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Downfall of a Lady by Ted Edwards

Downfall of a Lady 
(Ted Edwards)

Downfall Of A Lady

Chapter 1


She swept in as if she owned the place; it was as natural to her as breathing. Ives was sure that she’d look precisely the same if she’d just made an entrance at Buckingham Palace: head up, back ramrod-straight, those startlingly ice-blue eyes seeming to follow the line of her nose as she glanced with apparent disinterest at her surroundings. 

With a touch of inner amusement he saw the slight wrinkling at the bridge of that nose as she took in the décor: the only outward sign that she’d seen and recognised the subtle wrong notes that made the difference between effortless tastefulness and the garish misinterpretation of a bingo manager’s office. It had cost him a fortune, that look: that, and the everlasting contempt of the interior designer who’d practically begged him to reconsider with tears in his eyes. The same tears, very nearly, that had been shed by the master craftsman who had covered the supreme elegance of his Louis XV desk with gold-tooled, deep purple leather. It might have worked, just; but like the colours of the walls and carpet, it was just slightly wrong. Overall, the impression created was that the person who occupied this office was crass, stupid and overwhelmingly indifferent to the subtleties of good taste.

He’d have read all that in those infinitesimal wrinkles even if he hadn’t been expecting them, because Geoffrey Ives was anything but the person he took pains to present to the world; in particular to the sort of people who frequented that part of it that he chose to inhabit. His clients weren’t the people who made money, because they have seen straight through his subterfuge. The ones who didn’t were those who’d been born into money, the children of wealth, whether that wealth was ancient or not. They were the sybarites, living lives of monumental superficiality, thinking nothing and caring less about anything outside their own tight circle. For people such as these, Ives was on the same level as a waiter or taxi driver, someone to be given just sufficient regard to be of service, nothing more.

She stopped, her eyes sweeping over him without pausing. She’d noticed that there was no chair. Something else that was deliberate. Her lips parted for just the barest second then clamped shut, while spots of red appeared on her cheekbones and her head tilted back just a fraction. Those eyes came back to him, this time stopping. They were cold, blue, and icy. Furious. It delighted him; an anticipatory thrill tingled at his crotch.

Ives held the gaze, letting the contempt wash over him, almost revelling in it. Behind the woman, Herbert closed the double doors then stepped back against the wall, massive hands clasped loosely in front of his groin. Not for the first time, Ives reflected that Herbert would have looked better dressed in a gorilla outfit than crammed into the confinement of a dinner jacket and bow tie.

The sound startled her; she turned her head and Ives saw the shoulders, crossed by the straps of the simple black dress, stiffen. He allowed a slight smile to caress his lips: Herbert tended to have that effect on people. It had gone by the time her head came back to him, her look as glacially contemptuous as it had been.

“They said,” she said, the tone of her voice matching her eyes almost exactly, “that there’s some sort of problem with my account.”

She was startlingly lovely, Ives thought. She’d have been lovely even without the attentions of beauty consultants. The hair was a rich golden brown, a thick mane that cascaded to her bare shoulders. The black dress, simple and unadorned, did a magnificent job of concealing and revealing a firm and curvaceous twenty-three year old figure, such a good job that it had cost thousands. He knew that, just as he knew a great deal more about the young lady who stood before him.

He knew too, what she was seeing: a squat, ugly, balding, bespectacled man in his fifties. He had a shrewd idea what she was thinking, too: that he was a squat, ugly balding, bespectacled, insignificant little runt with excruciatingly bad taste and very little brain who was there, like most of the rest of humanity, to serve her needs and desires. And, if they were recognised at all, be treated with casual indifference for good service and a deluge of abuse for the slight perceived failure. His staff had suffered the sharp edge of her tongue on more than one occasion.

He made a show of consulting the open ledger in front of him. It was a ploy, because he’d studied the figures on his computer only minutes before; they were engraved on his brain. They should have been: he’d planned and calculated for this moment for months, ever since he’d first seen her.

“I’m afraid there is,” he replied, deliberately assuming a West London accent. “You have …”

“Absolute nonsense!” she snapped, cutting straight through him. “My credit is as good here as it is everywhere. Don’t you know who I am, man?” That magnificent, unsupported bosom heaved slightly in her animation; the couturier’s craft was tested to its limits.

“Indeed I do,” he replied. “The Honourable Lady Rosalind Beauchamp.” The mispronunciation of the surname was intentional.

