The Beatrice Stubbs Prequel – Black Dogs, Yellow Butterflies – is out next month. But given today’s events, it seems the right time to give you a taste of the opening chapter. Image by Julie Lewis
Black Dogs, Yellow Butterflies
29 April 2011
“The subject of intense speculation, the dress remains a closely guarded secret but sources close to the palace report that there will be very little flesh on show.”
Scott Arnold folded his copy of the Metro in exasperation. This is news? He scanned the other newspaper headlines the 6am commuters were reading on the Jubilee Line. ‘Wills and Kate – Our Future Sovereigns!’, ‘Harry and Pippa’s Party Plans!’, ‘Street Celebrations all over the Commonwealth!’ and ‘Diana’s Legacy’ were hard to avoid. He yawned and allowed himself a sardonic smile. Royal weddings, don’t you just love ‘em?
Scott couldn’t give a toss about the dress, the guests, the bridesmaids or what a bunch of upper-class in-breds were doing later today. The only thing that mattered was an extra day off and the long sunny weekend ahead of him.
He got out at Bermondsey. Taking the Tube after a night shift meant a longer walk home than getting the overland train, but that way he could swing by Tesco Metro and get sorted for the weekend. In the supermarket, even at this time of the morning, the atmosphere was festive, buzzing and a little bit proud. Today, London would be the centre of attention and Londoners like nothing better. Scott decided he might even stay up for a few hours and catch a bit of it on telly.
By the time he got back to the flat, dawn had broken and the birds were tweeting their heads off. Maybe they always sounded like that but you couldn’t normally hear them over the traffic. Scott lugged his shopping up the steps to the front door and pulled out his keys. A soft sound came from somewhere below. He stopped dead and listened, trying to identify the noise. The basement flat was empty and the only thing down there was a pile of bin bags due to go out next week. Hopefully it wasn’t an urban fox; the last one made a right sodding mess.
The sound came again, more like soothing tones a mother might croon to a child. Scott dumped the groceries on the doorstep and found the torch on his phone. He retraced his steps and continued down toward the black mound of rubbish by the basement door. A movement caught his eye. Something retracted from the light. He listened intently but couldn’t hear anything above the noise of a passing cab.
With one foot behind him, poised to run, Scott leaned down and tugged a couple of bin bags away. The entire pile shifted as something scuttled away. He shone his phone into the gap and saw a face. Shocked, he cursed and jumped backwards, knocking into the recycling wheelie bins. A pulse of adrenalin whipped through him bringing fear, vulnerability, embarrassment and hard on their heels, anger.
“Oi! Come out of there. You can’t sleep here; it’s private property. If you’ve got nowhere to go, there are shelters.”
That sound again. A cross between a whimper and a moan.
Scott squatted and shone his torch into the gloom. A filthy arm covered a face, twisting from the light. Not a homeless old guy or psychotic junkie intent on killing him, but a young girl.
He softened his tone. “Hey, hello? Are you OK? I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to help.”
She curled further into herself, her whole body quivering. Scott twigged she couldn’t see him as he was shining a light in her face. All she could hear was an angry voice. He turned the light on himself, so she could appreciate his kindly intention. When he switched it back, her eyes rolled back in her head and she passed out.
He inched forward, moving the stinking rubbish aside, until he could see her limp body, clad in nothing more than a grey bra and black knickers. She was young, horribly thin and had bloody fingernails. This girl was far from OK. He stuffed his phone in his back pocket, scooped her up as gently as he could manage and took her upstairs, into his flat. Her skin was cold, like chicken fillets out of the fridge, and she smelt of puke and body odour.
After he laid her down on the sofa and covered her with a blanket, he noticed the bloodstains on his forearms. His hand cradling her neck, he bent her into a sitting position to assess the damage.
He sucked in air and winced. Two deep grooves in her back were bleeding badly. Those weren’t knife wounds; they were far too rough and jagged. He turned her onto her front and went into the bathroom for his first aid kit, while dialling 999.
“Which service do you require?”
“Ambulance, please. And police.”