1. It was darker than he expected and it took him a moment to realise that it contained a log fire rather than sensible central heating. Obviously, it was one of those places that went for ambience rather than practicality. There was a jumble of tables that didn’t really match, one of which had a pile of newspapers on, apparently for anybody to take.
Sometimes when Servalan is introduced to boring people at parties she likes to tell them that she’s an estate agent and watch them try to think of something clever to say to that.
She is an agent and she does specialise in real estate, but her work tends to be a little more eclectic than that job title suggests. She locates what her clients need and she acquires it for them. Often this is a matter of simple horsetrading with a willing seller. Sometimes it isn’t. Either way, she’s good at what she does and she doesn’t give up until she’s done it.
There’s a corporate chain of fast food outlets that has decided to quietly diversify into the modern craze for coffee houses. The idea is to make them look like upmarket independent cafes and thus attract the anti-Starbucks crowd while benefiting from the low costs, cheap ingredients, low wages and zero hour contracts of the parent company. They want high turnover, good visuals and slightly quirky locations. They also don’t want any need for change of use applications; the less attention they draw to their ownership, the better.
The peculiarly named Liberator coffee house is one of six sites that she’s identified as ideal for the first wave. It's too small as it is at present but the space upstairs can be converted. The proprietor, one Roj Blake, is a sole trader which means no accounts available from Company House so she pays a contact in the Revenue for them and his PAYE records. The accounts look distinctly underwhelming. Either he’s no businessman or he’s significantly underdeclaring his profits. She goes to take a look.
The place is a shambles, overstaffed, badly maintained (she has to wait nearly five minutes while someone fiddles with the antiquated coffee machine), no menus, no opening hours on display. It’s poorly lit and uninviting and while it is clear that the regulars are comfortable (too comfortable- their laptops take up a table each while they buy nothing but the occasional coffee), even in the short period that she’s there a number of passers-by look inside and then move on to somewhere where ordering a coffee looks less difficult.
Sometimes these kind of places are fronts for something else. That's the next line of enquiry. Roj Blake turns out to be rather interesting. He's a left wing firebrand, into everything going, if not actually a communist then clearly a sympathiser. The electoral roll shows that he shared the flat above the shop with another man for some time, the land registry records that he inherited it on his partner's death. Owning both flat and shop outright goes some way to explain how he can survive on the paltry profits it generates.
Servalan's searches throw up something else, an old murder trial that Blake was involved with. She reads the details with interest. There's nothing there to immediately help with negotiations but she knows that knowledge is power.
On that basis she puts the names of Blake's employees through her not quite legal database as well. Somewhat to her surprise they all flag up positive for a variety of reasons. Too many to be coincidence or merely Blake's failure to pick up references. She goes back to the 'Liberator as a front' theory.
By now her investigation into Liberator is taking up a substantial amount of her time and a not inconsiderable amount of money and she hasn't even made an offer yet. That doesn't worry her. Going into a negotiation unprepared - that would worry her.
A week goes by, and another. She opens negotiations for the other sites. The guy with debt problems takes her first offer, as she knew he would. Two of the others are interested if the price is right. The remaining two don't want to sell. It's her job to make them change their mind.
Her enquiries on Liberator have turned up nothing more except a few political meetings out of hours. The staff with the colourful backgrounds aren't generally even there, just Blake. There's nothing criminal, nothing that's making any money. Eventually when even her normal resources are exhausted she is forced to conclude that it really is just a badly run coffee shop.
That won't make negotiations easier. She's met quasi-communists like Blake before. They like to think that running their little capitalist enterprises badly makes them into some kind of public service. People like that irritate her which is necessary to then conceal at least some of the time when negotiating.
Blake's history strongly suggests that he more likely to be gay than bisexual which removes a little of her natural advantage as well. It might be easier to find someone who Blake might listen to and work on them. She sends some people off to buy coffee and make observations. Unfortunately Blake's two male employees are particularly unimpressive specimens and he shows no indication of listening to either of them about anything.
Enough background. She will meet Blake, make an offer and see how he reacts.
She picks a quiet time to walk up to the counter. Blake is serving; he greets her with a smile. "What can I get for you today?"
"A few minutes of your time, " she starts confidently. "In private, if that's possible. About a business matter. "
He frowns at her. “Yes, I suppose so. Though I ought to tell you that I have a very good relationship with all my existing suppliers and we really don’t have the room for any new ranges at the moment.”
If he was another man, a businessman, that would be an opening negotiating ploy. Servalan suspects that Blake really would turn down a better supplier out of a sense of loyalty to the old one. No wonder his GPR is so dismal.
She smiles, deliberately. “I’m not hawking cakes or coffee, Mr Blake.”
“Blake,” he says. “Everyone calls me Blake.”
“Blake, then. My name is Servalan. Shall we?” She gestures towards the back and he moves rather reluctantly, calling one of the men- Vila, she’s seen the police mugshot- to cover the till.
They sit down in his office after he’s moved some of the heaps of papers aside. She takes the coffee that is passed back to them from the shop. Blake doesn’t ask how she likes it. She doesn’t like it. She sips it anyway because this is the time to be nice.
