• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 11
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An Extra Guest For Dinner

She had taken the job reluctantly. She never liked taking on spurned lovers as clients, particularly men. But assignments had been fewer and further between this summer. When the call came, she accepted without too much hesitation.

The man told her to call him Mr. Smith. His voice was strained, squeezing itself through the receiver. It was deep, with a strong undercurrent of desperation. He instructed her to give particularly detailed reports of Friday nights and Saturday mornings. He would pay her a large bonus for this intrusion on her own weekend. Eloise thanked him; she was grateful for the money, but more grateful that anyone would suspect a private investigator to have a particularly full social calendar.

The woman’s name was Irene. Just over a month ago, she had told Mr. Smith to leave the house they had shared for the past five years. It was an end-of-terrace in an unremarkable area. Helpfully, it faced onto a park.

Eloise pulled her collar up against the chill, and repositioned herself against the tree trunk. She could feel pins and needles creeping into her calves. Below her, couples walked arm in arm, kicking leaves. Strolling into their weekends completely oblivious to the small woman perched above them.

Irene was sat at the table, perfectly in her line of sight. She was wearing a dress with puffed sleeves, like something a little girl would covet. Silky and pearlescent, like the insides of the mussel shells from their starter, carried away to make room for the roast chicken. The bodice was a rich cream, like the garlic sauce they had sopped up with chunks of crusty bread. Eloise had watched Irene cooking all afternoon; singing to herself, although she couldn’t hear the song. As the sky darkened, the rooms lit up like gemstones.


An Extra Guest For Dinner

It was the same group of eight that came for dinner last Friday, and the Friday before that. Mr. Smith was always dying to know if any of the men stay over, but everyone had always left around midnight. Irene waved them off from the doorstep, all smiles, smudged lipstick and slight nightcap-swaying. They arrived bearing bunches of flowers, bottles of wine, boxes of cakes. They left empty-handed and full of food and laughter. Irene locked the door and stacks the dishes in the sink. Contrary to Mr. Smith’s jealous imaginings, Saturday mornings were spent elbow-deep in suds, singing along to the radio.

Eloise’s fingers had started to go numb.

The front door opened, and a shaft of buttery light cut across the pavement. The night was suddenly ripped by a burst of laughter and music.

Irene stepped out onto the doorstep and lit a cigarette. This was a new development. So far, she had never left her guests in the middle of dinner. Eloise leaned forward slightly, trying to get a better look at her face. But it was her voice that she heard first.

“You must be freezing by now. Please come in. Let me get you a plate.”