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Appollonia's Mist - a short story by Keith Wright

Updated: Nov 25, 2019





APPOLLONIA’S MIST

BY

KEITH WRIGHT



Sandy Shore wasn’t his real name. It was Alexander Shore, but he realised, as he got older, the potential of using the abbreviated version of his first name, to make a quirky and easily remembered brand. As an artist, the benefits of such a strategy had paid well for him and he was living the dream. In fact, with hindsight it seemed odd that having named him as such that his parents insisted on calling him Alexander throughout his life. Sandy was now in his mid-fifties and lived in a palatial manor with a view of the entire county, on a clear day. His first wife Cindy had died many years previously, sadly before fame and fortune came his way. He wished she could have been part of his lifestyle; enjoying the fruits of his labours. He had lost a lot of weight after she passed, and his hair was much thinner now, but still hanging on. He didn’t like being alone, but the occasional dalliance never survived past their realisation that when doing a piece of work, he was focussed, distracted, intent beyond all else. His major work ‘Cassandra’s Paradox’ had been the piece of work that had launched his career, but that was nearly fifteen years ago. Twenty-four art works and seven million pounds later, he was enjoying the luxuries of life and basking in the perceived wisdom of his brilliance. In light of his successes he was choosy. He scarcely worked nowadays, he found it increasingly mentally exhausting and at times had felt his perfectionism had taken him to the edges of sanity. He kept busy, however, contributing as a lecturer and a writer on the arts within the scope of his expertise. Every couple of years he would produce a piece of work which would fund his high life.

It was by chance that he met Appollonia Castellano when holidaying in the Greek isle of Crete. She cycled past him as he sat enjoying his morning coffee in the sunshine, and she took his breath away. He was smitten, he fell into a cloud of fresh air, a cooling mist, an awakening. She was that lovely. He almost got up and chased after her. He wished he had. Sandy was a man who made it his business to get what he wanted, and having quickly shouted the waiter over to him, he learned her name, and that she worked in the local school as a teacher. He met her in the school yard and explained his work and that she must at any cost sit for him, be his muse. He was unaware of her sexual proclivities of course, until later that night, when she banged him on the cold living room floor of his villa. She had made him feel like he had never felt before. Her olive skin and beautifully pert and rounded breasts, masked by long black hair, was a vision to behold. Her muscled legs and flat stomach worked and grinded into him, swamping his entire body in waves of sensation he could only previously have imagined. He was hooked. He would do anything to have her. And have her he did; for the next three weeks of his holiday, they were inseparable. He showered her with gifts and affection, and she seemed the sweetest, most loveable woman who ever lived.

From the first night he had one focus: To take her back home with him. To marry her. With three nights remaining until the end of his vacation, they sat in the villa and spoke about the issue once again. Her Greek accent punctuated her English. It was another endearing feature.

‘Mister Shore, I have a life here. You know I love you. Why rush?’

‘Because I love you and can give you a life that you could only ever have dreamt of before we met. I must have you.’

‘But my Peppy?’ She stroked the soft fur of the micro dog on her lap. Peppy was blinking his long eyelashes mournfully, as if party to the conversation.

‘You can bring Peppy, you can have a thousand Peppy’s if you wish, my darling.’

‘There is only one Peppy, isn’t there my sweetie?’ She allowed the dog to lick at her lips and Sandy winced. ‘Why not come over for a few weeks at least and see how you settle in?’

‘I don’t know, Mister Shore…’

‘Appollonia you must call me Sandy.’

‘I like to call you Mister Shore, though. It is respect for you.’ She wiped a strand of hair from her face as she smiled, a loving smile; her perfect white teeth contrasting with her tanned face.

Sandy laughed. ‘Okay. Others will think we are not a couple. Or that I am some sort of an ogre.’

‘I don’t care about other people. Just you and Peppy.’

‘Me and the dog, huh. I’m honoured.’ He grinned.

‘Oh, Mister Shore you know what I mean.’ She lifted the coffee cup, her long elegant nails entwining. She was cultured and graceful in everything she did.

‘I know. So, what do you say?’

‘I have no security; I have nothing to fall back on if things go wrong. I don’t want to be in a foreign country all alone with no money, no home.’

‘These are just things. They are of no importance to me.’

‘But they are to me, Mister Shore. I have to be sensible. It is a big…how do you say it?’

‘Say what, Appollonia?’

‘When you go up a stair, once.’

Sandy guffawed and slapped his thigh. ‘You mean, step.’

‘Yes, step. It is a big step for me.’

‘Don’t trouble yourself with such things, my darling. You will have money.’ This was the last thing he expected her to be worried about.

‘How come, Mister Shore?’

‘Because one minute after you agree to come home with me, you will have a hundred thousand pounds in your account.’

