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At times, I have a bit of a moan about how the actions of others affects me. These days, I keep my nose out of people’s business and prefer to mind my own. I’m concerned with what goes on in my house and life. So when something happens, where a person’s decision has a knock-on effect, creating ripples in my life that I don’t want, I tend to be a little grouchy. You know the kind of ripples—those where you feel you have no choice but tread water as they flounce around you.
Mandy, in Covert Affair, has the same issue. Quite a few times. She just wants a life with Leon, a happy life where they can be themselves. However, fate has other ideas and creates ripples the couple have no choice but to endure. And it’s those ripples I’m talking about, where choice and control is swept away. Many people might say you still have a choice to walk off, to not be involved, but there are instances where that just isn’t possible.
Imagine you’ve gone away on holiday, like Mandy and Leon. Imagine a gang of men have been committing crimes and you’ve seen them do it or heard them talk about it. Could you just ignore that? Yes, you could, but when it’s clear the gang won’t leave you be, you have to accept that for now, at least, someone’s choices will be disturbing your life for a little while. Imagine having to hide away in a house that isn’t yours in order to remove yourself from the equation. What must that be like, to know that one minute your life is in your control and now it isn’t? That you have to rely on someone else to direct where the next few days, months or years will go?
What must it be like to have the ground ripped from beneath your feet, changing you forever? Mandy has no choice but to deal with such an instance, but at least she has Leon by her side to go through it with her. But not only did she have the situation to deal with, she had to do it somewhere that was alien to her. The comfort of home was missing, and I imagine that’s quite an unnerving thing.
Two more days passed, as did four more phone calls from Detective Broadley. I was experiencing a huge bout of cabin fever that whispered of sending me insane. I was used to going out when I wanted to and not being restrained. The fact that I couldn’t go out seemed to make it worse. The choice had been taken away and that’s what bugged me the most. Because of Cauli, other people were directing my life and I hated it.
I paced the bedroom, looking around at the bare walls where pictures, a mirror or wallpaper should have hung, anything to break up the monotony of white, white, white. And grubby white at that. I supposed they had a cleaner who came in to give the place a once-over when people left, but they either weren’t paying her enough or she was a lazy mare. I wondered if she even knew what this house was or whether she assumed that it was let out on a nightly basis. Did she even care? Would I in her shoes? Yes, I would have entertained all sorts of scenarios. My imagination wouldn’t have had it any other way.
A light film of dust coated the off-white paint on the skirting boards, like the vacuum cleaner was ancient and it spat out more dust than it sucked up. The dressing table had a chipped corner where compressed wood chippings peeked out from the surrounding plastic coating. Very shabby, but really, what did I expect? This wasn’t meant to be The Ritz. The stool in front of the dresser was like one inside a pub, the brown material-covered foam on top flattened from so many arses sitting on it. It brought The Rusty Nail to mind and I smiled.
The smile soon faded. How many women had sat there, frightened out of their wits? How many women had stared into the mirror, seeing someone they hadn’t seen before, a face that was theirs yet wasn’t?
So what someone does can change you when you didn’t even want to be changed—right down to the fact you look in the mirror and don’t recognise yourself. I’m lucky that I can explore these scenarios in my books, albeit on a greater scale than the goings-on in my life nowadays, but years ago I had one thing after another to deal with, control taken away constantly. I learned to cope with it, to say no and walk away when I could, but in Covert Affair I wanted to dig into a situation where walking away simply couldn’t happen. We all cope with things differently. Leon is able to sleep despite what’s happened, but Mandy finds herself awake, unable to switch off. In the following excerpt, I hopefully show how even the most mundane thing—like the view outside—becomes so much more when troubles plague you.
I envied him his oblivion. I hadn’t slept well at all here, which wasn’t surprising, considering what had been going on and what still went on in my head. The latest from Detective Broadley, which had come last night, was that they were closing in on the suspect. Their net was all around him. All that remained to be done was them dragging it closer to shore, him caught up in it so tightly there would be no means of escape.
Naughty people were tricky to catch, though, weren’t they? They knew all about nets and how to get out of them. All about hiding below radars. Slippery fish, the lot of them.
I shuddered and went to the window, parting the curtains a little bit, making sure to stand so the shaft of sunlight didn’t sprawl itself on Leon’s face and wake him. Netting was up, again something that could do with a good wash, and I narrowed my eyes to peer through the greyness of it. There was a slight tear in the fabric, giving me a thin slit to look through.
Despite the coldness of the season, the sky was blue and cloudless, giving off the lie that it was nice and warm out there. Frost on the grass told a different story. A tiny icicle or two hung from the branches of a large, naked oak tree in the front garden. Those branches seemed to stretch out, twiggy fingers intent on stroking the glass, at getting hold of me and not letting go. Someone walked over my grave, and I turned my attention away from the tree before my imagination went into major overdrive.
And finally, a snippet of how fear can warp your view. Life had been fine, so wonderful, then you’re thrown into fear and confusion. The mind plays tricks on you, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing these scenes, imagining—or not—how it felt to be Mandy. How the gnawing teeth of doubt take hold and have you imagining so much more than what’s really there…
He strode up the path then disappeared beneath the porch roof.
I held my breath.
The doorbell sang its gaudy tune, one that went on for far too long and got on my nerves. I rushed to the bed, jostling Leon awake.
“The policeman from the car’s at the door,” I said. “Quickly, get up!”
I raced downstairs, almost tripping on the last step in my haste to let him in. He had to have news—good or bad, it didn’t much matter at this point. Anything he said would break this monotony of being trapped inside, giving me something else to either shit the life out of me or make me feel better.
I turned the three keys in the locks then jabbed the code into the alarm pad beside the door. It beeped and another internal lock snapped open. I hunkered down to peer through the letterbox. I couldn’t get those damn movies out of my head. Anyone could have grabbed him off the porch and be standing there instead of him. I was greeted with the sight of his groin area, the weave of his suit trousers fine with a silky appearance. I blinked, sure that it was him, and stood upright to open the door a couple of inches, the security chain preventing it from gaping fully.
It was him.
He smiled as I sighed, unthreaded the chain then let him in.
Seeming to fill the narrow hallway, he closed the door and leaned on it.
I stared at him, waiting for whatever it was he had to say.
I hope your life is your own and that you don’t get outside influences governing your next steps. And if you do have to face adversity when it isn’t welcome, I hope you manage to get through it safely and with your sanity intact! Poor Mandy…will she get through?
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