Then she starts on her standard introduction; who she is, what she does, what sort of clients she works for. It doesn’t take him more than a few sentences to grasp her purpose.
“I’m sorry,” he says, not sounding it. “You’ve had a wasted trip. Liberator’s not for sale for any amount.”
Just from the few words he’s spoken so far she can tell that Blake in person is about six times as pompous and irritating as his profile suggests. The idea that his scruffy little shop is priceless makes her laugh. He doesn’t look happy at that.
“That is just ridiculous,” she points out to him. “You could easily move premises. There’s the tea shop just round the corner; it’s recently refurbished to a good standard, has more space, more light, better customer facilities; it’s an improvement on this place in pretty much every way. I happen to know that the owners are looking to sell it for a little less than we’re offering you. I could provide help with the conveyancing- it is part of my job, after all. You could be out of here and in there in four weeks with minimal paperwork, no downtime, no change of name, no change of customers and enough spare cash to buy a coffee machine that works.”
He is noticeably bridling now. “I suggest that your clients buy your refurbished tea shop then if it’s so attractive, and leave me alone.”
“My clients aren’t concerned about the state of refurbishment. They intend to gut this place and start again.” She rather enjoys the wince that gets out of him. “More importantly, this street has the prospect of much higher footfall from the top end financial institutions further along. Not the sort of customers likely to come into this place at present, obviously, but a stylish modern refit will bring a significant upgrading of clientele.”
Blake stands up and pushes the chair away. He is a large man, she notices. “I think I’ve heard enough,” he says. “There is no chance whatsoever that I would sell Liberator at all, let alone to someone who would gut her and refit her to be some overpriced bankers’ clique.”
She rather enjoys the ones who take the moral high ground. It’s so much more fun to see them fall. “Your business,” she tells Blake, “is incompetently run and hopelessly unprofitable but fortunately for you it happens to be in a prime location. Sell it to my clients, then take your appalling decor, your antiquated working practices and your broken equipment somewhere cheaper. That way you will at least have some capital left over to subsidise your slow decline into bankruptcy.”
“Get out.” he says, not particularly loudly, “and don’t bother coming back.”
“It was a pleasure meeting you, Roj Blake,” she says. “I look forward to seeing you again soon.” Then she leaves.
2. A sudden disturbance at the door made him look up. A man had just marched into the room, followed by a very attractive woman with short hair. She appeared to be trying to argue with him about something and the man seemed to be ignoring her. An uneasy stillness rippled through the customers.
She goes back a couple of days later, when he’s had a chance to think about the prospect of having enough money to actually try to rescue his doomed enterprise. She doesn’t expect an invite this time so she slips in through a back door left open for ventilation and makes her way to the office herself.
Since Blake isn’t currently in there she passes the time by taking a look through some of the papers. There are no obvious smoking guns among them but there’s a lot of stuff that ought to be safely filed away somewhere. Some of it is quite old. Blake is not on top of his paperwork at all. Now there’s a surprise.
Blake arrives. He is not pleased to see her and he is particularly not pleased to see his invoices in her hand. Since that is the effect she was aiming at she is not too concerned about his anger. She tells him how much her clients will pay for the shop and flat above, since they hadn’t got round to actual numbers last meeting. He asks her to leave. She tells him some of her conclusions about the Liberator’s long term viability, or lack of it, based on the last three sets of accounts. He tells her to leave. She tells him that he will fail and Liberator will fail. He storms out, leaving her in possession of lots of elderly invoices. She contemplates taking the opportunity to look through them a bit more but decides that it is more trouble than it is worth, so she follows Blake through to the shop instead.
“Be reasonable, Blake. How long do you think that you can keep this place open? It’s a dream, that’s all. We’re offering you a more than reasonable sum – ”
“Which I choose not to accept,” Blake has an audience now of his staff and customers. It makes him even more belligerent. “This is my shop and I have no intention of selling it to you or your people so you can turn it into some soulless place. Now please leave my shop.”
So much for the quasi-communism. It never takes much to scratch the surface and reveal the bourgeois obsession with ownership underneath. Servalan can play to an audience too. It is time to start planting the seeds of anxiety, the suggestion that this will not be over. “Keep thinking Blake,” she said. “Our offer will drop as … viability drops. You may regret your decision.”
A few of the customers had applauded Blake, but the others are mostly looking sideways, rather embarrassed. One man does neither but looks at her with unconcealed curiosity and a certain amount of admiration for her appearance. He doesn’t look particularly impressed either by Blake’s posturing or her own implied threats, but she thinks that he is slightly amused by both. She’s always intrigued by people who react differently to those around them, but this is not the time to indulge her curiosity about a random passer-by. She has a sweeping exit to make.
3. “Did you just … order me to do your finances?” Avon spluttered at last. It had been a long time since he’d felt quite so bewildered.
“Oh, I’ll pay you,” Blake said easily, as though this was the most normal thing in the world.
“How much?” Avon asked immediately.
“That depends on how useful you are.”
