirmione, Garda, Malcesine, Bardolino, Limone, and Riva del Garda. The lake seemed to swallow you up in its splendour. The low-lying countryside around the southern stretches of the lake became increasingly dramatic to the north. Here rocky cliffs, swathed in pines hugged the shoreline. It was the most beautiful scenery that Natalie had seen. In the evenings with a full compliment of staff on hand, they entertained guests like Daniel Craig, David Bowie, and the illusionist, David Blaine. Gifts for Natalie would arrive daily, shipped from all corners of the world. This was all a bit Hans Christian Anderson, the stuff of fairytales. One Sunday afternoon, to Natalie’s great delight, her favourite singer, Damien Rice arrived with his band and performed a private concert on the lawns. He played a version of ‘Windmills of Your Mind’. The lyrics seemed to express the confusion she sometimes felt.
One afternoon after a langoustine linguine lunch on the Grand Canal in Venice, Kane announced that they would be returning to England for a few days. When they arrived in London, Natalie made the decision to go and look in at Argyle Avenue to pick up some personal papers she had left. She had left it long enough. It had been over six months since she had had any contact with Shaun. She parked her new white BMW outside. The front garden was like a jungle and the gutter was hanging down the front of the house. There were ‘Dagley and Thorpe’ For Sale signs outside the houses on either side. Inside the house, the first thing that struck her, apart from the fetid smell in the hallway, was that the front room had been stripped of its furniture. Even the TV had gone. All there was left was a gnarled dartboard mounted on a rubber tyre on the wall. Shaun, Bernie, Mac and Tosser, along with two other down and outs, were sitting on the floor, amongst a smorgasbord of Gregg’s bags. They were passing round a three-litre bottle of Diamond White cider and listening to darts on the radio.
‘Killer 153!’ screamed the commentator. ‘D’Artagnan’s back in it.’
There was a cheer from around the room.
Disgusted, Natalie went through to the back of the house. Gingerly, Shaun followed her.
The kitchen too was bare. All the white-ware was gone and the shelves were empty. The was no longer even a kettle.
‘What happened to the furniture?’ she shouted.
‘I had to sell it to pay some debts,’ said Shaun.
‘He died on Sunday, love,’ said Shaun. ‘I did all that I could.’
‘Is that him in the garden?’ she said, looking out the kitchen window. ‘You couldn’t even call a vet.’
‘The phone’s been cut off,’ said Shaun. ‘Otherwise, I would have let you know.’
‘What about your mobile?’ said Natalie. ‘You might have made a bit of an effort.’
‘If you remember, you took my mobile,’ said Shaun.
‘One of you must have a mobile,’ said Natalie in exasperation.
‘Bernie’s got one, but he’s got no credit and Tosser’s with Three Mobile, so his doesn’t work,’ said Shaun.
Natalie was in such a hurry to leave, she did not bother with the unopened mail. This seemed to belong to another lifetime. It looked like the bailiffs might have been anyway and what did she care if the house was repossessed?
Natalie had arranged to meet Kane at Fortnum and Mason and they would, he said, go to a show, stay at The Dorchester overnight, and then to drive down to Dorset. She parked the BMW in Arlington Street and made her way along Piccadilly. It had only been a matter of hours, but she missed Kane. For months, they had been almost inseparable. She went up to The Fountain Restaurant. She ordered a glass of Chablis, and then another. She waited and waited, glancing nervously around the room. The waiters asked her several times if she was waiting for someone. ‘Had Monsieur been delayed perhaps? Was there anything they could do?’ ‘No,’ she told them, ‘her partner would be along in a moment.’ The minutes ticked by. Still there was no sign. It was not like Kane not to call if he was going to be late. Had he had an accident? Had he been arrested, kidnapped even? She had several mobile phone numbers for him and tried them one by one. Each came back with ‘The number you have dialled could not be recognised’.
Natalie realised she could not stay in the restaurant all afternoon. There were people waiting for tables and she was beginning to attract attention. She called a waiter over to pay her bill, but the card processing machine would not accept her gold or platinum cards, and she had no cash. She registered her embarrassment. The maitre d’ was very good about it. After all, he explained, she had only had a modest hors d’ouvres and four glasses of Chablis, and it was not the most expensive vintage. She left the restaurant and went to the nearest cashpoint. After rejecting the pin on each of her cards three times, the machine proceeded to swallow them up. She phoned The Dorchester, but they had no record of a booking in Kane’s name. She phoned Claudia, but her phone was on voicemail. She left a long garbled message and afterwards her phone showed ‘Emergency Numbers Only.’ She had run out of credit.
Fortunately, she had paid her parking in advance and the BMW had more than half a tank, so she drove down to Dorset and, after some difficulty with the Satnav, which was giving directions in German, found the house. Although large, it was not nearly as grand as she remembered. It was to her dismay occupied by a darts promoter and his family. Mrs Goldberg explained that they had lived there for three years and, no, they had never heard of Kane.
