When Olivia Met K: Chapter 9 - O on Ernst, a series by Michael McCarthy at Spillwords.com

When Olivia met K

Chapter IX

 O on Ernst

written by: Michael McCarthy

@FlateyeFiction

 

I had a man, Ernst. He knew more about me than I knew about myself. I’d known him practically all my life.

I could be irresponsible sometimes and was very impatient when it came to making business decisions, so I needed advice that I would listen to and act on or, preferably, just leave it to Ernst.

To be honest, not just business decisions but decisions in general. I needed a man like Ernst; actually there was no other man like Ernst. He’d performed similar and other functions for my father. My father had, on occasion, dealings, some unsuccessful, with a few shady business associates. Ernst told me once, ‘‘If you ever think you’re being followed you are. On my instructions.’’

And ‘‘If I don’t want somebody to know they’re being followed, they don’t.’’

That was good enough for me. That meant Ernst was keeping things from me. When it was appropriate, I lived by the dictum, ‘What you don’t know can’t hurt you.’

When I thought about Ernst, which was quite often, I always associated him with the night. Ernst belonged in a 1940s/50s film noir or espionage film. A man of dark, rain slicked streets, or waiting under street lights, a thin film of rain falling around him. I imagined him walking the empty streets and emerging from or melting into the shadows and only revealing himself when it was absolutely necessary. I saw him as a tall, bulky man with thinning, dark, shiny, combed back hair, and glasses, wearing a dark coat with his hands thrust deep in his pockets and looking down as though he wanted to avoid eye contact. I felt he was lonely. I thought Ernst wanted to provoke that feeling in people. Sometimes I had the unsettling feeling that Ernst was stalking the streets as a form of atonement. The thing was, I didn’t know anything about Ernst. Anything at all.

One thing I did learn over time was that, Ernst was never in a hurry that was why he always got to where he wanted to go. Ernst had always been the unruffled burble on the phone. That, apart from his efficiency, his contacts and his dislike of loose ends, made him all the more effective. He was a man who was strong enough not to have to show his own strength. People, especially men, recognized this in Ernst, that was why nobody crossed him. I knew this because my mother told me. The first time I met Ernst I was a little girl and he carried me home from a party; that happened on a number of occasions when my father wasn’t around. I’d never forgotten that and how much I looked forward to being in Ernst’s burly arms. I can still recall that warmth and security. I said to him once, not too long ago, in my sometimes selfish and thoughtless manner, ‘‘Ernst, what am I going to do when you retire or if you have an accident?’’ I could have bitten my tongue clean off.

‘‘Olivia, I’m one of the few certainties in life.’’ He said. It was unspoken, it was as though it was in a book of universal laws, but there was no question of us meeting again. While I didn’t know why, I was sure it was for the best possible reason, me.

I thought again about that unforgivable question I’d put to Ernst and something came to me; I realized just how important Ernst’s deceptive purr was. It could lull people into underestimating him and I instinctively knew that was the biggest mistake an opponent could make and the last.

I first met Roger at an exclusive party in a multi-millionaires’ country pile. It was full of politicos, fat cats, and media types. I was there with my latest hubby; he was very well connected. My partners were usually well connected.

After an hour or so hubby began to wilt, it was the medication for one of his ever-increasing lists of ailments, it could be a blessing at times, but a parting of the ways was in the works, in fact, it was long overdue.

With the help of a passing waiter, I managed to escort him upstairs into a drawing-room and onto a convenient sofa and left him safe in the land of nod.

Downstairs I felt myself once again being lined up in somebody’s crosshairs. A man had been observing me from a distance since we’d arrived.

I looked at him closely for the first time; clearly from old money, he was tall, too thin, with smooth skin; receding, blonde, floppy hair, and horn-rimmed glasses. Clothing-wise he cultivated a tweedy, studious look and oozed the privilege of an elite education. There was something else about him that I couldn’t quite define. I liked that in a man, mystery.

Finally, he made his move and appeared at my side with two flutes of champagne. He had a raspy, weak voice and spoke very fast so that you had to really concentrate to understand him. A pretense, I decided.

‘‘I know who you are. The moment I saw you I began asking around. I’m Roger Martin.’’

‘‘I hope I don’t disappoint you, Roger Martin.’’

‘‘You won’t.’’

‘‘What do you do, Roger.’’