For the next few days she is busy with the other sites, content to leave Blake to wonder what she’ll do next. She’s in the area one day and decides that she’ll just show her face, keep them off balance.
The first thing she notices is the new sign on the door with opening times. There’s a fully legible price list hanging behind the counter. Blake’s not there. Vila is serving. There’s another man behind the counter but he doesn’t seem to be interacting with the customers. She realises, to her slight surprise, that it’s Blake’s non-admirer from the previous week.
Vila is stuttering, hostile and trying not to obviously look at her breasts. She enjoys discomforting him despite the ease of the process but her attention is more on the taller man. She’s trying to work out his place in all this. When he speaks it gives her the excuse to look at him directly.
“Obviously she’s hoping to seduce you into giving away something useful,” he tells Vila. He doesn’t sound particularly concerned about her chances of success.
“Why Vila, who is your charming new friend?”
“My name is Avon.” he says without waiting for the speechless Vila to recover enough to reply. “I’m not his friend.”
Poor Vila looks as if he's been kicked from a completely unexpected direction. Servalan smiles at Avon, amused at the notable lack of solidarity on that side of the counter. She's even more amused when he shows his teeth at her in something that while technically a smile actually carries all the warmth of a hungry pike. It wouldn't surprise her if this Avon isn't anybody's friend, which raises the question of what he is doing in Blake's den of lefty do-gooders.
“He’s not your friend either,” Avon says. “And for once, he is right – Blake wouldn’t welcome you here. I think you should leave.”
That is some sort of declaration of of what side Avon stands on, Servalan supposes, though it might be no more than a reluctant acknowledgement of who is currently paying his wages. Blake clearly isn't around anyway so she has no more immediate business here. She certainly doesn't want to buy anything.
She smiles at Avon again because she rather enjoyed his reaction the first time. This time he stays close lipped but his eyes don't move away from hers until she turns away to leave.
Back in her office she finds a message indicating that site four has progressed to “want to sell”. The owner has a large debt, his creditor, as usually happened, also owes money. A few links down the chain the money gets dirty and she's arranged for pressure to be applied there. Suddenly everyone is calling their debts in and site four’s owner needs cash fast.
Site five is a wine bar; its owner is about to get a visit from the police after a sting operation involving underage drinkers. She’ll probably scream that it is a set-up but no-one will listen. She’s got a previous conviction after all. Facing the loss of her drinks licence, she’ll reconsider selling pretty fast. That should be all of them in the bag, except Liberator.
Blake doesn’t have a drinks licence and he doesn’t have much in the way of debts. The coffee shop isn’t reliant on in-house catering so rats in the kitchen won’t help. Servalan will get Liberator, no question about that. It is just a matter of deciding how best to proceed.
She takes advantage of a gap between tasks to tap ‘Avon’ into her database. It gives her over sixteen thousand hits. Sighing, she adds gender (definitely male), age (after a pause to think she uses her own date of birth ± five years) and tells it to give her the top forty hits with photos. That won’t show up anything as minor as petty thievery like Restal’s but if this Avon has ever done anything really significant before taking employment with Blake it might just find him. It is all she can do until she gets a forename and address anyway.
She isn’t nearly as surprised as she feels she ought to be to see the photo halfway down the first page. Maybe she’s subconsciously remembered his face from some forgotten report. Maybe she’s just got a sharp eye for trouble. Kerr Avon (she rather likes the harshness of that Kerr) has apparently not been a good boy at all.
How convenient. A bad boy is exactly what she needs.
She spends the rest of the afternoon reading files, then she walks down to the cocktail bar for an early evening drink and some contemplation. Money will be the key to Kerr Avon, she decides. Not just money but wealth, comfort, luxury. All the things he's risked and lost so much for, the things he's never ended up having for long. That and the looks he'd given her. She'll offer both sex and money, see which he cares more for. She's willing to bet that it will be the money.
4. “You don’t have to be on your own, Avon,” Blake said. “There’s more to life than you want to think.”
Avon left without answering. He had to finish this job. The money wasn’t worth letting Blake get anywhere near his head. As if Blake could possibly understand, as if Blake could possibly know anything ...
She picks Avon up next day after he finishes his work. He comes to her without hesitation. After all, it's her job to find out what people want and offer it to them. She shows him an evening of what moderate wealth could be like and she sees how much he craves it. She kisses him and he craves that too, but he doesn't trust her enough to take anything more than the food and wine, not yet. At least she's established that he has no loyalty to Blake. He's just suspicious, that's all.
The evening has gone just fine. Servalan stands at the window and watches Avon walk away, her card in his pocket, her offer on his mind. Just fine. This is her work and she's better at this than anyone else. Avon will destroy Blake and Blake will lose Liberator and she will get paid her very large fee, And maybe next time he will stay.
She picks up her phone, glances at the contacts. There are handsome and athletic young men in here who will drop whatever and whoever they are doing if she calls them. She chooses to go to bed alone anyway. For some reason... No, she will be accurate. For a reason she knows very well, she's not in the mood for devotion.
Days go by. Avon doesn't call.