‘Seriously? No.’ She stroked at Peppy, his tongue hanging loosely, as would Appollonia’s, had she not tried to mask her reaction to Sandy’s generosity.

‘Seriously.’ He said, grabbing her hand and stroking it. A waft of her Chanel No 5 perfume entering his nostrils. She was as fragrant as a flower, and as beautiful as the many statues he had created. More so. Enchanting.

‘Then I suppose, I should not be worried.’ She smiled, less confidently than before.

‘You need not worry about anything ever again.’

She let go of Peppy and jumped onto the settee next to him and they kissed passionately.

‘Oh, Mister Shore, I would love to be with you. I’ll come, if it makes you happy.’

‘It does. It makes me the happiest man on the planet.’

They kissed again. His hand caressing her soft face and rolling down her arm to her waist, flirting briefly with her hard, tanned breast through the silky blouse that rested on the contours of her body.

He tapped out the figure 100,000 into the money transfer on his phone and within a second he was substantially poorer, but richer in so many other ways.

Appollonia unbuttoned his trousers and hesitated slightly before saying. ‘Thank you, Mister Shore.’ She pulled her hair back and lowered her head.


*


The first three months had passed in a whirlwind. He could not have been happier. Appollonia had caused quite a stir, both in the local community and his social circle. All heads turned when they walked into a restaurant and the focus was certainly not on him. She had a grace, a presence and a beauty which he imagined comparable with the Aztec queens. He had made no secret of his desire for her to sit for him, to sculpt her timeless beauty, in what would surely be his most successful piece of art and a legacy both for him and Appollonia. He had spent hours sketching her as she moved around the house, on the veranda, and in the garden. She would often engage with the occasional staff at the manor and notably the well-muscled gardener, which he encouraged, as he was considering including him in the piece, as a sort of Anthony to her Cleopatra. After much deliberation, however he abandoned the idea. He felt this might detract from her, which would be the biggest sin imaginable. Her allure must not be diluted. The eye needed time to savour her. To capture this would need all his skill as an artist.

He was a creature of habit, and every day, without fail, he would walk into town; to the local coffee shop for lunch and a smoke, in the sunshine. He still re-lived that moment, in his mind’s eye, that he sat outside the coffee shop in Crete and his loved cycled into his world. He enjoyed his little trip into town. He needed time to think, to engage with like-minded people and this fitted well with Appollonia’s habits; she always took a nap at 1pm. After a lifetime of taking a Siesta every afternoon, and being such a night owl, it was a necessity to keep the twinkle in her eye and she counted it as part of her beauty regime. Today, however, was to be slightly different. For a very special reason.

Sandy’s luxurious, white, Bentley Continental, swept up the drive, but he stopped the car halfway, before the curve exposed the front of the manor. He did not want the sound of tyre on gravel to wake her. This had to go to plan. He had all the arrangements in place and the ring in his pocket. There was never a shred of doubt that she would refuse him. They had an arrangement, after all. He had dropped so many clues and they had even spoken directly about marriage. She always answered positively, ‘It sounds wonderful,’ and ‘Amazing, all in good time, Mister Shore.’

He slipped into the conservatory in silence. He had made sure that it was left open before he had set off to town earlier. He had it all worked out. He imagined it, played it out, a thousand times. The huge 3-carat diamond ring had cost almost £25,000. He didn’t bat an eyelid. Only the best for his beloved Appollonia.

Once inside the house, he took a deep breath. He placed the largest bouquet of flowers next to the breakfast bar, worried that the rustling of tissue paper might be heard. He put the ring in its box on the marble surface. He then quietly pulled open the drawer and removed the airline tickets to Oahu in Hawaii, alongside the ring.

It was usual for him to take her a snack up to wake her, when he returned from his daily sojourn; only this time when she lifted the silver cloche on the platter, she would discover the ring and the tickets. Little Peppy, as ever, was attentive, circling around his feet and panting, as if taking his last breath. Sandy was worried he might start barking, so he put some food into the porch and locked him in. He was nearly ready, in any case. All was well.

It was then that he heard the noise. From their bedroom. He froze. She mustn’t awaken yet! It was an unusual sound. He went to the foot of the stairs to listen. He tip-toed up the stairs and realised further investigation was necessary. The noise was rhythmical. A muted banging and a kind of whimpering. The bedroom door was not totally closed. He pushed at it gently, and through the crack he saw Appollonia on top of the young gardener in the midst of orgasm. The man arched his back as he pumped inside her making them both cry out. As she fell away from him, he saw the muscled gardener’s huge, extraordinarily long and thick penis flop to one side, glistening wet from his betrothed’s excitement. Appollonia lay on the floor in a sexual stupor, her legs wide apart and facing his view, the result of their coupling, still flowing from her. She looked as if she had passed out but would occasionally twitch with descending waves of ecstasy. She was still groaning and had a look on her face of calm ecstasy that he had never seen before.

