“Miss Starr, how lovely to see you again,” Alfie said beaming at Esme from ear to ear whilst making his way over and shaking her clammy hand.
She did not reply, she just stared into his eyes looking for any clues. She knew he knew but she also sensed he did not realise she knew so she decided to play along with his act. “Hello Mr Lakes,” she started finally diverting her gaze. “I have just popped back as I would love you to show me some more of your marvellous pieces of art. There were a few that I was quite taken with last time and would like to explore some other options too?”
“Certainly Miss Starr,” Alfie replied still smiling his fake smile. What’s his game, Esme thought? “I would be delighted to show you some more of our art work but I am afraid to tell you that not many of the things you saw last time are here anymore.”
“Oh why is that? Have they been sold?”
“Not exactly. We had a break-in a couple of weeks ago and many of our priceless prices were stolen!”
“Oh that’s terrible,” Esme replied feigning her surprise. “Do they know who did it?”
“The police have some ideas but no arrests as yet.”
“Well I hope for your sake that they catch the culprits.”
“Me too,” Alfie said smiling with his eyes and looking dead into hers – each one willing the other to speak and neither of them daring to do so.
It was Alfie who eventually broke the tension and guided Esme into the showroom. He showed her what was left of the displays, mainly pieces that had been too big for her or Sam to carry. Every so often his hand would brush hers and it would send tingles up her arms. Neither would ever pull away, only when it was time to move onto something else.
He talked her around the room, still keeping up the pretence that he had not recognised her. After a while, Esme found herself doubting herself, maybe he didn’t know after all? But Alfie would soon dispel her uncertainties by giving her the look he gave her when she first entered the gallery earlier that day. She watched him closely, looking for any indications. She noticed how he traced his eyes over every piece of art like he was undressing it. She had not spotted his undoubted passion for his job before now but she could also not dismiss the sadness that lay behind his eyes. What had put it there? It looked too deep rooted to have been caused by her heist.
Esme ended up spending the rest of the afternoon at the Gallery in Alfie’s company. Even though she knew she was swimming in dangerous waters, she just could not pull herself away from him. A plan of action was slowly hatching in her head and she had to follow it through to protect her and Sam from what he knew.
“It’s getting late Miss Starr and we are about to close. Maybe you would like to come back tomorrow and we can discuss any orders you would like to place?”
He was getting rid of her. It was now or never. She delicately placed her hand on his arm and whispered, “I would like that very much Mr Lakes.”
He looked back at her mystified by what she as doing, but he did not pull away. Instead he returned her gaze and let her take him to somewhere where he could hide from his life. What Esme did not know was that it had been a long time since anyone had touched Alfie so tenderly and he found himself lost in the euphoria of it.
And then, just as quickly as he had fallen, he snapped back to reality and fingered the wedding ring on his finger. “Err I better be getting home,” he stuttered. “My wife will be wondering where I am.”
Esme went straight home, ripped of her mother’s itchy dress and flopped back onto her bed. Why had Alfie not gone to the authorities about her yet? What was he after? She thought that going to see him would have cleared everything up but she was more confused than ever.
She suddenly had an overwhelming urge to see him again. There was still unfinished business and one lesson that Jace had taught her all those years ago was to never leave any witnesses. She jumped up and looked his address up in the yellow pages and then set out for his house which was on the other side of Bridgeport. It was a small modest house – white boarding with a picket fence, a typical family home.
Esme gently let herself in through the side gate and crept around to the back. She could hear the raised voices from the side of the house, and allowed her body to follow the sounds.
The screaming voice grew louder the further she went until she found herself at a window low enough for her to see through. There was Alfie and the woman Esme had recognised from the photo and they were having a blazing argument. “You’re a worthless excuse of a man,” his wife shrieked. “I curse the day I ever married you!”
“Please darling,” Alfie begged. “I promise business at the gallery will pick up soon and I’ll be able to make the payments. It’s just with the robbery it’s slowed everything down and most of it had to come out of my wages….”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses anymore Alfie. Just get the money so your daughter has a roof over her head tomorrow!”
Esme watched as the wife stormed out the room and Alfie sunk into a chair hiding his head in his lap. She could not tell if he was crying or not but she could see his shoulders shaking ever so slightly.
She found herself unable to tear her eyes away from him. This was where the sadness stemmed from and she had only added to his problems. Her heart went out to him and she had to do everything she could to no go to him.
Eventually Alfie rose from his seat and headed through a back door to the house. Esme had no idea where he had gone until she saw the garage door to her right open and saw his car rocketing out of it. Quick as a flash, she jumped into her car that was parked around the corner and zoomed after him.
He drove so fast and the traffic was so heavy that she soon lost him. But she knew where he was going. It was gone 2am when she pulled up to the Gallery and sure enough; Alfie’s car was parked out the front.
Esme tiptoed into the Gallery like a shadow, silent and invisible.
It wasn’t until she was almost next to him, that Alfie finally looked up at her. “Miss Starr,” he shrieked startled by her arrival. “What are you doing here?”
Esme continued moving forward, never taking her eyes off him. She reached out and gently touched his cheek. It was fire hot and felt rough from him not having saved for a few days.
She then traced her fingers up along his fingers, up his arms and into his hair sensing him shudder under her touch. When he closed his eyes for only a second she leaned in and brushed her lips against his. She felt him parting his lips and let hers slip into his like that was where they belonged all along.
“I can’t,” Alfie said pulling back. “I’m married!”