Her nostrils flared. “That’s ‘Beecham’!” she snapped. “Don’t you oinks know anything?”

“I do beg your pardon,” he grovelled, enjoying every second of this charade. “But we do seem to have a problem.” He contrived to look surprised. “Herbert! Lady Rosalind has no chair! Fetch one immediately!” He smiled obsequiously. “I do beg your pardon,” he repeated.

A stiff nod and yet another icy glare were the only acknowledgement; her head turned away from him as she broke the eye contact that seemed suddenly to have made her uncomfortable. He cursed himself; the last thing he wanted at this stage was to make her suspicious. “Can I offer you a coffee?” he asked. “It’s only instant, I’m afraid, but …”

“Thank you, no. Let us clear up this nonsense without delay, if you don’t mind.”

He breathed an inward sigh of relief: no suspicion there, just that dripping, almost corrosive, contempt once more. At that moment Herbert returned, the ornately carved and gilded chair looking like something from a doll’s house in his huge hands. He held it for her solicitously, but received no sign of acknowledgement as she sat. Behind her back, he glared, but then gave a quick, sheepish glance at Ives before retiring to his position against the wall.

Ives stood. He’d chosen his moment for that, too. At five feet seven, she over-topped him by a couple of inches; seated, she didn’t have that advantage. He walked to the front of the desk, just a foot or two away from her and leaned against it, crossing his arms over his chest as he looked down at her.

“The fact is,” he said gently, using his normal, cultured tone. “You owe this casino fifty-seven thousand pounds.”

Her eyes flickered, the first, tiny crack in the façade. The thin end, thought Ives, of what was going to be a very wide wedge. He let his eyes drift to the cleavage that held so much promise, but only for a fleeting instant.

“That’s nonsense,” she replied, her voice incisive. “A few thousand at most. Nothing like the sum you mention. That is utterly absurd!”

“There is no doubt,” he responded. “You are welcome to check the figures for yourself.”

She blinked; her lower lip dimpled as her teeth, unseen, nibbled at it. More signs of cracks, but she recovered quickly. “What of it?” she said, her voice firm. “I have access to plenty of money. My father …”

“Is a senior adviser to the Prime Minister,” he put in.

Once again she blinked and this time a furrow appeared on that elegant brow: she’d heard the difference in his voice and clearly sensed that something wasn’t quite right here. Once again she broke eye contact with him to glance over her shoulder at Herbert. “Does he have to be here?” she asked.

“I’m afraid so,” he retorted. “On these occasions, a witness is desirable for both parties.”

Another frown. “Witness? What …?” She stopped, thought for a second then made to rise. “I don’t think I want to hear any more of this,” she said. “If you wish to pursue this ludicrous affair I suggest you contact my father.”

Ives allowed himself a smile. “Who has forbidden you from applying to him for further funds to cover your debts,” he said quietly. “Your many debts,” he added.

She froze in the act of rising, paused in that slightly stooped position for an instant, her head and eyes coming up to him. There was no ice there now, just a lot of puzzlement and the beginnings of fear. That latter thrilled him; fear in others always did, especially when he had caused it. And there was a lot more to come from this one: a very great deal more. He waited until she sank back into the chair.

“He has also,” he went on, “warned you what will happen if there is any hint of scandal. A message, I believe, that was passed on from the Prime Minister, no less, after a certain party in Chelsea.”

A pink tongue came out to lick the lips. Lips covered in a shade of lipstick that exactly complemented her complexion, he noted. She frowned again, the perplexity and fear in her eyes deepening. “How …?” she stared.

“I know a very great many things,” he said. “Especially about you.”

“About …. About me? What …? Who …?” For a moment she was a frightened child, but then anger flashed and with it came the return of arrogance. “How dare you! Just what do you think you’re doing, summoning me here to listen to this rubbish? I’ll have this place closed down!” Once again she made to rise.

“Sit down,” he said. It wasn’t loud, but the tone of command in his voice stopped her. Her mouth dropped open in astonishment as her legs obeyed him in defiance of a lagging brain. He lifted a hand towards Herbert who, prepared in advance, moved quickly to a shelf and brought the large envelope to Ives before moving, soft-footed, back to his place.

Her eyes moved from his face to the envelope, almost mesmerised. He tossed in into her lap; she caught it, almost dropping the tiny handbag she carried in the process.

“Open it,” he said.