5. It didn’t matter how much Avon told him that he didn’t want a party. It didn’t matter how much Avon told Blake that he didn’t like parties. Blake was going to have one and Avon was going to be at it and that was that.
Progress on site six is falling significantly behind the others, all of which now have at least heads of agreement signed. Servalan had a meeting with the client. They want to push forward; they ask her about alternative sites. She finds herself reluctant to press the merits of those. None of them will suit their needs as well as Liberator. A little longer, she advises. The purchase will happen.
After work she gets her car to drive past the Liberator. The lights are on but there's a closed sign on the door, earlier than usual. One of Blake's meetings, no doubt. She's only really interested in whether Avon has left yet. He's dragging his feet for her. Another meal, another conversation is in order.
Servalan leaves the driver waiting on the double yellow lines twenty yards further up and walks back past the café. It's all the staff in there, laughing and drinking coffee, and Avon in the centre of them, saying something with a slight smile to Blake.
One of them sees her and they all turn to stare. She looks straight at Avon and smiles. His eyes are cold and his lips don't twitch. Maybe he's just being careful in front of the others. Maybe he isn't. Either way he's not coming out with her this evening. She walks back to the car and tells the driver to take her home.
The next day she calls her client. Site six turns out to be unsuitable after all; a covenant prevents them from using the first floor for commercial purposes. That much is true. What she doesn't tell them is that getting the covenant lifted would take a relatively trivial amount of time and money. Another site is selected. The project continues.
6. He didn’t enjoy parties at all – too many people, too many ludicrous conversations and pretences and so much tedium. But he did rather like Cally. And she had asked him specially.
Five months later the bonus arrives in her Guernsey bank account. Servalan arranges a meeting with her financial advisor. She is considering a new investment. She has premises in mind, an outline business plan, a quote from a firm of shopfitters. They discuss other investment that she might liquidise to fund it, possible sources of business loans, likely management requirements. It's rather more risky than another buy to let but potentially a great deal more profitable.
The meeting goes well. She takes the car back to her office and looks in briefly on her latest subordinate. Grant is most of the way through the files that she'd left him, a cold cup of coffee on the edge of his desk. He's very keen to impress, moderately intelligent and not entirely scrupulous, reasonably handsome with a wide range of friends and acquaintances. He doesn't need to know that it is only the last of those that constitutes his qualifications for this particular job.
She keeps Grant busy for a couple of weeks, both at work and out of it. She doesn't want him dropping by on old friends and bumping into Avon on the street or in a room with one or two others. She wants this to be a controlled explosion. He's good enough in bed to keep her amused for that long. She thinks of Avon once when Grant kisses her and bites his lip, making it bleed.
She's doing a little personal shopping when she sees a familiar figure on the pavement ahead. As she speeds up a little he disappears into a shop. She glances at the goods in the window. Really? Of course. She's been wondering when best to send Grant in. Now she knows that Avon will be going to Cally’s birthday party. That will be perfect.
She gives Avon a few minutes to make his purchase, then moves in.
Avon doesn't seem particularly concerned about the fact that he might have been considered to have stood her up after their last meeting. She suggests lunch and he accepts with the alacrity with which he'd previously accompanied her to dinner. He's quite obviously impressed by the fact that the restaurant staff know her. This life is what he'd wanted for himself, after all. So what's he doing still keeping a small café’s books after six months?
Maybe he's lost his nerve, lost his drive, got too comfortable doing very little for very little reward. There's usually someone else in those situations but she doesn't think there's anyone else for Kerr Avon. There hasn't been any sign of anyone that matters since the girl who died, just the flat share with Blake, and Blake's never going to be Avon's type.
She tries goading him about his situation but he's not rising to the bait. His answers sounds cool and uninvolved but when she strokes her leg against his she feels him tense. His voice sharpens.
“I don’t need help, Servalan. If I wish to leave Blake, I will do it.”
He talks of going but she hears the certainty that he is staying and fury flickers through her, carefully unrevealed. Blake has won him over and she doesn't know how. Avon is meant to be more selfish than this. She wants him cold with calculated desire as he screws her and screws over Roj Blake for lust and money. She doesn't want him part of Liberator's stupid little bunch of best friends.
She ought to give up on him, but as he watches her over the meal his eyes are as icily intelligent and curious as they've ever been and she decides that she isn't prepared to just let Blake win this one. She hadn't intended to say anything about her plans but she's really quite irritated now. She smiles, carefully, and lets her teeth show just a little.
“You should really re-think, Avon. I think there are plenty more options for you. Better options than putting up with Blake.”
He looks unconcerned. “I’ll decide that.”
“This might be your last chance, Avon.”
“Is that a threat, Servalan?”
“Of course not, Merely … a suggestion that things might happen that could be troublesome for you if you don’t make the correct decision now.”
That was, if not a mistake, at least futile. He smiles back at her and she knows that nothing is less likely to move him than unspecific intimidation
She doesn't want him to leave thinking that he's won so she kisses him. That gets the reactions she hasn't had from him yet today. He pulls her close enough to him that she can feel all of his response and kisses her back with the intensity she's been craving, Before she can disengage long enough to offer him what they both want he pushes her away.
