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True Stories of Partners in Crime
By Tammy Cohen
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2008 Tammy Cohen
All rights reserved.
THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST
Stephen Marsh and Rebecca Harris
Red marks were appearing on her inner wrists where the cord tying her to the bedposts rubbed against her pale, exposed skin, but Rebecca Harris hardly noticed. Besides, with the blindfold obscuring her vision, she couldn't see anything anyway.
Lying in the darkness, Rebecca felt her whole body tense. The anticipation was unbearable.
'Here it comes. You know you like it.' The voice was hoarse, teasing.
Rebecca took a deep breath, her ribcage rising sharply under the tight, black corset. And then she felt it. Sharp and cold against her goose-pimpled flesh, the blade of the knife was stroking her thigh, gently at first and then with increasing pressure. Her breath escaped in a low moan of excitement mixed with something else: fear.
'You love that, don't you?' Now he was running the blade along her arm and she could feel a trickle of blood running down towards her elbow. Then another sensation: soft, moist. His tongue was languorously licking it up.
'We could be together all the time like this, if you'd just do as I ask,' his voice, with its gentle South Wales accent, was gentle, but insistent.
'I'd do anything for you, you know that,' her words came out in a high-pitched rush, and she hated the note of desperation in her voice. Of course, he picked up on that right away.
'So why won't you do this one thing?' he was wheedling now. 'We could be together forever. Wouldn't you like that?'
Of course she would. Ever since she'd started her affair with Stephen Marsh eight months before, Rebecca Harris had wanted nothing else but to spend every moment with him. She'd done whatever he'd asked her, even going along with the cutting, the bondage, the whips ... enjoying it for his sake because this was what he wanted. But this was something else. And yet, if she didn't do it, he might leave her. He'd had other lovers before her, and she knew he'd have no problem finding someone else to replace her. He was so good-looking, so charismatic ... She didn't know what she'd do without him.
As if he was reading her thoughts, he stepped up the pressure.
'I love you, you know that. I just want us to be together all the time, the way we're meant to be.'
He was saying all the right things, all the things she longed to hear.
'And we could be – if only you'd do this one thing for me. If only you'd kill my wife ...'
Of course he was married. The good-looking ones always were, Rebecca thought, eyeing up Stephen Marsh at the Swansea Directory Enquiries call centre where the pair were working. Youthful-looking for his 36 years, with dark hair and blue eyes that, when he fixed them on you, made you feel as if you were the only person that mattered ... All the women had a soft spot for Stephen. Anyway, rumour had it that he took his marriage vows with a large pinch of salt, enjoying a series of girlfriends on the side.
Well, good on him! That's what Rebecca thought. Married herself for nearly five years to a man forty years her senior, she had had plenty of time to dwell on the drawbacks of monogamy. Looking back on it, she couldn't imagine what had possessed her to agree to marry Ronald Harris, who'd been 65 when they walked down the aisle. With the bride just 25, he'd been old enough to be her grandfather.
Of course, the security had been a big factor, particularly once she'd got pregnant with their 5-year-old son – Ron had been a reasonably successful businessman and the couple led a comfortable life. But the age gap was always going to be a problem, and as the marriage went on, Rebecca found herself more and more resentful of her OAP husband and flying into increasingly violent rages. Their frequent rows were bitter and full of venom and vitriol; she was left shaking with anger. No, marriage was not an institution Rebecca Harris held in high regard.
'You're gorgeous, do you know that?' Stephen Marsh's twinkling blue eyes locked onto hers and, to her annoyance, she could feel herself blushing.
'Fancy coming for a drink with me after work?'
Rebecca could hardly bring herself to meet his gaze. She'd heard the expression 'undressing you with his eyes' before, but she'd never actually known what that meant. At least until now.
'I'm married,' she muttered, the fingers of her right hand furiously twisting the wedding ring she'd come to despise.
'That's all right,' he grinned. 'So am I!'
Over that night and the weeks and months that followed, Rebecca got to know all about Stephen Marsh. She knew he'd been married for 13 years to a Sikh woman called Jaspal that he'd met while working for the Ministry of Defence in London. Jaspal's strictly religious family had never approved of him, he'd told her. Neither had they liked the fact that the couple left the MoD to run pubs. That's why they'd ended up coming back to Swansea, Stephen's home town.
Of course, when he was telling this story to Rebecca, Stephen left out the part about Jaspal being fed up with him flirting with all the female customers and the girls working behind the bar. And how being around alcohol all the time caused his drinking, always prodigious, to get completely out of control. But then, as Rebecca would learn for herself, Stephen Marsh was very proficient at manipulating the truth when it suited him.
