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Jim Harper

Jim Harp­er is a young man in big trou­ble. Last night he lost con­trol and did some­thing unfor­giv­able, some­thing that’s almost cer­tain­ly going to cost him his mar­riage, his home, his job… every­thing. He’s gam­bled every­thing he has of any val­ue, and for what? Anoth­er con­quest? A notch on some­one’s bed­post? But as Jim is about to realise, his prob­lems are only just beginning.

Warn­ing — this sto­ry con­tains strong lan­guage and sex­u­al references.

I’m in big fuck­ing trou­ble. I can’t believe what I’ve just done. Christ knows how I’m going to get myself out of this one.

There are mis­takes and there are mis­takes. There are minor indis­cre­tions you can brush under the car­pet, and there are fuck­ing huge mis­takes that you know are going to cost you big time and haunt you for the rest of your life. This is the biggest of all the fuck­ing huge mis­takes I’ve ever made. This is the worst thing I could have done.

I’m in a hotel room. It only took me a cou­ple of sec­onds to get my bear­ings after I woke up. I’m here on a course from work. This is only day two of five but the way things are going it could well be my last day in the job. It’s a quar­ter to eight and the first ses­sion of the morn­ing starts in less than an hour. I’ve missed break­fast but that doesn’t mat­ter. I couldn’t eat any­thing. I feel sick to my stom­ach. Prob­lem is, this isn’t my hotel room.

I’m keep­ing as still as I can, lying on my side and look­ing out of a crack in the cur­tains at a dull and rainy morn­ing out­side. I’m try­ing to work my way back through the events of last night, try­ing to remem­ber every­thing that hap­pened. We’re here for the week — Mon­day morn­ing through to lunchtime Fri­day. There are sev­en­teen of us from dif­fer­ent out­lets up and down the coun­try. We had a for­mal meal last night to break the ice and get to know every­one, then we moved into the bar. And that was where we stayed. I got talk­ing to a cou­ple of lads from up north, then I end­ed up with two girls who work in my area. I’d met one of them before, but I didn’t recog­nise her friend. Turns out she was Helen Hunter — the daugh­ter of Bill Hunter, my area direc­tor and one of the nas­ti­est bas­tards you could have the mis­for­tune to come across. My mis­sus, Chloe, works in his office.

And here’s where things get real­ly, real­ly fucked-up. I haven’t plucked up the courage to look yet, but I’m nine­ty-nine per cent sure this is Helen Hunter’s bed, and I’m equal­ly cer­tain that Helen Hunter is in it with me. Who­ev­er it is lying next to me, she’s just wrapped her arm around me and she’s kiss­ing my neck.

Don’t react. Keep calm. Just keep calm and get things in per­spec­tive. Am I com­plete­ly sure it’s Helen? I’m hav­ing trou­ble remem­ber­ing last night clear­ly. I remem­ber sit­ting in the bar with the two girls, drink­ing hard. I was start­ing to get to the stage where you know you’ve had a few and your body’s try­ing to tell you to stop. Some­times the beer plays tricks on you: the alco­hol sort of waits for a while, then creeps up and rush­es you all of a sud­den. I’d been fine all night but I knew hav­ing anoth­er drink would have been a mis­take. Thing is, I know I stayed for at least two more pints after that. One of the girls went to bed and I remem­ber being left there with the oth­er. It was def­i­nite­ly Helen. The rest of our group were long gone and we were the only two left in the bar.

We were hav­ing one of those con­ver­sa­tions where you start dis­cussing things you know you shouldn’t be talk­ing about, but you can’t stop. She start­ed telling me about her rela­tion­ships and sex, then moved on to her likes and dis­likes in bed (con­cen­trat­ing more on the likes). I start­ed to get more and more uncom­fort­able and, at the same time, more and more turned on. She was flirt­ing with me (okay, I was flirt­ing with her too) and I remem­ber think­ing I was going to have to try and be a bit more dis­tant in the morn­ing because we’ve got a whole week to get through togeth­er and I didn’t want to give her the wrong impres­sion. Prob­lem was, by then I’d already done more than enough, and what hap­pened next was inevitable.

