RED by Chris Green
As soon as she walks in, Lucy can feel the tension. Fists clenched and a face like thunder, Ben’s demeanour is decidedly hostile. This does not bode well. He must have found out. She has been lucky so far, but it was probably only a question of when he would find out. In Little Stoney, word gets around fast, and when you live opposite the village store, word gets around even faster. Only one person needs to have witnessed something remarkable in the village, and everyone in the village knows about it. But although stories spread like wildfire outside the school gates and in the classroom, in three weeks, neither Todd nor Jessica had come home from school talking about it. She was beginning to wonder if she had gotten away with it.
At first, she thinks Ben is going to hit her. Not that he ever has, but there’s always a first time. You read all kinds of horror stories about the most even-tempered husbands becoming violent when they hear through the grapevine of their spouse’s misdemeanours. Only last week in the Gazette she read of a case of a fatal assault with a blunt object by a college librarian and weekend folk singer coming home to find his wife in bed with her labradoodle’s vet. This in the sleepy village of Bedcombe, population 319, not even half the size of Little Stoney. Marital indiscretions can provoke uncharacteristic behaviour in the gentlest of souls.
‘You fucked Damien Red in our house,’ Ben yells. ‘In broad daylight! You cheap whore! How low can you get!’
Lucy urges the impulse to point out that low didn’t come into it. The charismatic frontman of the band RED and she were quite high at the time Ben is referring to. Damien had some dynamite weed.
Not only has Ben found out, but he has the photographs on his phone. Time-dated shots of Damien’s red Porsche with the personalised plates, RED 1 outside their house taken two hours apart, along with others of his wife in Damien’s arms outside the front door. She is wearing a skimpy dress that leaves little to the imagination.
K1SS, the ad agency in Byggerton that Lucy works for, handles the publicity for RED. When they met to go over the campaign for their new album, SCARLET, Damien came on to her. She just happened to be wearing that little dress that day. When Damien asked if there was somewhere private they might go for a little R and R, while, she was hardly going to turn him down. At thirty-seven and living in a small community, you don’t get too many opportunities like that. Like her namesake in the Marianne Faithfull song, she realised she was never going to ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair. But the twenty-mile ride from work to home in Damien Red’s Porsche was not bad. Damien might not be as slim as he looked in photos but he was still an attractive man, RED was a top band, and it wasn’t an entry-level Porsche.
But who had taken the photos and why had it taken so long for them to get around? Presumably, others apart from Ben must also have seen them in the interim. Yet none of these has seen fit to warn her of their nature or stop the pics from getting to Ben. Whether or not the photographer had hesitated in sharing them, here they were. The evidence against her. These weren’t just snaps taken by someone thrilled at seeing an expensive car in the village. There were plenty of well-heeled residents and nice motors in Little Stoney. A Porsche Boxster with a cherished plate would not stand out. Granted, there weren’t too many rock stars around these parts, but how many locals would even know who Damien Red was? But if an out-and-out chancer had taken the photos, wouldn’t they have had blackmail potential? In which case Lucy would have been approached by the blackmailer. But here they are on Ben’s phone, three weeks after the event.
Lucy does not get a chance to give the matter too much thought. Ben continues his tirade. She has never known him so angry. Lucy elects to make herself scarce until he has calmed down. She can stay with her friend, Britt for a day or two. While Ben chases her around shouting insults, she throws a few things into a sports bag. She can get her mum to pick up the kids later and look after them for a few days. She is forever offering her services in that department, and she certainly won’t take any lip from Ben.
‘So, if it is not blackmail, what would the motive be for taking the photos,’ Britt asks. ‘And who exactly would have wanted to share them with Ben?’ And why? These are the thing you have to consider,’
‘Exactly,’ Lucy says. ‘Clearly, someone has the hump with me and wants to make a point by turning Ben against me. But I’ve no idea who it might be.’
‘Who might you have upset?’ Britt says. ‘What about Diane Hargreaves? I remember you were unkind about her paintings in that charity exhibition we went to at the community centre. You compared them to the daubings of a five-year-old.’
‘But not within earshot. Diane wouldn’t have known that.’
‘You know how quickly word gets around in Little Stoney. Once Rosie Parker gets wind of something, that’s it. And wasn’t Rosie on the desk at the centre that day?’
’I don’t remember. Anyway, Britt, Diane’s paintings were terrible. But I saw Diane last week at the garden centre in Backwater and she was still speaking to me then, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her. She told me all about Chloe Fricker’s operation. Apparently, Chloe’s had her boobs done. I thought something seemed different about Chloe. And she went on about how Darren and Karen’s son, Aaron, has started to identify himself as non-binary. Look, Britt,! I did wonder if it might be Susie Nice who took the pics.’
‘Susie? Isn’t she Ben’s cousin or something?’
‘Yes, Susie is his cousin, and they used to be close. I think they might have even had a thing going at one time. Anyway, the bottom line is that Susie has always disapproved of me. So if she happened to be passing the house that time Damien Red was there, she might have seen an opportunity to make something of it. But why would she wait three weeks?’