At first when they'd made love, Stephen had been a caring and affectionate lover. Invariably it had happened at the smart house he shared with Jaspal on an executive housing estate in Gorseinon, West Swansea, on the site of an old colliery. Understandably, Rebecca had been nervous at the beginning. Even though Jaspal had a demanding job at an insurance company in the city centre which kept her out of the house for long hours, the place still bore another woman's stamp. When the Marsh's old dog, Bwbach, gazed up at her, Rebecca couldn't help detecting a touch of reproach in her big brown eyes. No wonder she had found it hard to relax, jumping every time she heard a car door slam outside. But Stephen was so sexy and so full of confidence that nothing would go wrong that Rebecca soon lost her initial nerves and began to enjoy their sessions.
It felt so good to have a younger lover again, someone whose lithe, taut body and sexual stamina more than matched her own. She loved looking at him naked, devouring him with her eyes so that she could recreate every detail in her fantasies when she was once again back home with Ron.
But rapidly, Stephen's sexual demands began to change. He became rougher in bed, less focused on her and more on his own pleasure. He started calling her a whore and asking her to dress up in fetishistic clothing. Sometimes he'd even slap her about. But then in the next breath, he'd be so loving, so tender that Rebecca would feel as if her insides were melting. Anyway, by that stage, she was in love and determined to do everything she could to keep her man and make him happy.
So she bought a whole selection of black fetishist-style underwear, which she'd cram into a bag and bring into work on the days when she knew she was meeting up with Stephen. And she repeated back the words he wanted to hear. 'I'm a whore,' she'd groan, knowing how it turned him on.
At first, though, when he'd brought up the subject of using a knife during sex, she refused to listen.
'You want me to do what?' she'd shrieked, unable to believe what she'd just heard.
'I want you to cut me. Just a little bit,' he'd repeated. 'Then you lick up the blood. Don't worry, it's nice,' he'd assured her, seeing her disgusted expression. 'It's a real turn-on, you'll see.'
'No way!' had been her initial response. But, as with so many things, when he'd persevered enough, she'd eventually given in. There was just something about Stephen that made women want to do what he said, even when it went against everything they'd previously thought about themselves. He was that kind of guy.
To her surprise, Rebecca found herself not only using the knife on Stephen, but letting him do it to her as well. The first time she'd been terrified, and then angry. He'd promised only to cut her once, but then he'd launched into a kind of frenzy, slicing the blade across her skin, again and again.
'I'm not doing that again!' she fumed. But of course she had – she never could deny him anything for long. And he was right. It was a turn-on. Well, it was a turn-on for her to see how turned-on he was getting! Bizarrely, considering she was trussed up and it was her own blood that was trickling down her thighs, it gave her a feeling of power to witness his mounting excitement and to know that it was all because of her. It was just more proof, she decided, of how much they loved each other. If only they could be together all the time; if only they didn't both have to go home to other people at the end of the day, she thought.
'We could always bump them off,' joked Stephen, after another discussion about their respective spouses and how wonderful it would be if they didn't exist. But when he started to bring the subject up again and again, Rebecca began to wonder whether he really was joking after all. Sometimes it was so hard to tell with Stephen.
'We'll kill Ron,' he'd tell her, enthusiastically outlining some plan for doing away with her ageing husband. 'Then I'll divorce Jaz and we'll be together.'
But the next time she saw him he'd have changed his mind about getting divorced. Why should he give up his flash home and yuppy lifestyle? No, they'd kill Jaspal instead.
Rebecca's answer was always the same. 'Stop messing about, Steve,' she'd say, annoyed that he was wasting the precious time they had together with more of his ridiculous plans. But increasingly, Stephen wouldn't be put off.
'I thought you loved me,' he'd snap at her, his eyes suddenly cold and devoid of any affection.
'I do,' Rebecca would stammer, desperate to see the tenderness return to his now-icy gaze.
In the pub after work, or in the car driving home, the conversation would inevitably turn back towards the same subject. Now he'd dropped the talk of killing Ron and his focus was entirely on Jaspal – and how good life could be if she was out of the picture.
'I just want us to be together,' Stephen would say, giving her the full force of that 'special' look that made her forget about everything else in the world.
Things became so intense that Rebecca would almost dread being alone with him, although, paradoxically, this was also what she most craved. Their embraces were still passionate, burning with the heat of the emotions both were having to suppress at home, but now there was an undercurrent of tension that hadn't been there before. During their brief, but fiery relationship, Rebecca had denied Stephen nothing, but now she was holding out against him. And it was driving them apart.
Rebecca grew desperate. By now she'd realised her marriage was over. She could never go back to being satisfied with Ron after she'd been with someone as wild and exciting as Stephen. By now, her marriage was beyond saving; she'd well and truly burned her bridges at home – and if she lost Stephen as well she'd be left with nothing. She'd only known him a few short months, but already life without him was becoming unthinkable. She had to keep his interest.
Their love life became even more extreme. Now Stephen would slap her during sex, shoving her around roughly, and she readily went along with it, even when he filmed everything on his mobile phone. But now it wasn't enough. Rebecca could feel Stephen slipping away.
