Curiosity Killed the Cat by Chris Green
We don’t get many calls on the landline. It could be Rachel. She hasn’t called today. I pause the episode of Curiosity Killed the Cat I am watching on Netflix to answer it, hoping it’s her. I can tell her about my progress on my new story and let her know that the new floral curtains she ordered have arrived. And that I’m missing her.
‘Hello,’ I say. ‘Is that you, love? ……. ‘Hello ….. Hello.’
No one is there. Wrong number? Automated caller? Ten-thirty seems a little late for a speculative call. I hang up. As I do, the TV goes off and all the house lights go out. The streetlight outside the house is off too, although the ones further up the road seem to be working. The security alarm has switched to battery. It is beeping.
As the power to the router is off, I turn on data on my mobile to see if there are any messages. It tells me I have no data allowance left, and I cannot even make a call. So I can’t even phone Rachel.
There is bound to be a logical explanation, some kind of localised power outage, so I try not to panic. I remember back in November, Rachel bought candles in case the power went off during the winter. There had been warnings in the press that the grid might struggle to meet demand. After a rummage around I manage to retrieve the candles from under the stairs and light a few of them.
It is after eleven now, so there is no point in knocking up the neighbours to see if any of them are having problems. Beaumont Drive is a quiet road in a sleepy suburb and they will have probably all gone to bed. There is no football tonight, so not even Gary Coker at number eleven is likely to be up. Even though it was the final episode of Curiosity Killed the Cat and it was coming to the nail-biting conclusion, I sense there is no point in waiting for the power to come back on. The issue is bound to have sorted itself out by morning and I can find out then whether Billy Hats makes it off of the burning boat or not and what happens to Charlotte Ann. Hopefully, they will reveal who the mystery abductor is, and which side Milo is on.
Now I won’t be able to check the cricket score from Australia either. I was thinking of staying up to watch the game on the Sports channel but never mind. I will definitely miss the electric blanket, though. It is February and we have been having a cold snap. I can’t even boil a kettle for a hot water bottle. And Rachel is not here to keep me warm. She doesn’t get back from her assignation until tomorrow. We have plenty of duvets around the place, I discover, probably close to three figures of togs in total. In case I cannot sleep, I take a couple of Rachel’s sleeping tablets. They always seem to work for her. She sleeps like a baby when she takes them. I wash them down with a tumbler of Johnnie Walker.
I have no trouble dropping off. But when I wake, I feel badly disorientated. I’m not even sure I’m awake. Is there a term for when you are both asleep and awake? I do not know where I am. I have lost my bearings. There is no soft morning light coming through the curtains. No lingering aroma of Rachel’s dressing table fragrances. No bedside cabinet. No Valeria Mravyan prints on the wall. No homely ambience. A moment ago I was having a cool dream featuring Maya Bliss and a jacuzzi. Maya was performing in a shoot for a prestigious swimwear brand in the new leisure complex. I was directing the shoot, and Maya was coming on to me. And here I am instead, being bounced around in the back of a moving vehicle. It is dark. There is no room to move. My hands appear to be tied behind my back with sisal rope.
Why am I here? I have no connections with the underworld that. I haven’t done any dodgy deals. Beaumont Drive is not exactly gangland. I can’t think of anyone I’ve upset badly. Occasionally, I might say something out of place. Rachel is forever banging on about me being tactless. Adam Straight springs to mind. But Adam would hardly go this far because I suggested the bouncy castle in the front garden lowered the tone. Perhaps I shouldn’t have called the police to get him to take it down, but sometimes you have to take action to stop these things otherwise you have lawlessness. Children’s entertainer he might be, but even Adam would know that fairground entertainment does not belong in a residential suburban street.
I haven’t racked up any significant debts. I’m old-fashioned. I like to pay upfront. I hardly use my credit card. It would be a heavy-handed approach for Kurt to take over the fifty quid I owe him for that bit of weed he let me have before Christmas. Besides, I would have paid him, but he hasn’t been around. He hasn’t even been in The Gordon Bennett when I’ve popped in for a drink.
I keep to the straight and narrow. Rachel and I are settled. We are into the kind of things you would expect thirty-something married couples to be into: city breaks, Netflix noir, small dinner parties, half-hearted exercise regimes, and speed dating. To be honest, speed dating is more Rachel’s thing. I can’t see the point of it. I’m more inclined towards straightforward, no-nonsense infidelity. I’ve been seeing Susie on and off for months now and have no complaints with the arrangement.
I can come up with no reason why anyone would snatch me. There must be some mistake. I clearly shouldn’t be here. Who are they? Where are they taking me? What is going to happen to me. What can I do about it? This is no time for fatalism, but things do not look good. This is serious shit.
I am able to free my hands. I can now move more easily. The vehicle stops and I hear someone talking on the phone. He has a trace of an Eastern European accent. He has a good command of English, though. There’s someone in the cab with him. A quieter fellow with a high voice.
They transfer the call to Speaker. Now I can hear both sides of the conversation. They are arguing about me.
‘What do you mean, we might have the wrong person?’ a voice in the vehicle says. ‘How many Lee Vincents can there be?’
