Death is a Service Rendered-3

“Brian, I need a favour from you?”

Brian ran his fingers over his face, breathless and re-orientating himself.

“For heaven’s sake Brian, get the staff to run around, you look like a heart attack on legs”

“Fuck off Piers, my only pleasure is the hard work these days.”

“Get some blue pills and take one a day.”

Brian laughed and sat down at his desk.

“What are you after young man?”

“Your dating website. I need you to do another trawl for me.”

“We do have rules you know. If we get caught playing with the customer’s data like that, I will be closed down. I can’t take the risk; I’m supposed to be a fucking pillar of the community.”

“Ah, styling yourself King of the Kinkies are we. I think not.”

“Hmmph.” Brian looked over his desk for a pen.

“I have to tell you Piers. The online dating business for Lifestyle aficionados is getting crowded. I am being hassled by the gangsters.”

The “gangsters” were Brain’s term for the borderline and not so borderline pornographers that were his main rivals. Often based abroad, they weren’t a physical threat, but they were taking away business or worse, giving it a bad name.

“Last I heard you were still the favoured place for matchmaking Lifestylers.”

Brian said nothing and found his pen.

“Who are you looking for?”

“Look for Alicia Greenberg.”

“You lost a Mistress again Piers? Becoming a bad habit. Time you turned to Dom-ing them, then they’ll hang around longer.”

Piers ignored the jibe.

“No, it’s not her I’m after. I know where she is. It’s anyone who has regularly chatted with her, maybe even arranged to meet privately.”

“Do you know her nickname on site.”

“No, but try her name, or variations like Alice or Allie, that sort of thing.”

Brian picked up his glasses and put them on, he then pulled over an expensive laptop and logged into his servers. After a few minutes, he pursed his lips and looked over the top of the screen.

“Dead easy. Yes, we had an Alicia Greenberg registered for chat. But I suspect you already knew that. How did you know that by the way? You’re keeping something from me young man?”

“Doesn’t matter, any pictures?”

“Only a profile picture, she hasn’t uploaded anything else.”

He turned the screen towards Piers. It was a small indistinct generic photograph of a masked girl sitting in a basket chair. Looked like a stock photograph of anyone. Brian turned the screen back and typed again.

“Hmm, registered with us about two months ago. No public postings, no advertisements but about half a dozen private chat messages all within the first week.”

“With who?”

“One person only. Apparently. Well, well, what d’ya know.”

“With who, Brian?”

“You.”

Piers looked at Brian with a steady stare, Brian stared back amused.

“Not me Brian, I haven’t spoken to her.”

“Well here it is in full colour as it were. It’s the nick you use when you are feeling frisky and don’t want the rest of us to know that the great Piers Fellowes is on the prowl.”

“Hah. I’m too old and busy to prowl. I take it we are talking about the “jollyGood” nick?”

“The very same”

“Haven’t used it in years. It’s been hacked.”

*If you say so.”

“I do say so. So, what has my alter ego been saying to our Alicia?”

“Well, for a start she used the nick, Lady_Tone which, though unoriginal, has a ring to it.”

“Spare me”

“Wait, I’ll print off the chats. Very few of them and very short.”

After a short buzz from the laser printer behind him, Brian collected a single sheet of paper and passed it over. Piers read.

Lady_Tone: Good to see you online. Can we meet. The usual place?

jollyGood: Yes of course.

Lady_Tone: Good.

Piers saw that there were more of the same over the next few weeks. The last message appeared after several weeks break later; the day before Alice was found dead he noted.

Lady_Tone: I don’t know or care what you think. I am not screwing you. What the hell do you think you’re doing! Do NOT contact me again. I’ve had enough of your calls. Do it again and I’ll have the police in.

jollyGood: That has never been my intention, have you not been listening to me, you must know by now what my true intentions are? Do you think I am some kind of child. I do want to see you again. And help.

Lady_Tone. I’ve got rid of the phone. I just wanted to say that we are done here. I won’t be back.

Piers looked up and folded the paper into his pocket.

“One last favour Brian.”

“I don’t think I am going to like this”.

“Delete the messages but keep the accounts going and let me know if either turns up again.”

Brian shook his head.

“No Piers, friends don’t do that kind of favour. Are you in trouble? Being caught in a stalking scam? What is it?”

