The Man With Green Fingers by Catherine Broughton - Read Online
The Man With Green Fingers
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Summary

When we meet somebody for the first time, we assume they are the person they say they are, but could we - and should we - look more closely ? Behind the normal facades of some people there lurk secrets they would kill you over...

Set on the colourful island of Cyprus, amid the British expatriate community, The Man With Green Fingers tells the startling story of three people. Painstakingly researched and crisply told, the author brings to light a bizarre situation and creates a story that will stay in your mind long after you have finished reading.
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ISBN: 9780957250246
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The Man With Green Fingers - Catherine Broughton

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THE MAN WITH GREEN FINGERS

a novel

by

Catherine Broughton

Copyright © 2012 Catherine Broughton

The right of Catherine Broughton to be identified as the author has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission and doing so may result in prosecution.

Published by ATLA (Europe)

ISBN 978-0-9572502-4-6

The Man With Green Fingers is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to person or persons is purely coincidental.

Cover illustration by Catherine Broughton

All rights reserved

Other books by the same author:

Saying Nothing

A Call from France

French Sand

About the Author

Catherine Broughton is British but was born in South Africa. Her father’s work as a doctor of tropical disease took the family around the world for many years, to include all over Africa, the South Pacific, Spain and Switzerland. Catherine Broughton attended London University where she did a BA (Hons) degree in French, and she later did a History (Hons) degree with the OU. She has been married for thirty-five years and has three children and two grandchildren.

Catherine Broughton’s childhood life of travel has given her a wanderlust that has never left her. She has travelled a great deal and her books reflect this.

She now lives partly in Sussex, partly in France and partly in Belize.

STELLA

Stella crossed over on to the shaded side of the street.

There was nobody about. The early July sun blasted down the Skipos avenue and beat against the whitewashed walls of the houses, their shutters closed against the heat, and that heat ricocheted off back in to the air which was heavy with post-luncheon sleep and thick with the feel and scents of Cypriot summer. Her hand-bag, laden with emergency-repair make-up, felt moderately heavy slung as it was over one shoulder. The elaborate scarf she had tied artistically around her neck, with a pretty little butterfly clasp to hold it in place was now limp, like a fading plant.

Although Stella would have enjoyed a love affair, she accepted with inherent patience that it just wasn’t possible. That was an advantage to being a bit older – age gives you wisdom, she thought, and she never minded her forty-eight years. Only the most unusual circumstances and only the most private and secure position would allow her to even consider a love affair; and while these conditions did not present themselves to her, there was no way she was going out to look for them. In fact, it could ruin everything.

It is odd, she reflected, as she made her way rapidly up the steep incline of the Panayia, how people relate everything to sex. Here in Cyprus, back in England, all over the world, all men relate all things to sex and many women do too. Her heels, unsuitable for the cobbled surface of the road, but worn with stalwart insistence, made loud clicking noises as she walked. Her ankles were slightly swollen from the heat in high heels and this made her smile faintly – women do have these problems to contend with, she thought. Sex, however, was not one of her problems. To be enfolded in the arms of somebody who loved her would be … lovely, she decided. But it wasn’t going to happen, so that was the end of that.

At the top of the Panayia the road turned imperceptibly and widened as it ran in to the October Square where Cyprus trees, tall like elderly dames in pale grey and green, stood in elegant silence and shaded the benches that were dotted around the monument. An old man lay on one of these benches, asleep, his mouth wide open, and a couple of flies buzzed around his face. Every now and then he raised a sleepy hand and flicked them away. A dark side street was adorned with flags and brightly-painted chairs under parasols. This was the Café Nious and, as Stella had hoped, it was open. It’s double glazed doors were ajar, offering a scene of a bar, empty but for the barman, Faydu, and an array of bottles and glasses on freshly cleaned surfaces. To one side was a radio from which emanated light music and on the shaded pavement – did the sun ever reach through in to this narrow little street? – a sign, painted in yellow and green, announced the name of the café and that English was spoken.

Everybody, but everybody, spoke English in Cyprus. Apart from the Turkish occupied northern area, and a few old folk up in the hills, everybody spoke English.

In fact, as far as Stella was concerned there were altogether far too many English in Paphos. I t was positively riddled with them in the new-build areas of town. Dangerous. So many of them was out-and-out dangerous, but it gave Stella a thrill each time she ventured out. Fooling the Cypriots was no where near as much fun.

