CHAPTER 1 – LIFE BEFORE
It didn’t matter how fast she ran; there was no escaping the truth. The freezing December rain hit her thighs making them red above the knee where the black lycra stopped. Her black hoody wet darker at the front and across the shoulders. Running against the wind and rain regenerated her. The sound of water drops hitting her ears and face reminding her of long walks on Sundays before sitting down to a roast dinner.
She pulled into the road but ran past the front gate. Through the windows, behind net curtains, neighbours watched her. It had been four months since they found Mr and Mrs Cacroft. Their only daughter, Sarah, always liked to run but now they noticed that she wouldn’t come straight back, adding another run of the block, sometimes two or three before returning home.
Sarah Cacroft pounded the paved streets back around on to Westbury Ave and then back on to Mannock Road. This time she ran through the open gate, up the path and onto the black and white tiled porch, pushing through the Georgian door and letting it close noisily behind her.
Moving swiftly and seeming not to notice the small tower of unopened letters stood on the white wooden shelf, she let herself into her downstairs flat. Her neighbour had set the post for her, neatly, under the broken fuse-board cupboard. Small particles of dust blew off the top of them as the inner door slammed behind her.
Jogging down the hallway into the bathroom, she pulled a towel off the rail and wrapped it around her neck to slow the cold rain dribbling down her back and turned on the shower. It chugged and spluttered into action. Waiting for the water to get to temperature, she pulled the fridge open and stare at the shelves. Standing there for a while before taking out the orange juice and pouring herself a glass. Drinking half before getting in the shower, she set the rest on the bathroom sink as she stepped in.
The water didn’t register at first, her skin was so cold. Her face, legs and shoulders stung as the hot water ran over them, pushing into the raw coldness of her bones. After her shower she stepped into her fleecy onesie and settled down on the sofa to enjoy her day off. She looked at the pile of paperwork.
Letters to her parents. She’d opened them, thrown away the envelopes and laid them, smoothing each piece of paper out, making them as level as possible in piles on the table. Each correspondence was painful. A reminder of how alone she was. Decided she couldn’t, but promising herself she’d look at it again tomorrow she picked up her laptop and signed into Facebook. It was mid-morning and she meant to just stay on for a few hours.
It was early evening when upstairs’ doorbell made her realize she hadn’t moved all day. Listening as someone stirred in the flat upstairs, she heard them come down to answer the door and the polite exchange on the doorstep as her neighbour took delivery of a takeaway. Sighing, she stood up and stretched.
Pulling her uniform out of the washing machine and placing it out to dry, she busied herself tweezing her eyebrows while the dinner cooked. Putting the cooked fishfingers in a sandwich along with rocket and mayonnaise she carried it through from the kitchen and ate it sitting on the sofa, watching the tv. Sarah eyed her last bud and although she couldn’t afford more, decided she needed it and making herself a large joint she fell asleep.
It was gone midnight when she woke, aching and cold. She forced her stiff body off the sofa. brushed her teeth and slid into bed. The rest of her sleep was undisturbed until the alarm sounded, waking her for work.
Brushing her mostly brown hair upwards, and holding it firmly with one hand, she grabbed a hair band and twisted it into a ponytail. She drew eyeliner across her eye whilst checking the mirror and added some blusher to her cheeks. Stopping briefly, she reached across the table and switched on the radio. The music drowned out the sound coming through the window.
Outside the noisy diggers clunked and warred, picking up and then dropping the rubble, beeping intermittently as they moved around the yard. Since she could remember the low rhythmic thud of the diesel engines and constant crunching had helped her rise every weekday. She stared at her reflection and glanced at the clock. It was 6.25am.
Tuesdays were usually slow. For whatever reason, hospitals seem quieter after the usual busy Monday rush. Sarah checked her phone. No messages from the Escort agency or work. One message from the bank, which read,
Low balance alert, please deposit funds.
She picked up her diary and used it to cover the council tax demand lying unopened on the table and logged into Facebook. The Ground Rush game loaded up as she pulled her uniform off the airer, shook it hard before folding it carefully and pushing it into her bag. The sound of fabric ripping momentarily filled her ears.
“Really?” She huffed. The black patent duffle bag had split. The radio was chatting about Teresa May and Brexit. It was the talk of everyone at the hospital. The presenter was asserting the British public had been tricked into wanting a referendum. The British public were phoning in to say they disagreed.
