When the phone rang on Friday night, Laura considered ignoring it. It was almost midnight and she lay on the sofa dressed in her kitten pyjamas, a fleece blanket across her knees, a towel round her wet hair and a glass of red wine in her hand, watching the opening credits of ‘Twins of Evil’. It had been a hard week. She must have logged at least sixty hours.
The phone stopped for at least thirty seconds, then started again.
Laura sighed heavily, pushed the cat off her lap and dragged herself to the hallway. She snatched up the phone. “What?”
“Laurie?” The husky little whisper didn’t come as a surprise. Who else but Suki would be calling her at this hour? Her youngest sister had absolutely no thought for anyone else.
“What do you want? Do you know what time—?”
“Can you come round?”
“What? Now? No. Of course I can’t.” So many things about Suki drove Laura mad. That breathy little voice was one of them. Her name was another. Why couldn’t she call herself Susan? That’s the name their parents had given her and, as far as Laura could see, there was nothing at all wrong with it.
“Please?” A volley of shrill barks sounded in the background, and Suki’s voice faded. “Be quiet, Toto.”
Toto, a Yorkshire terrier who thought himself a Rottweiler, took absolutely no notice.
“Laurie? Are you still there? You’ve got to come.”
“It’s nearly midnight. I’ve had a couple of drinks. It’s not—”
“Get a taxi. I’ll pay.”
“I think Bobby’s dead.”
Laura opened her mouth, closed it again.
There was a moment of silence from the other end of the phone, while Toto gathered his energy for the next round of barks and Suki waited for a response from Laura.
“Bobby’s what?” Laura squeezed her eyes closed, trying to shake off the fuzziness the wine had wrapped round her mind. Bobby was Suki’s latest boyfriend, a six-foot six-inch mountain of muscle and attitude, liberally decorated with tattooed skulls and death threats in gothic script. Laura didn’t like him much, but she didn’t think anyone did, not even his mother. He was surly and communicated in grunts. Suki had only picked him up because his Neanderthal appearance made her look delicate and ethereal. He was a thug, filed in Laura’s mind as ‘The Hulk’.
“Dead. Please, Laurie?” The breathy voice sounded as though it was about to shatter into a storm of tears. “Please come. Please, please, please.”
Laura sighed. Suki had a weakness for thugs; she liked tattoos, shaved heads and body piercings. She liked the sense of power that came from wrapping a man twice her size around her little finger. Bobby had probably been murdered in some turf war between drug dealers, people traffickers, or something of that sort. He’d always struck Laura as a violent death waiting to happen. Suki was well rid of him. Her last relationship, with a bad boy banker, called Nigel, had ended the same way. In violence. She needed to see a therapist.
“Take a tranquillizer,” Laura said. “You’ll soon find a new boyfriend.”
“I think I killed him.” There were definite tears now, and Toto started to bark again.
Laura put a hand to her head. Of course, Suki hadn’t killed him. She was a complete drama queen. A flake.
“Please? He’s lying here, on the carpet. Dead. There’s blood. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Laura clutched the phone to her ear, ran up the stairs and grabbed a pair of jeans. She didn’t believe a word of it, but if there was even a grain of truth in the story, it might be a real emergency. Although Suki did have a tendency towards melodrama. God, she was annoying. Bobby had probably passed out, drunk. “I’ll call a cab.”
She put the phone down, pulled on the jeans and a pair of boots and headed out. The taxi driver eyed her kitten pyjama top and towel turban with amazement. She glared at him as she scrambled into the back of the cab, jerking the towel from her hair and rubbing it vigorously.
Suki lived a few miles away, in a rough part of Tottenham. She said she liked it there, and it must have been true, because she could certainly have afforded something better. Her flat was the top floor of a rambling Victorian house and, when Laura rang the doorbell, Suki had to run down the stairs because the intercom never worked.
“Oh Laurie.” She grabbed Laura’s arm as soon as she opened the door. “It’s so awful. What am I going to do?” Blonde hair fell in an artfully tousled mass over her face, although her make-up was still flawless.
Laura cast a disapproving look over her short sparkly dress and skyscraper heels. Was she about to go out, or had she just returned? “Come on.” She shook her arm free and pushed her way past her sister, into the hall. “Show me where he is.”
Suki ran up the wide staircase to the open door of her flat. Laura followed, out of breath by the time she reached the top. She slammed the door closed behind her and headed after Suki into the sitting room. The shrill barking rose in volume. Laura came to an abrupt halt just inside the door. “Jesus.”
Bobby was impossible to miss. Face down on the carpet, his feet were tangled in the rug, and his head rested on the tiled fireplace. The back of his skull was a strange shape and his blonde stubbly hair was dark in patches. The annoying Toto crouched by his ear, his high-pitched yaps escalating from over-excited to full-blown hysterical.