She seemed stunned by the turn of events, bewildered by the sudden change in roles. The envelope opened; the glossy colour photographs slid out easily. She glanced down. The shoulders went rigid, her breath sucked in with a gasp; he saw her colour change. Her head came up, her expression uncomprehending. That beautiful mouth worked. “H … how …?” She swallowed, her voice trailing off as her head bent to the photographs again. Her hands were shaking.

Ives looked over at Herbert and winked. A wolfish smile of anticipation spread over the ugly face of his principal bodyguard. “Those are stills from a video,” he said. “One of the videos, I should say. I think we got you every time you did it. I rather think that the daughter of a senior adviser to the Prime Minister dealing in cocaine would constitute a scandal, don’t you? Especially when you haven’t got the excuse of being hooked yourself.”

The head stayed down; she was shocked, but she was thinking, fast. There was nothing wrong with her brain, or her courage. She looked up, the strain quite clear, but she came back fighting. She waved the photographs at him. “You realise that if I tell him,” she pointed at the man in the photograph, “that you’ve been taking photographs of him then your life isn’t worth a damn?”

He laughed, leaving her staring up at him, mouth open. “Nice try!” he said. “Be even better if he didn’t work for me, wouldn’t it?”

The expression on her face transformed from stunned puzzlement through outrage, apprehension to stark fear. “He …?”

“He does. And that cocaine you got from him was of very poor quality, by the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t have some complaints from dissatisfied customers. I understand that they can be somewhat … unforgiving, too.”

The photographs slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor. She stared up at him, eyes wide and desperate. Once again, she glanced over her shoulder at Herbert before looking back at Ives. Her mouth worked once, twice and again before she managed to speak. “C … can’t we discuss t … this in p … private?” she asked, her eyes trying to convey added meaning to the obvious message.

Ives laughed again, partly at the transparency of the offer, partly because of the knowledge of the three carefully-placed video cameras that had been running since she’d entered the office. “I think not,” he said, his voice suddenly becoming as icily cool as hers had been. “You see, there’s still the question of the fifty-seven thousand pounds you owe me.”

She was still thinking, despite the shock. “Owe … you?” she stammered.

“Yes, me. I own this casino, my dear. I own quite a few other things as well. And I didn’t get to own those things by letting people owe me money, especially not when it’s as much as you do. The question is: what are we going to do about it?”

She kept trying. “There’s nothing you can do about it!” she cried, clearly summoning her courage and defiance. “Gambling debts aren’t legally recoverable!”

He smiled, meeting the defiance with indulgence. “True,” he said, speaking as if to a child. “But if you welch on your debts, there’s nothing to stop me from releasing these photographs to the press. Imagine the fun they could have, especially the ones who’d have to take advice about spelling ‘cocaine’. Daddy wouldn’t like it. I fancy you’d spend the rest of your life on a sheep farm in New Zealand. When you’ve served your sentence, that is.”

The beautiful face seemed to crumple as the words sank home. “S … sentence?” she stammered.

“Oh, I don’t think they’ll make an exception just for you. Most of the pols have their hands in other people’s pockets, but they’re prime hypocrites. They’d just love the chance to take down someone like you.”

 The head dropped; this time the shoulders slumped. Ives exchanged a look with Herbert, a knowing look. Herbert beamed.

“What … what do you want?” she whispered, her voice dull and defeated. She didn’t raise her head.

“Look at me,” he snapped, using the same commanding tone that he had earlier.

The head came up. Tears glistened in her eyes; the mouth was twisted, the expression tragic. She knew. Or she’d had a very good guess.

“Well,” said Ives, weightily, as if he was considering his words. Actually, he’d rehearsed this moment in his mind a hundred times and was savouring every precious instant. “You see that gentleman over there?” He nodded at Herbert.

She turned to look again, briefly, before her eyes came back to Ives. There was something else in them now. Dread.

“Well, his looks are against him, but Herbert – that’s his name, you know – is an extremely cultured chap. Loves Wagner, does Herbert. Plays it really loudly, especially when we’re entertaining someone who owes me money. Funny thing is that it seems to put the clients off Wagner completely; they never seem to want to hear him again.” He smiled into her eyes, drinking in the fear, feeling the delectation of what it did to him. “But that’s for the awkward ones. You’re not going to be an awkward one, are you?”

