The boys are back at school. Work resumes as usual. Lester looks surprised to see me. His problem, not mine. If he wants to kick me out he’s going to have to spell it out. We make polite conversation. I ask about the project. He asks about the boys. Polite, engaged, appropriate. We’re both relieved to hear a key turn in the door.
Bruno doesn’t look the slightest bit surprised to see me sitting at my desk. He just might be the nicest man I know.
He says ‘We’ve got the archeology report.’
‘And they didn’t find any bones at Macey’s Patch.’
‘None at all.’
‘Dead bodies?’ I say hopefully.
‘No bodies and no bones.’
Lester looks exasperated. ‘So what was all that bollocks about Gala-the-Fox-Terrier and the sanctity of his sodding grave?’
I am staring at my feet.
‘But they did find something else.’ Says Bruno.
He has our full attention.
‘Boxes. In a disused septic tank.’
Lester says ‘We’ve had the services report. There wasn’t any mention of a tank.’
‘It’s been out of use for years.’ Says Bruno, scanning the report. ‘They built it at the same time as the hospital. It became redundant once they got connected to the mains.’
I say ‘So what’s inside the boxes?’
Bruno says ‘Not boxes, exactly. Maybe more like tins.’
‘Tins.’ Lester says scornfully. As though he’s heard it all.
‘Metal boxes. Small metal boxes. A bit too small for biscuits; too big to be sardines.’
‘They’re not too sure.’
‘Haven’t they looked?’
‘They didn’t think it was appropriate. They felt they ought to leave the evidence in tact.’
Lester rolls his eyes. ‘It’s not a murder investigation, it’s an archaeology report.’
‘They have to take it seriously. It’s their job.’
‘I thought they were meant to have some sort of X-Ray vision.’ Says Lester. Isn’t that what we pay them for?’
I say ‘It’s just a desk-top survey. We only paid two grand.’
‘Jesus Christ. Two grand? You can buy a sodding metal detector for fifty bloody quid. If I’d known we were paying that much I’d have gone poking around myself.’
I know better than to argue.
‘Lazy sods. You’d think for two bloody grand they could at least have bought them down here in a carrier bag.’
He’s putting on his coat.
‘Right’ he says. ‘I’m going to dig them up.’
Bruno says ‘Perhaps she’s moved the body. Now she knows we’re onto her.’
I say. ‘You read the report. No signs of recent disturbance. Well, there weren’t before we dug the whole thing up.’
Bruno says ‘Shame really. It’s the only thing that made this project interesting.’
I say ‘I would have thought you got enough thrills from your other job.’
‘It’s not as exciting as it sounds.’
I say ‘Isn’t it dangerous?’
He looks offended. ‘I’m not hustling on street corners. These are long-term client relationships with respectable married women.’
‘There has to be an element of risk.’
‘Ninety per cent of my business comes from repeat customers.’ He is clearly proud of this statistic.
‘In fact….’ He’s fishing around in his laptop case. ‘I’m toying with different options for some sort of loyalty card.’
‘Here.’ He says triumphantly. ‘What do you think of this?’
He holds up a business card that says:
Personal Trainer. Very Personal Trainer.
I can satisfy your sexual needs AND get you back in shape.
‘Nice.’ I say. ‘Subtle.’
He says ‘Do you think I ought to leave the last line off?’
‘I like the combination of promise and implied insult.’
He says ‘You think it’s cheesy don’t you?’
I say ‘I like the font.’
He is rummaging though his case.
‘I’ve got a more sophisticated option. I’m just worried it’s a bit too cosmopolitan for St Anselm’s.’
He brandishes another card.
He says ‘So what do you think?’
I say ‘I think that you spell Gigolo with a G.’
Lester says ‘So what’s your best bet?’
We are sitting round the table. Tins stacked neatly in the middle. Identical. Sides neatly sealed with bright red wax. A single word scratched on each lid. Ruby, Gala, Coty, Blaze.
I say ‘They sound like dogs to me.’
‘Stop banging on about your bloody dogs.’ Says Lester.
‘It could be ashes. Maybe they’ve interred them.’
‘They’re bloody heavy for ashes.’
‘Maybe they’ve buried the ashes with their prize possessions. Their collar or their favourite bone. Some sort of ritual burial. Like Pharoah in the pyramids.’
It’s probably best if I shut up.