She flounders for a second for something to say, comes up only with “I’ll see you again, Avon.”
“I look forward to it.” He is face is calm again.
He turns and walks away then. She watches him go. "I'm going to rain hell and bloody torment down on you, Kerr Avon." she says under her voice. “Let's see how you and your friend Blake cope with a few revelations. "
As he disappears out of sight it suddenly occurs to her that she should have tried offering him money again.
7. “Do you know what he did?” Del demanded. “Do you know who he is?
“He doesn’t know anything,” Avon said. He hated the knowledge that the others were all standing behind him, all listening, all hearing. He didn’t want them to know. He didn’t want them to hear.
“What?” Del sneered. “You didn’t want to tell him about your attempt at fraud? You didn’t want to tell him how you drove a girl to her death?”
Cally’s birthday party is as explosive as Servalan could have wished. When she gets reports of Avon roaming the nearby clubland, drunk and aggressive, she’s got her coat halfway on before she reconsiders. She’s put too much into this to risk it confronting him while he’s out of control.
At least he won’t go back to Liberator now. She can pick him up from wherever he spends the night. She warns her man not to lose him and then she goes to bed.
The phone wakes her. Just after 2am and the voice says “He’s home.”
A stab of disappointment goes through her. She’d been sure he’d have too much pride to slink back to Blake with his tail between his legs. “Call off the surveillance for tonight,” she tells her people. Grant’s a failure. Time for the next act.
Her intercom beeps, late afternoon the next day. “A Mr Travis is here,” her secretary announces. “He..Hang on! you can’t go in there!”
Servalan smiles into the scowl of the man striding towards her desk. “Ah, Travis. Thank you for coming. Defrayment of your expenses is in the envelope in front of you.”
As always she’s done her research. Travis has been down on his luck since leaving jail. The combination of an inability to take orders and an explosive temper has made him unemployable even to the sort of person who normally employs murderous ex-arsonists. The thousand pounds he’s counting is probably the most money he’s had in his hands for months.
He says nothing however, just folds the notes into a back pocket and tosses the torn envelope back on the desk.
“I have a job for you,” she says. “A simple one, at this stage. I would like you to visit an old friend, say hello. That’s all.”
His one good eye stares at her. “Blake,” he says flatly. She nods.
“Five hundred for this visit, and the prospect of considerably more to come. If you’re prepared to stay in town until I need you I’ll pay you two hundred a day as a retainer.”
“What’s your business with Blake?” he demands.
“He’s being obstructive.” Servalan says, lightly. “I think that you could help me persuade him to co-operate with my plans.”
Travis shakes his head. “That’s not good enough. I want my revenge.”
Servalan closes her eyes briefly. Blake must once have been a rather different sort of man, she thinks. “There is something that is more important to him than anything else. I intend to take it away. Will that do?”
For the first time Travis smiles, a barely sane grin. “That will do for a start.”
8. “Let go of me!” Blake shouted, struggling, seemingly wild with rage. “Let go! You, you get out, get out of my home!”
Travis didn’t get out. Instead, he stepped forward, apparently wanting Blake to punch him.
“Come on, Blake!” he whispered. “Still letting other people fight for you? You were always too weak to face me, weren’t you?”
Servalan watches from the back seat of the car as Travis stalks across the road towards the Liberator's entrance. She's told the driver to wait. In the fuss no one will notice the limo out here and she wants to see what happens for herself. She doesn't trust Travis to give her anything like an accurate report.
He reappears with surprising speed, arm twisted behind his back in the grip of a tall young woman who Servalan hasn't seen before. She pushes him out into the street and goes back inside, slamming the door behind her. Travis regains his balance, glares at Servalan's car and stomps off down the road.
Servalan decides not to go after him. She's the key to his revenge as well as his meal ticket- he'll come back to her soon enough. Maybe someone from the café will come out to check that he's gone. Blake, hopefully. Servalan would like to see his face right now.
But when the door opens again it's Avon who pushes his way out, eyes on the ground in from of him and scowling fit to kill. As he walks rapidly past the car without sparing it a glance she can see that his lips are moving.
He's remarkably upset. That's interesting. If it was on Blake's behalf he'd have stayed there to offer support. He's fallen out with someone who is still in the building he's just left. It has to be Blake. The others couldn't drum up enough personality between them to upset a man like Avon.
She lets him walk a little further then tells the driver to pull up beside him. He looks over as the door opens and his face changes as he sees her. Grim determination wreathes his hard smile as he slides into the seat next to her and his hands reach up to cup her face.
Servalan definitely enjoys how Avon's anger drives the way he touches her but his lack of control doesn't last for long. By the time they've reached her place his self discipline has returned. His intimate caresses show neither desperation nor reluctance but a calculated competence, as if her pleasure is merely the trivial price to be met to obtain his own satisfaction.
Given his history, Avon has been something of a disappointment to Servalan before tonight. He's repeatedly failed to demonstrate the selfishness she had hoped for when it came to Blake. With her, however, he's as self centred a partner as one might possibly desire. He makes love to her with perfect civility and a certain degree of passion but that passion's all for himself, his desire, his anger and his relationship with Roj Blake. Servalan can tell that he doesn't give a damn about her emotions.
