In Jeopardy extract
A dark tale of psychological drama and betrayal
The phone rings, she picks it up.
‘No – this is Christine.’
Without another word the female caller hangs up.
Moments later Richard’s phone chimes ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and stops after five rings. There it is sitting on the desk under the cut glass lamp. Christine picks it up and reads the message on the screen: Where are you? I phoned your room. That woman answered.
Christine switches off the phone. She pulls open the bar fridge in search of something strong to drink, pours herself a straight rum on ice. She sits at the desk, gulps the contents from the glass and stares at the message on the phone for what seems like an age. She picks up the phone again, scrolls back and reads previous messages. There are one, two, three messages from the same woman.
She is unaware that Richard has appeared and is watching over her shoulder before he snatches the phone from her.
‘What the f—k are you doing?’
Her heart skips a beat, delayed thoughts translate into words. ‘You scare me when you creep up behind me. How many times have I told you not to do that?’
‘F—k you – stay out of my life! What’s on my phone is none of your business.’
‘When a strange woman keeps calling you I have a right to know about the details.’
‘Quit the snooping.’
‘Amuse me – invent another one of your stories.’
‘She’s just a colleague from work.’
‘The same one, the she-devil who abandoned the project you had to rescue?’
He storms into the bathroom without another word; the silence closing in becomes heavy and suffocating. Christine runs from the room to escape the ugly scene.
She enters the ‘Ladies’ in the lobby to splash water over her burning face. Instead of finding a refuge she bursts in on the chime of excited voices before slipping into a lavatory cubicle.
Two women stand chatting. The tall blonde with a sharp bob wears corporate navy and an exuberant scarf of tropical colours. The other is short and thin with long, swishy hair, one side caught up in a dazzling fuchsia hair clip, matched with a floaty chiffon dress, black patent stilettos and a short black satin jacket.
‘I can’t imagine why he had to bring her here.’
‘He’s married. That’s not a complication he can just edit out of his life.’
‘They fell out of love ages ago and besides, it’s not as if they have any children.’
‘Is that what he said?’
‘Not in those exact words. I just know it’s over.’
‘It’s never that simple. I bet he hasn’t said anything about leaving her or kicking her out.’
‘He told me she doesn’t love him anymore – meaning that it’s over.’
‘He’s brought her to Sydney and we’re meeting her tonight at dinner. It doesn’t sound over to me.’
‘She’s a ball breaker, the b—ch insisted on coming. How could poor Richard refuse?’
‘I’m looking forward to meeting her, she sounds interesting. Richard Banks doesn’t strike me as ever being desperate or foolish enough to marry anyone. It’s my guess he’s in charge in that relationship.’
‘What would you say if she has horns and a tail?’
‘Now that sounds scary.’
They both burst into a spray of laughter. The blonde follows with jagged and excited braying before becoming breathless and gasping for air.
Christine’s face flushes red charged with shame then anger. She wants to cover her ears to block out the torment, burst from the cubicle, out onto the street away from this nightmare. Instead she remains listening as her face burns.
They walk out. Christine strains to hear their voices as they fade behind the closing door.
In an attempt to stifle tears welling up and prevent them from spilling down her face, she shuts her eyes. She hears and sees a bolt of lightning strike a tower, glass and bricks shatter into tiny pieces spilling over the ground. Her eyes are still closed when she feels a large hand shove her violently as if attempting to push her from a great height.
She opens her eyes and there is nothing there. This sequence of images mirrors the disturbing truth that has been thrust on her in its raw ugliness and brutality. Christine wishes she had remained in Richard’s company despite his unpleasantness. This would have allowed her to accept the illusion she had created about her marriage, rather than another one of Richard’s cruel betrayals slapped hard into her face by strangers.
The lobby is a blur of chaotic scenes colliding into each other.
Without her noticing, Richard touches her left elbow; she jumps back. ‘There you are. You left the room without a word. Where have you been?’
She turns her face away from his attention. ‘Do you really care?’
‘Don’t be like that.’
She turns to meet his gaze and runs an insolent look over him.
‘If looks could kill – Christine.’
‘Earlier, upstairs, you subjected me to a battery of insults.’
He touches her arm again, only this time clenching it under his hand. ‘We’re having drinks at the bar, come and join us and meet some of the people who we are dining with tonight.’
Despite Richard’s outward appearance of genteel charm Christine would rather that the ground open up and swallow her. ‘I’ve some holiday reading I’d like to start; I’ll meet your colleagues tonight.’
He points to the bar lounge beyond the long marble reception desk. ‘If you change your mind we’re sitting over there.’
Christine looks to where he points and there she is; staring at them, wine glass in hand, as the group, another woman and three men, talk. She is incongruous, a baby doll, draped in silver chains and rings to match that painted face, finished off with a glittering head piece catching that curtain of hair. The other woman’s short silver mop teams well with black and is softened by a string of pearls. She blends well with the men’s suits.
‘There’s the mystery caller; the likely explanation for our cancelled trip and your strange behaviour lately.’
He shifts himself to block Doll-Face from Christine’s view, hisses through clenched teeth, ‘This is not the place for you to start up with your accusations – creating another scene.’
‘Who is that woman staring at us?’
‘No more games. You know who I’m talking about, the one dressed for a party.’
‘Don’t grill me in public and make a spectacle of yourself.’
‘No one’s making a spectacle. It’s inconvenient that I care – or does that disturb you?’
Christine turns and walks away from Richard then turns to face him again. Their eyes lock for an instant before he turns and walks towards the group.
Despite his bridled rage, she maintains the appearance of composure, deflecting his cruel words by feigning indifference. This was the greatest lie about their relationship. Instead of confronting him, demanding he explain himself further, she always walked away. This time she wants to break his face and rip chunks of hair from Doll-Face’s skull then watch them both reel in pain.
Heartbroken, humiliated and angry, Christine is still prepared to endure Richard’s carelessness towards her. She isn’t about to hand him over to Doll-Face. The duel has just begun and she is up for the fight.
Having returned to their room, unable to read or flick through the hotel’s magazines, Christine paces from door to window before she collapses onto the bed. Behind closed eyes she is haunted by visions of strange and menacing places. Disturbing landscapes reflect her waking life and the frightening reality that she is helpless as her life spins out of control.
She plans her next move. There will be no more questions, Richard hates questions. There will be no more interrogation or argument. She will win him over with charm and grace, determined to endure his infidelity as she always has, refusing to surrender him to a woman young enough to be his daughter. Tonight Christine will take on this challenge; she will dazzle and out-sparkle Richard’s bit on the side.