Not wanting to hear it again she switched off the radio as the presenter was mid-sentence. She glanced between the clock and Ground Rush as she collected gold, bread and booty that had gathered overnight. Laughing at a lower-level player’s attempt to wipe out her castle and gain some of her resources, she narrowed her eyes as she realized she didn’t have time for revenge battle. Logging off, she closed the laptop.
Rummaging under the table with her feet and slipping her toes into black loafers she shuffled into the kitchen, reaching down and pulling the backs of them up over her heels, as she went. The kitchen was clean, with most things away in cupboards. The sharp edges on the units had softened with wear and tear of years. She had changed the handles on the units, the year before last. They gave it a modern look but otherwise it was the same as when her parents had been alive.
Searching around the cupboards she found a clean glass and ran it under the cold tap. She stared at the tiles, listening to the sound of the water hitting the cold steel sink. Trancing out for a second, she came round and ran her finger down the grout in the tiles.
She looked at the clock. It was 7am. Sliding the glass under the running water caused splashing up on her blouse. The cold made her jump and looking down, pink flesh stared back at her through her wet shirt. She swore.
With no time to change, she drank the water, grabbed keys, broken bag, jacket and left. Giving the door an extra pull after locking, she checked the windows were all closed before shutting the gate and setting off to work.
The walk to the tube station was fresh and hurried. She walked along this length of Mannock Road every day. Very occasionally she would get an Uber, but she walked mostly, enjoying looking at the colourful gardens and sneaking the odd peak through the windows.
The large Georgian houses had all but one been split off into flats. Most of the entrances still had the original porches, large wooden doors, and colorful mosaic tiling. The gardens would occasionally have some feature to draw the eye and pretty flower beds. There was then a walk along Western Road to the underground station.
Turnpike Lane’s platform was busy. Seven Sister’s was the same. Sardined people. Most were travelling into work. Others, younger, in uniforms were making their way across London to go to school. Tourists were looking tired and embarrassed in crumpled well-travelled clothes.
Her daily journey was fifty minutes travelling north on the underground. Depending on the service there were changes, to Northwick Park and then a ten-minute walk to the Hospital with the same name.
Sarah breathed in, as she came out of the station, relieved to get away from the cramped carriages. She took more deep breaths as she moved along the suburban streets approaching the tunnel which led under the busy road. Holding her bag close, she tensed up as she entered.
Finding it difficult, as her anxiousness crept up in the tunnel, she put one foot in front of the other and forced herself forward. The tunnel was clean, but in shadow and always cold. It’s narrowness caused people to be uncomfortably close and she was always relieved when coming back out into sunlight at the back of the hospital.
Dew gathered on her feet as she walked across the green, darkening her trainers and making her feet feel damp. She made her way across the patient carpark and entered at the back of the hospital. Smiling at the patients sitting in rows of plastic chairs. waiting in reception, she received no smiles back. She walked by, listening to the coughing and sneezing.
“Ah!” She said quietly.
She raised her eyebrows and smiled when she rounded the corner of the Accident & Emergency department and saw it wasn’t busy. Signing in as staff nurse Sarah Cacroft and saying good morning to the reception staff with a polite nod, she went on to her locker to drop in her bag and jacket.
She’d had the same locker since she started a year ago. The locker room was like second staff room. No patients were allowed in. Today there was no one to chat to as she put her jacket away and put her uniform on. Her automatic, final check was a pat down to make sure she had her mobile and that her necklace was covered. All done, Sarah locked up and went to find the duty manager. They would help detail what her responsibilities would be for the day.
Looking at the white board Dr Nasser Patel was written up as duty manager. She found him hiding in a side room with Misses Brown. Misses Brown is hospital code for a tea break. He had dark shadows and bloodshot eyes. Nasser grimaced, but was happy to see her.
“Good morning Dr Patel.” She said.
“At last. Smarts and good looks have decided to turn up to work!” He responded, smiling. “I’ve been on since 10am yesterday and I swear if I have to repeat myself to imbeciles again, I will lose it. Why and how were you scheduled for a day off on a Monday?” Nasser paused for breath. Then, added wearily,
“Ah, don’t take any notice of me Sarah, I’m tired and fed up. It’s gone eight thirty and I should be at home to help with all the school runs. Come on I’ll take you around, show you what we’ve got.”
