- the beginning
As summer jobs went it was lousy but beggars can't be choosers. The pay was worse than bad and the kind of people who took their holidays camping in South West France were middle class families, stiff with a patina of moral superiority and stretched between the financial megaliths of mortgage and overspent credit cards. Holiday reps in the Spanish Costa resorts, the Balearics, around the Aegean, the Canaries and anywhere else the sun shone, had a much better time. More single females, better nightclubs, chances to earn decent money from selling excursions to gullible punters and run a few scams of your own. Neville Hunter had done the rounds and looking after tents in France was definitely scraping the barrel. Fortunately the site was well run and there was little the emotionally constipated customers could complain about that could not be resolved by expert massaging of the customer's ego. Expertise at such massage had a lot to do with Nev's presence as senior rep for Francamps on the site.
The other Francamp rep, Melody, was a languages student, quite pretty but serious. In her spare time she pedalled the lanes of the surrounding countryside on a battered bicycle absorbing as much of the way of life as possible. Melody was popular with the customers, she took them seriously and organised parties, barbecues and children's games with genuine enthusiasm. Neville though she was gay because she insisted on sleeping in a small tent rather than share the company's mobile home cum site office with him and showed no interest in the young Swedish, Dutch or German men who would turn up in battered vans and spend holidays having a wholesome good time. Melody thought Neville was a despicable cynical con-artist for the way he never stopped trying to chisel a few extra Francs from the visitors. If she had known everything he did she might have put barbed wire around her little tent. Not that there would have been any danger. Neville knew her type. It would be straight out of Virginity City and into the full commitment trip for his colleague. He thought of her as a sad little tart who probably looked upon the women in these tents as role models, with their boring husbands, expanding arses, cellulite parties around the pool in the afternoon and their awful, serious, well - behaved children. It was probable such women had only experienced one or two men before marrying for loveless security.
There were exceptions however. Claire Foster, married to an wealthy accountant who was scared of flying and would venture no further than he could drive, was thirty - seven but holding it together well. She spent money on looking good, cared about herself, and sometimes wanted a taste of the things she had sacrificed for affluence.
Neville's regular post - lunch assignations with her were the subject of many whispered conversations around the camp and several pairs of eyes watched him arrive at the Foster tent only minutes after Eric had left with the children, heading for the beach.
"You're a complete bastard you know. I can tell by your eyes. When I look right into the black bit there's a little Neon sign flashing the word danger." Long, pink fingernails raked through the soft, blonde hair on Neville's chest."
"Me a bastard? What have I done?"
"Don't you know? Insensitive bastard then. Let's do it. We leave in three days I don't want to waste time."
Clare though Neville knew only too well what he had done in the last three weeks and how hard it would be for her to say goodbye.
"Hi Melody, seen Nev?"
"He's shag-" an internal alarm rang in the girl's head, "He's sure to be around somewhere, can I help?" She turned and flashed a radiant smile at Eric Foster.
"It's nothing - well Claire has had a few problems recently and I've been giving her some time to herself. But - well its near the end of our holiday and the kids would like a bit of time with her down on the beach. Much as I love the opportunity to have quality - time with them it is a family holiday and I'm a bit resentful that she seems so disinterested. I was just wondering - Nev will be coming down later in the van, to his other job, if he could you know; pop round and ask her if she would like a ride maybe. We would all really like to see her."
"I'm sure Neville would be glad to give Claire a ride whenever she wants him to." Melody was absolutely straight faced, "I'll see he gets the message. You're late setting off today."
"The kids wanted to explore the forest so we went for a walk. We could have walked to the beach through the trees but they wanted the inflatables, buckets and spades, beach tennis things......" Eric droned on in his whiney voice, not skipping a single detail as if he was preparing an inventory for a tax audit. "Well, can't expect them to get to grips with time management yet eh? haha. Glad I saw you," accountant concluded, "no need to go back to the tent now."
"No, absolutely no reason to at all. Best to leave Claire relaxing."
Claire's head drooped onto her lover's well muscled chest and the tip of her tongue caught a drop of salty sweat that was trickling down his breastbone. "Delicious, a hint of Garlic, mm I'm gonna miss you."
"You're going to miss this."
"No, you. It's more than just fucking isn't it. You make me feel...."
"Feel what?" his forehead creased.
"Just feel. At home I'm numb, I haven't got a life, every day I just go through the motions, one day rolls into the next until they become indistinguishable. And he wonders why I drink....."
"What are you saying?"
"Oh look at you, scared stiff. I love you Nev, because of you I'm a woman again. I've fallen for you. It's Ok, I'm not going to stay here and be a pain. Just, when you come back to England, I don't know what your plans are but if you find somewhere around Leicester, well I have contacts, I'll help you get a job and we can....."