She knows as well, as his eyes narrow in pleasure, focused somewhere beyond her own undoubtedly alluring gaze, that she hasn't yet caught him. He's still thinking about the argument he must have had with Blake and her body is just his temporary revenge. He might take that revenge again in the morning if it's offered, since it's both convenient and pleasurable, but he'll walk out of her door without looking back when he's done.
Servalan has a surplus of desperate suitors, adoring lovers and men like Grant who she sleeps with because she had a use for them. She rather likes men who aren't won over easily but she does like to win in the end. That thought keeps her awake for a while in the darkness.
Avon is asleep, a heavy arm draped across her body, hand brushing gently against her breast in a simulacrum of closeness. She might be wrong. Men do so frequently prove to be less impressive than they appear. He is here, after all, he has stayed the night. There is still his historically evidenced greed, his obvious desire for the luxury that she offers and his falling out with Blake. She will have another chance to persuade him to her side in the morning.
She wonders briefly what has become of Travis before Avon's steady breathing lulls her to sleep.
9. She smiled at him and licked her fingers clean in a gesture that he knew was purely provocative.
“Well, Avon. I trust you found last night as enjoyable as I did.”
“Oh, it was pleasant enough,” he said, keeping his voice cool. She laughed and sat back, delightfully unconcerned.
“Avon,” she said. “Would you like to stay here?”
Servalan wakes early. Avon has rolled over in the night, is sprawled away from her. She thinks about touching him but that sort of next move ought to be his.
Instead she moves into the sitting room and closes the door then rings for breakfast and searches through a wardrobe for something suitable. She showers and dresses, just a little, and goes back to attend to her guest.
His eyes are definitely where they should be, somewhere under her fur dressing gown but all he asks for is the whereabouts of the shower. They eat breakfast together and joust a little verbally. He seems relaxed enough but he doesn’t make a pass at her and she doesn’t press the point. She does notice the way he admires his surroundings. It’s slightly annoying for her to play second fiddle to the rooms but then she’s had him pegged as money over sex right from the start.
Eventually she judges the moment is right and makes the offer, as she always does.
He’s thinking about it. There’s a lot here that he wants and what has he to give up? Blake’s grubby little cafe? His boring little workmates? A tiny flat overrun with cats? A pathetically small wage? (She’s got hold of the payroll details since they last spoke.) And it’s going to get worse. Thanks to Del Grant everyone he knows will soon know about Anna and the fraud. She doesn’t mention that, of course.
And all she wants in return is the Liberator. She’s even offering to pay Blake for it.
He promises nothing, but when she drops him off he puts her card away carefully in his wallet before climbing out of the car.
She settles to work in her office, feeling rather satisfied.
The straying Travis turns up as she’s drinking tea. She regards him coolly. He had some instructions which he clearly disobeyed, but still, his visit to Blake appeared to have caused the rift that she’s benefiting from so she’s inclined to let it pass this once.
He’s less happy than she is by some way.
“I’ll take him down myself, if you won’t.” he snarls.
“What makes you think I won’t?” she asks. “My plans are in place. He’s already being betrayed; he just isn’t aware of it yet.”
“I’m going to go back.” Travis insists. “I don’t care about your plans. I want him dead.”
Dead is considerably further than Servalan intends to go. Dead, in fact, would be inconvenient. Not only would probate hold up the sale of Liberator but she wouldn’t get to gloat. She also doesn’t see the benefit of an obvious link to someone arrested for murder, and she doubts that Travis would be smart enough to get away with it scot free.
As she considers what to do with Travis’s over-enthusiasm the phone rings. She tries to wave Travis out but he refuses to move, so she takes her phone into the anteroom and banishes her secretary instead.
When she returns to her office Travis is still standing there scowling. She seats herself, careful not to let the slight shake in her hands show. She is seething with anger. How the hell could he prefer a loser like Blake to her? She decides that she doesn’t care how. She is done with Kerr Avon. He can go down with the rest of them.
“I have an easy job for you,” she tells Travis. “Come back in an hour. I’ll have an envelope for Blake and his friends. You can be as obnoxious about delivery as you like. And after that...” she pauses. “Yes, after that I think we will find you some real work. Something suited to your particular skill set. I can promise that you’ll enjoy it a great deal.”
10. Slowly, he bent and lifted the picture up, looking at the ones still strewn on the counter. They were all similar, each carefully picked, no doubt. Himself and Servalan, kissing and touching and pressed together in her bedroom.
She sits in the car some time later, headphones clamped to her ear. The noise of the bell as the door opens is loud.
“You!” Young and arrogant - that would be the new girl. “Do I have to throw you out again?”
The next voice makes Servalan hiss. “Well, this is an interesting visit.” Avon sounds a great deal calmer than he had on the telephone. “Is there some reason you feel the need to disturb us again so soon? Perhaps you find pleasure in causing and receiving pain?”
“I know a few clubs you can go to for that sort of thing!” That’s Vila. What is Blake doing? Is he even there? He must be. Travis is Blake-focused; he wouldn’t do this without his nemesis present.