“OK, well, if the police get around to asking you for your records, delay them for me?”

“We’ll see. Depends what kind of trouble it is. Who is Alicia Greenberg? One of your ex-pupils. Come on, you wouldn’t ask if you weren’t in trouble.”

“So you will at least stall?”

“Okay.”

Brian looked serious and a little more distant than when they started.

“I don’t like the look of this situation Piers. It’s not like you to be this secretive. I sense some real issues?”

“I promise, I’ll let you know everything when it’s all over.”

As he walked through the cafe, Bo’ whispered as she passed him.

“No, nothing.”

“Don’t tell Brian I asked, ok?”

“Sure Mr Fellowes, no problem”

He nodded unsmiling and left.

Chapter 5

Piers looked over the Thames river from a bench. It was a cold late autumn afternoon, and he was wrapped in a winter coat, fur hat and gloves. He wasn’t quite alone on the embankment, but no-one shared his enthusiasm for lingering in the crisp air and hurried past. His PA had called several times, no doubt wondering where he was, but he ignored the alert tones of his phone, until he finally switched it off.

He turned over in his mind the subject he occasionally returned to when his life was more complex than comfortable. His childhood. He thought he could trace back the moment that he knew he was emotionally different from most around him. He had known friends who were gay and who could proudly pinpoint the moment they realised: usually it seemed around puberty or shortly afterwards. Except for one, who came out at Piers’ 40th birthday party he held in his office to the astonishment of the object of his affection’s then wife, the amusement of his teenage daughter, and the horror of the man himself, a rather shy city analyst who had barely accepted the fact of the attraction to himself! Piers smiled ruefully at the memory: what a fun day to remember that was.

But as for Piers, he could not remember the moment when he felt different. Felt the need to both win and grasp the opportunities that he sensed were available to him, but at the same time feel the need to be needed. At the beginning it was the pleasure in pleasing others than he craved, then came the sexual feelings that fear and punishment offered, then the submissive behaviour that, coupled with a “dominant” business personality, eventually came to define his life. He could not explain this to anyone at the time.

Even when he found people who shared his enthusiasm, there was a moment of disappointment that he wasn’t unique after all. This soon turned into an opportunity to embrace the lifestyle and prosper within it. He hadn’t found anyone he wanted to share his life with on a permanent basis, he was having too much fun.

But as for explaining his feelings? The closest he ever managed it was when he discovered a brain condition, synaesthesia, where people had the equivalent of crossed wires and could smell colours, see music, taste emotion. That is what he thought it was like. Pain, or at least some small part of it, could be felt in pleasure more intensely than others seemed to enjoy. When he submitted to a well-trained Mistress, especially one he trained himself, he could lose his mind in sheer delight at being asked, no, told to kiss a shoe.

Memory is unreliable say the scientists. He couldn’t remember much of his mother who had died when he was small. Piers knew that he probably remembered photographs of her when he made up images in his mind of what she been like. But he could remember very well a recurring childhood dream. He dreamt he was tied by his own belt at the wrists to a drainpipe in the corner of a playground, taunting children all around him, his trousers and underwear slipped down to his knees, exposed, vulnerable, squirming in both fear and pleasure. It was a dream he hadn’t had since he left his Oxford college after celebrating his coming of age into the Lifestyle with the most glorious orgiastic party with what remained of his allowance. Some year’s later, his father died and he inherited his father’s business and estate. He was now in control of his life as he had never been before. But he savoured the memory of that dream and often wished it would return.

And now, at this moment, he needed someone he could really trust. He retrieved his phone, switched it back on and searched for the number. He needed the woman who shaped the empowered adult view of himself rather than the selfish child he once was. “Shit”, he thought, “she might not even be still alive.”

“Hello, hello, is that Catherine?”

“No, I think you must be looking for my mother, who is this.”

“It’s an old friend, Piers Fellowes, may I speak with Catherine?”

“I’m sorry she doesn’t live here now”.

It was probably too much to ask; probably living in fearful senility in an overly scented home for the elderly by now.

“Can I contact her?”

“Well I’ll pass on a message if you like. If she wants to, she can call you, I wouldn’t want to give her address out you know”

“Of course not, I understand. I can be contacted on this number anytime and I’ll give you my address in a minute. Will she be able to phone me do you think?”