"Yeah well, it isn't going to be that easy for me to come back. I had problems with the tax authorities - you know, good salesmen always make bad accountants."
Claire sighed and rolled away "Please tell me I meant something to you. Tell me I wasn't just a sad, married tart who seemed like an easy summer lay."
" It wasn't like that, but things are complicated for me."
"Complicated? Nothing is so complicated money can't simplify it. I have money of my own. But you're scared I might want a little commitment in return for my help. Men are such emotional cripples."
"No, I didn't mean.... Christ I messed that up, Claire, you're beautiful, I think the world of you but...."
"But Neville? BUT? You think the world of me but you've had your fun and I can fuck off now, go back to my sad little life in the suburbs and just let you move on to the next one. Blokes like you are shit."
"Oh no sweets; look, I might be all that, but I do care, really. Its just - well I know it wouldn't work, OK. What would you want with someone like me? I've made a fortune and lost it, screwed up two businesses, my track record on relationships is worse than a character in a soap opera. I'll probably go to the Canaries and get bar work through the winter then back to Spain or Greece next year."
"So if you care, take me with you. You think I can't do bar work, serve food? What special skills do I need to be a holiday rep. Anyway, I could buy a bar, nobody could sack me then, no matter how bad I was."
"But look at what you've got. A super house, money, what do you drive, a Mercedes? One of those doesn't leave much change out of forty grand. What can I offer you?"
"If you don't know it would be a waste of time telling you. Thanks Nev. You pulled me up out of a pit and now my head it over the edge you're kicking me in the teeth. You could have left me a bit of hope."
Melody's voice broke into the conversation.
A half hour later the short drive to the beach was accomplished in an uncomfortable silence.
Neville rejects Claire in a very hurtful way and while avoiding her throughout the family's last day on the site he meets mysterious woman who seems to epitomise every man's ultimate fantasy.
As Eric had promised the Fosters were on the road early. Melody saw them leave, Clare was driving. Eric, slumped in the passenger seat looked pale and far too hung over to notice the puffy redness around his wife's eyes that spoke of a sleepless night. Neither could be bothered to wave as the holiday rep waited for them to pass out of the camp.
Saturday was always a busy day, tents had to be cleaned, broken or lost equipment replaced and newcomers greeted and organised. Sunday was welcome party day and Monday the area manager visited.
On Tuesday Nev decided to skip his Ice Cream selling job and head for the clearing, telling nobody. If the girl in the wood did not return he would feel foolish having to lie and pretend.
The girl did come. As before she seemed totally unaware that somebody was sharing her space, did not look at her companion or attempt to speak but was quite comfortable in her nakedness. Neville though of trying a conversation, but what could he say to a beautiful, naked stranger. If she would just turn it would provide an opening. At one time, as he was willing the girl to look at him she did half turn, allowing him to see her face matched the body, young and pretty, possibly around twenty - one, twenty - two. There was something hauntingly familiar about her and he wondered if he had seen her around town or on the beach?
A few hundred miles away Clare Foster clicked on "Close" and the pentacle displayed on her computer screen faded to another logo, paganseeker.com and links to various parts of an Internet site for those interested in the occult.
When he returned to the Champs les Chevaliers campsite Melody and Christer did not need to ask where their friend had been.
"So the mysterious naked woman has pursued you through le bois again my friend. I am surprise-ed he does not wear his dick away Melody, ja?"
"I wouldn't know Chris, I'd rather clean the cesspit than delve into the depths of his love life."
"Maybe you are wise. So this mystery lady, tell me Neville and Melody can cover her ears."
And Nev told, adding a physical aspect to the encounter. "I suppose," he said, "that she's like a young version of Clare. Hair is longer, less styled; she's slimmer round the waist, her stomach does not have that roundedness that a mother's has. Nose slightly more turned up, but the bone structure is the same. Other things too, eyes and stuff. Its a bit spooky really. They way she appeared when I was deliberately avoiding Clare."
Melody did not articulate her thoughts on the subject but rebuked the senior rep.
"After the way you treated poor Clare I'm surprised you can even look at anybody remotely similar without dying of guilt."
"Hey Mel, lighten up. Its a game, when Clare lost she wanted to change the rules. This girl is playing a different game but I'm not going to fall for the silence bit. The mystery girl will talk, she'll have to talk to beg. Men always win because we aren't ruled by emotions so we can handle rejection. She plays the silent game so I will be just as disinterested. Before long she will ask herself why I don't come on to her and feel inadequate. After that she will come on to me. RESULT."
Melody pretended to write on her hand, muttering "they don't have brains in their dicks either."
Christer approved of Neville's analysis though. "Ja my friend. Have our fun and move on. Like the song says Don't Look Back In Anger."