‘‘I’m a writer. I have a growing clique of fans and they and those in the business are tipping a bright future for me.’’

‘‘What do you write about? Yourself.’’

‘‘I guess, I deserve that. I’m the first to admit, I’m an acquired taste.’’

‘‘No one’s perfect.’’

‘‘In answer to your question, I like to write about people whose lives have not been in vain, who leave a lingering presence when they’re gone like a wisp of smoke from a fine cigar.’’

‘‘Biographies, then?’’

‘‘Fiction. I like to create characters and control them. Make them do unpredictable and shocking things.’’

‘‘One man’s shock is another man’s pleasure.’’

‘‘They say there’s a fine line between pleasure and shock. Or is it pain?’’ He locked onto my eyes. Staring can be a powerful and intimidating weapon for some men. But nobody out stares me. Nobody. We stood in a vacuum. The sights and sounds of the party had been pushed to the periphery by the intensity of our connection. I concentrated on his eyes. I could see he wanted me, really wanted me. Maybe he’d never been with an older woman before. I was no stranger to young guys, but I didn’t sleep around. I had my standards.

He swallowed heavily, smiled weakly and walked away and with his departure, the party came rushing back to center stage.

He rang a few days later. I knew he would. Maybe he wanted to increase the anticipation for me or, to allow his ego to recover.

We enjoyed two consecutive and chaste evenings together dining out in fine restaurants. Slightly alarmingly, he drank copious amounts of alcohol with scarcely any effect. I liked my drink but Roger’s habit seemed to verge on life-threatening.

At that moment apart from my increasingly handicapped old hubby and with K abroad working Roger seemed to be as good a diversion as any other. Although I had lingering doubts about him.

Our next date was at an up-market wine bar, where ‘‘the literati hang out,’’ he boasted, and he spent the evening waving at people, slapping backs, air kissing, and generally putting on a boring and self-conscious performance. If it was for my benefit he was out of luck. I yawned ostentatiously several times, that prompted him to lean forward and whisper coyly into my ear, ‘‘Can we go back to your place?’’

‘‘What’s wrong with yours?’’

‘‘My flatmate’s entertaining. So can we?’’

‘‘Not possible.’’

‘‘What are you hiding?’’

‘‘Whatever you’re looking for.’’

Another alarming trait when we were together was the fact that his laptop was never far away, and whenever I left him for a moment he would open it and dive into some file or site or other. He began to spend the odd night at my flat and although he was very attentive the laptop seemed to haul him in repeatedly as though he was on the end of an invisible line.

My curiosity had to be sated. I only like secrets if I’m in on them.

That indefinable thing about him? Danger, and more than a hint, very alluring; but I always maintain the upper hand.

We went out to a local pub. I ensured he exceeded his usual plentiful intake of booze, it wasn’t difficult. Initially his industrial consumption of alcohol had put me off but now it endeared him to me. It was undoubtedly a prop. We’ve all got our Achilles’ heel.

Back in the flat he collapsed half on and half off the sofa and was immediately unconscious. I prodded him, shouted at him and pushed him, just to be on the safe side, but he was out for the proverbial count. I opened his laptop, he hadn’t even logged out, I went through the files until I found one marked, ‘Next Installment’. I felt a growing sense of trepidation as I opened it. It contained scenarios, notes, photos, and profiles of what appeared to be his friends and acquaintances, men and women, their habits, descriptions, jobs, and sexual preferences. I skipped through it not really taking in any details.

I’d always thought the expression, ‘I nearly jumped out of my skin’ was a cliche. It isn’t. It was the only way to describe what happened next.

I felt something on my thigh and gasped; a slow, crawling feeling. I looked down, expecting, I didn’t know what, maybe a tiny creature, that would have been bad enough, and saw a hand. I turned around and found myself looking into Roger’s bleary, bloodshot eyes. I literally felt my body quiver. He was muttering something unintelligible. I realized he was still asleep. I stroked the side of his face softly, like you would a child, and then he sank back down into an untidy heap and his alcohol-induced coma.

Then, piling shock upon shock, my next click on his laptop, a link, took me into a nightmarish world of images of both men and women enduring horrendous acts of torture. I wasn’t easily shocked but no way was that my scene. I went back to the characters’ details and flicked through looking for any information on me; either he hadn’t recorded anything about me or I’d rushed through and missed it. But one thing was abundantly clear, he was engaged in planning some harrowing story of a serial killer. Or worse, or both.

