Daddy's Little Girl
week was the hardest. Long meaningless nights where I had to look
haunt Jessie’s bars and clubs, and generally wander around like a man who’d lost his cause. Meanwhile Jessie would be doing cold turkey, shivering and shaking, erupting bright red spots on a dead white skin, moving aimlessly like a jitterbug on ice, stopping only to throw up until her ribs were bruised and her stomach raw. It was the stuff of valuable photos, photos the discerning British public would have paid generously to see. And not just the British either—her last CD had won a Grammy and she was just beginning to break into the States. Those photos would have made my fortune. Instead I’d got nothing but a promise, and only payment for the ‘get away’ shots
to keep Mickey off my back until the next stage.
I knew I had to do it.
I knew that although the police had decided to believe me for now,
the other paps would
be watching closely, not quite believing I didn’t have something up my sleeve. Convincing them I was on a losing roll was what this week was all about, but it was still hard to look despondent—especially
Ella had heard the ‘good times are just around the corner’ line once too often. It was going to take more than my latest plan to bring a smile to her face, so I’d decided not to tell her. I was going to wait until this was done and dusted, then take her and a bank statement out to dinner in the reclaimed Lotus, and show her the balance as the waiter opened the champagne. Then I’d take her and the kids for a holiday. A proper holiday where the only photos I took were family snaps. Somewhere the stars never went so I wouldn’t be tempted—maybe camping in North Wales. Lauren would love that and Kitty was still young enough to be knocked into shape. Just. Or maybe we could do one of those Parc things where Ella could enjoy some pampering. The kids could go off on their bikes or whatever they did these days, and I could sleep. Sleep. Imagine that. In fact I did more than imagine it, I did a lot of it for real, catching up while I mooched outside Jessie’s
old haunts. I think it was that as much as my acting skills that
persuaded the others I was on the level. How could I sleep if I was
sitting on the deal of a lifetime?
How could I not, more
to the point? I’d been running on empty for too long, black nights fading into grey dawns so that the time of day meant nothing more than a backdrop to the shot. Sleep had been a few minutes snatched behind the steering wheel, interspersed with a deep daytime coma in an empty bed—and Ella and I hadn’t
had sex since before I could remember.
was that Wainwright would ring me before the week was up. If he didn’t, I’d go to the police with my other photos and the story. I was worried he’d call my bluff, but he was a man too close to the edge to work out a double deal—either that or he was just plain stupid—and he called on the sixth day, catching me outside Maddison’s
as the early evening crowd went in.
“Come to the service station on the M40 tomorrow,” he told me. “The one near Angleford. I’ll
meet you there at noon.”
“How is she?” I asked. “Where are—” But he hung up on me, just like a pro, and for a moment I had a bad feeling. I knew he was her father, I’d checked up on what he’d told me, but that didn’t mean he really cared. What if it was all a con? What if I was walking into something far bigger than I’d ever meant to handle? I put the thought to one side: not even Johnny Depp could act that well. Besides, he hadn’t told me where at Angleford—northbound or south—whereas
real kidnappers paid attention to that kind of detail. No, he was
amateur all the way. The fact that it was amateurs who made the biggest
mess of things was an aspect I decided to ignore.
I waited at Maddison’s until all but the dregs had left, then drove straight there. My cred had lowered a lot over the last week, but I might still get tailed if I left London for no obvious reason just as the celebs were starting their day. Besides, it meant I missed the traffic, getting an easy run through a cold clear night, and I turned into the northbound service station just after 6:30, ready for a full English breakfast. It wasn’t
as good as a truck stop but it did the business, and by eight I was
back in my car, seat reclined, back complaining, to catch up on some
shut-eye while I had the chance.
I woke at 11:30, the alarm pinging into my dreams, the sun slanting down into my eyes. I got out, kneaded the kinks from my body, then looked around, seduced by the stillness of the day. The skies had stayed clear, turning powder-blue with that hint of yellow that comes with spring and the warmth in the air bounced off the tarmac straight into my bones. For a moment I felt almost good; then a car started up nearby, blasting exhaust fumes into my face, and I headed off to the toilets to clean up before meeting Wainwright.
He tracked me down on the overpass, five minutes late.
“There you are.” There was a scold in his voice. “I couldn’t
“Then next time be more specific before you hang up.” I turned round from the window and leant against the hand rail, watching him for clues as to how it was going. “Where
“I’ll drive you there.”