Together, they walk around the department discussing the current admissions. Accident and Emergency usually had steady patient numbers. They were almost finished the handover of the patients still in his care when he got a phone call requesting Sarah. Nasser argued for a few moments, adamant he needed a qualified nurse. But the department was quiet, so Sarah was sent to help on Gastroenterology.
It took three minutes for Sarah to get from A&E, through the long, white, shiny corridors and up to the next level where the inpatient Gastro wards were. She took the grey, concrete stairs, jumping two at a time, using the bannister as leverage to help her swing between levels. When she arrived on the Gastroenterology ward, she pumped at the antibacterial station on the wall and disinfected her hands.
The odor on the ward was repelling. The cleaner was buffing the floor in the corridor. Hot water and detergent rarely used in recent years; Sarah marveled at how the hospital was cleaned. Disposal wipes and throwaway plastic aprons, pumps on every wall for the hands of people visiting and the staff.
Clean sheets coming in and dirty bedding going out. A constant flow of dirt and gunk being removed. Her parents used to say that hospitals should smell like hospitals and would disinfect everything after a visit.
Today, the ward sister tasked her with doing observations. This involved going from patient to patient checking temperatures, blood pressure and oxygen levels. A job totally beneath her but the usual Health Care Assistant was off sick.
Sarah’s usual strategy was to avoid doing any of the grunt work. She loved the fast pace of the accident and emergency department when it was busy. Here, on a normal hospital ward, it was difficult to stay focused. Truth be known, time could really drag. She was looking forward to reading through patient’s notes whilst sat down at the desk with a cup of tea.
People interested her and rare cases especially so. Her father had a genetic mutation which affected his heart. It stopped him doing a few things in his life and he never liked to talk about it. As yet she hadn’t come across another patient with his condition, but she always looked.
It was a rare occasion when an opportunity for a break came up. Today the ward was busy after the weekend, with many of the patients unable to be discharged as they were still too poorly. Most of them were in bays, sharing facilities. Two patients had infectious viruses picked up whilst in the hospital.
These patients were quarantined in ‘side rooms’ with en-suites. Usually reserved for private patients. All attending staff had to put on protective clothing when delivering care to help stop transmission of the disease. There were three nurses for twenty-four patients. The nurses occasionally would argue amongst themselves, over who would answer the side room alarm calls, often leaving patients for more conscientious member of staff.
Sarah worked solidly doing the observations. At 11.30am, with a hot cup of tea in hand, she thought there was a chance of a break. Just as her bum hit the seat an alarm from a side room glowed on the nurse’s panel. Her eyes rolled up and her face followed, staring at the ceiling. She stayed like that just hanging in time until the alarm sounded again. Sighing, she gathered her cleaning garments, put on her PPE and tended to the patient.
The scene in the side room was devastating. The lady’s feeding tube had become kinked, and she was feeling very poorly. Her blood was flowing back from the cannula in her arm as her fluids finished some time ago. The patient had vomited over the bedclothes, soiled herself and was desperate to defecate again as she immediately indicated her need for a bedpan when Sarah entered. Coughing the lady said, between labored breaths,
“I’m sorry to be a bother love.”
Hiding her anger at a system which could leave someone like this, Sarah said firmly to her,
“You’re no bother at all darling, now, you just hang in there my lovely, for two minutes when I go and get the wheelchair to transfer you and we’ll get you all sorted. I promise I’ll not be doing anything else until you are all clean and comfy again. I’ll be straight back.”
Tears welled up in patient’s eyes and Sarah took her hand and told her not to worry.
It was gone lunchtime before she was finished cleaning the patient and room. Her phone bleeped indicating a call from Alexa. Seeing her Escort Agency’s name come up on the screen, Sarah excused herself, and took the call in the sluice room.
Alexa’s voice was deep and chirpy, with a heavy hint of her eastern European ethnicity.
“Are you well Sarah? Did you have nice weekend?”
“I’m well hun. I was working at the hospital over the weekend so I’m glad you didn’t call. And unfortunately, I am at work now so can’t talk long. Sorry.”
“You work too hard my darling. You should come and work for me full time, eh?” Alexa laughed. “But I won’t keep you. You’ve been requested…he wants only you. You must have made an impression last time. Hey?”