I carry on all the same. ‘Maybe there’s photographs in with the ashes. Capturing the glory days. Chasing rabbits. Winning Crufts…’
Bruno interrupts me in mid flow. ‘You wouldn’t call a dog Blaze. It sounds more like the sort of name you’d give a pony’.
‘Maybe it’s just animals in general.’
‘A pet cemetery?’
‘A pet crematorium.’
‘They’re not pet names.’ Says Lester. ‘If they were, there’d be six of them called Ruby.’
‘Maybe Ruby had an awful lot of ashes. Or maybe a single owner gave all his dogs the same name.’
He shoots me a look that begs me to stop talking.
‘I had an uncle who did that.’ I say. ‘He always had a spaniel and he always called it Otter. He was on Otter V by the time he died.’
Lester asks if anyone has a penknife.
I find a blunt knife and a corkscrew from the kitchen.
Everyone falls quiet.
‘Do you think it’s safe to open them?’
Lester picks up a tin and starts chipping at the seal.
He says ‘We’ll soon find out.’
‘What if it’s explosives?’
Lester stands frozen to the ground. Everyone is silent. Lost in thought.
He says ‘I’m going to open them outside. You two stay in here.’
‘I do a discount for long-term customers.’
I need to get the conversation back on a more professional footing. I should be pulling rank. Reminding Bruno that we’re in an office situation. That he really ought to focus on the job he’s paid to do.
Or I could just remind him that he told me that I wouldn’t have to pay.
I say ‘I’m not a prospective client.’
‘You couldn’t afford me.’
I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.
I say ‘So are there that many forty-year-old women prepared to pay good money for sex?’
‘Erotic exploration. With a professional personal trainer. And a personal fitness plan.’
‘I pretty much only work with women in their forties. Sometimes a bit older.’
‘They can afford it. I get to work in nice big houses.’
‘You fuck them in their houses?’
‘It’s usually the home gym. The first time. Or in the marital bed.’
‘Aren’t they terrified their husbands will come home?’
‘There’s always part of them that wants their husband to find out.’
‘So what are they like, these women?’
‘Confident; articulate; sassy; sad. A bit needy. But in a good way. Angry more than clingy. Disillusioned with their husbands. Disappointed with the way that life’s turned out.’
‘They’re pretty much like you. Just with an awful lot more money. And more expensive clothes. Just generally better presented. More visible signs of effort.’
He squints at me, as though he’s not quite sure what he’s looking at.
‘Do you put make-up on when you go out?’
Lester says ‘Three guesses what’s inside.’
‘Tell me, I give up.’
He pauses for effect. His prerogative. Fair enough.
It takes a moment to sink in.
Bruno is the first to speak.
‘Lipstick.’ Lester says grimly. ‘Someone’s been winding us up.’
I say ‘You don’t think they’ve boiled down their dogs’ remains and turned them into lipstick?’
‘Jesus Fucking Christ.’ He shrieks. Will you stop banging on about dead dogs. It’s got nothing to do with dogs or ponies or dead bodies. It’s make-up. Lipstick. Cos –Met-Ics.’
I say ‘They’ve got pet names.’
Bruno says. ‘They’re different colours. Ruby, Gala, Coty, Blaze. Different shades of red.’
‘So what do you think we should do with it?’ Says Bruno.
‘Give it to the Church for prizes in the raffle.’ I say helpfully. ‘Offer them to Elsie Tanner for the Easter Fair? Presumably there’s some sort of bring and buy stall.’
‘Bring and buy?
‘You know. Bric-a-brac. You bring something from your house to sell and buy something in return.’
‘Do you think it’s even safe? We don’t know how long its been down there. It might be made from some terrible corrosive substance. The good ladies of St Anselm’s will all be marching about with cold sores.’
It’s a reasonable point.
I say ‘I wouldn’t fancy putting that on my face.’
Bruno says ‘It might be an improvement.’
I ignore him.
‘Do you think it still works? It hasn’t dried out or coagulated or something?’
Bruno pulls out the Ruby Red. He strokes the case. A pristine gold-plated bullet. Gingerly pulls off the cap. As though he expects it to explode at any minute. Holds it to the light. Turns it slowly. Looks at it from every angle. Mesmerised.
Quick as a flash he pulls it to his lips. Draws a quick, bright, slash of scarlet. A Ruby Red wide smile.