I recalled a conversation from our first date:

‘‘When is your book coming out?’’ I’d asked him.

‘‘In a couple of months.’’

‘‘Would you like to give me a little teaser?’’

‘‘It’s about a guy, a serial killer. Part one of a series actually. A long series.’’

‘‘Oh. It’s a him.’’

‘‘It has to be a him.’’

‘‘Why?’’

‘‘I’m a man. I don’t know how women tick.’’

‘‘You mean, you know how male killers tick?’’

‘‘I’m very thorough with my research. I like to get down and dirty, steep myself in the milieu, make contact with the reprobate element and, as I say, I’m a man.’’

I shuddered and slammed the laptop shut. Although I’d had slight misgivings about Roger now I was genuinely frightened.

I went around the flat in a near panic, collecting anything of his I could find and cramming it into a black, plastic, rubbish sack, followed by his laptop, then dumped it outside my flat door. I left the door open. I knelt down beside Roger, his mouth was open and he was dribbling. I began pounding him with my fists until he came to and fell off the sofa. Then I started kicking him with all my might, and I can kick, he was trying and failing to protect all his organs and soft bits with his hands.

He stumbled to his feet, still clearly disoriented, I planted my hands on his chest and pushed him firmly into the doorway.

‘‘Your stuff is outside. Join it!’’ I spoke barely above a whisper. He made no attempt to touch me. ‘‘You haven’t seen the last of me.’’ He slurred. I left him for a moment while I grabbed an open wine bottle from the coffee table, took a final swig from it and threw the bottle at him, it glanced off the side of his head. He didn’t react at all. ‘‘Believe me, Roger I have.’’ He left, slamming the door.

I sank onto the spot on the sofa where he’d been slumped.

When I could move my fingers without trembling, I slowly sipped a large brandy, that calmed me enough to go to bed where I slept like a log.

I was awakened after a long and recuperative sleep by my phone vibrating under my pillow.

It was Ernst with his usual impeccable timing. ‘‘How are you, Olivia?’’ He asked in his imperturbable murmur.

When I heard Ernst’s voice I knew I was safe, nothing bad could happen to me.

My voice shook as I lied, ‘‘I’m fine, Ernst.’’

‘‘I noticed during one of my sporadic observations of you that you’ve acquired a new friend. I had him checked out and didn’t like what I learnt.’’

Ernst would never judge me, all he cared about was my welfare.

‘‘I threw him out last night.’’ I heard him sigh.

‘‘Olivia, you’re supposed to call me in the event of….anything. It’s like one of those animal survival programs, you know when the subject is being stalked by its natural predator and the production crew have to decide whether to intervene or let nature take its course. If the subject’s name is Olivia there’s no contest.’’ I’m made of pretty stern stuff but I had to admit I shed a few tears after Ernst had hung up.

Roger disappeared without a trace; there were a few paragraphs in the quality papers, they called him ‘a burgeoning talent’, ‘the next great British writer’ and ‘an unashamed sybarite’ but they also hinted at ‘a self-destructive streak’ and ‘an insatiable wanderlust’. I thought that may be called media manipulation or calling in favors. Then, with not unexpected irony, his career really took off; apparently, he’d had several false dawns career-wise until he’d found a disturbing vein of inspiration to mine which led to the belated publication of a number of unsettling short stories in several major American literary journals.

Some time later after his book had been published to revulsion and acclaim, in equal measures, its plot was hijacked and used as the driving force for a particularly bestial serial killer which only added to Roger’s posthumous fortune and growing cult status.

I couldn’t sleep properly for a week post Roger. During another restless night I found myself drawn to the street. I looked out through my open window, a street light opposite my flat provided weak illumination and revealed a light rain falling like golden needles and I could hear it pitter-pattering through the leaves of the grand, old oak tree which I felt gave the house a form of protection.

There was a figure under the tree. If Ernst doesn’t want to be seen, he isn’t. If he wants to be, he is. He knew, for some, his presence was reassuring. Ernst is my guardian angel. Other sleep-deprived souls may well have been looking out of their windows at the same time and with a good view of the tree, but they wouldn’t have seen him.

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This publication is part 9 of 10 in the series When Olivia met K