Natalie was by now distraught and severely disorientated. She was not even sure where she was driving to. Her friends and family were far flung. She had changed her mind several times. Her driving reflected her confusion. She managed to take the wrong exit off the M27 and was unable to get her bearings. To make matters worse, the satnav was now directing her through Frankfurt. She pressed a series of buttons and managed to switch it off. This was no help. She had never been good at navigation. She had a long history of taking wrong turns, even close to home. She did not have a map and she had never heard of any of the places that were signposted. She was hopelessly lost.
The thunder came on without warning. It had not been forecast. The speed at which the black cumulonimbus clouds swallowed up the light alarmed her. The sky rapidly became a mass of black. Raindrops the size of pebbles smashed against the roof of the car. Visibility was down to a few feet. The rumbling grew louder and louder, claps so powerful they might be signalling the end of the world. Strangely, there was no lightning. A thunderstorm without lightning – what did this mean? Wasn’t thunder the result of lightning? You saw the lightning first and then waited for the thunder, counting the seconds to work out how far away it was. Frightened, She drove on, into seemingly solid sheets of black summer rain. The thunder followed her, always overhead, but still there was no lightning. Natalie felt nauseous and breathless. This was way out of her comfort zone. Something extraordinary was happening here.
After fifty or so miles during which she seemed to be driving round in ever decreasing circles, the BMW chose a particularly inhospitable location to run out of petrol. She had no idea where she was. It was now midnight and pitch black. There was no moon and no stars. She could see nothing, except the narrow stretch of flooded track that was in the beams of her headlights. She was bathed in sweat. It was streaming down her face and her dress was sticking to her like a second skin. She wound the window down. The thunder had stopped. The rain had stopped. All that she could hear outside were the cascade of water gushing down the incline and the distant bleating of sheep. She could not even see the sheep, let alone locate a possible farmhouse to seek assistance. Anyway, you could not expect to wake a farmer up in the middle of the night. She quickly realised she was stuck. She had no money and no phone, and for that matter, no walking shoes. Mostly, though, she felt completely exhausted. Better to wait until first light. Meanwhile, she would grab some sleep in the back seat of the car.
She dreamt she was looking after a garden. It seemed to be her garden. It was maybe a secret garden, although she had told Claudia about it. The garden had lots of trees. One tree, in particular, displayed spectacular multicoloured blossom, all the year round. She had always looked after this tree. She did not know what species of tree it was. She called it Serendipity tree. It attracted beautiful iridescent birds that playfully chorused The Goldberg Variations. And fireflies that danced an approximation of the fandango. Damien Hirst came and painted a song of the tree. One day she got back from walking by the lake and a team of men were cutting down the tree. They had large chainsaws. ‘No!, No!, No! You can’t do that,’ she shouted, but they could not hear her over the noise from the chainsaws. She grabbed one of them by the arm. Branches from her tree were striking her in the face. She began to bleed. One of the men noticed her and switched off his saw. The tree was leaning away from them, almost felled. ‘We have to cut down these trees to make dartboards,’ the man said. Natalie screamed.
She was woken by a brisk tap on the back window of the car. Standing there was a uniformed policeman. A patrol car was nearby, blue light flashing.
‘This your car is it?’ he asked suspiciously.
‘Of course!’ Natalie replied indignantly.
His colleague meanwhile was looking the car over checking the tax disc. It was four months out of date. He was not slow in pointing out the implications of this.
‘Can I ask you to step out please?’ the first policeman said.
He barked something into the radio, ending with the registration number of the BMW.
‘What’s the story then,’ he asked aggressively.
Perhaps he had had to get up too early for his shift, Natalie thought. This might explain the lack of politeness. She gave a brief resume of her predicament.
The officer’s radio sparked into life.
‘I’m afraid that this is a stolen car,’ he said. ‘I’m going to have to ask you to accompany me to the station.
The uncut white diamonds they found in the lining of Natalie’s Marc Jacobs handbag were of the finest quality. The custody officer felt it would not be appropriate to grant bail with such a large sum involved. Even her defence solicitor, Dale Charmer, found her tale implausible. Furthermore, the solicitor’s clerk had been doing some background research and could find absolutely no trace of Kane on records anywhere. Their client was quite clearly some sort of fantasist. Also, the clerk had discovered that her husband, Shaun, who she depicted as a down-and-out, was an up and coming darts player. He had recently won the Diamond White Allcomers Challenge and had qualified for the UK Open Darts Championship.
‘Why don’t you change your story? Dale suggested. ‘Make something up for the trial.’
Natalie was disappointed. Weren’t the defence team supposed to zealously represent your case, even if they did not believe you?.
She was remanded in Holloway to appear in court in late September. While on remand, Natalie received a letter with a postmark from Siesta Key, Florida. It was in Claudia’s handwriting.
Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved