Read Beautiful Losers: A Novel of Suspense Online
Authors: Eve Seymour
Tags: #beautiful loser, #kim slade, #psychology, #mystery, #mystery fiction, #mystery novel, #suspense, #thriller, #kim slade novel
Beautiful Losers: A Novel of Suspense
Â© 2016 by Eve Seymour.
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To my husband, Ian Seymour,
for his unfailing support and love.
This novel represents a big departure for me. It's the first time I've written with a female main protagonist in eight years and, although I've never been stalked in the criminal sense, I once had cause for concern when I discovered an admirer sleeping in my car outside my house! However, the true inspiration for the story came from a brief stroll through a shopping arcade in Birmingham, where I spotted a painting by Jack Vettriano entitled “Beautiful Losers.” Dramatic, sexy, and captivating, the picture grabbed me, and I couldn't help but stare in wonder. It explains why it has a “walk-on” part in the novel.
As ever, big thanks to my agent, Broo Doherty at DHH Literary Agency, who believed in this novel right from the start, and to David Headley for his support. I'm indebted to Terri Bischoff, Nicole Nugent, and Beth Hanson at Midnight Ink for their enthusiasm for the story. Nicole has a sharp eye for editorial glitches and smoothed out my occasional very “English” vocabulary so that US readers would not be bewildered.
Thanks also to Jason Metivier at Triumph, Cheltenham, for his time, patience, and technical know-how on motorbikes. Any mistakes made are mine alone. It must also be said that I couldn't have written the story without reference to
I'll Be Watching You: True Stories of Stalkers and Their Victims
by Richard Gallagher.
Lastly, and importantly, in a society that prizes beauty, it's not easy to write about disfigurement. Indeed, I have been warned that “it isn't very sexy.” Undeterred, I am indebted to Changing Faces, a UK based charity that gives support, encouragement, and information to people with disfigurement. Their website is well worth checking out and deserves support.
He knew in an
instant that something was wrong. He could see it in their faces, the way they looked at him, with pity.
The surgeon, a short man with a bald shiny head who carried too much weight for his size, closed his eyes. The rest of the team watched both of them with haunted expressions, the sense of collective unease palpable.
Someone coughed. A combination of phrases spilled into the room, disjointed, so that he was given the impression of listening to a master of ceremonies with a faulty microphone.
Unfortunately â¦ unable to correct â¦ difficult â¦ given the nature of the injuries.
He blocked them out, ignored the hushed tones and the traded gestures, focused instead on the
walls, the smell of surgical alcohol, the rotating blades of the fan.
Silence spread through the room like an uncontrollable forest fire.
They huddled together, wary, waiting for him to speak as if he were some oracle. He spoke, all right. He could barely control his anger.
“Things like this don't happen to people like me. Do you know who I am, for Chrissakes? Do you understand the fucking consequences?” His protest tumbled out in a jumbled heap, the slurred words falling from the gap where his mouth should have been. There was no pain. The morphine took care of that.
That's when he began to feel scared.
Perhaps it was the residue of the medication.
, he was still
, his concentration and coordination impaired. He had a nauseous sensation in his stomach, a hangover from the anaesthetic. Yes, that was it. Once he'd recovered, things would be fine. He couldn't expect miracles at this early stage. He needed time. That was all. They were probably talking to the wrong guy, the bad news meant for some other poor bastard. He voiced as much.
“I'm sorry,” the surgeon said, eyes open, his look direct. “There is no mistake.”
woman dressed in a white coat that failed to conceal her pregnancy talked about physiotherapy. She had a voice like a cracked plate and kept touching her face with her hands. Her feet, clad in sensible flat shoes, shuffled. Dead giveaways.
He lost all sense of time. People came and went. Meals were brought and removed. Anxious conversations burbled around him. Drugs administered. He was constantly checked, as if on suicide watch.
Finally, he asked to be left alone, insisted upon it. They shambled out, worried about lawsuits, he suspected, as well they should be. Very slowly he got out of bed and tottered towards the only mirror in the room. He'd always loved mirrors, photographs, anything that reflected his powerful good looks. And now â¦
His heart felt packed with razors of ice. Spots, like tiny tropical fish, darted before his eyes. He wanted to throw up. Oh Christ, he thought, stunned by his reflection. Oh Jesus fucking Christ.
A tight surgical cap clung to his skull. Tubes poked out from behind each ear. He turned slightly to the right, the
features bloated in a way that was not simply
. He was prepared for the bruising and swelling, but the skin on one side, where it was not discoloured, had the dead appearance of a waxwork. His left eye sloped and would not shut even though the lid drooped. The full lips had lost their shape and form and curved down in a permanent expression of disdain. A persistent ball of spittle hung like a cobweb in the corner of his mouth. He attempted a pose and failed, the message from his brain defeated by the catastrophic trauma to the facial nerve. And only months before he was at the top end of the face business in an industry dominated by colossal egos, fired by vanity and rewarded with obscene amounts of money.