Sandy collapsed to the floor as his world fell apart. It was as if he had been struck by a bolt of lightning as his hands gripped at the thick carpet. It was all he could do to stop crying out. He was devastated and distraught, having to ram his own fist in his mouth to prevent himself from wailing like a devil in the bowels of hell.

‘What a man, you are.’ She gasped. Her eyes milky and glazed in admiration.

‘You like it?’ The gardener grunted, as if he didn’t know the answer.

‘Like it? I love it and I want you again and again.’

‘That can be arranged.’ He smirked.

‘I need a real man. Not that tired excuse, Mister Shore, with his floppy little dick. You should see it.’ She laughed. ‘It’s pathetic, I should get an Oscar for my acting skills in the bedroom. Save me from him. It’s a living hell.’

‘It’s not his fault, though, Appollonia.’ The man offered benevolently.

‘Who cares? You are a God compared to him. I ache for you every single moment of every single day. Not like the whore I feel when he touches me, making my skin crawl. He makes me feel physically sick!’

Sandy staggered to the adjacent bedroom in a daze. His world in ruins at his feet. His stomach wrenching and his soul destroyed. Those words. The nastiness. The mocking. How could she? He lay silently on the bed. Tears trickling down his face as he heard the muffled laughter coming from the lovers in the next room. How could she do this to him? How could she say those things? He did not have to ask. What woman could resist the experience with a man like him? He was just an aging artist, his talents lost on the likes of Appollonia Castellanos. She didn’t love him. She loved the lifestyle. It was all fake. It was all a sham. He had been a fool.

He lay there for a further half an hour and plotted what to do. His plans were distorted by the waves of rage that took him to the limits of his own sanity. His mind tumbling down an infinite well of despair. His thoughts were disjointed, jagged, growing in intensity and rage. They stemmed from just letting her go, to get out of his sight, to bloody murder! How could he allow another to love her? Why should he allow another to even think about touching her? She was his masterpiece. She was his. His muse. Before he knew it, he heard the man leave the house. The hollow drumming of the shower revealed her intent; Appollonia was removing the evidence. He had made his decision.


*


Sandy had quietly gone outside and made a big effort to slam the door hard, as he came back into the house.

‘Hiya I’m home.’ He shouted. A happy voice fighting the raging turmoil of his stomach, betrayed by now dead eyes.

‘I’m upstairs, Mister Shore.’ She seemed chirpy.

He trudged upstairs wearily. The walk of a condemned man. Condemned to committing the worst kind of sentence. The murder of the person he loved most in the world. Borne out of circumstances beyond his control and determined by Appollonia Castellano’s betrayal.

As he opened the bedroom door, she greeted him with a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye.

‘I’ve been waiting for you, Mister Shore. Are you later than usual?’

‘I’m not sure. Maybe.’ His voice croaked; his mouth dry. He couldn’t look at her. He could smell her infidelity in the air. The shower could not disguise that. He had been blind. His desire overriding his own sense of reality. There was no fool like an old fool.

She patted the bed. ‘Come and lie with me.’

‘No, I…I’ve got things to do. Your defilement precludes such a prospect.’ He made the comment deliberately obtuse.

‘Easy, Mister Shore.’ She always said ‘easy’ when she wanted him to make the English simpler to understand.

‘Yes, you are indubitably so.’

‘Easy, Mister Shaw, stop teasing me.’ She had no clue what he was saying, nor that the end game of this exchange was going to be way beyond merely teasing.

Appollonia was confused. Something appeared wrong. ‘Come on grumpy. Let me give you some love, my special Casanova.’

He could hear the sarcasm now, the baby talk, the condescension. He was an idiot for not hearing it before; distracted by the veil of his own love and affection for her. He should have known that he did not deserve to be with such a beautiful woman. A beautiful woman, but with an ugly soul. She would suffer in hell for this betrayal. This hateful, casual, deceit.

He walked to the dresser drawer near the French windows, as Appollonia swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat with her back to him. Her feet slotted into the slippers she had placed there after tidying the messy room, caused by the thunderous passion she and her secret lover had enjoyed.

‘Had a good morning?’ He asked. His eyes now filling with tears and blurring his vision as he struggled to find the item he was looking for. Rage flowing, despair ebbing.

‘Wonderful. Better now that my love is home, of course.’

‘What have you been up to, then Appollonia?’ He asked. He wanted to hear the lie; to identify the cadence and discover just how many times he had heard that same resonance before. How many times had she laid this deceit upon him, and mocked the innocence of love and devotion? How often had she laughed at his inadequacies and humiliated him, like the fool that he was?