I remem­ber us fin­ish­ing our drinks and leav­ing the bar. We walked through the lob­by togeth­er and went up to our rooms. We walked down the same cor­ri­dor and I start­ed to get jumpy because I thought she was fol­low­ing me. I stopped out­side my room and took out my key and she did the same with the room next door. She made some cheap com­ment about fate and coin­ci­dence and des­tiny or some­thing and I just mum­bled because my brain had stopped func­tion­ing prop­er­ly. I remem­ber think­ing that I should just go into my room, shut the door and go to bed but I was hav­ing one of those moments where my brain was try­ing to stay in con­trol but the booze and my dick had long since tak­en over.

Helen Hunter is a cheap (but fuck­ing gor­geous) tart with a rep­u­ta­tion for being a mar­riage-break­er and sleep­ing around. I kept telling myself to turn and run but instead of walk­ing away from her I walked towards her. She wrapped her arms around my neck and whis­pered some­thing filthy in my ear, can’t remem­ber what. I remem­ber smelling her per­fume and the booze on her breath, then feel­ing myself get­ting hard. We kissed. One kiss, then anoth­er, then anoth­er and anoth­er until we were prac­ti­cal­ly eat­ing each other’s faces. My hands start­ed to wan­der. I grabbed her back­side and pulled her clos­er. One thing led to anoth­er and … and that’s why I’m in trou­ble now.

It has to be said though, what I remem­ber of last night was damn good. She lived up to her rep­u­ta­tion. She was half-undressed by the time we’d made it onto the bed and I was com­plete­ly undressed sec­onds lat­er. The lights were full on and the cur­tains were open but nei­ther of us cared. All I could think about was fuck­ing her sense­less. There was no hint of pas­sion, just sheer lust. It felt like min­utes, but I remem­ber look­ing at the clock on the bed­side table at one o’clock, then again at two and then three. At some point one of us had turned the lights off and we’d final­ly fall­en asleep.

Despite the fact what I’ve done is wrong whichev­er way you look at it, it was bloody good. Just lying here think­ing about what she did last night is mak­ing me feel horny again …

‘It’s ages yet until the course starts, Jim,’ she says from behind me, her breath tick­ling the nape of my neck. She starts drag­ging her nails over my skin, just enough to hurt. Christ, she’s bare­ly done any­thing but she’s real­ly turn­ing me on. I should try to be strong and tell her no, but what’s the point? The dam­age has already been done. Might as well lie back and enjoy it ‘cause the shit’s going to hit the fan later …

Helen rolls me over and I look up into her face. She’s fuck­ing beau­ti­ful — an absolute gem. For a sec­ond it’s easy to for­get that I’m mar­ried and that the woman I’m in bed with is my boss’ pre­cious daugh­ter, because I can’t think straight. All I can do is react to what she’s doing to me. Now she’s slid­ing down under­neath the cov­ers, bit­ing my chest and lick­ing me and she’s not stop­ping there. She’s going low­er. I put my hands behind my head and lie back as she slides her­self onto me.

#

Quar­ter past eight. It’s over. The sud­den fren­zied excite­ment and lust has gone and all I feel now is pan­ic and regret. What have I done, and why have I just done it again? Helen’s grin­ning at me like an idiot but then, com­pared to me, she’s got noth­ing to lose. Chances are I’ve already lost every­thing. How the hell am I going to be able to look Chloe in the face now? After the last time I promised her this would nev­er hap­pen again. I mean noth­ing to Helen. This has just been a bit of fun for her. I’m anoth­er one of her vic­tims, anoth­er con­quest, anoth­er notch on the bed­post, and some oth­er poor bas­tard will prob­a­bly be tak­ing my place in this bed tonight. I should have known bet­ter. I knew what she was like. She’ll walk away from this with­out a bad word being said, and I’ll take all the flack. If Bill Hunter finds out then I’ve fuck­ing had it. I’ve prob­a­bly just thrown away my mar­riage, my house and my career for one night of sex. What a fuck­ing idiot.

What do I do now? She’s out of bed and I’m left lying here on my own, look­ing up at the ceil­ing and try­ing to work out how I’m going to blag my way out of trou­ble. Eas­i­est thing would be to grab my stuff from the room next door and do a run­ner, but I know I can’t do that. I can’t believe I’ve been so stu­pid again. This is def­i­nite­ly the worst yet.

She’s in the show­er. Despite the fact that we’ve just spent the night togeth­er and I’ve already explored every avail­able inch of her naked body, I feel embar­rassed now because she’s undressed. I try not to look but I can’t help myself and she knows it. She’s flirt­ing again. She knows I’m watch­ing, and she prob­a­bly knows what I’m about to say. She’s doing every­thing she can to put me off.