His hands fled over his injured face but there was no sensation. It was of no consolation that only one side was afflicted. In fact it was worse, one half mocking the other. He tried to avert his gaze, but found himself riveted, compelled to look. In his misery he felt powerless to turn away from the monstrous, unforgiving reflection staring back at him. And always the permanent, sad reminder of how he used to be.
Someone once told him that the face was the centre of humanity, every emotion reflected there, in the eyes, the slant of the mouth, the density and colour and texture of the skin. All he saw was terror, a savage fear of being ugly in a society that prized beauty, a dread of being unloved and worthless in a world where youth, or the appearance of it, was king.
They'd told him his injuries could be corrected. They'd said his new look would
his career. After all the allegations, all the bad publicity, it was his chance for a
start. Like a fool, he'd believed them. He'd
Fury and frustration built inside. He wanted to smash up the room, to shatter his reflection, to tear down the walls. He could do it. He still had a powerful body, beautiful even. But he no longer had a face to match. Tears flooded his eyes. His throat wrenched open with dry sobs. Too late he realised how he'd relied on the eyes of others to define himself. Now he was one of the ugly people, the type of guy who it didn't matter how kind he was, how good a friend, he would never be admired and adored. As the light in the room faded, casting his face into pale luminosity, the rage, which had reached boiling point, cooled, and was replaced by a cold, ruthless anger. It nestled in his gut, stole through his veins, and flooded his poor aching heart. Just as well, he thought, because with
certainty, he knew that nobody would love him now.
“I look hideous.”
“In what way exactly?”
“Isn't it obvious?”
“No,” I smiled.
The young woman in front of me sighed in exasperation. “Look at my nose, it's huge. Everyone stares at it. My skin's a disaster, pitted and uneven. My eyes, well”âshe shruggedâ“enough said.”
I couldn't see much of my client's face. In spite of the July heat, a woollen hat obscured the brow. Dark glasses concealed her eyes. A hoodie, with the collar zipped up tight, hid most of the lower half of her features. Her GP's referral notes read
anxiety state/depression, abnormal concern with appearance/BDD,
or as it was known by its full name, body dysmorphic disorder, a condition defined as a morbid preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance. My working day usually revolved around women with anorexia or bulimia nervosa, both disorders highlighted by the patient's disturbed attitude to body image, which was why, even though the young woman sitting opposite suffered from neither illness, she'd wound up at the Bayshill Clinic.
“Would you like to show me, Lisa?”
“You'll be shocked.”
“How about you unzip your jacket?” I flicked a lock of blond hair behind my ear, wondering if she'd notice. She didn't.
My client nodded reluctantly. “See,” she said, defiantly sticking out her jaw. “I'm grotesque.”
I could only see a thick layer of
and nothing out of the ordinary about the texture of the skin beneath, apart from it looking a little reddened, either from repeated attempts to cleanse it or because of contact irritation with wool. If hypercritical, I'd say that Lisa's nose was slightly large in comparison to her mouth, but it was an extremely minor flaw by anyone's standards.
“Take your shades off for me?”
Lisa muttered a protest but, persuaded by another warm glance from me, did as she was asked.
Nice eyes, I thought. They were brown and
, not dissimilar to my own and I'd always thought my eyes were my best feature.
“Thank you.” I smiled encouragement, eager not to trivialise the young woman's beliefs. “How much would you say you think about your appearance?”
“Every nanosecond of the day.”
“Do you find you're constantly checking mirrors?”
“Any reflection, really.”
I made a note. “How long would you say it takes to put your
on? From beginning to end, washing, cleansing, moisturising, right to the last flick of
“A couple of hours, excluding the time I spend on facial exercises.”
“And taking it off?”
“An hour, maybe more.”
“So your appearance dominates your life. Would that be a fair description?”
The brown eyes glanced away. “I have no choice.”
“Have you always felt like this?”
“Even when you were little?”
“Can't remember feeling differently.”
I asked Lisa about her family.
“I've got a younger sisterâthe
one, according to my parents.”
“Do they say that?” I pitched forward a little. I didn't want Lisa to think that I was challenging her account. Nonetheless, she stiffened.
“I just know.”
I let it lie and made another note. “Has the way you feel about yourself interfered with other aspects of your life?”
“I can't go out, if that's what you mean.”
“So what do you do on your own?”
Guilt stole over her features. She averted her gaze.
“Do you look in the mirror?” I asked tentatively.
“Do you think the mirror lies?”
Lisa looked up and stared at me with hard eyes. “Never.”
“You sound very certain.”
“It's the truth.”
“What else do you do?”
“Take photographs of myself.”
I elevated an eyebrow.
“Fuck's sake, isn't it obvious? To work out how I can make myself look perfect.”