‘Erm, oh, you know, just reading and thinking about you, my darling.’

Sandy felt the length of string at the back of the drawer. He pulled it out and wrapped both ends around each hand.

‘That’s nice.’ He began walking towards her as silently as he could. He could see her flicking at her hair, her beautiful naked back bronzed and taut, as became the improvised ligature.

‘I might go out tomorrow if you don’t mind, Mister Shore, I have a few bits I want to pick up in town and I might go to see a frien…’

The string was around her neck, wrapped around twice, before she knew what the hell was going on. Sandy was hardly a trained assassin, but he was quite a strong man for his age, sculpting large pieces was a labour-intensive job and his hands and forearms were particularly strong.

Appollonia was young and strong too. Stronger than he thought, and they both fell to the floor with a harsh bump. She was bucking her back and kicking out her legs as they fought. There was no scream, or yell, only a gurgling as she fought to breath. Sandy held on to the string, yanking at it, with all his might. He did it with such force that it hurt his hands as it cut into them. At one stage he had his knee in between her shoulder blades as he pulled. The yanking was the most effective action. In a fight for her life, Appolonnia might make a good fist of the struggle, the yanking motion was so painful, however, it stopped her in her tracks. It misled her mind to try to release the string at her throat, impossibly, to ease the pain. Her focus was on trying to ease the agony at source. But the source was not the string; it was Alexander ‘Sandy’ Shore, and the answer lay between Sandy’s legs, or his eyeballs. It wasn’t the string that she needed to loosen; it was his grip of it. She was starting to weaken, the exertion of the life-and-death struggle draining her energy and paradoxically making her lungs require more and more oxygen whilst receiving less and less.

He felt the string jar as it penetrated one of the ridges in her windpipe, cracking it; the thin string slotting through it, cutting through the cartilage. Her skin was not broken, but the trauma to the oesophagus underneath was serving to turn her blue and Sandy felt her begin to convulse. Jerking and thrashing, her eyeballs protruding, her tongue forced out of her mouth. She went limp, her body twitching in spasms. After what seemed like an age she succumbed, but Sandy kept pulling and yanking just to be certain; her head flopping, as he threw her around in a frenzy, grunting and gritting his teeth. Spittle coming out his mouth and foam assembling at the corners. He had to make sure she was gone. The blue pallor, distended tongue, lack of breathing and glazed eyes should have been enough of a clue. He finally relented. He lay with her for a good hour. Not touching her. Just being with her. Recovering from the shock of the earlier discovery and the arguably greater trauma of killing the one you love. His hands were sore from the string and it was painful to unravel. In time, he lay motionless, as if he had been shot. A vacant stare. Feeling nothing. There was a foul smell. It seemed she had defaecated during her final moments. It seemed to jolt him to his senses. The enormity of the situation coming to bear. He had an incline of what was next. He was putting meat on the bones of his sketchy plan as he lay there. It was a complicated solution, but innovative. Necessity being the mother of invention.


*


Detective Sergeant Clive Windsor arrived at the house around 7pm the following day. Sandy had reported Appollonia missing the previous evening and the police had waited to make sure she had not turned up in the intervening 24 hours whilst doing some basic checks in the background. Sandy was aware of this nuance and knew that this would give him time to dispose of the body. He didn’t want it to be too late, in case the neighbours were alerted by any unusual activity. The delay in police attendance gave him the time to gather himself together and he was relatively relaxed by the time the doorbell rang.

DS Windsor wore a weathered, chiselled face, one that had a sadness around the eyes which could not be disguised, even by the occasional twinkle, which still shone every now and then, despite the dimming that twenty years in the police had caused. He wore a brown suit that was well lived in, and a tie that was seemingly knotted in a rush. He jotted Sandy’s responses onto his note pad. His voice was calm, deep, almost soothing.

‘Is there anything that might have prompted her to leave, Mister Shore?’

Sandy lit his pipe. He usually only partook in the habit when sculpting, but now seemed as good a time as any. The smoke added to the calm ambience. Both men were playing it low-key. Sandy was tired, however. He had not slept. He had been too busy. His tiredness and the circumstances he found himself in made him feel sick, as if he could vomit at any moment. ‘Nothing at all. I’ve been wracking my brain with that very question. That’s why I called you. Had there been an explanation, I wouldn’t have troubled you. It seems so out of character for her.’

‘Could she have gone back to Crete?’

‘It’s possible, but why?’

‘I don’t know. People tend to go home when they have major problems, don’t they? Do her family keep in touch?’

‘Every single day. They speak almost every night on the phone. I’m amazed they haven’t rung yet.’

‘They would be aware of her movements, then, I mean, you don’t live in total isolation.’