“Shhhhh,” Esme said kissing him again. This time he did not pull away but instead slid his arms around her and pressed his body firm against hers. They made love there and then on the Gallery floor, surrounded by statues of Greek Gods watching on with delight.
Afterwards they lay in each other’s arms talking all night. They talked about everything except three things: Esme’s past, Alfie’s marriage and the break-in – all the things they should have been talking about.
Night after night Esme would travel to the gallery to be in Alfie’s arms. She had never had anyone touch her the way he did, never had anyone make her feel the way he did. He was so loving, so tender and made her feel like she was the only girl in the world.
She was falling for it. She knew it and the more she fought against it the harder she fell. But in the back of her mind was the constant guilt of what she had done. The heist was an unspoken thing between them and even though Esme wanted nothing more than to be in his arms, she also had to protect herself.
That was why one night, after they had made love for hours, she took the video footage form the CCTV cameras.
She went home and played the footage to herself on her laptop – or the laptop that she had stolen from Alfie. Afterwards she found herself scrolling through the pictures of his family once again. What was she doing? She was ripping apart a family. She knew she had to come clean. This had to end and the outcome…… who knew…..
By the time the sun had come up and she had heard her mum and dad leave for work, she scooped up the laptop and headed back down to the scene of the crime.
“Hey Stacey, is Alfie here?”
Esme could see the surprise in the receptionist’s eyes. After all, to her Esme looked very different than she as usually did. “Certainly Miss Starr,” she replied. “I will just call up to him.” She picked up the phone and told Alfie that he had a visitor.
Seconds later, he appeared at the top of the stairs and the look on his face when he saw Esme said it all.
“Err I am just going to take Miss Starr upstairs to my office to show her some of the err.. catalogues, please hold all calls,” he told Stacey linking a stern arm through Esme’s.
“Ok have fun,” Stacey cooed back. She was no fool.
He almost dragged Esme upstairs and into his office slamming the door behind them. “What are you doing here,” he hissed looking paranoid. “Stacey will wonder what’s going on!”
“Calm down,” Esme replied. “I’m not here to out us, well not exactly.”
She found herself looking down at the laptop in her arms. She had come this far, it was time to take it the distance. “I have video footage,” she stated.
“What video footage,” Alfie asked cocking his head to one side.
“It’s of us. It’s incriminating. It shows us together – you know – romantically.”
Alfie looked even more confused and it started to annoy Esme. “What are you talking about,” he asked again.
Esme realised she was going to have to spell this out. “It took me a while to make sense of it,” she begun. “I know you saw me that night returning your photographs. You knew it was me who robbed the Gallery and yet you said nothing. I waited every day for the authorities to come for me and nothing – I was going mad with worry. You must know about criminals, we would do anything to protect ourselves.”
Alfie’s eye’s widened at the realisation to what she was saying.
“I took the CCTV footage of us making love right here in the gallery.”
“Why,” Alfie yelped not wanting to believe what Esme was doing. “Why would you do that?”
“Why would you do this,” Esme suddenly screamed! “Stealing someone’s heart is a real crime too you know. And now you’re going to call the police on me. I had to protect myself!”
“No,” Alfie shrieked back. “I was never going to go to the police.”
But Esme wasn’t listening. Tears stung her face as they poured from her eyes. “Do you know how long it’s been since anyone touched me? Like truly touched me the way you did?”
She sobbed to herself for a few seconds while Alfie watching on in stunned silence. “I should have told you,” he finally said. “I should have told you that I knew who you were, I should have said something. But I never was going to tell on you and that’s the truth!”
“I should go,” Esme whispered wiping the tears away with the back of her hand.
“So what,” Alfie suddenly snapped obviously not finished with the conversation. “You come to bed with me for some video footage! That’s really low Esme!”
Esme did not move. She just looked down at her hands ashamed. She knew what she was. “I’m disgusting,” she uttered.
“Don’t say that! I know I lied to you but you lied to me too. Can’t we just draw a line under this and say no more lies?”
“I have to ask you to lie – to continue to lie! I have to beg you not to report me!”
“That’s what this is all about isn’t it? A bribe?”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone Alfie? About me? Why didn’t you report me?”
“I was never going to.”
“But why? I NEED TO KNOW!”
“BECAUSE OF YOU,” Alfie screamed back. He then went silent and composed himself. “I don’t know why but because it was you I just couldn’t.”
Esme had heard enough. He loved her or had loved her. But she had gone and ruined it. She placed the laptop on a shelf in the office and walked out, leaving behind all the footage and her last chance of defence
“What is wrong with you these days? All you do is sulk sulk sulk and it’s getting sooo boring Esme!” Sam and Esme were at a café in Bridgeport. It had been two weeks since Esme had last seen Alfie and her eyes were still so swollen from all the crying that she could not leave the house without her sunglasses.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Esme replied. She had not told Sam anything about Alfie and wanted it to remain that way, she was ashamed enough. “I guess I’m just still worried about the Gallery heist.”
“Oh don’t worry about that! The police have nothing. Plus its last month’s news now, we are home free girlfriend!”
“I guess so but I still worry sometimes…..”
“FREEZE! STAY WHERE YOU ARE”
It all happened so quickly. One minute they were enjoying their drinks at the café and the next minute three policemen came running around the corner aiming straight at them.
Both girls looked at the running cops and then back at each other. “RUNNNNNNNNNNN,” Sam screamed at the top of her lungs!
But Esme did not need to be told. She was already up and on her feet by the time Sam had screamed her last syllable. There was no way she was going back to prison no matter what!