Stella glanced at her watch. Another hour or so and the restaurants would empty out on to the streets. She’d need to be back in the safety of her own house by 1.00 – no point in pushing her luck. She never pushed her luck. Once the UK school holidays started in a week or twos’ time, Paphos would be chocker-block with tourists and she would have to go to the mountains and keep a low profile, something she was not good at doing. She was noticed wherever she went.

But even now it was pretty crowded on the seafront and in the seafront shops and cafes. The thought of the hundred upon hundred of British tourists about to invade the island filled Stella with a sensation of thrilling horror.

She bought herself a cold coke and sat down with her paper at the table next to an English couple. They glanced over at her momentarily. Soon, she would start a conversation, as women tend to, but first she would feign interest in her paper. She glanced quickly over the front page, then the second and third. There was nothing about Quin. The paper had been full of it for two days, an American murdered on the beach – unusual and shocking news that the local media whipped up in to a sensation, just for a couple of days. She had a momentary vision of Quin, his eyes popping open wide in astonishment and then his expression turning to disgust, utter disgust, just for those few seconds. She banned the memory from her mind. Even dead, Quin was worth no more. That was all. These things died fast. Lord knows, people don’t care, not really. Stella flicked through the pages quickly to double-check. It seemed to be over, that one. The police were hopeless. Just as well.

She was aware that she was doubtless wearing too much make-up, and on the one hand her make-up was a mask that hid her from the world, but on the other hand it attracted attention. She fell between two stools. Not beautiful by the wildest stretch of the imagination, but striking to look at, Stella liked to wear full skirts and high heels, fluffy blouses and lots of beads and bangles and huge jangly earrings. At five foot ten tall, she was in some ways larger than life, an angular kind of woman – yet very feminine with her huge floppy straw hat and big dark glasses. She always wore a hat or a scarf. Always.

Hello there, she said after a few moments, having meaningfully folded her paper and placed it on the table with a neat little slap, do I gather that you’re English? She was aware it was a vacuous question – everybody, it seemed, was English

Yes! the woman sat up straight, smiling over at Stella. Women on the whole loved to chat, Stella knew, especially when they were far from home and wanting to show-off about all the different holidays they had been on. We’re staying at the Hotel Macedonia, volunteered the woman, and you?

Oh, I live here, replied Stella with a slight flick of the hand. Her voice was deep and husky. Quin had found it sexy.

(Your voice is sexy, he had whispered in to her ear … Bugger off, Quin, you idiot. Leave me alone …..)

Really?! How wonderful!

Stella smiled encouragingly.

Yes, I love it.

All year? asked the woman, you live here all year, in this lovely place? Constant sunshine!

Well, not quite constant, but very pleasant, and for a split second, as was often the way, a picture of an English country pub slipped through the window of her mind, green grass, English flowers … The woman leant forwards again to speak:

Are you married to a Cypriot?

No, I’m not married. I was once – didn’t like it.

Goodness – how long have you been here? We’re toying with the idea of buying a property here …….

The woman was well-spoken. Stella judged her to be in her mid –fifties, good looking for all that, and her husband was tall and bearded and looked very strong. Instinctively Stella disliked him – he was everything Ashley was not. She loathed Ashley.

I’m Catherine, the woman volunteered, and this is my husband, Euan.

Have you found a property then?

No, Catherine put her hand on Euan’s leg, and he placed his hand on hers. At a glance Stella could see them clearly – smart house and smart car, probably three children, happy marriage ……. we’ve decided I think to look in Central America – Belize is so beautiful…….

Euan glanced through a guide book.

I’ve been here three years now – and intend to stay. Stella smiled pleasantly as she spoke, showing straight white teeth and encouraging a chumminess that sometimes crops up quickly between women of a similar ilk. She hoped she was of similar ilk, yet knew she was not.

And you – have you got children ….? Catherine now asked.

The slightest flicker of hesitation, the faintest trace of distrust ..… for less than a split second. It was well practised. Had the woman noticed? No, of course not, these women never do.

(We should have met years ago … could have made beautiful babies … Quin had said.)

No – no children. Stella smiled encouragingly to show that this didn’t bother her at all. "Never wanted them. Never liked them.

Stella enjoyed talking about the things that women talk about. It was all part of the thrill. Light chatter was essential to the very soul of her. In the winter months when there were few tourists about, she missed the chats she engineered in this way. She had uniquely Cypriot neighbours but there were other ex-pats in the next street. There was a young couple, very sweet, called Tom and Kirsty, who were here for two years. They weren’t married, but as good as. And there was a French woman by the name of Marie-Therese; she had been married to an Australian for twenty years, now divorced, and she spoke English with an ugly French-Australian accent that made her sound as though she came from somewhere in central Europe.