He heard a laugh and immediately recognised the same sound that Catherine used to make when teasing him.

“Sorry, I should have explained. Everyone thinks she’s doolally these days. Well, I can tell you she is nearly 80 but she’s shacked up with a man half her age in the wilds of Berkshire! I’ll pass on the message.”

Piers smiled,

“That’s good, thank you.”

*

The taxi driver said that he wasn’t able to drop him off at the house, only at the entrance to the driveway. Piers had started to argue, but when he saw the state of the entrance, he changed his mind.

They had driven a couple of miles into thick forest and turned a corner along the narrow, little used lane. A pair of crumbling pillars marked the entrance and it was obvious that no-one was going to easily drive through the blackthorn that tumbled across the opening. So many leaves had fallen on the driveway, it had turned to soil and weeds.

On the phone the day before, Piers was entertained by a non-stop dry squeal of delight, pleasure and inevitably, admonishment at hearing from her old aspirant and insisted he came the next day. To the exasperation of his PA who despaired of ever getting his attention, he spent no more than an hour in the office the next morning before calling the taxi.

He waved the driver away, pulled open the protesting gates and walked through the entrance. The walk in the winter sunshine along the drive was pleasant and calming. Overhanging shrubs and the leaf fall from the one pristine avenue of trees had turned the driveway into a sodden matted path. As he reached the end, lawns appeared which were more manicured with neat borders. For despite the fact that the entrance and long driveway were obviously old, the house at the end was modern. Probably built in the 1960’s and must have replaced an old land agent’s house or lodge for a grand estate that would have been worth three times as much today rather than this austere, rambling modern house. The house was a dishevelled, windows and guttering in need of repair and with a littering of outbuildings on the other side of an expansive, rough hardcore yard, potted with icy puddles. There was an obviously disused poolhouse to the side.

The woman who met him at the door waved a stick at him. It had been ten years before when they had last spoken, twenty years since they had last met. She was still tall, but shrunken and thin which emphasised her trademark cheekbones.

“Well, well Piers. A pleasure to see you again boy.”

“Not so much a boy any more I’m afraid Mi… Catherine.”

She laughed, a sound as dry as her stick, and turned to walk stiffly back into the house. Piers followed.

“I’ve sent Simon out to walk the dogs. He did it with his usual bad grace. I don’t have the energy anymore to discipline him.”

“I can’t believe that for a moment.” Piers entered, walked down the narrow corridor and looked around the large living room that took up the full rear width of the house. A large glass wall looked out over the ridge and across the wooded valley beyond. The room was simply furnished and had the feel of a 1960’s Modernist interior. All minimalist white walls, white sofas and orange fabric cushions.

Catherine grimaced as she sank into the only out of place feature in the room, an orthopaedic chair.

“Yes, I know, god-awful isn’t it. Simon is a frustrated interior designer and it pleases him to surround me with his fantasies.”

“I seem to remember that we all did that.”

Catherine smiled and waved him into another chair and then to the drinks tray alongside. “Help yourself.”

“Simon tells me that you are quite successful. Some kind of import-export business I believe.”

“It sort of runs itself now. I hope to retire soon.”

Catherine raised a painted eyebrow. “And spend more time on your… hobbies… perhaps?”

Piers nodded. He had the feeling that Catherine had followed his progress through her vast network of contacts more than she was letting on. She had the air of satisfaction that gave him the uncomfortable feeling that she knew exactly the questions he was about to ask. He looked at the lined face and saw his Mistress of his young days… all powerful, cynical, intelligent and a lover of giving exquisite pain.

“Catherine, I have a confession to make and would like once more to ask your advice.”

She nodded and her smile turned to haughty disdain and which took 20 years off her.

“Tell me about Alicia, Boy.”

Piers couldn’t hide his surprise.

*

Later, after they had talked for over an hour, Catherine complained of a need for exercise. Helping her out of her chair, and realising again how frail she looked, nevertheless, she waved any further assistance away and went to the boot room for a coat and strong shoes. They took a short walk in the woods, all part of the grounds of the house. It was relief to Piers, just to leave the cold atmosphere of Simon’s taste in decoration. He held her arm as they negotiated the informal path, taking care to avoid the slippery leaves. The woodland was bare and glowed orange in the autumn sun. After a long silence which had lasted ever since he finished his confession and was kept all through the contemplative walk, she finally spoke.