‘I suppose so. It’s not something I’ve thought of.’ He rubbed at his nose, switching legs to cross. ‘They know I take good care of her here. No doubt you will speak to them on the phone.’

‘Absolutely.’ Was all Clive could muster as he continued to jot down the responses and his accompanying thoughts.

‘I raised the alarm as soon as I realised there was a problem.’ Sandy asserted.

‘It says here you rang around 7pm last night, but you told me earlier that you realised she was missing as soon as you came home after lunch, mid-afternoon.’

‘Yes, but you know what I mean. She could have nipped out for some reason, was what I was thinking. I didn’t have any reason to think that she would have vanished into thin air.’

Clive looked up from his note pad.

‘People do not just vanish into thin air, Mr Shore. They are always somewhere, in some shape or form.’

‘I suppose so; it’s just a phrase, isn’t it? She is suddenly not here. I am worried that some harm could have come to her.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘No reason, other than she has disa…gone missing, so naturally I am concerned. It’s quite normal for a loved one to be concerned when people go missing, I assume. I’m not the first I mean.’

DS Windsor noted the tetchiness in Shore’s response. ‘Of course not.’ He smiled, his gaze lingering a little too long for Sandy’s liking.

‘And there was no sign of a struggle, or forced entry to the house? Nothing out of the ordinary?’

‘Nothing.’ Sandy shrugged, again sucking at his pipe, circles of smoke billowing around his head.

‘It’s a big house, I’ll check when we have a walk around, in a bit.’ The Detective said.

‘Okay. I could have missed it, but I think I’ve been quite thorough.’

‘People always do, Mr Shore.’ He smiled, a little unnervingly, for Sandy’s liking. Was he being cryptic?

‘You guys are the experts.’ Sandy swallowed hard. Did he suspect something?

‘What about friends, or family, locally. Have you rung around them, at all?’

‘She has no real friends here, other than the wives of my friends, and I have contacted them all, as well as the hospitals and all of those things you are supposed to do.’

‘It is odd. Have you tried the airport?’

‘No, I thought you might do that? I wouldn’t know where to start. Do you have to speak to every airline, or what? I’ve no idea. Will they even speak to me? I’m surprised the hospital told me anything, to be honest.’ Sandy sucked at the pipe stem and again vanished momentarily behind a cloud of pungent tobacco smoke.

The detective sergeant seemed well organised: ‘That is one of the things I asked officers to do overnight; there is no record that we can see of Appollonia Castellano booking a flight, internally or externally. Not in that name anyway.’

‘There you go, then.’ Sandy leaned forward chuffing on his pipe, trying to get a glimpse of the officer’s notes. The writing was too spidery to make head nor tail of it.

DS Windsor closed his notebook and stood up. ‘Do you have any objection to my having a look around, then, Mr Shore?’

‘No, of course not.’

‘Do you sleep in the same bedroom?’

‘Of course, we did, do, should I say. We are a couple. Just because she is twenty-five years younger than me does not mean we don’t have a, you know, normal relationship.’

‘I wasn’t suggesting that in the slightest, Mr Shore, just a routine question. That is all.’

‘Sorry. I’m just, tired and upset. I didn’t mean to snap.’

‘It’s fine. Understandable.’ Clive smiled reassuringly.

Sandy followed the Detective around the house, pausing, as he rummaged through drawers, and looked in closets, and glanced at miscellaneous papers and documents, asking various questions as he did.

‘Can you spare me a recent photograph, please Mr Shore?’

‘Yes, that’s an easy one.’ He gave him one from the drawer adjacent to where the detective was looking.

‘That’s what she looks like now, then?’ DS Windsor asked.

‘Yes, it is.’

‘Did she have a phone, a lap-top, or electronic tablet, anything like that?’

‘Yes, she has a phone. I told the officer when I called, that her phone was missing too.’

‘That might be a good thing. It is amazing how many people are traced merely by the signal from their phone, intermittently pinging to the nearest receiver. I’ll take the number if you don’t mind.’

‘I didn’t realise that, brilliant.’ He lied. Her phone would not be giving a signal off. He had scattered it into a thousand pieces. ‘I’ll have to get it off my phone. None of us have to remember numbers anymore, do we?’

‘No, that’s true. They’re all in our contacts.’ Clive smiled.

Sandy scrolled through his phone and gave the officer the number.

‘What about a laptop?’ DS Windsor asked.

‘She had an e-tablet. It will be in here somewhere. The only problem is, I don’t know the password.’

‘We can get past that easily enough.’

‘Oh, Okay. Great.’ Sandy rubbed at the greying stubble on his chin.

The two men ended up in the garden. Clive taking in the extraordinarily beautiful landscape from the patio.

‘This truly is a beautiful place, Mr Shaw.’