He looked put out. “Why
I sighed. “Firstly,” I showed him my middle finger, childish but satisfying. “Because I don’t trust you not to take off and leave me stranded. And secondly,” my index finger joined the first one, “because I have a strong suspicion that you’ve got some idiotic idea in your head—like blind-folding me to try and keep the location secret—am
I was right. Jesus, this guy had planned the whole thing via the movies.
“Were you going to stuff me in the boot?” I asked out of curiosity, “or
stick a sack over my head and wave at the police as we drove past?”
He blushed, then shrugged
I was going to lie you down on the back seat and cover you with coats.”
“At least I’d have been warm.” I shivered. The overpass was not where they wasted money on heating. “But you wouldn’t
have liked the result.”
I shook my head. “I get
He looked surprised then
snorted with laughter. “I never thought of that.”
“Look.” I took advantage of his mood to try and lay some ground rules. “You don’t trust me and I don’t trust you, that’s the way it is. But although you think I’m the scum of the earth, actually I’m just an ordinary bloke doing my job and if you play straight with me, I’ll
play straight with you. Get it?”
“And if I don’t?”
I shook my head. “You don’t
want to go there. Believe me.”
Apparently he did, because
he stopped playing silly buggers, agreed to me driving, him navigating—and
told me to head for Sutton under Wold, a little village in the Cotswolds.
At first we drove in silence. I was pissed off at having hours added to my route when I could have come straight up the M4, and I guess he thought he had nothing to say to a man like me. After a bit though, curiosity got the better of him.
“So,” he started. “What
makes a man want to be a paparazzo? Fame? Glory? Money? Getting to
see all those fresh
I swerved onto the hard shoulder.
“I can take you there in one piece, or I can take you there in bits,” I told him. “Your
He shrank back. I haven’t been in a fight since my twenties, but he didn’t know that. The kind of man he thought I was, he’d
believe every word.
“All right.” He looked away and I swung back into the slow lane. He was too nervous to keep quiet for long though, and he started up again after less than five miles. “Seriously, I’m
interested. What made you choose that as your career?”
“Bankruptcy.” Not a lot of people know that. It’s not something I’m
proud of. But if this guy was going to keep asking stupid questions
then he could have the stupid frigging answers.
I sighed. “I owned a little photographer’s shop in Wandsworth. Did all right until digital came along, then custom dropped off big time. Why pay me a fortune for a wedding when all their friends could swap snaps for free? With fewer customers my prices had to go up until…well.”
“So, taking photos for the tabloids was the only other career path?” His
sarcasm was heavy. I ignored it.
“The only other quick one. I had a wife and two babies to support and a house that was going to be repossessed if I didn’t do something smartish. I wasn’t the only photographer out on the streets—what happened to me was happening all over the country. The job centres were crawling with us. Then I happened to see Jimmy Hudson puking up in a back alley, on my way back from the dole queue. The cheque I got for those photos paid the arrears on the house. After that…” I trailed off. After that I hadn’t
thought about it, just got stuck in and paid the bills. And created
new ones for a while, when life was good.
“After that, you never
I didn’t need to look
at him, I could hear the sneer.
“Those photos I took of Jessie,” I said, keeping my cool. “The
ones of her wandering around naked. How much do you think I got for
“In the thousands?” he guessed after a moment. “Maybe two? I don’t
“You don’t, do you.” I sped up, angry. “You haven’t
a clue. Try two hundred and fifty and see where that gets you.”
“Two hundred and fifty? For my Jess!” It would have been funny if it hadn’t been insulting. He was as put out about how little she was worth as he was about the pictures. “But—why?”
“I think it’s called economies of scale—but you’re the smart guy, Mr. Wainwright, you should know about that. All I know is that when I started out in this game, your guess would have been closer. But with the cameras out now, any Tom, Dick and Harry can join in the game—and they do, believe me. The mags are inundated with so many photos they don’t know which to choose from. Quality no object. Subject matter not much object either. Give them the photo and they’ll make up the headline. And you know what, Mr. Wainwright—the Great British Public will buy it. They can’t buy enough. Without them, people like me wouldn’t exist and you know it. But with them, if I quit the game another twenty will take my place—and you know that, too. So I had two choices—get out, or specialise. I had a run of luck on Jessie Payne and—well, here we are. You’re trying to save your daughter and I’m trying to save my marriage, which sure as hell won’t survive another bankruptcy—not
to mention save my neck from some loan sharks whose understanding
is very close to running out.”