"Have either of you guys ever wondered why there are feminists?"
After that day Neville's visits to the clearing became more frequent. On the fifth occasion the girl reacted to the presence of another, turning to face him, showing a dark triangle of pubic hair, round breasts just heavy enough to sag a little and large, dark - lashed deep blue, almost violet eyes."
" Hi my n......"
Instantly she put an elegant finger to pursed lips, commanding silence, then with the same finger, beckoned him to her. As he walked across the clearing she caressed her soft, tanned belly, open fingers sliding down until the red - lacquered nails met the line of trimmed hair. When they stood about a meter apart Neville stopped and drew breath to speak. Again the slender finger came up, this time to his lips. The gesture which said "You must not speak to me." was accompanied by a look asking "what are you waiting for" He reached out and held her waist, pulling her to him. The hand that had silenced his questions now reached down, dealt with the shorts and gently grasped him in a teasing grip. His own fingers sought and explored the full breasts, drawing a little gasp as they squeezed hardening nipples. The two kissed, hands and fingers finding each other's special places. She touched him confidently as if already well acquainted with his body. Her flesh did not shrink from his hands and she was expert enough to guide them with a shift of hip or shoulder, the tensing of a muscle, to the pleasurable spots. Then suddenly she pushed him away, spun round and dropped to a crawling position, a hand reaching between her spread legs to open engorged love lips. The invitation was plain and even if Nev had heard alarm bells in the part of his being that knew something weird was happening the hormone rush would have blocked every escape route.
When it was over the girl silenced him again, pulled her thin dress over her head and, trailing the bikini from languid fingers walked off, hips swaying provocatively.
"Who the fuck are you?" Neville asked the birds and the trees when she had gone.
Around Clare Foster's neck hung a new silver locket, of no great value. With a pink fingernail she pressed a tiny catch and it sprang open to reveal, coiled under a sliver of glass, a few fair hairs. She fingered the locket, thought of the man she had took those hairs from and experienced a warm thrill deep in her vagina. She looked at her watch. Still set to French time it told her Neville would be away from the campsite, perhaps selling ice cream, perhaps not, whatever. It was a good time to call Melody.
"Hi, Francamps, Champs les Chevaliers, Melody speaking."
"Hello Mel, how have you been?"
"Clare? Hi, what a surprise. Is everything OK. Did you want to speak to Nev; sorry he's not here. Do you think its a good idea though."
"Oh, I've cried a few nights, got hammered, pigged out. You know, I got through three bottles of Vodka and about a ton of chocolate cheesecake in two days. But that was just an emotional laxative. I'm dealing with it now. How is the rat by the way. Moved on to the next one yet?"
"You don't want to know do you?"
"He has then. What's she like?"
"Well she seems to like playing mind games, dangerous ones. But he is sure he'll hurt her in the end. She will beg, he said. Perhaps that's what he gets off on."
"You know, I believe he is being over confident. So what about you? Remember when we talked about the occult and weird stuff? Well that sort of reignited my interest. I found a few web sites and it's really fascinating. Like you said, there are so many energies around us that we aren't aware of, so much of ourselves the conscious cannot access. When an emotional crisis unlocks the energy there is almost nothing the mind is not capable of."
"Clare. Are you up to something? Be careful who you get involved with darling, you're bound to be vulnerable at the moment and these whacko people can really mess you up. Some people have started thinking its a fun thing and lost their minds...."
"Or it has gone to live in another part of them? I'll be OK, I'm a middle class girl, I have a built in bullshit detector. Look, I've learned it is all within ourselves. There is no need for covens, gurus and all that which is just as well because I'd rather keep what I have in mind to myself. One just has to focus and push the will out into the world. Trust me. Now what about you?"
The holiday rep was confused. Was Clare using her as a link to Neville because she could not let go or was the other woman simply losing the plot and charging headlong towards a breakdown. The conversation had been weird.
The end of the season came. Neville was not spending as much time in the clearing and managed to do his share of the tasks involved in dismantling and storing the Francamps equipment. Chister had gone and in the last weeks there were few vacationers. The two representatives had to talk to each other again.
"Made your mind up where you are going yet?" Melody asked.
Neville shook his head. "Sticking around. It will be easy to find her when the town is empty."
"Leave it mate, you know you're getting a bit spooky. If I tell you something promise you will not get mad."
"We followed you to the clearing one day and...."
"You saw her? Then you know she's special. Isn't she beautiful and sexy?"
"Not so I'd notice, but yes she is very special." The man's face split in a delighted grin.
"The thing is Nev, and we were only thinking about you and how you might get hurt, you see both Christer and I though it all sounded very strange, surreal."
"Hey, this is France. They invented surreal. Did she turn into a fish and leap into the ocean?"