“What happened?” Laura knelt down by Bobby’s head, pushing a snarling Toto out of the way. “Are you sure he’s dead?”
“Of course, he’s bloody dead. Just look at him.” Suki’s voice rose. “Look at his head. But it wasn’t my fault.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t.” Laura did a mental eye roll. “Just tell me what happened.”
Suki swept the dog up from the floor and held him close, dropping a kiss on his beribboned head. “He tried to kick Toto.”
Toto wiped his pink tongue across her face and whined at her. Laura looked up at the dog, then down at Bobby. His feet were huge, and encased in metal-capped boots. It was difficult to see how Toto had survived that. She pushed herself to her feet, wobbling slightly as the room spun. “How—”
“I stopped him.” Suki clutched the dog, who let out a pained whimper. “He missed Toto and tripped. He hit his head on the fireplace.”
“Cracked his skull?”
“Maybe.” Suki avoided her gaze.
“How did you turn him over?” Laura stared at her seven stone, willowy sister in bemusement.
“I didn’t. Not exactly.” Suki buried her face in the dog’s fur.
“Not exactly?” Laura’s stomach clenched.
“He didn’t even knock himself out.” Suki glared at the body. Her lips pursed in a sullen pout. “He couldn’t even do that right. He was already getting up. But he was in a furious temper. He said he was going to kill Toto, and he meant it. He never liked him. He called him a little rat. He deserved what he got.” She stamped her foot, wobbling as the high heel buckled. “I’m not sorry.”
“Suki? Get to the point. Tell me what happened.”
“He was just jealous.” She kissed the dog again. “Because I loved Toto better than him. Don’t I, sugar plum? Sweetie-pie. Little doggie Toto.”
“I hit him.” She shifted the dog to one arm and pointed at the table, where an unopened bottle of champagne stood on the tablecloth. “With that. We were going to celebrate our three-month anniversary.”
A dark stain spread up from the bottom of the bottle. Laura walked over and examined it. It could easily have been the murder weapon. She turned back to Suki, swallowing the nausea that pooled in her mouth and wishing she hadn’t drunk quite so much.
“Twice,” Suki said, as though once wasn’t bad enough. “He tried to get up again, so I hit him twice.” She rubbed her face against the dog’s head and put him on the floor.
“We should call the police,” Laura said. “Tell them he had an accident.”
“No.” Suki’s voice rose to a squeak. “We can’t. They won’t believe us. He’s got the bruise on his forehead as well as that.” She pointed to his caved in skull. “We’ve got to deal with this ourselves.”
Laura frowned at her. What did she think they were going to do? Feed him to the dog? “Suki—”
“We can get him out between us,” she said. “You go to the gym. You’re big, and I’m strong for my size.”
“Big? Are you saying I’m fat?”
“You’re always going on about my weight. It’s not me. I’m fine. You’re too thin. You look like you’re anorexic.”
“Oh shut up.”
Laura took a deep breath. “Just focus, will you?”
“The pub’s downstairs. Everyone knows it’s a place drug dealers hang out. We can dump him in the alley behind it.”
“Suki—” Laura tried desperately to interrupt.
“They’ll think it was a rival gang.” Suki lifted her face imploringly, her dark lashes fluttering. “Please Laurie. I don’t want to go to jail.”
Laura took a deep breath. “We’ve got to tell the police.”
“No. Please. Pleeease.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I really don’t want to go to jail.”
“I will. Please Laurie. I know you hate me, but—”
Laura gritted her teeth. “I don’t hate you. You’re my sister. You might be annoying, but that’s why—”
“It’s because of Jake isn’t it?”
“No. Of course it’s not.” Suki had seduced Jake, Laura’s boyfriend, five years ago and Laura had been upset at the time, but of course she was over it. Five years was a long time. “And I don’t hate you.”
“Then why won’t you help me?”
Every time Laura mentioned the police, tears rolled down Suki’s face. Eventually Laura gave up trying to reason with her and picked up the phone. Suki knocked it out of her hand and fell to her knees wrapping her arms round Laura’s thighs. The dog ran round them yelping.
“All right.” Laura’s head throbbed, and she began to think that a nice solitary cell sounded like paradise.
“Thank you. Thank you.” Suki gave her legs one last hug, before pushing herself to her feet.
“But suppose we get caught?” Laura nibbled at the ragged nail on her index finger, wishing she could think clearly. “We’ll—”
“But you’ll do it?”
“Thank you, Laura. Thank you. You’re the best sister in the world.” Suki’s tears had vanished as thought they had never been, leaving her face unmarked by her crying fit. She danced away into the kitchen and came back with a plastic Tesco bag. Laura watched with a sense of distorted reality as her sister lifted the hulk’s battered head and slid the bag over it. She glanced up at Laura’s stupefied expression.
“He’s leaking all over the fireplace. We can’t have him doing that on the stairs. Someone might ask questions.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I can’t keep staring at his head. It’s making me sick.”