They spoke with each other for the next few minutes. Alexa told Sarah that the agency had been busy but with plenty of girls available at the weekends, she hadn’t needed to call. Sarah reminded Alexa again that she was at work, prompting Alexa cut the conversation and give her the details of the client.
Sarah noted the details. This client was a regular. She’d seen him twice and he’d seen other girls from the agency before they’d been introduced. He’d have asked for ‘Jennifer’ by name; Alexa always check that the clients first request was available before suggesting another.
Sarah’s escort name was Jennifer. Using false identities was an important element of working as safely as possible. One of the ways her agency, imaginatively called Alexas, kept the escorts safe was to encourage them to have a simple, clear back story to tell clients when asked about their personal lives. Alexa also arranged for them to have an anonymous full sexual health check once a year.
There was no special reason why Sarah had chosen Jennifer other than a likeness to Jennifer Anniston from American hit TV show, Friends. The escorts reasoned that by choosing a name of someone they looked similar to, someone well known, they’ll be remembered easier.
Even though she’d already seen him, Sarah felt compelled, for security, to type his name in her phone,
‘Kevin Hargreaves hotelier’
Google quickly gave her pages with business information and marketing stories for his hotel brand. She tapped on the news tab and was relieved to see no news other than related to his businesses. Scrolling through Sarah found his LinkedIn account and Facebook page where she could see a basic profile. Yes, he was who she remembered.
Hiding her number, she called.
It rang twice before he picked up. She faked excitement at having heard he’d requested her. Telling him she was pleased to hear from him. They spoke briefly. Explaining to him she couldn’t really talk because her dad was in the next room, they kept conversation low. A blatant lie but one which helped to get many clients going. It was an easy lie to tell and could excuse the call’s termination at any time.
‘Never tell them anything about your real personal life’, was the advice given her, and it seemed like common sense for Sarah to heed it.
The call was short. They flirted a little. They arranged a meeting for the evening. Kevin asked her to wear something sexy. He would send her the address of the hotel and room number later when he knew where he was. This client had spent some time, during their last meeting, telling her how many hotels he had at his disposal. He’d bragged that his wife’s family had been in the hotel trade for centuries, building the business from several smaller guest houses around London and the South East –To Sarah, he seemed obsessed with the status of his wife’s family. ‘Jennifer’ had listened intently to him. With big hero-worship eyes, and her wet mouth, she’d made him feel like he’d achieved something.
Returning to her hospital work she continued with her duties. She was hoping to clear a £100 from him tonight and smiled at the thought of being able to pay the council tax bill without going overdrawn. Her afternoon was spent checking that each patient due for discharge, either to their home or care facility, had the relevant paperwork and medication.
The monotony of form filling was only broken when there was missing information, or she found a mistake. As staff Nurse, she could then hunt down the information and doctor to correct it. Sometimes chasing them down literally down the corridor. She concentrated, tutting to herself, flicking through the files, shaking her head as she corrected and added any missing information that she felt, was important.
Sarah liked to think it was because they, the agency staff, didn’t have time, but she knew some people were grafters and others not. Some staff were great with the patients and others not so. She knew nurses and doctors with severe versions of OCD. They didn’t like to go near the patients in case they caught something. However, those same people could be truly gifted with a pile of paperwork. It was unrealistic to think all staff would have the same skills or behavior.
The staff room, at tea break, was quiet. Cakes had been left on the table by someone who had a birthday as was the hospital tradition. Sarah made herself a cup of tea, took a French Iced bun and put her feet up. Her mobile bleeped. Alexa was calling again. Her heart sunk as she thought it could be the client cancelling.
But it wasn’t that. Checking to see if Sarah could talk, Alexa went on to asked her if she could see another client, saying that this one was easy. A gentle gentleman who was into female company and pampering rather than the usual of taking or giving a pounding. Alexa made John sound nice, so she agreed. It would be easy enough to fit them both in.
John Smith was not his real name and Alexa had been clear, no security search needed to be done so Sarah checked the corridor outside the staff room was clear and made the call – she already liked the sound of him. He answered the phone immediately, sounding gentlemanly and didn’t asked any crude, coarse questions, for which she was thankful as Nasser’s nephew, also a doctor, was hovering nearby.