"Not quite. She disappeared though. Not a trace. And as I searched around trying to see where she might have gone it was really scary, sort of cold and quiet."
"You read too much."
"Have you talked to Clare Foster? She seemed to know a lot about what happened."
"Why would I talk to that old slag. It would only be -" he mimicked a whining female voice, -"Oh Nev, lets go away together, I can make you happy Nev, I love you Nev so you owe me. She's a good looking woman but she's old, nearly ten years older than me. And after three kids it was like pushing a sausage up the Channel Tunnel. Know what I mean." He gave a crude wink.
"You shouldn't be so hard on her. Anyone could see she was vulnerable and the way you led her on was out of order."
"Yeah, but that's the game."
"So what about your other girl. Is that not the game?"
"She was different."
"Younger maybe, but a lot like Clare in build and things. And as she never spoke you don't know about personality."
"Oh, class one bitch is probably a close enough description."
"Think though. Do you believe in Karma. What goes around comes around. The shit you deal out gets fired right back at you."
"Its all bollocks, that stuff."
"Maybe not. I mean, its a bit spooky if you think about it. Clare offered you love. She really did. Would have settled your debts, done anything for you. And she knew it wouldn't last. All she wanted was a few years happiness."
"Yeah, and I trade some of my best years to wake up next to an old dog whose tits hang in her armpits when she lies on her back."
"That's not true you're horrible. And if it ever had become true she'd have implants for you. Can't you see Nev, things like that are self justification. You know you were unfair so in your mind you make her older, ugly, predatory. Because you rejected her love and only wanted cheap, uninvolved sex you have to keep being unkind about her to convince yourself she asked for what she got. So when you offered the forest girl love all she wanted was uninvolved sex and she hurt you. Karma."
"That's typical woman stuff. That girl is around somewhere and I'm going to find her."
Neville stayed in St Laurent when the holiday people left for the winter. He had little money, nowhere to live although it was easy to break into one of the summer homes, and no job though campsite owners would have been happy to pay him to repair their property. The traders who had dealt with him when he was buying bulk supplied a little food and he scoured the garbage for warm clothes and wandered the roads interrogating people about the beautiful stranger. Nobody seemed to know her. Soon the local people called him Le Fou Anglais and told each other he had lost his mind over a girl. Being French they were sympathetic about such behaviour. The police were asked to arrest him several times but there was no charge, the remote house where he went at night was abandoned until the spring and nobody knew he had broken in. Often he spent whole days sitting in the clearing totally alone. Eventually Pierre Lebaube, a butcher, telephoned Francamps to warn them there was a problem with the young man who had worked at Champs les Chevaliers. The holiday company were unhelpful, Neville no longer worked for them, what he chose to do was his business. When Lebaube suggested their help might be needed the human resources manager simply replied that it was not the company's problem. Fortunately the story was repeated around the office and somebody with a little more humanity contacted Melody. Neville had been not bothered to give anybody a number for his parents and they, used to his ways had not worried when they heard nothing from him. He would turn up when he needed money, a roof over his head or a place to lie low. Having found the number in the phone book Melody called only to connect to a voice mail service. Nev's parents were away for several months, wintering in Florida. Thinking that as business people they would probably have one of the advanced voice mail systems that could be accessed remotely she left a message. Having been imbued with upper middle class values and a sense of moral responsibility the girl could not dismiss the problem with that act. Neville was shallow, selfish and insensitive, but it sounded as if he was in trouble. There was only one option left.
"Hello, its Melody, remember me?"
"Oh darling, of course. Its so lovely to hear from you." Clare sounded genuinely delighted.
"You may not be pleased when I tell you why I've called."
"You're coming to dump yourself on us for the weekend?"
"It may come to that but - its a bit embarrassing really - you remember Nev?"
"How could I forget? He's absolutely not coming to stay."
Melody told the story she had heard from Pierre Lebaube. Clare did not seem surprised to hear about the way the strange love affair had turned into obsession. "So what do you need to see me for?" she said when the story was told.
"I can't contact his parents and Francamps are not interested. Somebody should go and try to help. I'm the only one really, there are no other contacts. But, well you know my family are asset rich and cash poor, I'm afraid my student loan is spent and the credit card is up to the limit. I know its an awful thing to ask after the way he treated you, but could you let me have the fare." There was silence. Melody held her breath, expecting a maelstrom of profanities delivered with perfect diction in the familiar crystal - sharp upper class accent.
Instead Clare suggested that she should go also, Nev. had been her lover, even though he had behaved awful at the end she felt a responsibility. "Give me a couple of days to make arrangements for the kids, then as you're at Sheffield I shall travel up to meet you, and buy the tickets we'll go to London, then Eurostar to Calais and hire a car. What a wonderful adventure.