‘Not Lee Vincent, you fool,’ the voice on the other end says. ‘What’s wrong with you, man? It’s Vincent Lee.’
‘Lee, Vincent, whichever! This is who we’ve got. But look! Let me get this right, Milo. We had to pick this guy up from Beaumont Drive, right? He would be on his own, you said. You were sure of that. Cut the power, you said, then wait for the right moment to snatch him. But you didn’t tell me the number. So first I had to find out what the house number was. That’s probably how things became confused.’
‘Confused? Man o man! I said Belle Vue, Dmitri. Belle Vue! Now tell me, how does that sound like Beaumont Drive?’
‘It is a little similar, Milo.’
Milo? Milo? Where have I heard that name?
‘No, it’s not,’ the other says. ‘And of course, I said nothing about a number. There is no number. Belle Vue is the name of the fucking house. …… And you’re telling me Ivan went along with all this? I would have thought he had more sense. How can you confuse the two? Belle Vue is a big detached house on its own up the hill. You can’t miss it. Vincent Lee owns it. He owns half the bloody hill. And the same Vincent Lee is the millionaire entrepreneur you two were supposed to abduct. Vincent Lee. Our rich benefactor. Our meal ticket. Our way out of here. Not Lee Vincent, no one from nowhere with nothing. What would be the point in picking up someone like that from a semi-detached gaff on a run-of-the-mill housing estate?’
‘Well, that’s too bad, Milo. But these things happen. What are we going to do with this one now? We can’t just take him back home and say sorry, Mr Vincent.’
‘Not we, Dmitri. You. You and Ivan. Lee Vincent is your problem now. Ditch this phone right away. Don’t contact me again! Not from any phone! Ever! Tell Ivan to do the same. You two are finished. That clear enough? That’s it! Finito! Oh, and lose the van.’
They have to get rid of me now. They are pretty much out of options. More to the point, I have to somehow get rid of them. They appear to have the advantage, but they don’t seem too bright. Do these two things cancel each other out? My fate hangs on the numbers swinging the right way.
How could I have seen it coming? You expect dreams and reality to exist in separate spheres with their own terms of reference. How could I have anticipated that the Maya Bliss of my dream would appear in the nick of time to save the day? It is not something anyone could have foreseen. The expression Deus ex Machina springs to mind.
Nor was there any reason to suspect that the Maya Bliss of my dream might have a gun, far less that she would be pointing it at Dmitri and Ivan as they get out of the big SUV outside the derelict warehouse that is waiting to be demolished to accommodate a new multi-million-pound leisure complex. Even Maya cannot explain why she is here. She does not know where she is, she says, or who I am. One minute she was filming a swimwear ad and the next thing she knows, here she is.
There is a tendency to seek explanations to life’s mysteries when perhaps there are none we might understand. What was Kurt Vonnegut’s take on celestial outcomes? So it goes. There is no why. Truth is always going to be both subjective and temporary. All in all a slippery customer. Facts, for instance, can obscure the truth, and they come at us from all directions, whether checked or not. Might it not be better to ditch this habit of looking for certainties and absolutes, and just take things as they come? Curiosity, after all, killed the cat.
Hang on! That sounds like Rachel. I must be back home, safe and sound. Thank fuck for that! And Rachel must be home too. I seem to be buried in duvets. No wonder it is so dark in here.
‘You’re awake at last,’ Rachel says. ‘It’s two in the afternoon, Lee. It must have been quite a night. I’ve tried to wake you, but you were comatose. And you were talking in your sleep again. Some nonsense about a woman with a gun and a long explanation of life’s mysteries. It sounded like one of your crazy stories. Anyway, when I got home there was no power, and as I couldn’t wake you, I got that guy at number fourteen with the van advertising Electrical Services to take a look. He was just going out on a call, but he said it would be no trouble to see what he could do. Anton. Nice guy. Eastern European, I think, but he spoke good English. He was onto it right away. The main fuse, he said. He didn’t know what caused it, but he didn’t think it was a good idea to run one plugboard off another like you’ve been doing. What on earth were you up to last night to make all that mess downstairs? I tried phoning, but the phone went dead, and your mobile doesn’t seem to work these days, does it? When I phoned again this morning, it said, number unavailable.’
As there’s no damage done, I decide to leave unnecessary explanations for another day. It’s too easy to dig yourself into a hole, especially when you don’t know where to begin.
‘I’ve ordered a new mobile,’ I say, hoping to leave it at that. I haven’t, of course, but I could.
‘Didn’t you realise you’d blown the electrics, Lee?’
‘They must have gone off first thing this morning, babe. I was up most of the night watching the white ball cricket and everything was OK then.’
‘That would be the game in Melbourne, would it?’ Rachel says.
‘That’s the one, yes,’ I say.
‘The game was rained off, Lee,’ she says. ‘Tropical storm. Not a ball bowled. I heard about it on the news earlier. Now, I couldn’t help but notice the empty whisky bottle. And what’s the story with all the candles and duvets? What really went on here last night? I can’t help but be curious.’
‘Well, you know what they say about that.’
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved