Installment 48: pages 201 - 205 [Elliot, back at Marina's share-house, has walked in on Sarah in the bathroom with a knife.]
It's a funny thing, walking in on someone's attempt at self-harm and being overwhelmed with a sense of embarrassment; it's simply a situation where the rule-book of polite middle-class phrases for all occasions comes up a terrifying blank. What do you do? You start talking, no matter how bizarre starting such a conversation seems.
"Hi Sarah," I tried, "want to put the knife down for a minute?"
"Go away, Elliot."
Her eyes seemed swollen and puffy, the colour of blisters. She'd been crying. The more I looked at the knife the more it struck me that the sharp of the blade faced her body. She'd been preparing to pull it in towards her - not across, and parrallel to, her wrist. If she was after attention, it was a bloody serious way to go about getting it. The knife itself was not large: kitchen issue, black handled, sharp.
I squatted down on my haunches, unthreatening, to stop from looming over her. I angled my head for eye-contact, she ducked me. The movement took the knife away from her bared arm. The hand holding it was shaking.
"I'm not going anywhere," I said. "I just want to talk."
"Just go," she hissed.
"Not going to happen, Sarah, sorry. Look, if I was going to try something I would have yelled for your flatmates by now. This is about Ryder, isn't it? The man who was here. How do you know him?"
She looked up at me, suddenly furious.
"I work for him, Elliot. I don't work at a supermarket. I work at Unchaperoned."
The name fell like thunder on my ears.
"Unchaperoned?" I asked, confused by the mass of aching in my torso, and the dull fog in my head.
"I work at a brothel," she said quietly.
"And if I didn't," she added, "Jenny wouldn't be ... "
She was crying now. The knife dangled beside the toilet, clinking on the porcelain base. She wiped at her eyes with he bare forearm.
"Hey," I said softly, "Hey."
I reached out tentatively, put one hand on her knee. She slumped towards me and, somehow, I duck-waddled over the floor to support her sobbing frame, refusing to think about where the knife was.
"It's OK," I said. "It's not your fault."
"Yes it is, Elliot," she whimpered. "It was because of me that she was always hanging around in her car out the front. They didn't like it."
"No, they don't," I murmured, remembering both my own recent beating and what the woman in the Unchaperoned carpark had told me about the management's views on loiterers and leaving staff. And if Eva was right and there had been a leak from the Minister's office about the incipient raids, they would have been extra jumpy about unwanted attention. "But why was Jenny hanging about? Her work on the taskforce?"
"She didn't like me working there," answered Sarah. "Didn't think it was safe. She kept wanting to collect me after work. She did sometimes. I'd told her I was looking for something else, waiting for a good time to tell them I was quitting ... but she wasn't making it easier."
"You were ... seeing Jenny?" I couldn't keep a certain shock out of my voice.
She pushed me away. I was glad of it. It meant she had to drop the knife. I managed to shift my position so I could get one foot on it.
"It wasn't like that!" she yelled.
"Fine, fine," I said. "You weren't sleeping together."
"We were! But it wasn't about sex ... she loved me, Elliot. I ... I didn't want things to get ... I didn't want to have a physical relationship with anyone until I left Unchaperoned. I wanted it to be just us. So we just - slept next to each other, when we could. She'd drop me off near work sometimes, collect me afterwards. But she wasn't happy. I wanted to keep things quiet to protect her, but she started hanging around in plain sight outside. She thought if I told them who she worked for, the pressure on me not to leave would drop. She thought that if they knew she was working for a minister who was investigating brothels that they'd be happy to get rid of me ... but since Jez came round this afternoon, I know he must have got someone to follow us back to her place. Jez knew Elliot, he knew. And now Jenny's dead."
My head was reeling. Jenny, a political staffer working on the sex-slavery taskforce, had been dating Sarah on the quiet - who, unknown to everyone, had been working as a prostitute at Unchaperoned.
Jeremy Ryder, Unchaperoned’s owner, had now shown up here, menacing Sarah. I had more information, but it was not making a great deal of sense.
"And you never told Ryder who Jenny worked for did you?"
"No! Of course not, I knew that would just make trouble!"
I nodded. Jenny’s death was explicable if, as I’d been assuming, Ryder was connected. He wasn’t afraid of sending people round to rough someone up, even injure them severely. Dave Pritchard’s advice and the trashing of our next-door flat proved that. A severe frightening could, however, go badly wrong if someone slipped and fell in a wet room with a lot of hard surfaces. Also, an attack on someone as heavily connected as Jenny made a lot more sense if you had no idea who she worked for. As I’d discovered, getting into her block of flats half the time wouldn’t even require being buzzed in – the front door didn’t always catch properly. But if you weren’t expecting trouble and someone you hadn’t buzzed in knocked on your door, your first thought would be that it was a neighbour. You’d let them in and there’d be no sign of a break in.
Also, it had looked to me as though the Ryder henchman I'd privately christened the Slab - and who had treated me to a close inspection of the gravel behind Unchaperoned - was not averse to roughing up women.
I now had a theory of Jenny’s death – but no explanation of how it related to Marina’s disappearance. Other than the fact that the Minister’s office seemed to be leaking and that her father had business connections to Ryder. I couldn’t escape the feeling the missing piece was only just out of reach, that I even knew – somehow – what I had to do to get it.
"What’s going on up there?" called Trish from downstairs, clearly having caught some of Sarah’s shouts.
I was still holding Sarah.
"I think she’d better come up, don’t you?" I asked.
She nodded, sniffing: "No one else, though. Please?"
"Sure," I answered, picking up the knife.
I stuck my head out the door and called to Trish. Simultaneously, my phone started ringing. I flipped it open as Trish, clambered up the stairs, her expression of concern deepening on seeing me with a knife outside the bathroom.
Before I could start explanations, the number on the phone’s screen finally registered with me.
Shit, I thought, I’ve been meaning to call Pop back.