It was making Laura sick too, and she wasn’t looking forward to touching the body either.
Suki darted out of the room to check the stairs and the street outside, and returned to say that it was all clear. “Come on. Let’s get him down.”
“Suppose someone hears? And the barking? Surely—”
“People mind their own business round here. Don’t be such a wimp. And hurry up.”
Laura took the head end in its Tesco bag, groaning at the weight. Suki took the feet. At the top of the stairs, Laura stopped and lowered her burden, gasping for breath. “Wait.”
“Come on.” Suki paused. Her hands flexed round Bobby’s ankles.
“He’s too heavy.” Laura glared at Suki. “And I’m doing all the work.”
“You need to spend more time at the gym.” Suki dropped the ankles. “And lose some weight for God’s sake.”
“I hate you. You—”
“Just push him,” Suki interrupted. “Slide him downstairs. Don’t let the bag come off.” She tugged on the ankles and Laura bent to support the head as the body bumped downwards.
They hauled the corpse down three flights of stairs to the hallway, where Suki dropped the feet and opened the door. Laura bent over, clutching her side.
“All clear.” Suki picked up the ankles. “Come on Laurie. It’s not far.”
Laura’s heart thudded.
“It’s okay. There’s no one there.” Suki waited impatiently. “Come on.”
The two of them manoeuvred the body a few yards along the street to the alley behind ‘The Golden Goose’. Thank God it was close. Much further and Laura’s arms would have popped out of their sockets.
“There. No problem. You’re such a wuss, Laura.” Suki dropped her end again. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
Laura lowered the head to the concrete and backed away.
Suki pulled the bag off Bobby’s head, screwing it up in one hand. “Silly. We can’t leave that.” She frowned at Laura, then giggled.
“I did love him,” she said, once they were back in the flat. Her forehead creased as though she was about to cry again. She held up her wrist to show a bracelet made from twisted gold chains. “And he loved me. He gave me this, only last week. Poor Bobby.”
“He was a thug.” Laura’s tone was as expressionless as she could make it. “I wish you wouldn’t get mixed up with people like that. Suppose it was you he’d tried to kick instead of Toto?”
They both looked at the dog, who managed to snarl at Laura while wagging his plumed tail at Suki.
“He wouldn’t have done that,” Suki said. “He wouldn’t have dared. I’d have killed him.”
She gave Laura an appalled stare and let out a small giggle, before collapsing onto the sofa and indulging in a fit of laughter that turned into more tears.
Laura sighed and stalked towards the fridge and an unblemished wine bottle. She poured drinks into two glasses and carried them back to her sister, who stretched out on the sofa, her head on a pile of cushions, her pale, slender legs propped on the arm. She held out her hand for the glass.
They finished the whole bottle before cleaning the flat of any trace of Bobby’s final moments.
“It’s just as well he didn’t bleed on the carpet.” Suki watched Laura wipe the fireplace with disinfectant.
“What’s so funny?” Laura snapped. Suki’s smirk was beyond irritating.
“I didn’t mean to kill him,” she said. “But I didn’t mean to kill Nigel either.”
Laura looked up.
Suki met her eyes and bit her lip.
“Let’s not talk about it.” Tears welled in the blue eyes again. “You shouldn’t have made me drink so much.”
Laura picked up the stained champagne bottle, wiped the bottom and wrapped it in the Tesco bag. “Hold this.”
She rinsed the cloth and scrubbed the table top, before snatching the bag back and stamping to the door. “I don’t want to know about Nigel, and I don’t want to speak to you again. Ever.”
“What?” Suki’s lower lip sagged. “Laura? You’re the best sister ever. I—”
Laura slammed the door behind her and started walking home through the early morning streets. She dropped the wine bottle, the bag and the used cloth in a waste bin near Seven Sisters tube. It was five o’clock before she got home, and thanks to Suki, she missed her Saturday morning yoga class.
Bobby’s body was found, of course, and an appeal for witnesses launched on the local radio. Laura lasted two days before she returned her sister’s phone calls.
Suki fizzed with excitement and triumph. “The police came round. They wanted to know when I’d last seen Bobby. They were really nice and so sympathetic. One of them made me a cup of tea. I think we got away with it.”
“Of course, every time they mentioned Bobby, I couldn’t help crying.”
“Really?” Laura remembered the fits of laughter.
“Yeah. But Laurie?”
“I’ve met someone else. He’s gorgeous.”
Laura sighed heavily into the phone.
“His head’s shaved. Most men would look awful, but he’s got the most perfect face you can imagine. And he’s got the grim reaper tattooed on his skull.”
“Really?” Laura pulled a face.
“And he likes Toto.”
“And how long will he last?”
“Don’t be horrible.”
As Suki started to babble on about Bobby’s replacement, Laura pressed the disconnect button.