He was silent for a while
and I was glad of it. Thirty miles down the road though, he carried
on as if we’d
only just stopped talking.
“If you changed careers,” he asked, “what
would you do?”
I laughed. I couldn’t
help it. He spoke as if it were easy.
“I left school at sixteen with Art and English,” I told him. “I guess if I’m
lucky I might stack shelves.”
“What about films? TV?”
“What about physics GCSE before they even let you touch a camera?” I shook my head. “Thank you for your concern, but you don’t exactly have a great pedigree when it comes to providing for your kids. How about you sort out your problems and I’ll
sort out mine.”
He shut up for real after that, and twenty minutes later we hit Sutton-under-Wold.
me to a small cottage about three miles past the village, set back
from the road.
There was no sign of a car, which meant that given rural bus services
she was pretty much stranded—unless she walked. The thought made
“Nice place,” I said.
It was, too, with that soft Cotswold stone, sash windows and a cottage
but the thatch roof.
“Yes.” He was nervous again now. “Just wait here a minute while I go and prepare them. I haven’t told her you’re coming and—”
“Her therapist. You don’t think I’d leave her here on her own, do you?” He
looked so shocked my fears about any double dealing faded away. This
was a father who cared. One thing was bugging me though.
“Posh country cottage, private therapist—this
must be costing you a bomb. What kind of accountant are you? Head
of the Fortune 500?”
“I re-mortgaged my house if you must know. And my business. Whether this works or not, I shall almost certainly lose everything.” He smiled tightly. “Strange, eh, Mr. Smith. Your marriage can’t risk another bankruptcy, whereas my conscience can’t
survive my staying solvent.”
It was a good line to walk out on and he made the most of it, slamming the car door behind him and walking up to the house without a backward look.
I followed him into a
large kitchen-cum-living room where Jessie sat in an old wooden rocker
by the fireplace. The
afternoon had warmed up pretty well, but she’d got a blanket around her shoulders and a fire in the hearth. She was stick thin, her skin white and blotchy, her wild black hair in greasy rats’ tails.
But her eyes looked alive for the first time in a long while, and
as she saw me a smile played on her face.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Nat Smith,” she greeted me. “I
sure am pleased to see you. Sit down, Nat, and tell me the news.”
Her dad was put out. He’d been worrying how to explain bringing this pariah into her life, and here she was greeting me like a long lost friend. I felt for the guy, but not much. I’m only human. Rubbing someone’s face in their preconceptions is pretty satisfying—and it was about time he realised that the star/paparazzi link was more than parasitic. You don’t
photograph someone for five years without building up a rapport.
Our chat was superficial
though, soon petering out under Wainwright’s awkward attempts to join in. Whatever his and Jessie’s relationship was, it wasn’t
easy. After a bit, Jessie sighed, turned to him, and came out with
“Dad, do you think you could give us some time together? To reminisce? I know this isn’t
really your scene.”
“Oh.” He looked hurt and relieved in equal measure. “Um, sure.” He sounded anything but. “I—er—I need to…I’ll
just go and touch base with John.”
He got up from the kitchen
chair, hesitated, looked as though he wanted to say more then turned
and left. Too
late, I understood. He hadn’t wanted to say something, he’d wanted to do something—touch her, or kiss her, or hold her hand—but he didn’t dare, too scared of her rejection. I thought how I’d
feel if Kitty started treating me like that and suddenly I felt sorry
for the bugger.
As soon as he was out the door Jessie took a packet of fags from under her blanket and lit one with trembling hands.
“John?” I asked.
“My therapist.” Her tone
said it all. She took several strong sucks, then let the smoke trickle
her nose and leant forward.
“Get me out of here, Nat,” she said. “Man, I don’t care how you do it, but for fuck’s sake do something. I’m
dying in here.”
“You were dying anyway,” I pointed out. “At least lung cancer’s
“Prude.” She puffed smoke in my face. “You
know what I mean.”
“No,” I said.
“No, you don’t understand, or no, you won’t
“I won’t do it.”
She was still a minute then crushed the cigarette out on the arm of the chair, jabbing it in clumsy rage.
“Bastard.” She had an idea and looked up in hope. “I’ll
let you have the scoop. Make it an exclusive.”