‘Whether it was Susie or not, whoever took the photos probably wasn’t sure what to do with them, but may have shown them to someone who may have mentioned them to someone else in passing and gradually the number of local people with knowledge of the photos grew. so it was only a question of time before they reached Ben.’
Damien Red is scheduled to visit K1SS offices to go over some details about the promotional video for the lead single from SCARLET. Lucy borrows one of Britt’s summer dresses to wear to work and soaks herself in Tom Ford Black Orchid.
Curiously, Damien doesn’t seem to recognise her. He asks instead if he can see the girl who manages the RED account. Lucy is at once puzzled and offended. Doesn’t he realise she is the one who manages the account? And the same one he slept with the last time he called in.
‘I can’t recall her name,’ he says. ‘Linda or Laura or something like that. Is she in the office today? Lola maybe? Or possibly Lucy? I’m not very good with names. Our manager, Ward Swisher, arranged the meeting. He’s the one with all the paperwork.’
It begins to dawn on Lucy that Damien Red is not pretending at all. Their recent liaison apparently meant so little to him that he does not remember her. She has never felt smaller. She wishes the ground would swallow her up. She excuses herself with the promise that she will return with Linda or Laura. Or is it Lola? She says she will have to check which one is handling the RED account.
Damien is confused by the treatment he’s getting, but he slowly realises his faux pas. But he can’t be expected to remember everything that happens week in and week out. Yesterday he was in Amsterdam, the day before he was in Paris. Last week he was in New York. His world is global. It’s not something people unfamiliar with this life would understand. Remembering names and faces or who he slept with don’t always get priority. But all is not lost. Surely he can blag it and convince her that his indifference was an act. Blagging, after all, is one of the things an entertainer is good at. Being a frontman in a successful rock band is all about performance. His charm is sure to win her over.
‘Jesus, Lucy! You walked out? What happened?’
‘I had no choice, Britt. I wasn’t going to stand there and be humiliated. Not by anyone.’
‘You mean you just walked out on a client? What was it that upset you so badly?’
‘Damien fucking Red. That’s what upset me. The no-good bastard couldn’t even remember who I was.’
‘Damien Red? From what you’ve been telling me, RED are probably K1SS’s number one client. And you walked out on Damien Red without so much as a by your leave. Shit, Lucy! You realise jobs like yours are not easy to come by?’
‘I don’t care. I don’t regret it, Britt. I would do the same again. ….. Why? Do you think I shouldn’t have?’
‘No. No. Not at all. Good on you, girl. These self-obsessed preening fly-by-night pop stars who think they are God’s gift need to be put in their place from time to time, for sure. You did the right thing.’
‘And he wasn’t even that good. A bit of a fumbler. He blamed it on jet lag. And he was overweight too.’
‘Classic red sports car as compensation for limp dick syndrome case, I’d say then.’
‘Exactly. And to think, my innocent little liaison with him cost me my long-term relationship with Ben.’
‘But to be fair, Lucy. Ben wasn’t always flavour of the month. You were always moaning about him. His touchiness. His insecurity. His jealousy. Him playing Bee Gees CDs in the car.’
‘Neil Diamond’s worse. He put Sweet Caroline on repeat, one time. But only once. He realised he had overstepped the mark. He didn’t dare do that again.’
‘What about the time he bought you a hoover for your birthday?’
‘And that didn’t work. It had to go back.’
‘Practising his golf swings in the front room.’
‘He broke the chandelier with his swing one time, didn’t he? The thing is, I don’t think he was even very good at golf. He always came home in a bad mood after a game.’
‘Having to look after his mother’s incontinent Jack Russell while she went on holiday to the Algarve. How he never took you out. How he would never pick up the kids even when he was off work. Your complaints about him were endless, girl. You are well shot of him, wouldn’t you say?’
‘I guess you’re right, Britt. It was a tired relationship.’
‘You’re better off not depending on them, Lucy. It isn’t worth it. The more you give, the less you get. My relationship with Greg is strictly on my terms.’
‘Anyway, that is done and dusted, Britt. But getting back to Damien Red, one way or another I am going to make that asshole pay. I’m not going to take it anymore. It’s time to fight back. Any ideas you have along those lines will be welcome.’
‘Well. I have some ideas, girl, but are you sure you want to hear them?
You may not have heard RED or even heard of them. They were a soft-rock band that had a couple of minor hits a year or two back. You might have caught a glimpse of them on TV or perhaps on a YouTube video that your Facebook friend Vernon or Vicky shared on social media. In any form of entertainment, tastes change quickly. But in popular music, tastes change in the blink of an eye. The spotlight moves on. Here today, gone tomorrow in the music business. Once they had had their fifteen minutes of fame, RED’s star quickly faded. Following the death of the band’s singer in a mysterious road accident in a rural location in the west county, RED disbanded and were quickly forgotten. You won’t hear anything by RED on the radio now, and your Facebook friend Vernon or Vicky will have long since stopped sharing YouTube videos of them on social media. There may no longer be any videos of them on YouTube to share. The view seems to be that, like so many one-hit wonders, the band were never very good in the first place.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2023: All rights reserved