For a moment he thought he had her. She seemed to crumple under the several threats that faced her, but then something remarkable happened, probably something long dormant in her genes; perhaps the thing that had originally put her family where it was; an act of senseless bravado, long ago, in the face of huge odds. Her back straightened, her head tilted back and she met Ives’ gaze with a new, steely glare of defiance, her jaw set, her fists clenching at her sides, the muscles of her arms tight.

“Go to hell, the pair of you!” she hissed, leaning forward slightly as if to emphasise the words. “Take your sordid threats and your damned photos and put them somewhere where it’ll really hurt! Just try it, you Jew bastard, and I’ll hit you with so many lawyers that your head will spin! You threaten ME with prison? You’ll be lucky if you see the outside for twenty years!”

With that, she spun on her heel and headed for the door, watched by the admiring eyes of both Ives and Herbert, who had exchanged amused glances as soon as her back was turned. The door was locked, as she found when she tried the handle. Back she spun, eyes blazing. “Open this door at once!” she spat.

“No,” said Ives. “And I say that for your own good, Rosie.”

Her fury mounted to incandescence. “How dare you speak to me like that! I’ll have you closed down, broken! You’ll do hard time, you Jew bastard!”

Ives was enormously amused, though he didn’t show it. He glanced at Herbert and nodded. The giant moved from his position and padded across the floor to a door in the wall behind the desk, passing through it and closing it behind him.

He saw her eyes follow the hulking figure, a mixture of relief and sudden puzzlement mixed with the overwhelming anger. He knew that a lot of that anger stemmed from the fact that she’d very nearly broken without a fight: it was pride, as much as anything. Good: that made it all so much more fun. He stood and made his way round the desk towards her. He didn’t intimidate her: he was five feet seven, she two inches taller, added to the fact that he was fat, balding and bespectacled.

“Open this door immediately,” she snapped as he got close. “Or I’ll scream the place down.”

He shrugged. “Go ahead, Rosie. Test the sound-proofing.”

“Don’t you dare call me that!” she blazed.

“I’ll dare precisely what I want, you stuck-up aristocratic cow!”

The colour drained from her face except for two bright spots of red on her cheekbones; she went absolutely rigid with shock for a moment. Then she swung a slap that, had it landed, would have knocked his head off.

It didn’t land, basically because his head wasn’t there by the time the hand arrived. Moving with a speed deceptive in a man of his years and build, he dodged the swinging arm and moved behind it, taking the wrist as the blow’s impetus tailed off. A quick twist and her arm was up behind her back before she knew what was happening, his fingers exerting just enough pressure on the bent hand to keep it in that position. She struggled, trying to pull free, so he increased the pressure of his fingers, bending the hand forward and down.

  “Ow! Stop that! You’re hurting me!”

He moved close to her, so close that he could feel her heat and smell her perfume. “I know,” he breathed close to her ear. “It’ll hurt a damned sight more if you fight.”

She did fight, kicking at him backwards with her heels. He avoided then easily enough and gave another squeeze. This time she screamed and went still.

“See?” he said, still close.

“You filthy animal!” she spat. “Is this how you low-lives get your thrills? Hurting defenceless women?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” he said. “By the way, Rosie, I’m not Jewish.”

“You look like a kike, you filthy bastard!”

“My, my! I’ll bet you’re full of things like that, in private. Spics and niggers, too, eh? Learn that from Daddy, did you, Rosie?”

“Leave my family out of this,” she cried. “Let go of me! And stop calling me that name, damn you!”

“No. Because I like it, Rosie. I’ll make a bet with you, Rosie: before you leave here tonight, you’ll ask me to call you Rosie. Among other things.”

He felt her tense, ready for another struggle. But she’d learned that that hurt. “In your dreams, you fat, sad old bastard!”

He laughed. “I’m going to love taming you, Lady Rosalind,” he said. This time she did struggle, but he had her yelping and still in seconds.  “You could have taken the easy way out, but this way is so very much more fun for me. And just think: I’ll still have all that in reserve! Shall we join Herbert?” he asked.

“No!” she cried, an edge of panic in her voice. She paused. “Look,” she tried. “Just let me go and I’ll forget this, all right?” She was beginning to sound frightened again. Which, in the circumstances, was rather sensible of her. “Let me go! I don’t want to go anywhere with you!”

“That’ll hurt his feelings, Rosie. Especially since he’s been making things ready for you down there. Music and everything: Tannhauser, I think. He does love his Wagner.”