Hush Money by John Escott
Behind The Green Bird pub there was a big car park.
It was a busy pub, and every night there were lots of cars there. Tonight, there was a woman in the car park too. She stood in the dark behind a tree, watching and waiting.
Her name was Rosa, and she was twenty years old. She worked in a hotel six days a week but not on Mondays. On Mondays, Rosa did something different.
And today was Monday.
It was cold. Rosa pushed her hands into the pockets of her coat. It was a night for trousers, but Rosa wore a short skirt and nothing on her legs. That was important.
After a time a woman came out of the pub and walked across the car park to a blue Ford car. The woman was about fifty years old and she walked slowly. She sang quietly, with a little smile on her face.
‘She’s drunk,’ Rosa thought. ‘But she’s going to drive.’ The woman got to her car and put a hand on it. She wore a long green coat and grey trousers, and she had blonde hair. Very, very blonde hair.
‘Oh dear, my head!’ she said, then laughed.
‘That hair colour came out of a bottle,’ Rosa thought. She took a small bottle from her pocket. There was some red liquid in it and she put some of the liquid on her leg. Then she ran quickly round the car park to the blue Ford.
The woman opened the car door and half-fell into the driving seat. She laughed. ‘Oh, Dorothy Burns,’ she sang. ‘You’re drunk again!’
Rosa was now behind her car, crouching on the ground. When the car began to move back, she jumped to her feet and hit the car with her hand – bang!
The car stopped suddenly and Rosa fell down on the ground behind the car. She put her hand on the red liquid on her leg, and quickly put some of it on the back of the car.
Dorothy Burns got out of her car, and walked round to the back. When she saw Rosa on the ground, her face went white.
‘Oh!’ she cried. ‘What – what happened?’
‘My leg!’ Rosa said. ‘Oh, my leg!’ She began to cry.
‘But – but what happened?’ said Dorothy Burns. Then she saw the red liquid on Rosa’s leg. ‘Oh, there’s blood on your leg!’
‘Yes, because your car hit me, that’s why!’ Rosa said. She stopped crying, and began to look angry.
‘I – I didn’t see you behind me,’ Dorothy Burns said.
‘You didn’t see me because you didn’t look,’ Rosa said angrily. She stared at the woman. ‘You’re drunk!’
Dorothy Burns was suddenly very afraid. ‘I – I…’
‘Yes, you smell of whisky! I can smell it from here,’ Rosa said. ‘I’m going to call the police. Now!’
‘Oh no, please!’ Dorothy Burns said. ‘I’m very, very sorry, but not the police, please! Listen, I can help you. I can drive you home and
‘I’m not getting in that car with you!’ Rosa said. ‘You’re drunk!’
‘No!’ Dorothy Burns said. ‘Just one small whisky, that’s all.’
‘Oh yes? Tell that to the police.’ Rosa stood up, holding her leg. ‘What’s the number of your car?’
‘No! Please!’ Dorothy Burns said. ‘Not the police. Listen, I want to help you. Take a taxi to the hospital – I can give you the money for it. Go to the accident-‘
‘How much money?’ said Rosa.
‘Um… er, twenty pounds?’ Dorothy Burns said.
‘Fifty,’ Rosa said.
‘Well, how about thirty?’ said Dorothy Burns.
‘But I haven’t got a lot of money with me.’
‘Fifty. I’m calling the police now.’ Rosa took a mobile phone out of her coat pocket.
‘OK, OK,’ said Dorothy Burns. She got her handbag from the car, took out fifty pounds, and gave the money to Rosa. ‘Here you are,’ she said.
Rosa took the money, and walked away. She went down the street to her car, a small, white Fiat, ten years old. She sat in the car and waited for the woman to drive away. Then Rosa drove home.
On the next three Monday evenings, Rosa went to three different pubs. She waited for a drunk or nearly drunk driver to come out. Sometimes she waited two hours or more. Then she took out her little bottle of red liquid – and minutes later, there was an ‘accident’.
The drivers never wanted Rosa to call the police. They were always ready to give her money. Sometimes it was fifty pounds, sometimes a hundred. Once, a big fat man with gold teeth gave her two hundred pounds. That was a very good Monday.
The next Monday, Rosa found a pub in a street not far from The Green Bird. It was a very cold night, so she waited in her car. After an hour a man came out of the pub with a bottle of wine in one hand. He stood looking up and down the car park. Rosa watched him.
‘He can’t find his car,’ she thought. ‘He’s drunk.’
After a minute or two, the man began to walk across the car park to a big red Honda. Twice his foot slipped and he nearly fell. But at last he got to the Honda and began to open the door.
Rosa put some red liquid on her leg and got out of her car. She walked quickly to the Honda and crouched down at the back of it, ready for the ‘accident’.