‘Thank you. I’m grateful every day.’

‘Are these statues, your pieces?’ Clive indicated the various art works scattered around the garden.

‘Most are my own, they are nothing special. Good enough for me to keep in my garden, not pieces I would think of selling, you understand.’

There was a scratching at the patio door window. It was Peppy, scratching at the pane as if digging for a bone.

‘Let him out, Mr Shore.’

‘No, he’s fine where he is, he’ll only trip us up. He has a habit of weaving in and out of your legs.’

Clive took a cigarette packet out of his jacket pocket. ‘Do you mind?’

‘God, no. I like a pipe myself, as you’ve seen. Feel free.’

Clive stared at the statue at the far end of the large patio as he lit his cigarette. ‘That one looks remarkably like Appollonia. Looking at the photo, you’ve given me.’

‘That is because it is her. I posed her as Aphrodite, anything else would be a betrayal to her beauty, in my humble opinion.’

‘Was that what all the drawings of her was about? Upstairs.’

‘Yes, I was studying her for some time. Getting a likeness is easy, capturing her essence, her soul, is where the true art appears.’

‘It’s amazing. Not as defined as some of the other pieces.’

‘Thank you. That is why I called it ‘Appollonia’s Mist.’ The inference is her emerging from mist, where you can see her, but not totally see her. It is the essence of Appollonia that I wanted to capture, the vibration that she leaves on the earth, not the definition. It probably sounds arty-farty but it contextualises the piece.’

‘Not at all. I see it, now. Brilliant.’ Clive angled his head from one side to the other and looked a little puzzled as he gazed at ‘Appollonia’s Mist’.

‘That’s nice of you to say.’

‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’ DS Windsor admitted.

‘It’s not that glamorous at the start, you would be surprised. You start with lots of metalwork and a welding tool.’ Sandy laughed.

‘Metal work? Welding?’ Clive asked incredulously.

‘Yes, it is not solid clay, Sergeant, you start with the metalwork, like a cage, with the form and then wiring and meshing before you start with smearing the clay on. Like humans, only the outer layer defines the beauty. Beneath the outer surface is blind to the eye.’

‘I get it. I’d never really thought about it before. We take it for granted. There is more to it than meets the eye.’

‘As with most things.’ Sandy smiled sagely.

‘I suppose the worry from all of this has put a halt to your artwork.’

‘Yes, well, no, I mean it would have, but I don’t work all the time. I only do a piece or two a year. After Appollonia’s Mist I won’t touch clay again, probably for the rest of the year, at least.’

‘You don’t think she was upset about you doing the statue, do you?’

‘No, not at all. She loved me doing it. The Greeks tend to appreciate art, particularly statues. Anyway, her statue has been complete for two months, at least.’

‘Just a thought.’ He drew at his cigarette, blowing out the smoke exaggeratedly. ‘I don’t know. You guys have everything going for you. I agree it is most odd, that she should just up and go, without explanation.’

‘Not a word, or a note, or a by your leave. This is the worry for me, that she may have come to some harm.’ Sandy re-iterated.

‘It would be rare for that to be the case, Mr Shaw. Try not to worry too much. I will start the ball rolling. We need to find her, don’t we?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘If you hear anything from her, or think of anything else, you must let me know.’ The detective asserted.

‘I will, don’t worry.’

They shook hands and Clive gave him another lingering look as their hands entwined.


*


The CID office was almost empty. Most detectives were out on enquiries, with only a couple at desks doing reports; lost in concentration. It was quiet. The DC’s desks were in a row, in two’s, facing each other. At the head was the Sergeants desk. DS Clive Windsor was staring into space and mumbling to himself.

‘Are you all right, Sarge?’ Jenny Price had worked on Clive’s team for 3 years. She had short straggly hair and a slight paunch. She looked like she had been pulled through a hedge backwards half the time, but was a well-liked member of the team for her down-to-earth approach to complex problems and her willingness to help. She had the human touch.

‘Hi Jen. Yes, I’m fine. I’m just thinking about the MFH, you know the artist’s girlfriend; Appollonia Castellano.’

Jenny rested her backside on the desk. ‘He’s got that big, fuck off, manor on The Ridge, hasn’t he? What about it?’

‘There’s something not right, about it.’ Clive rubbed at his head, which turned into a scratch.

‘Okay. What isn’t right, exactly?’

‘That’s what I’m trying to figure out.’

‘Anything factual to hang your hat on?’ Jenny was curious.

‘Hold on, isn’t it me that should be advising you on your cases, not the other way around?’ Clive asked with a twinkle in his eye.

She laughed. ‘Yes, Sarge, but I know someone who says, he does not have the “monopoly on good ideas.”’

‘That’s me isn’t it?’ Clive laughed.