Sarah chatted with John for five minutes. During which he conveyed lots of information to her. He confessed to loving women’s clothing and told her he wore dresses but wanted to leave that for another day. He asked her if she thought that he sounded weird.
“Of course not, it’s not weird. You are not hurting anyone.” She told him, with her hand in her mouth to stop herself. It wasn’t that she thought him perverted, it was just unexpected.
He asked her if they got on with each other and enjoyed each other’s company, would she accompany him to a private club? She responded as quietly as she could that if it were absolutely private and her Daddy wouldn’t find out, ‘Yes’. He laughed. He told her that he liked her answers.
They arranged to meet at the Premier Inn in Watford town center at 7pm before saying goodbye. This arrangement would leave her enough time to get to Kevin Hargreaves for the later appointment.
Stepping back on to the ward, Sarah helped patients with showering and dressing, and organized for three to be discharged. Feeling in a great mood, she gave them the full works by pushing them in wheelchairs to their transport and passing them feedback forms before they travelled off, feeling happy and cared for.
On her return she found three new patients to admit. They had barely time to change the bedding and wash down the bays. One had been in A&E for the night and was exceptionally tired but was queried as having dementia. Sarah spent the last two hours of her shift asking SAS style questions to an elderly, weakened woman to see what she could remember before the hospital would admit her and let her rest.
This was one of her more difficult jobs and seemed unnecessarily cruel and time consuming. In her experience, the onset of dementia was intermittent and being able to answer and remember questions at one time did not mean they could do so another. However, the checkbox care system of the NHS stopped for no one, not even common sense.
She thought about her evening’s appointments. ‘A means to an end’ she’d told herself, on many an occasion. The money was helpful, it had become hard to imagine life without it. There was a long-term goal. She wasn’t being silly with it when she earned it. It was to help her get qualified properly as a Sister or Ward Manager. At six o’clock she finished off on the ward and headed back to the locker room.
She slipped off her shoes placing them in the locker and put on her slightly damp trainers. Pulling out her coat, she slipped it over her shoulders, leaving it unzipped, before she checked her reflection in the locker door mirror. She put on lip gloss, blew herself a kiss, locked up and listened to her stomach gurgle as she walked back towards the station.
Knowing she would be short of time, she ordered a subway from the concession within the hospital and ignoring other passengers hungry eyes, munched it hungrily on the train. A delay at Kings Cross made her panic that she’d be late, and she found herself running up the stairs rather than joining the queues of commuters waiting for the escalator.
She realised that she needed condoms so shaking the cringe away, she walked from the station via the chemist to get a packet of twelve for the evening. Usually, she tried to use a different chemist each time, being paranoid that they would wonder why she used so many. Today it had to be the local, so she fronted it out with plenty of eye contact and a smile.
The chemist was a tall slim elderly man with grey hair and black glasses. He put the condom packet on the counter and Sarah paid using contactless payment with her phone. The chemist smiled at her when she requested a paper bag.
“Yes, of course” He said, his hand stroking hers as he passed over the package and she made a mental note to buy them online in future and to always have them spare.
Sarah waited until she was inside the security of her flat before calling Ted. She arranged for him to collect her and told him vaguely where they were going. He agreed to pick her up around the corner from her flat so it would appear to her neighbors that she was heading out to the station, as if for work.
Ted was the agency driver. Ted’s job was to pick her up and take her to the client’s hotel. As her security and her ride Ted was essential and as such, he took a third of her earnings. Alexa also took a third and Sarah was left with a third. Her expenses usually amounted to the cost of underwear, stockings, condoms, and wet wipes.
Sarah ran the bath and signed in online to Ground Rush to collect the resources which had accumulated over the day. She added a few friends to the brotherhood’s chat room and explained that she wasn’t going to be around that evening. Her explanation of a night shift was accepted without question. She felt a little guilt at not chatting.
Her online persona in gaming had helped her mourn the loss of her parents. It was one of the things she did which did not remind her of them at all. A social element that she needed. Gamers like to chat. Sarah had passed on the favour too. She’d sat there listening to strangers sitting on the other side of the world talking about their woes. She’d found common ground across the miles and helped as much as she’d been helped.
She set up the game board for the day’s battles, placed the members of the brotherhood on the battle grid, saved her warriors and logged off. Doing this early meant that the rest of the brotherhood had time to get their squads ready for tomorrow’s battle.
