Tony sits behind the executive desk in his office, perched on the edge of the high-backed leather chair. He is silhouetted against the drawn blinds, head bowed, his only movement a gentle motion of the hands, as if counting the rosary.
A police siren passes on the street outside and the trance is broken. Tony’s hands stop moving; he sits upright, conceals something beneath his jacket, then leans back and pulls the cord that opens the blinds. He blinks, his eyes suddenly caught in a horizontal shaft of sunlight.
The light reveals brown eyes with thick brows; a long, high-bridged nose and dark hair cut fashionably short.
It also reveals a sprinkling of grey hairs at the temples, heavily pitted skin, and a deep, y-shaped scar on his left cheek.
Tony carefully folds up the monogrammed handkerchief he is holding and returns it to his breast pocket. He stands up and walks over to the mirror, where he adjusts his tie. He looks at his Rolex. It’s time.
Tony’s in the back of the Jag. He’s sitting with his legs together and his hands on his knees. Occasionally his right hand reaches across and pats his suit just beneath his left breast pocket. A black trench coat lies neatly folded on the seat next to him.
His upper lip is moist with sweat. He runs an index finger around the inside of his collar and loosens his tie a fraction.
Tony takes his wallet from his coat and pulls out a photograph. It’s a picture of a young woman in her late twenties, maybe early thirties. Only her head and shoulders are visible. Behind her is a shelf full of hefty, leather-bound books. She’s wearing a black gown and a white neckpiece. Her red hair, which peeks out from underneath a short, curled wig, is cut in a chin-length bob. She’s smiling. Tony studies the photograph for a long time.
It’s getting dark on Chestnut Avenue. The broad, tree-lined street is deserted and its well-kept houses are shadowed and lifeless. About now, its residents will be collecting their BMWs from their reserved spaces on the company car park and preparing to do battle with the rush hour traffic.
Tony’s standing in the shadows behind a sprawling rhododendron that forms the border between park and pavement. He stands perfectly still, breathing slowly and deeply. He’s watching a house across the street. It’s an expensive-looking detached house set back from the road behind a sweeping gravel drive, bordered by mature trees. The drive is empty but a light is on upstairs. Tony reaches into his jacket and pulls out a mobile phone. He dials a number then holds the phone to his ear. Across the street a phone rings. After twenty seconds Tony hangs up and the ringing stops.
It’s almost completely dark now.
Tony’s breath hangs in the air. He pulls up the collar of his coat. A black Mercedes slides into a drive four doors down. He can’t put it off any longer. He eases out of the shadows and crosses the road.
Inside the living room the curtains are open and the yellow light from a street lamp casts leafy shadows onto the opposite wall. There is a single door in the room. It’s open. Tony waits in the darkness behind it.
A key is turning in the front door.
Tony holds his breath.
A light comes on in the hall followed by the sound of the front door closing. Tony hears keys being dropped on the hall table. Then, so faint as to make him wonder whether he’s just imagining it, he hears footsteps on carpet, getting closer.
Tony catches a waft of her perfume, fresh and zesty like crushed lemons. Through the crack in the door he catches a glimpse of black fabric and a flash of red hair.
Still he waits. Timing is everything.
Now he can hear her in the kitchen. The tap is running. Tony makes his move. He slips out into the hall, onto the deep pile carpet, which muffles his footfall. He inches along the hallway, pressing his back against the wall. He looks through the chink in the kitchen door. The black gown is lying on a stool. There’s a bunch of flowers on the counter. She’s at the sink, her back to him. She’s wearing a grey suit with a short, tight skirt. Tony edges closer.
She’s right in front of him now. If he were to reach out he could tap her on the shoulder. Instead, he reaches underneath his jacket.
She turns around.
She gasps, letting the vase drop to the floor. It smashes, splashing water over her legs and across the slate tiles. Then Tony does what he came to do.
“Laura, will you marry me?” he says, holding out the ring in its box.
In the living room the curtains are closed now and the lamps are on. Tony and Laura are snuggled up on the sofa, drinking wine and listening to Chopin. Her head is resting on his shoulder. He’s stroking her hair.
“How did you know?” she asks.
“Francesca,” Tony replies.
Laura sits up. “So that’s why she was quizzing me about my sexual fantasies last week. I thought it was a bit odd.”
Tony raises an eyebrow in mock surprise. “And a barrister fantasising about an erotic encounter with an intruder isn’t odd at all, is it?” he says.
Laura elbows him playfully in the ribs.
“Anyway,” Tony continues, “I thought women told their best friends everything.”
“Don’t you believe it,” says Laura, reaching across to the coffee table and putting her glass down. She moves closer to Tony and places a hand on his thigh. “Now then, Mr. Intruder,” she says, “I think it’s about time we got on to the erotic encounter bit.”
© Helen Lewis 2011