“Purely a professional visit,” Travis sounds as if he is at least fairly under control. Servalan had wondered if even this was beyond him. “Avon, isn’t it? I’ve been asked to give you these.”
A light thump and then nothing for an interminable time. Servalan finds her fingers drumming on the car door, stops them with an effort.
Finally the low voice she’s been waiting for. “Well. I suppose I don’t have to worry about reimbursing you for a hotel.”
Blake’s turned on Avon instantly, even with Travis there. Servalan’s smile lasts the full length of the second silence.
She doesn’t catch Blake’s following words; they are very quiet and he must have turned away from Travis. Jenna says, “Of course.” There are dull noises off but no-one else says anything for a while.
“What are you waiting for, applause?” When Jenna speaks again her voice is harsh. “Your audience has left, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“This isn’t over,” Travis snarls.
“Yes it is.” Jenna’s voice rises to perfect command pitch. “What do you think the police will think of a convicted child murderer repeatedly harassing the relative of his victims? The next time you show your vile face in here you’ll end up in a prison cell. Get out and stay out.”
Servalan hears the bell again. She slides the headphones off, runs a hand through her short hair to smooth it.
That was promising. With Avon irreparably detached from Blake she need only finish the destruction of Blake’s life to win. She’s not usually keen on violent methods but this time she has an unstable pawn with his own motive for destruction and she’s going to use him.
The one eyed man climbs into the car beside her with no ceremony. “When do we do it?”
“Tonight, when they are asleep.”
“They’ll know I did it.”
That’s more awareness of his own risk than she expected from his obsession. It doesn’t matter. She only has to persuade him that he’s safe. “I’ll vouch for your alibi. We shall be having dinner together.”
“I don’t eat that late,” Travis says “Make it screwing instead.”
“If you like,” she says
Servalan wonders if he thinks she’ll actually sleep with him. She might, for Liberator, though everything about him suggests that he’ll make a dire lover. Avon’s carefully crafted self-centredness has been a challenge but Travis is simply unpleasant.
Unpleasant or not, he knows his trade. The fire catches unnaturally fast- no chance of the fire service thinking this one is accidental. Servalan is wrapped up in dark clothes in an alley opposite, watching. There’s a car (not her usual one of course) waiting silently at the far end in case she’s spotted but the growing attention of passers-by is all on the fire. She hasn’t seen either Avon or Blake come out yet, which given the smoke now billowing around the first floor means there must be a fairly good chance that they will die. She’d rather that Blake survive to see his defeat but she’s grown a little tired of this contest, or at least of losing it, and she’s prepared to see it end any way she can.
Her phone rings.
“Bloody crazy woman! Get back here!” Travis’ voice is strained and furious. “I need you here for my alibi!”
She supposes that it would help if they were seen together at her place. She’s decided that Travis being charged with arson and murder might not actually be helpful, given what he knows. Sighing, she closes the phone and heads back to the waiting car. Whatever happens here will happen just as well without her.
Travis is exhilarated and nervous, tense and on the edge of violence. He wants her but she refuses. She suspects that she would get little pleasure and too many bruises to show for it. A little roughness in men attracts her sometimes but Travis is looking for a victim to hurt and Servalan is no-one’s victim. She’s fairly sure that it’s only the presence of the guard outside that convinces him to take no for an answer.
11. The phone that Jenna had leant Blake buzzed with a text message. Blake looked at it and smiled a grim sort of smile.
Everyone survives, as it turns out, even the cats. Liberator is a ruin. Servalan handles the police interviews with charm, concern and practised ease. Travis just about manages to stick to the story he’s been given. She intends to give Blake a couple of days to despair but the next day she gets a text from Jenna asking for a meeting over dinner.
So either Jenna is trying to change sides or Blake can’t stomach admitting defeat face to face. Servalan swears that she will drag that submission from him before the papers are signed, but for now she’s prepared to listen to his intermediaries, if that’s what they are.
It’s an awkward meeting, for Blake’s team anyway. Servalan is quite content to put off the actual negotiations for a while. Instead she eats gracefully and asks questions of Dayna and Jenna, about Blake, about the Liberator, about themselves and about Avon.
They don’t want to answer her questions but nor do they want to offend her and lose the chance to make whatever offer they are building up to so she gets quite a lot out of them. She particularly likes the way they glance at each other and wince when she asks about Avon so she does that a great deal.
Both women clearly loathe her but they seem trapped on the other side of the table. She’s almost tempted to push them too hard and force them to take offence and leave empty handed but this is one of her moments of triumph and she wants to hear Blake’s people betray him or beg for her to rescue him. She’s still not quite sure which they are here for.
The coffee arrives. Servalan takes a sip, calls the waiter back. “My compliments on the coffee. It really is excellent.” She smiles at Dayna. “It makes so much of a difference when it’s made by a real professional, doesn’t it?”
“It’s just coffee,” Dayna says flatly.
“It has been delightful to chat with you both but I’m afraid duty calls and my diary is rather full today. I presume you have a proposition for me?”