'OK, I'll do it!'
The words came tumbling out before she had time to register she'd said them. And it was worth it for the look on his face. Suddenly the adoration of those early days was back. He was so happy with her again, so in love. Besides, she told herself, it wasn't as if they'd actually go through with it. Lots of people kidded around about killing off husbands or wives, but it didn't make them murderers. Probably Stephen would forget all about it now that he'd got her to agree. He was drinking so heavily by this stage, it was hard to tell how much of what he said was coming straight from the heart and what was straight from the bottle. Maybe all along this had been some sort of test to see how much she loved him.
But Stephen was like the proverbial dog with a bone. Now that Rebecca had said she'd help him kill his wife, he wanted to talk about details. What was the best way to do it? When? Where?
Early on, he ruled himself out of the actual murder. They always suspect the husband first – anyone who'd ever watched a TV police drama knew that. No, he'd have to find himself a foolproof alibi out of the house while Rebecca took care of Jaspal. No one would ever link her to the killing – she'd never even met Jaspal.
'We'll set it up to appear like a burglary that went wrong,' he explained, excitedly.
With a growing sense of unease, Rebecca listened to his plans unfolding. Now that she'd said she'd do it, she couldn't back out – well, not without losing Stephen anyway. But then neither could she go through with killing someone. It was preposterous. All she could do was hope that Stephen tired of the whole thing before she had to break it to him that she was pulling out.
Jaspal Marsh glanced up from the TV at her watch: 10.30 and Stephen was still not home. No doubt he'd have another excuse ready – that he'd met up with friends, had to work late ... she'd heard them all a million times before. He must think she was really stupid. She cursed herself for not having listened to her family all those years before. They'd known he was no good for her, but she'd been so blindly in love that she hadn't listened to them. And look at the price she'd paid – thirteen years of watching her husband drink himself silly and flirt with other women, and who knows what more besides behind her back.
'I'm going to leave him,' she'd stormed to friends just a few months before. 'I know he's having an affair.'
But of course Stephen always denied it. 'Don't be silly. You know I love you, Jaz,' he'd tell her whenever she brought anything up.
And, to be honest, with them both working such long hours away from home, they were practically living separate lives anyway, so she'd never carried through her threat. But she knew who Rebecca Harris was. She even had her number logged in her phone. It was under 'B' for 'bitch'.
The knot of tension in Rebecca Harris' stomach was physical, palpable. It weighed her down, sapping her strength, getting in the way of eating and sleeping. Stephen was still not giving up on this murder plan; it was all he ever talked about these days. It was as if he'd casually pushed a cannonball over the top of a hill and now it was thundering down, gaining momentum all the time, and she had no idea how she could stop it.
'It's OK,' she kept telling herself. 'He'll change his mind at the last minute. And even if he doesn't, I'll just tell him I'm not doing it. There's still plenty of time to get out of this.'
If only she could just shift that knot in her stomach, so that she could get a proper night's sleep for once.
'It's all sorted. Everything's set up.' Stephen's eyes were unnaturally bright, his body practically crackling with nervous energy.
Rebecca felt a dull thud of fear somewhere deep inside her. 'What do you mean?' she whispered.
Stephen could hardly contain himself. It was as though someone or something else had taken him over. 'July 28th. It's a Friday night and I know Jaz is going to be at home. We've both got that work do and then I'm going to make sure I've got an alibi straight afterwards. I'll get Jas to leave the door open. You go into the bedroom and stab her in her sleep. It'll be so straightforward – you won't even see her.'
Now the mass in Rebecca's stomach had expanded until it filled her head, pressing down on her brain.
'I can't, Steve,' she faltered.
But then he was clutching her hands tight, his eyes boring into hers. 'Don't you love me, babe?' he was saying. 'Think of our future, you and me together. Do it for us! Don't you want us to be together?'
Of course she did. It was what she wanted more than anything else in the world. He was the first thing she thought about when she woke up and the last thing on her mind before she dropped off to sleep. But how could he ask her to do that, to risk everything?
But Stephen could tell she was wavering and so he stepped up the pressure, barraging her with calls and texts, painting a picture of the fantastic future they'd have once she was divorced from Ron and Jaspal was gone for good. He knew where Rebecca's weakness was – her little boy, and he shamelessly played on that.
'I'd bring him up like he was my own,' he told her, in a phone call. 'We'd be a proper family.'
For Rebecca Harris, who dreamed of starting afresh, this time with a match made for love, rather than for security, this was exactly what she'd been hoping for. They'd be together, all three of them, and her son would have the kind of lifestyle she'd never be able to give him on her own, or if Stephen divorced his wife.
Excerpted from Killer Couples by Tammy Cohen. Copyright © 2008 Tammy Cohen. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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