‘It sure is Sarge. Come on. Let’s think through it. What factually doesn’t add up?’

‘That’s the problem. Not a lot, really, but enough to cause concern.’

‘Such as?’

‘He said that he had not touched clay since he created his last statue of Appollonia, nearly two months ago.’

‘And?’ She wore a puzzled expression.

‘When I shook his hand, I felt clay residue on it. So, unless he hasn’t washed his hands for two months, he is lying. What do lies mean?’

‘Foul play, usually. Unless he’s just an idiot.’

‘He’s no idiot.’

‘Mmm. Anything else?’

‘He has done a statue of Appollonia. He calls it ‘Appollonia’s Mist.’

‘What about it?’

‘It looks a load of shit to me, but then I’m no expert.’

‘What do you mean, Sarge?’ She laughed.

‘All the other statues in his garden are amazing, beautiful pieces, but his latest, looks like I did it! I’m being harsh, but you know what I mean.’

‘Why not get an expert to look at it?’ Jenny suggested.

‘I was thinking that. It’s the only way to get a definitive answer. You know when something is nagging at you.’

‘Sounds like a plan. How are you going to get them to see it, without arousing suspicion?’

‘I took a photo of it on my phone, look.’ He fished in his trouser pocket for his mobile. He showed the photo to jenny. ‘Blimey. I see what you mean.’


*


Clive had to drive thirty miles to get to the home of Christian Gliese. Christian was listed as an expert in art with a penchant for sculpture. There weren't many of these to the square mile. His home was somewhat different to Sandy’s, but then Christian was not a sculptor himself, he was an art critic. The flat was small, filled with books, and had an ancient wooden table, the veneer worn away and cup ring stains now adorned it. There was a slight fusty smell to the room, emanating from the older books on the shelves, which judging by the accumulated dust, had not been troubled for many years. Christian was in his late forties, heavily stubbled, with curly brown hair and circular glasses. He wore a checked shirt over jeans and a brown waistcoat that was slightly too small for him, straining the buttons and curling up at the bottom.

‘This is all very intriguing, Sergeant Windsor.’ He said. ‘I’m not used to helping the police with their enquiries.’

‘Sorry to sound vague on the phone, Mr Gliese, but I want you to look at a piece of work, if you would, and offer an opinion without any real context to the viewing. It’s for a case I am working on. An important case.’

‘Still intriguing.’

‘I have a photograph of the artwork on my phone.’

He showed ‘Appollonia’s Mist’ to Christian. He smirked. ‘Wow.’

‘What does “wow” mean? Wow it’s good, or wow it’s not so good?’

‘It’s poor. Very poor. It looks like it’s been thrown together in a rush. I know the artist, of course.’

‘Do you?’

‘Yes, it’s Sandy Shore, that’s Appollonia; full disclosure; I know them. I’ve been to several get-together’s with Sandy and more recently Appollonia. It’s inevitable. We are in the same business.’

‘I guess so.’

‘I know he was working on a piece involving Appollonia.’

‘Oh Okay. That helps.’

‘When did you take this photo?’ Christian asked.

‘Today.’

‘He must have done the piece recently, I assume?’ Christian asked.

‘Two months ago, apparently.’

‘That’s impossible.’

‘Sorry?’

‘The clay isn’t even fully dry, even in the sunshine we've had for the last few weeks, and I was at his house for a soiree, not two weeks ago and the statue was not there at that point. He mentioned he was drawing with a view to doing a statue of Appollonia, which, incidentally, I thought was a terrific idea. A serious piece would take weeks, if not months to complete. Unless you ended up with that rubbish. I think I could do a better job than that. I don’t understand how Sandy could be involved in such a work. I’m confused.’

‘He says the vagueness is to infer that Appollonia is emerging from mist.’

‘More like acid rain, I’m afraid. It’s nonsense, Sergeant Windsor. Quite what is the issue here? What is going on?’

‘I can’t say too much at the moment, Mr Gliese, but I would like to thank you for your help, it is invaluable.’


*


Sandy heard the knocking at the large oak door, as he poured his coffee. It would be lukewarm, but he couldn’t be bothered to make a fresh one. He was drained. Exhausted, deflated and depressed. A black cloud not only hung over him, but totally enveloped him. He was overwhelmed with guilt and regret, but what was done, could not be undone. Ironically the murderer was grieving for the murdered.

DS Clive Windsor and DC Jenny Price stood silently waiting for a flicker of movement from within the property. Sandy contemplated hiding and just ignoring the clamour at the door. He couldn’t bear the thought of facing anyone in this state. His car was on the drive, however. He had better answer it. He welcomed the officers with a tired smile. His hair was greasy and his eyes red from tiredness and bouts of crying. His shoulders were hunched, and he shuffled his feet as he walked. He looked like it was an effort to stand upright.