Ground Rush was a lot of preparation, but Sarah loved leading her brotherhood. She loved the rules, strategy and loyalty of the gaming community.
Stripping off and jumping in the bath she worked quickly. Shaving her legs, under-arms and all her pubic hair except a small love heart shape patch above her clitoris. She used moisturizer and deodorant but no perfume. This was advice from Alexa.
Perfume lingers on everything including bedclothes. Many of their married clients didn’t like the smell clinging to their shirts or trousers as it put them at risk of being caught.
Looking in the bathroom mirror Sarah stared at her reflection. Seconds passed, she stayed there, just staring into her own pupils. Then she opened her mouth wide,
“Whore.” She mouthed silently at her reflection before drying her hair, without products. Putting in two small crystal earrings and minimal make up she checked her reflection in the mirror as she stepped into a black jersey stretch dress with sharp grey contouring.
The dress clung to her athletic body and accentuated her curves. Being ‘slim with bumps in all the right places’ was how Sarah described Jennifer on the phone to the clients. She wasn’t lying; blowing a kiss at herself in the mirror, she slid her feet into her trainers, careful not to ladder her stockings and put her shiny court shoes into a carrier bag inside her briefcase.
Deciding on hair up for this evening’s meet up, she teased it up with a comb and held it with one clasp. Aiming for the sexy, sultry and seductive look with an office vibe. Her clients usually loved her professionalism and her returning trade showed how much the clients enjoyed her style as well as her privates.
Sarah would have freely admitted to anyone, that occasionally she enjoyed escort work – but then occasionally most people do, regardless of what they did for a living. As a job, it was like any other in that respect. As a prostitute, she had to take the rough with the smooth generally but there were unwritten rules and guidelines designed to keep them safe.
Her clients this evening, John Smith and Kevin Hargreaves, one known and the other unknown but apparently trusted were still strangers. Sarah knew Kevin was well off, as were many of her clients. He was married with two children. She assumed his libido and his wife’s were now mismatched. Charging £150 for the hour she’d meet with John, clean up and then Ted would drive her to Kevin who’d provisionally booked her for a two-hour slot.
Escorting was solitary, strange work that suited her. It was a job that someone ‘willing’ could earn decent money. It was work she could organize around the nursing and studying. It made sense to save for next year’s books, equipment and living costs. The escorting was a win-win situation. The rent on her flat in Turnpike Lane was ridiculously high. Trying to save for next year, on her student nurse salary, wasn’t possible.
Since losing her parents it was important to focus on a target in the future. It was so easy to think there is nothing to live for, nothing to strive for, no one to please or disappoint. There were many things she wanted to do and felt that she could. Her hand went up to the necklace at her throat, a reminder of her mother.
Since deciding to study medicine Sarah learnt how to bury the grief. She’d also seen how appallingly the national healthcare system worked from the inside. She’d suspected her parents died unnecessarily young but was told by their doctor that it had been what they had wanted. Data protection hadn’t allowed the doctors to tell their only daughter that they had verbally expressed a desire to end their own lives.
Remembering how much anger she’d felt that they’d been left without emotional protection, Sarah felt that patients diagnosed with terminal conditions should be given more support. It is a secret ambition of hers to help change the way mental health patients are managed. Most people with ‘end of life conditions’ feel depressed, they need help and support with this part of the illness but are often ignored or given inappropriate antidepressants.
Becoming a nurse was her way of doing something positive after the tragic event – this event that was out of her control. Finding her parents, dead, cuddled together, was devastating. Not able to look after themselves or each other and especially not wanting to be a burden on Sarah, they had taken their own lives.
The shock of finding them had put a white streak in the front of her hair in the nightmare filled days that followed. She looked at it in the mirror now. It looked like she had employed a talented colorist to add an expensive block of drama. Sarah toyed with the streak of white hair, her mood saddening.
The phone bleeped, reading the screen, She straightened up and grabbing her briefcase and keys, left her flat. She quietly made her way to where Ted was waiting around the corner.
This is the first chapter of Revenge is Best Served Cold by myself under my real name of Sam J Harris. I will publish the next chapter, already written, next Monday until the book is published.
It is the first novel of The Snap Trilogy.
All characters and interactions are fictional.
Thanks for reading.