“Of course,” I said, as if I'd only just cottoned on to what she was really saying. “This obviously causes you a great deal of distress.”
Lisa's face darkened. “Sometimes I think I'd be better off dead.”
“Ever attempted suicide?” I deliberately kept my expression and voice neutral.
The young woman shook her head.
“You never think about it?” I persisted quietly. Outside, I was the professional. Inside, I was treading on finely spun glass.
“Only in an imaginary way. Not for real, I guess.”
“If you had one wish, what would it be?”
Lisa's face lit up with a broad smile. “Easy.”
“Easy?” I beamed back. “Go on, tell me.”
“I'd have surgery.”
Against every instinct, I maintained the smiley, upbeat manner. “It's a bit radical, isn't it? You're only nineteen.”
“Be worth it.”
“But it would still be the same you inside the skin.”
Lisa blinked. Her eyes lost their lustre and became strangely vacant.
“All right,” I said gamely. “Tell me how surgery would make your life better.”
She lit right back up. “People wouldn't stare at me any more. They'd like me. I could go back to university, finish my course, get a decent job. I could have friends, a proper relationship.”
“Do you reckon that people don't like you based on the way you look?” Without warning, something chimed deep down within me. I cut off the sound before it had a chance to reverberate.
“Get real. It's obvious, isn't it? If you look pretty, people think you're good. If you're ugly, like me, they think you're bad.”
“And what do you think?” I inclined my head, allowing the young woman a full view of the left side of my face.
Lisa leant forward then back, the gesture so minute only a
observer would notice. “That's different.”
“Is it? Tell me why.”
A knock on the door saved Lisa from explanation. Jane, the clinic receptionist, glided in with a mug of coffee and a brown paper parcel. “Apologies for the interruption, Kim. It came by courier for you this morning. Express delivery.” She placed the package on my desk. “Thought it might be important.”
I squinted at the label,
To Kim Slade
, and pushed the parcel aside. “I wasn't expecting anything.” Jane gave a mild shrug and left, quietly closing the door behind her. I sneaked a sip of coffee and returned to my client. “I think what we need to work on, if you're in agreement, is a way of disassociating values of good and bad from what you look like. We need to focus more on you, on who Lisa really is.”
“Me?” She looked appalled.
“What are your likes, dislikes, ambitions? What drives you, what turns you on? I want you to focus on all the characteristics of your personality that have nothing to do with how you look, and everything to do with what makes you tick. Think about your favourite colours, food, films and books, music, places you like to visit. Can you do that for me?”
“I can try.” She looked dubious.
I spent a couple of minutes outlining my proposals for next time and agreeing the number and frequency of future sessions. Firmly zipping up her hoodie, Lisa reached for her sunglasses with obvious relief and fled.
I put my notes aside, grabbed my bag, and was almost out of the door when I remembered the parcel. Padded, a label in the
, it sat squat and faintly accusing. Tough, it could wait. But, then again, it might be â¦
The thought scarpered. It would only take minutes to open, no harm in it. No harm at all. Nothing to worry about, I told myself.
Taking a pair of scissors, I snipped away the tape to discover a thick layer of
. Carefully unravelling the protective covering, I removed the object and stared at it, my own reflection gazing back in puzzlement and, yes, fear.
Oval, set into an attractive
surround, the mirror reminded me of something similar I'd seen in one of the
shops in Salcombe, Devon. I checked the wrapping for a note of explanation, or a clue about its source, but there was nothing. Sitting back down heavily, the leather of the chair let out a squeal of protest.
Heat fled across my cheeks. My mouth felt full of mud. A stuttering in my chest told me that my heart rate had suddenly increased. Sweat broke out above my upper lip and underneath my arms. Why a mirror? I tried to hang on to my rational self, the one I used for clients, the one I used for
Irresistibly drawn to the glass, I studied my appearance: dark eyes, full mouth, the way my
hair fell in layers down to the jawline, the better to conceal the pink puckered skin on the left side of my face. Apart from a couple of memorably humiliating incidents, I didn't generally find my disfigurement a stumbling block. Okay, so I never got
treatment from passing handsome strangers, which was fine by me but, generally speaking, once I got to know people, men seemed fascinated while women viewed me as less of a threat. I let out a sigh. Who was I kidding?
It was a weird irony that, in spite of the fact that most of my clients were young women, the female of the species had always felt like tricky terrain for me. Sure I had girlfriends, two of whom I counted as pretty close, but somehow I'd always had to make more effort in my every day dealings with the “weaker” sex. Let's say friendship didn't come naturally to me. I had to work hard at it. It wasn't rocket science. Boring textbook stuff, really. As in many things in life, it came down to my unusual upbringing.
“Fuck it,” I cursed out loud, slinging open a drawer in my desk, shoving the mirror inside, slamming it shut.
I tore out of the consulting room. Thank God I was meeting Georgia for lunch.