‘Look,’ I say, clear­ing my throat, ‘we need to talk.’

She doesn’t answer. I don’t know if she can hear me over the noise of the show­er. Most of the course del­e­gates’ rooms are on this floor so I don’t want to shout but I don’t have any choice. This won’t wait.

‘Lis­ten, I’m going back to my room now. I had a great time last night, Helen, but what we did was wrong …’

She peers around the side of the show­er cur­tain, mak­ing sure she shows more than enough bare flesh to make me lose my train of thought.

‘I’ll see you lat­er,’ she says. ‘Play your cards right and your whole week will be as good as last night.’

I try to protest. ‘You were great last night, but I made a mis­take. I’m sor­ry. We should just pre­tend it nev­er hap­pened and …’

She’s shak­ing her head. ‘Too late for that,’ she says, grin­ning. ‘You’re going to learn more in this lit­tle room than you will on the course. I’m going to do things to you that are bare­ly legal. You’re mine for the rest of the …’

She stops talking.

The expres­sion on her face changes.

‘What’s the mat­ter?’ I ask. Bitch is just play­ing with me again.

She’s rub­bing at her neck, ‘I … I can’t …’

She mas­sages her throat with one hand and grips the show­er cur­tain with the oth­er to keep her­self steady. Christ, she’s suf­fo­cat­ing. She’s try­ing to breathe in, but it’s like she sud­den­ly can’t get any air. She’s look­ing at me with wide, fright­ened eyes and I don’t know what to do. I just stand there. I can’t move. I want to help but I don’t know what to do.

Her legs buck­le and she falls, pulling the show­er cur­tain down with her. Her head hits the faucet with a soft thud that makes me feel sick. Now she’s lying in the bath, shak­ing and chok­ing, and there’s blood pour­ing out of a deep gash on the side of her head. It’s wash­ing down the plug­hole, mix­ing with the foam and run­ning water like some­thing out of Psy­cho. I turn off the show­er. Christ, there’s blood every­where. I need to get help.

I run to the bed to get my trousers. My legs are wet from the show­er and I can’t get them on. I trip over, then crawl around the room. I grab the phone and ring Recep­tion to get them to call an ambu­lance but there’s no answer. No one’s pick­ing up.

I’m stand­ing in the bath­room door again now, half-dressed, and Helen’s not mov­ing. I can’t bring myself to touch her. I have to do some­thing, but Christ, I think she might be dead.

‘Helen?’

I must be a real spine­less bas­tard. For a split sec­ond I actu­al­ly feel relieved because I realise now I might have a chance of sal­vaging some­thing from this mess. I can tell them I was in the room next door and I heard her fall down so I came in to help and I found her like this … But hold on, isn’t that going to make things worse? My clothes are in this room. And it’s not just my clothes, there will be hairs and fin­ger­prints and God knows what else all over the bed and prob­a­bly all over and inside her too. Fuck, what if they say I did it? What if they think I pushed her over in the show­er to keep her qui­et about what we’d done together?

Got to get out of here.

I grab my things off the bed and run to the door. I try and leave the room but then I see her body again and I stop. I have to help her, but I’m too fuck­ing scared. I run out into the cor­ri­dor, then stop because there’s anoth­er body on the floor. Jesus Christ, it’s a porter. I don’t want to get any clos­er to him. I can see his face and it’s all twist­ed and con­tort­ed with pain and there’s blood on the car­pet around his mouth.

There’s anoth­er body fur­ther down, just out­side one of the rooms. It’s Steve Jenk­ins from the Southamp­ton branch. I sat oppo­site him at din­ner last night. And there’s anoth­er on the stairs … one of the course tutors I think.

I can’t han­dle this. I go back into my room and pace around the bed, try­ing to make sense of every­thing that’s happening.

I can’t hear any­one outside.

I try the phone again but no one answers. Same with my mobile. I’m real­ly fuck­ing scared now. I’ll wait for a cou­ple more min­utes, then I’ll go and find help.

#

James Harp­er hid in his hotel room like a fright­ened child for hours before final­ly pluck­ing up courage to go out and look for help. The smell of burn­ing forced him to move. The hotel kitchens were on fire and the fire was spread­ing down the building.

He searched the rest of the hotel but there was no one else left. They were all dead.

THE AUTUMN SERIES