Now, suddenly bored with her companion and feeling that it was time to high-tail it back to her house, Stella finished her coke and threw the appropriate coins on to the table. As she rose she attracted the attention of the barman with a well-practised wave of the hand, and pointed to her table. She picked up her bag and newspaper.

Must dash, she cooed, giving a little twiddling motion of her fingers, have a lovely holiday!

Yes – thank you, but Stella was already gone, her heels clicking loudly on the paving and her full skirt billowing slightly against her long legs.

She made her way along the Lienioti and out on to the promenade where she turned left at the far end in to the medieval district. She walked quickly. She had never got out of the habit of glancing about as she walked, just in case there was somebody there, though she had recovered long since from the sensation of being followed. Sometimes she thought she could see Jeanie in the crowd, or Rob Ronson, or even Mike and Ollie. Sometimes, stupidly, utterly stupidly, she looked out for Ashley. Was it guilt that made her look about this way ? No, certainly no, she reprimanded herself. Just a natural curiosity mixed with a touch of fear; just a desire to avoid any conflict – if conflict there could be … which there couldn’t. After all, she would probably not recognize Mike and Ollie. And not one of them would recognize her. But she accepted that she would probably glance about this way to the end of her days. It didn’t bother her that much. One can get used to anything, she reflected. She could even have got used to Quin had the circumstances been different.

By the Via Strenno she loitered for a few moments, glancing in shop windows and mentally ear-marking things she’d like to buy. One thing she was not short of was money. It made her smile. If people knew! The money in the Bank of Athens was Real money – when she was alone, especially in those early days here in Paphos, it made her laugh aloud … great guffaws of laughter that bordered on hysterical, great trills of giggles that were loaded heavy with pleasure. Sometimes, in the solitude of her house, her laughter had seemed to her to be some kind of connection with the world outside her door … something to do with laughing with other people, almost as though she was rehearsing … for she had never laughed with other people. Ashley had never laughed at all, that she could remember. She shook her head slightly at the confused thought.

The streets were still empty. A lame cat sauntered by. A garage door opened and a man appeared, jerked his head vaguely at Stella, and disappeared again inside a van. She was grateful that he didn’t try to speak to her. She couldn’t be bothered with it. It was far too hot and she wondered what had possessed her in the first place to leave the cool sanctuary of her house. Suddenly she longed to kick off her shoes.

At the church she turned left again and mounted the steep lane that led up to her house on the Eskrall. Here old stone walls on either side of the lane displayed their cascades of crimson and orange bougainvillea and lizards scurried across the stones, flits of thin shadow amid shadow.

Stella’s house was intentionally small. It was situated in the old part of town, not far from the port, firmly wedged between two slightly larger properties. Straight off the pavement, a heavy timber door painted in a cheerful green, opened directly on to a large courtyard. Glancing quickly at her red mini which was parked in its habitual place just outside her gate, Stella stepped quickly over the threshold and locked the door again behind her. The courtyard was overlooked only on one side, and this was by a small lavatory window in the house to her right. It was of primordial importance to her that she be not overlooked and it had been a deciding factor in choosing the house. Some would have argued that she would therefore have been better to buy a property way out in the middle of nowhere, but she – like many women – didn’t want to be alone, and adored the hustle and bustle of life in a town like Paphos.

Dotted all around the courtyard, and arranged on tiered platforms of various sorts, were potted plants, mostly geraniums in garish pinks and reds, some hibiscus and an assortment of marigolds. A lemon tree, with the first tight green fruits appearing, stood to one side by an old stone well, and on top of the well – which was not in use – was a small collection of succulents in several different shapes and sizes and positioned in colourful clay pots that looked as though they might have been decorated by a child. In direct juxtaposition to these were a couple of exquisite miniature Japanese trees, like fragile creatures reaching out delicate arms amid the butch brassyness of the succulents. More bougainvillea grew up the southern wall, spreading itself along and under her bedroom window, a parapet of fragile pink. In the shade was a small circular timber table, painted in the same jaunty green as the front door, and a couple of chairs of the same colour. Under them spread the brick floor of the patio, swept and brushed and set out in a hap-hazard herring-bone design that disappeared under the walls of the yard and the house.