“Boy, sorry, I mean, Piers, it’s all very well telling me that you knew Alicia professionally before she was found dead, but what difference should that make. Keeping it from the police just makes you look incompetent at best, devious and unreliable, certainly. I really don’t see that you have any choice. Go back to the police, tell them what you have told me. This is not a game anymore.”

“They won’t understand. I’m too old to go to prison.”

“Then you have no choice. Find a killer of Alicia for them. If you had asked my advice years ago, I would have told you to stop playing detectives. It was always going to get you into trouble.”

He dropped her arm and walked away. He heard a noise of dogs in the distance.

“Simon’s coming, I ought to get you back to the house before he returns. He will think I have stolen you.”

“He is a good man. Totally slavish to me and, of course at my age, my last project. I don’t know what will happen to him once I’ve gone.”

“Do you want me to find another Mistress for him. Is he totally dependent?”

“That would be very kind. He was given to me by his social worker you know? You won’t remember him either, he was one of my boys I took on after you left. Luckily for Simon, being also a good social worker, he could recognise a fellow sufferer and referred him to me.”

“Sufferer? Didn’t Simon know what he was?”

“Didn’t have a clue. He had spent the first 35 years of his life in bewildered frustration. A changed man once I had trained him”

“But now dependant on you.”

They walked on in silence until Piers remembered;

“By the way, how did you know this was about Alicia.”

“I read newspapers, I keep up.”

“How much do you keep in touch with our friends?”

“Not so much anymore, but a few still remember me, and some still come to visit. Like you, all too rarely.”

Catherine stopped, winced in pain and started back along the path. She whispered and Piers barely caught her words.

“I will be dead soon, and I can’t protect all of you anymore. You’re on your own.”

Chapter 6

Ross looked perplexed. Through the glass door he could see Piers Fellowes sitting uncomfortably on the plastic chair in reception. It was like watching an elderly uncle waiting for his young niece in a girls’ school. It had that air of; I don’t want to be here in case I’m mistaken for a paedophile.

“I didn’t expect to see you here at the station Piers. I thought we had finished.”

Piers stood up but didn’t shake hands. “I have some new information I think you should know about.”

“Really, well, we have been making good progress, but if there is anything you would like to add…” Piers interrupted.

“You sound like the handbook… I haven’t made a statement you know, there is no need to brush me off.”

Ross apologised gruffly but without conviction. “OK, well come into the office and you can tell me all about it.”

“Off the record?”

“I’m not a journalist, Piers. There is no such thing. If I feel I need a proper statement, we will take you into an interview room. In the meantime, spit it out.”

Once settled in the corner of a large, busy open plan office where the sheer activity gave them privacy, Piers accepted the coffee offered with relief.

“I’m sorry for just turning up. I came, well, really, to offer my services. I think I can help you after all.” Ross said nothing in reply. Piers looked different from their last meeting. A little less controlled, perhaps even anxious to please more than necessary.

“I thought you didn’t want to be involved.”

“I did some of that asking around you wanted, and it made me believe you need my help more than I thought”

“We have been managing just fine so far.”

“So you have caught the murderer?”

“No, but as I said. Progress.” Ross left the rest unsaid. He wanted to hear what Piers had before offering anything else. There was an awkward pause until Piers took the hint.

Piers looked across the room at the cluttered desks and intense faces of the administration staff. All civilians. No uniforms or obvious police officers. “Isn’t there a more private room?”

“No.”

Piers slipped an envelope from his pocket. “Alright, what I have here is a list of names. Eleven of the names are known to me or my associates as “robins”. All male, all people we have come across who entered the lifestyle pretending to be interested in it, but who were marked as people more interested in the violence and the sex rather than the respect.”

“Robins?”

“An in-joke between us, robin as in Batman and Robin. Robin who seemed to tag along with the better man for no reason than the voyeurism of watching the violence and basking in the fame”.

“That’s rather cynical?”

Piers shrugged. “I have also included one other name… or should I say a variety of nicknames that we suspect belong to one on-line “robin”. We don’t know who it is, but they appear on the better known lifestyle websites.”

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