“I already have the exclusive.” I gestured around me. “And I’ll
make a lot more money off you if you stay alive.”
“Is that why you won’t do it? ‘Coz I promise you, from here on in, Nat, I’m staying clean—”
“Actually it isn’t.” I cut her off. “Well, not much anyway.” I grinned, but the humour escaped her. “The main reasons I’m saying no are—one, your dad probably has this place bugged.” She raised her eyebrows. Thick, dark and expressive, they said it all. “OK, he’s listening at the door with a glass, more likely. Coz let’s face it, while your dad has the best intentions, he’s not exactly a pro.” That
raised a smile.
“He’s a fucking amateur,” she confirmed. “Crap.”
“Two.” I paused. How best to put this? “I have kids,” I said at last. “Two girls—ten and thirteen.” Again with the eyebrows. “Hopefully they’ll never get themselves into the mess you’re in—they’ve no talent, no looks, and nothing but stubborn pig-headedness to see them through—although come to think of it, bar the talent, that’s pretty much like you.” I grinned again. She’d always needed the best angles I could get her. “I don’t care if they never amount to anything much, so long as they use what they’ve got, don’t fuck up more than average, and are happy. But if they did fuck up, as badly as you have, I wonder if I’d be brave enough to do what your dad’s doing. Because without him, babe, you won’t be dying in here, you’ll be dead out there, fact.” I leant into her face and lowered my voice. “Face
it, kiddo, this is your last chance, so why not let him help you?
What really, do you have to lose?”
She was silent a while
then said: “Which
one do you like best?”
“Your daughters. Which
one do you prefer?”
“Christ! Neither. I like them both just the—” But then I realised I’d never thought about it. “I’ve never thought about it,” I
“So. Think about it.”
“Well.” I considered. “I get on easiest with Lauren. She’s like her mum, sussed and low profile. Doesn’t cause me much grief.” I thought some more and had a revelation. “Actually, I guess she’s pretty good at wrapping me round.” I waggled my little finger. “Lets me think she’s doing what I want, whereas in fact…” I trailed off, seeing it in my mind’s eye. It was time her mother and I had a talk. “Whereas
Kitty and I fight all the time.”
Jessie looked up, interested.
“She never does what I tell her to, always argues, always answers back. She’s a smart arse, basically, like you. And yet…”
“We have more fun together, too. She’s a doer, Kitty, always in the thick of things, the thick of life—even if it’s
a blazing row.”
“So you love her best?”
“I think I love her more fiercely,” I admitted slowly, wondering if I’d just damned my soul. “But no-one would guess it. Lauren’s the one they’ve always called daddy’s
She didn’t say anything after that. She lit another cigarette and sat staring into the fire, the ash growing down to the filter then falling off in little jerks as her hand shook. It was only then I remembered about Anna. So that was what this was all about. I didn’t
say anything though. Instead I slowly reached for my camera, trying
not to break her mood. Her face like that, so sad and introspective,
would make a great shot.
She started at the sound
of the shutter, but didn’t seem pissed off. Instead she said: “Pretty
tame, huh, compared with lately.”
“Variety is the spice.” I took a few more photos since she didn’t seem to mind, but there was no more conversation and I got the impression she was far away. The shaking was getting worse too, heralding in her next methadone fix or vomiting session—whichever way she was doing this—and suddenly I didn’t want photos of that anymore. The photos I’d just taken seemed so much better, so much closer to capturing her depth. They were more like the work I used to do, work that needed craftsmanship, maybe even a little skill—photos that needed me to use what I’d
When I was done, I put the camera down and went to get her father.
“Come back,” she said
as I opened the door.
I went over to her, not sure what she meant. Behind me, I could hear the sound of someone coming down the stairs.
“Come back and see me. Please. You understand things. You’ve seen…You and me, Nat—we’re old friends.” She stopped and tried to get out another cigarette. She was shaking so much now I did it for her, then lit it. “Christ,” she said, sucking on it in gasps. “I’m
“I’ll go mad,” she said, looking suddenly trapped and wild. “If I can’t talk to someone outside that sanctimonious pig and dad…Please
“I’ll come back,” I told her. “I promise. As long as you hang on in there, Jessie, I’ll
hang on in there with you. Deal?”
Her eyes opened wide,
hope flaring in the dark pit of her pupils. “Deal,” she said.