Dayna glances across at Jenna yet again. Jenna’s face becomes stiffer. “Not exactly.”
“And what does that mean?”
“It means no,” Dayna says. “Blake...”
“Blake wants to know if your clients are still interested in Liberator, given the fire damage,” Jenna says. It is smoothly done but she has deliberately cut off whatever Dayna was going to say. Servalan knows negotiations and there is something slightly odd about this one.
“So can I take it that Blake is now interested in selling?” she asks silkily.
“No,” Dayna says as Jenna says “Yes,”
Servalan drains the coffee and rises to her feet. “One or both of you are either badly briefed or lying. I think I would probably do better talking to Blake in person, don’t you? Do give Kerr Avon my warmest regards when you next see him. Good evening.”
She saunters out, leaving them with the bill. That was simple enough to read. Blake hasn’t finally committed himself yet but he already knows he has no choice. Jenna- the smart one- knows that. Dayna- the emotional one- still thinks Blake has alternatives, though Servalan imagines she would be hard pressed to come up with any ideas for any.
12. “Call Servalan,” he said. “Let’s finish this.”
Blake’s smile faded. He nodded his head and took out his phone, moving away from them to dial the number.
Servalan spends a little while the next morning checking that everything is in place to proceed. She wants the burnt out husk of the café wrenched legally from Blake’s hands with obscene speed the moment that he breaks. It’s been a long wait and she doesn’t much like waiting.
Blake rings her. She can hear the tension in his voice even though all he says is “We need to talk. I’m at Liberator.” He waits for her reply. She lets him wait for a few seconds but as she finally starts to reply the line goes dead. It doesn’t matter. She’ll go, of course, and he’ll be there.
She leaves Travis behind. Blake is a broken man by now; he needs no more breaking. His home is gone, his precious business is in ruins, he was nearly killed last night by the arsonist and killer of his family who is still roaming his neighbourhood and his trusted confidant has been sleeping with the enemy. He must want nothing more than to dump the whole thing and run.
Servalan’s coming with a new offer, much less than the old one of course but still more than Blake can afford to turn down; he won’t get as much from anyone else for the wreck that was his life. She wonders if he’ll bluster and swear at her, or if he has enough insight to suspect how much she’d love that. To be honest she doesn’t really care. He can scream at her, threaten her, drop to his knees and beg, be cold and professional. It makes no difference. Liberator will be hers. She’s going to turn it into the slickest, most opulent, most soulless place in town. And best of all, she’s decided that she’s going to keep the name. “Blake’s Liberator” in cold blue and silver LEDs. She doesn’t need to put her own name on it to know it’s hers.
She’s smiling as she walks into the blackened ruin.
13. Servalan whipped round to look at Avon. Avon allowed himself his most twisted smile and shrugged his shoulders.
“Is something wrong, Servalan?”
“You!” Her voice was full to the brim with hate. “You did this!”
Her car takes her past the Liberator a few months later. She is on the phone, an important call, and neglects to give the driver an alternative route. She glances out against her better judgement and sees the door propped open in the winter sunshine and the ill-assorted tables inside. The place has partly been repainted in yellow and red and the Christmas decorations don’t quite match. The amateurish cheerfulness seems to be bringing in the customers in some numbers.
“I’m sorry?” her client says, sharply. Servalan realises that she has missed his question. She apologises gracefully as the café disappears behind her.
They haven’t used any of the documents that Avon stole against her. Not yet. She has tried sending an agent of hers to work there in an attempt to find out what she could about where they were being kept but the woman was let go after a short probation period. Avon had been behind the sacking, apparently. Blake still listens to him. There will be sufficient copies in diverse places to make such an approach useless anyway. Blake is careless. Avon isn’t.
She’s kept Travis on despite his general appallingness, has sent him to work for a colleague in another city for the moment. If Blake had enough to link either of them to the fire he wouldn’t be sitting on it but nevertheless she’s managed to persuade Travis that he’s at risk. She’s promised him Blake just as she’s promised herself Liberator but at the moment the existence of the papers prevent her from making a move.
There is only one way to neutralise Blake’s information. She must win Avon over again. Yet she couldn’t manage that even before he knew that she arranged the fire that nearly killed him. Now she doesn’t even know where to start.
Servalan finishes her phone call and stares, unseeing, at the familiar streets passing by. She has more than Kerr Avon or Roj Blake will ever have. Not just more money but more resources, more experience, more determination and more guile. This is a temporary set back. Surely they cannot win.
She sits a little straighter. Resources. Of course. She can do more digging. There’s bound to be something in Avon’s dark past that will truly appal Blake, something in Blake’s politicking that will get him in real trouble with the law. As for the others, they’ve clearly been potential liabilities right from the start. And if she’s clever, and she fully intends to be, they won’t know that it’s her behind any accidental revelations so they won’t use their leverage. If she can split them up then Avon will be vulnerable to her again...
She’s smiling now, though she has nothing yet but an intention. “Merry Christmas, Liberator,” she murmurs, alone in the back of the limo. “And I assure you it’s going to be a very unhappy New Year.”