‘Hello Sergeant Windsor, I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. Any news?’

‘Not as such, can we come in?’

‘Please do.’ He sighed. He felt a little dizzy. He was becoming overwhelmed by events and finding it difficult to process the suddenness them.

Clive introduced Jenny, and Sandy led them into the living room where they all took a seat. He lacked the previous confident air from this morning.

‘I was excited to see you guys. I was kind of hoping you had found her.’

‘Were you, Mister Shaw? Were you really?’ There was an edge to the question, which alarmed Sandy. There was a different atmosphere than before. Clive looked serious, annoyed, almost.

‘Naturally. I hoped you might have found her.’

‘I think we have found her actually, or at least we know where she is.’ Clive’s face remained stoic.

‘That’s great.’ Sandy was unconvincing, despite his best efforts. He looked confused but didn’t seek clarification.

‘It isn’t though is it, Sandy?’

‘What do you mean?’ He started to sweat, his heart rate increasing, his lips thinning with tension.

‘It isn’t great. I think you know exactly what I mean.’

‘I’m sorry you’re speaking in riddles, officer, have you found her or not?’ Sandy was agitated.

‘I am speaking in riddles, am I? Riddle me this, Sandy: What is hidden but in open view? Alive, but dead to the world?’

‘This is getting ridiculous, what the hell are you talking about?’ He stood up and began to pace the room. Clive stood also. ‘Shall we retire to the patio?’ The detective asked.

Once outside Clive spoke to Sandy. ‘Are you a gambling man, Sandy.’

‘Not particularly I have had the odd night in a casino. Why? More riddles?’

‘Unfortunately for you, I can be a gambling man on occasion; I will take a risk every now and then. It’s the reckless side of me, you see. It adds to the spice of life. How much would you say this statue ‘Appollonia’s Mist’ is worth, Sandy?’

‘I’d never sell it. It’s a moot question.’

‘But if you did, what would you expect to get?’

‘Two Fifty. It’s not my best, but it is done by Sandy Shore, after all.’

‘Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. That is a lot of money to me.’

Clive’s attention was drawn to the garden gate as it slowly opened. Two burly police officers in uniform stood there smiling. One was holding a sledgehammer.

‘What the sweet baby Jesus is going on?’ Sandy demanded. He was breathing heavily. Short, agitated breaths. He knew exactly what was going on, of course.

Clive took hold of the sledgehammer. ‘If I’m wrong you need to sue me for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. If I’m right you, sir, are going to jail for a long time.’

Clive swung the hammer at the torso of the statue.

‘No!’ Sandy shouted in desperation. It was too late.

The force of the blow cracked the clay and knocked the statue of Appollonia to the ground. The hard patio caused it to break into several pieces. The head of the statue shattered the most, as it struck the slabs. Fluid started to seep out of it. A foul smell invaded the nostrils of all those assembled and caused hands to cover mouth and nose. The head of the statue was all but destroyed; all the external clay had fallen away. The now grotesque, unseeing eyes of Appollonia Castellano stared out from behind the clay, encased in a metal cage. Her skin was jaded, and her tongue still protruding, but grey and dry. Sandy fell to his knees on the patio and covered his face with his arm, unable to look. He began to sob.

‘Head’s I win. Looks like you are going to jail, Mister Shore.’ Clive breathed a sigh of relief through his wince at the abominable sight.

‘I loved her.’ Was all he could utter.

‘You’ve got a funny way of showing it.’ Clive commented. He took Sandy’s arm from his face and wrapped it behind his back along with the other, locking the handcuffs in place. ‘Sandy Shore I am arresting you for the murder of Appollonia Castellano, you do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’

He didn’t answer and was led away by the uniformed officers.

Jenny laughed. ‘Well, Sarge, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate you. You’ve finally cracked the case.’

Clive groaned. He seemed pleased. ‘We’d better call Scenes of Crime.’

Peppy ran onto the patio, wagging his little tail and began licking at the fluids on the floor and then the decomposing lips of the once beautiful Appollonia Castellano.




THE END



@Copyright Keith Wright 2019




Keith is the author of ‘One Oblique One’ (the UK police radio code word for sudden death). Available on Amazon paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. His second and third in the series. ‘Trace and Eliminate’ and ‘Addressed to Kill’ are also available.


His books have received critical acclaim in ‘The Times’, ‘Financial Times’ and the ‘Sunday Express’ as well as many others such as ‘The Mystery &Thriller Guild’ and ‘London Evening Standard’. One reviewer has described hm as ‘England’s Raymond Chandler’.


Visit Keith’s website: keithwrightauthor.co.uk. To see video's, read blogs and samples of his books.


Follow him on twitter: @keithwwright


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