A pair of elegant glass doors opened in to a sitting room with a flag stone floor. The room was not large but a huge mirror, bought at an antiques fair, adorned the opposite wall and threw the light about, giving the room a feeling of space. Inevitably, there was an aura of Turk in the room, with ornate furnishings and gold and deep red upholstery. It was not necessarily a style Stella liked or disliked; it was simply what had been easily available when she moved in. There was a pleasant smell of leather. More plants adorned a couple of low tables and the book case, set to one side of the window, displayed a catholic taste in literature that ranged from Zola to Zen and which covered topics as diverse as travel, cooking, music, woodwork and Latin. There were several books about beauty and fashion, also several about house plants.

Stella plopped her hat and bag down on the sofa and kicked off her shoes. She glanced inevitably at her reflection in the mirror, hating herself as she did so, and with one hand smoothed down the little hair she had. She had long since given up trying to get it to grow or to thicken and she was now almost totally bald. She never ever let down her guard till she was in the privacy of her home, and she didn’t encourage visitors. In bare feet she padded through to the kitchen, a long narrow room with a 1960s tiled floor and a colourful assortment of wooden shelves on which were stacked, gleamingly clean, bright yellow crockery and decorated glasses. Orderliness was the word that sprang to mind on entering her kitchen; even the container jars were arranged in order of height, the packets of food in neat rows.

She put the kettle on. Thousands of annual visitors from the UK meant a constant stock in the local shops of English tea bags. Fitted units in pale timber lined two walls, a simple gas cooker, a double fridge-freezer, some work surfaces and a spacious larder cupboard filled the rest of the room. On the walls hung framed prints of flowers, mostly brightly painted local flora. At the far end of the kitchen a plastic string curtain covered a doorway through to a small utility area and Stella now went through there and pulled her washing out of the washing machine and in to a pink plastic basket that sat at the ready to one side. While the kettle boiled she went out side and pegged it out – a few pairs of knickers, quite lacey and frilly, a pink nightie, two pairs of tights (she wouldn’t be wearing them again till October, she mused) – a few towels and a sheet, a very pretty blouse bought at Famagusta last year and a bra. She pegged the things out neatly, pulling them and tugging them lightly to avoid too much ironing.

She could have afforded a better house. But a small and inconspicuous house was part of the plan. Whatever else happened she didn’t want anybody to know. She didn’t think it would give the game away, but she didn’t want to attract unnecessary attention, least of all in that direction. Quin had fleetingly upset the balanced order of her life, but it had been short-lived, she had made sure of that. She was well pleased with the house, however, for it had two bedrooms upstairs, one of which she used as a dressing room, a spacious bathroom with a marvellous old-fashioned bath on lion’s paws, and a landing that was large enough to accommodate a wardrobe full of more clothes.

She never allowed visitors upstairs, but had anybody ever been upstairs in Stella’s house they’d have been flabbergasted at the stark change upon entering Stella’s bedroom: for the entire house was full of adornment – books, pictures, shells, mirrors, rather gushy curtains and upholstery, carpets and polished floors, rugs and wall hangings in reds and golds, jewellry boxes, hooks, hats and an entire world of organised disorder in every item of feminine paraphernalia possible. Except her bedroom: in her bedroom there was a single iron bed and nothing else. The walls were white, there were no pictures, no rugs on the floor, not even a lamp shade.

Downstairs, and leading off from the courtyard rather than the living room, was another room which she used as her office, and which housed her computer and most of her books. Again, this room was taboo to all visitors. Next to that a tool room-stroke-gardening-shed.

While the tea brewed, Stella nipped upstairs to her dressing room and put on a pair of short, if rather baggy, shorts and a floppy sleeveless T-shirt. She hung her dress up carefully. She loved her clothes and took great care with them. Then, her tea on a tray, she installed herself in the shade at her table, having first double-checked that her front gate door was locked. At this angle she could not be seen by anybody anywhere, not even from the neighbour’s lavatory window. She relaxed.

*

It had all been so easy, so amazingly easy.

Stella stretched luxuriously. Well, of course, not many people would have been able to do it. Very few would have known where to even begin. So from that point of view it was ridiculous to say it had been so easy. In fact, it had taken six months, slightly more. The planning had been meticulous. Every angle of every possibility was studied. Every scenario examined. She had had to be absolutely certain, could risk nothing.

And she had pulled it off. Brilliant. Quite simply, she was brilliant. She lay back in her chair, her head resting against the wall behind her, and closed her eyes against the sun. She could hear the small movements of a bird on the roof and the background sounds of the city beyond the confines of her yard walls. A satisfied smile crossed her face. She would rest here a while, then have a beer or two before changing