Rosa quickly looked round. A woman ran across the car park – a woman in a green coat and grey trousers, a woman with very blonde hair. She had a camera in her hand.
Rosa stood up and began to walk away, but Dorothy Burns was quicker than she was.
‘Oh no, you don’t!’ Dorothy shouted. She grabbed Rosa’s arm. ‘You were at The Green Bird four weeks ago.’ ‘What? Who are you? What are you talking about?’ said Rosa. ‘I’m just going home. Let go of my arm!’
The man with the wine bottle in his hand came round to the back of his Honda. ‘Hey! What are we doing, what’s happening?’ he said. His face was very red and his eyes were half-closed.
‘This woman took fifty pounds from me four weeks ago,’ Dorothy Burns told him. ‘She’s a fake. She gets down behind your car – and then says your car hit her! But it doesn’t! She does it to get money out of you. She says, “Oh, you’re drunk, and I’m going to call the police.” And because you are drunk and you’re afraid, you give her money to stop her. I did.’
The man looked at Rosa. ‘Wh-a-a-a-t?’ he said.
Rosa pulled her arm away, but before she could run, Dorothy Burns grabbed her other arm.
‘Look at her leg,’ she said to the man. ‘That’s blood on it. But why? How did it get there? She put it there – all ready for the accident. Your accident. Because in a minute you’re going to hit her with your car. And then she’s going to cry out, “Oh, my leg! My leg”. But nothing happened! She’s a fake!’
At last, the man understood. He stared at Rosa and his face got redder. ‘You little…!’ he said angrily. He pushed Rosa, and she fell to the ground. But before he could hit her again, Dorothy Burns pulled him away.
‘No, wait,’ she said.
The bottle of wine fell from the man’s hand. It hit the ground next to Rosa and broke. Wine went over her face and her coat.
My wine! The man cried. He looked angrily at the two women, then began to walk back to the pub. ‘Got to get some more wine,’ he said. ‘For my wife.’
Rosa stood up slowly and then began to walk away. ‘Wait!’ said Dorothy Burns.
Rosa laughed. ‘Why? I don’t want to talk to you.’
‘Oh, I think you do,’ Dorothy Burns said. ‘You see, I took some photos of you – when you were behind that man’s car, waiting. Interesting photos, they are.’
Rosa stopped, then walked back to Dorothy. ‘How did you find me?’ she said.
‘I went to a different pub every night. And waited in the car parks and watched. And here you are – doing your dirty little blackmail again.’
‘It’s not blackmail,’ said Rosa quickly. ‘He was drunk. And you were drunk too, that other night.’
‘But my car didn’t hit you!’ said Dorothy.
‘How do you know?’ said Rosa. ‘You were drunk!’ ‘No, not drunk. Just happy, that’s all,’ said Dorothy. ‘When I got home, I began to think. You wanted that fifty pounds – you wanted it very much. And I know all about blackmail. You see, I was a fake once, too.’
Rosa stared at her. ‘What did you do?’ she asked. ‘When I was a child,’ said Dorothy Burns, ‘my mother and father often went out in the evenings – to dinner, to their friends, to the cinema… They always got a babysitter in to stay with me because I was only ten years old. The babysitters were always girls, usually students, about eighteen or nineteen years old. They needed the money badly. Students always do. But I liked money too.’
Dorothy Burns smiled. ‘It was easy. At first, I was nice to them. Then I said, “I want half your babysitting money, or I’m going to tell mummy about you. I’m going to say things like this. You hit me. You put very hot water on my hands. You pull my hair. You put me in the dark…” These things weren’t true, of course. But the girls were afraid of my mother. She was famous, you see. She wrote books about children, and was always on television. And when she was angry, she wasn’t a very nice person. And so the babysitters said nothing, and gave me half their money.’
‘What a nice child you were!’ Rosa said.
‘No, I wasn’t nice,’ said Dorothy. ‘But some people get nicer when they get older. I don’t do blackmail now, but I know a blackmailer when I see one.’
She smiled at Rosa, and Rosa stared back at her.
‘What do you want?’ she said.
Dorothy Burns put out her hand. ‘I want my fifty pounds back, of course.’
Three minutes later, Rosa drove her little Fiat out of the pub car park. She was very angry.
Because she was angry, she drove very fast.
Two kilometres from the pub, Rosa’s car went off the road and hit a wall. She didn’t die, but she broke one arm, one leg, and hit her head badly on the car. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t get out of the car, she couldn’t get her mobile phone…
Two policemen found her in her car an hour later, and called an ambulance. Rosa’s face was white and she couldn’t speak. The policemen were not friendly.
‘I can smell wine on her,’ the first policeman said.
‘Another drunk driver!’ the second policeman said. ‘Why do people drink and drive?’