Buried (DC Jack Warr #1) - Lynda La Plante
In the soft light of the flickering candles, the room looked like a film set: five women enjoying a celebration dinner. As the clumsy maid leant in to overfill her glass, no one caught the strange glint behind the watchful eyes of the guest of honour. Smiling and nodding graciously, she seemed to be enjoying every moment of this strange, unexpected reunion. In reality she was waiting. She knew they wanted something and on this, her first night out of prison, Dolly Rawlins’ suspicious mind was in overdrive.
She had not expected anyone to meet her when she left Holloway that morning, but a black Mercedes had been waiting outside the main entrance. As the chauffeur opened the door, he had handed her an invitation to join ‘friends’ for dinner at The Grange, a large manor house. It had been handwritten by Ester Freeman, who had briefly been in the same cell block as Dolly, so, against her better judgement, Dolly had got in the car. After all, she had nowhere else to go.
As the car pulled up the gravelled driveway, the outside of The Grange was in darkness, while the inside exuded a welcoming glow. It looked warm, inviting. Typical Ester, thought Dolly, to reach for dramatic effect. As she headed for the front door, she realised it was intended to distract from just how dilapidated the mansion actually was. Typical Ester, indeed!
The door was opened by a young girl dressed as a maid and, behind her, theatrically poised at the foot of the sweeping staircase, stood the glamorous Ester Freeman.
‘Darling!’ Ester exclaimed in her husky voice, opening her arms wide. ‘A few old friends, indebted to your kindness, have gathered to celebrate your freedom.’
She turned to the maid.
‘Angela, tell the others our guest has arrived. Dolly –’ she turned back to Dolly – ‘come with me . . .’
Upstairs, in the candlelit master bedroom, a stunning velvet gown hung on the outside of the wardrobe door, draped with an accompanying shawl. On the dressing table was an array of paraphernalia relating to hair and make-up; a dressing gown was laid on the bed. In the adjoining room a bath was already drawn.
Ester handed Dolly a glass of champagne.
‘No rush, Dolly. You have all the time in the world now.’
An hour later, Dolly was seated at a large dining table boasting a banquet of meats and vegetables, breads and sauces, and enough wine to keep them all happy for days. Once again, the dim lighting did its magic. The blazing fire and a bank of candles on the mantel and the grand piano made the run-down room look fabulous.
As the maid worked her way around the table, pouring the delicious chilled wine, Dolly took a moment to look round at the ‘friends’ who had gathered for this welcome dinner.
At the far end of the table sat Ester Freeman, seductively touching the rim of her champagne glass to the glass of the woman sitting beside her. Any port in a storm, thought Dolly. Ester was the sort of prisoner who set her sights on a suitable sex toy within seconds of being booked in. Her latest conquest was Julia Lawson, who had also been in Holloway. Julia was a doctor, imprisoned for prescription fraud. She was also, Dolly knew, a heroin addict.
On Dolly’s right was Gloria Radford, another former inmate. Loud and uncouth, she was dressed tonight in a tight mock leopard-skin dress and was midway through telling a dirty joke, screeching across the table to Kathleen O’Reilly in a coarse voice. Kathleen was overweight, in her mid-forties, and, as far as Dolly could recall, had been convicted of fraud. Her long hair was tied back unfashionably and her crumpled satin blouse was scattered with food stains and bursting under the pressure of her ample breasts.
Lastly, Dolly’s eyes fell on the very pretty woman sitting to her left. Dolly recognised her face, but she couldn’t remember what Connie Stevens had been in for, although she did recall that she had always been in tears, claiming to be totally innocent. Connie was very curvaceous, her bleached blonde hair reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, and she had perfected the movie star’s sultry pout. Dolly guessed prostitution.
As Gloria finished her dirty joke, everyone laughed a little too loudly. In the silence that followed, Ester raised her glass to their guest of honour and the others followed, looking at her expectantly. Dolly looked round the table and smiled. She had no idea what they wanted, but she could wait.