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Lex put her mouth over Roxanne’s and pushed in air. It was her third attempt at CPR and she wondered at what point she would have to ring the ambulance. There was no way she was going to let Roxanne die. It would fuck up two years work and one of the best friendships she had. She was messaging Will and copying in Ray as she worked. A pair of smart glasses hooked up to her messenger allowed her to multi-task and she could have dialled 999, but she didn’t want to risk the public scandal that would arrive with emergency services. Not unless things got really desperate. Public Relations first, friendship second.
Roxanne coughed, convulsed and came alive. Result.
Lex gently rolled Roxanne into the recovery position. The fingers of her right hand reached for Roxanne’s neck, finding the throb of a pulse, while her left grabbed her Martini, making a silent toast to the gods of PR.
Tension eased from her own body. There was an afterglow from the adrenaline high as well. She allowed herself a smile as she enjoyed the familiar shiver that thrilled nerve endings up and down her skin. “Well, that was emotional.”
Bringing one of the world’s true mega star’s back to life wasn’t how Lex normally spent a Monday night, but it would be up there with the best of the buzz. She checked her communicator to see if Will had given an ETA, she really needed someone to high five.
Roxanne was letting out some low-level groans and was all wrapped up in being alive. Her long athletic legs were a patchwork of red and ugly. Lex muttered “shit” as she examined the damage and wondered if Roxanne would be okay for the Tournament semi-finals. It could knock tens of millions off the audience figures if she wasn’t.
Lex gently rubbed Roxanne’s back, it was clear of burns and the skin felt cool. Lex spotted a towelling dressing gown and laid it on her.
Will had kicked into action. He was on route and her messenger now had GPS tracking on the private ambulance that was fifteen minutes away. This was going to be handled discretely.
Roxanne stayed slumped but breathing. That was good enough for now. Roxanne would be okay Lex assured herself, she was a tough Hackney bred bitch under all that French veneer and put on coquettishness.
She finished her Martini and wondered how a relaxed girl’s night in with Roxanne could get so intense. She had just switched on the pool lights with her back turned to Roxanne when she heard the screech. She’s got confused for a second because Roxanne never screeched or screamed. That was the thing that made her Le Roxy, Queen of Pain. Not feeling pain defined her and made her a Tournament mega star. Lex had turned, seen Roxanne waist deep in the shallow end, flailing forward as she desperately reached for the side. Lex had automatically flicked the switch back up. That and the CPR had saved her friend’s life.
Will was sending questions by messenger but didn’t want her to answer till they spoke in person. She scanned the list of ‘defensive’ media questions: had Roxanne been drinking? What kind of drugs were in her system? Was she naked? Who else was there?
Lex tutted quietly in annoyance, the list was long, familiar and Lex had written most of it. She resented Will thinking she needed a crib sheet.
Except, there was one question near the top that he must have just added. He wanted a list of who had been in the building since Roxanne had last had a swim. Will clearly didn’t think this was an accident.
The lack of a call was telling, as well. Will had the habit of never saying anything interesting or sensitive on the phone. It might be that he was rushing and hadn’t time to call, but Lex’s instincts told her this was a way more trouble than even she was used to dealing with. She had her own reasons for thinking this wasn’t an accident and Will, as head of Feel.it UK, was at the centre of her suspicions.
“You going to live?” Lex asked Roxanne.
“Merde” Roxanne groaned, staying prone, her voice sounding fragile. A few moments of silence, then she roused herself and nodded.
“Remember, Roxanne only dies when we run out of script writers,” Lex smiled. Or someone tries to kill you. Lex ran her hand under the towelling and tentatively stroked the red raw skin of her friend’s right calf. “Does it hurt?”
“Yes,” Roxanne answered quietly and reluctantly like she wanted to stay curled up, ignoring the rawness. “No” she added.
Lex understood. The pain was there and Roxanne was aware of it, but her mind had created a numb fog that stopped it from meaning anything. Roxanne was fading into sleep. Lex wondered if it would hurt more in her dreams? Roxanne had once told her that she remember the pain in her dreams.
“You can sleep later, I need you awake when Will gets here. Can you do that for me?”
Roxanne gave the slightest of nods.
“Good girl. I need to go upstairs and open up.” She hesitated, found herself oddly reluctant to leave her friend. “You going to be okay?”
“Is okay better than dead?” Roxanne whispered.
“Not always,” said Lex. “Most people are really far too boring to bother keeping alive. However, you’re one of my notable exceptions, so I’d be grateful if you hung around.”
“Go.” Roxanne looked up and managed a smile, then curled up some more.
The paramedic rang as Lex ran up the basement stairs. They had a lot of questions, but she managed to get in some of her own. It sounded like Roxanne had weeks of pain and discomfort lined up, but the main problem was the extent of internal organs and muscle damage.
The ambulance crew were on a Feel.it company commission and turned up fast. Will had further to travel, but came through the doors right behind them. He had been out glad-handing clients. He was wearing a black summer suit that added power to his slim frame and made a feature out of the sharp blondness of his hair. He was tall, but so were most people compared to Lex. He normally acted playful and young, though he was twice her age, but tonight his expression was straight bat, serious.
“How bad is she?”
“Okay on the outside, but she will need a battalion of tests before we know how fried she is on the inside.”
“How close to dying?” Will’s face was furrowed with worry, a surprising novelty and not a good look. Each line put a decade on him.
“She was there. I brought her back.”
Will ran a hand through his short burst of hair and nodded. “Fuck.” He clearly wanted to say more, but all that came out was “Watch the door for Ray” as he followed the ambulance crew downstairs.
Lex strolled over to the reinforced glass panels that formed the outer walls of Roxanne’s home. The Cube was more an artwork, than a home and designed to put Roxanne on display as she watched TV, or worked out. A clever arrangement of walls, mirrors and rooms also provided Roxanne with some private space. There was a real character to those areas, but not a lot of taste. Lex did her best with the girl, but there were aspects of Roxanne which were best never seen, especially as it would play havoc with her product placing, commercial sponsors. Roxanne was a commodity who sold other commodities, her real tastes and preferences had to be kept from public view.
She peered out into the Museum of Nearly Nothing, with its eclectic mix of quirky art and English oddities. She understood Roxanne’s reasons for living amongst a load of artists and vagabonds. Lex certainly admired the coolness of making your home an artwork within a museum. It was just the isolation of the nights that would have brought her down. The museum was awash with people in the day but became an empty giant of a mausoleum at night. Lex preferred a soundscape of urban noise and bustle filtering into her dreams
The double glass on the outside wall formed a set of multiple display cases, full of the gifts and presents which Roxanne had accumulated. A billion viewers was the new Feel.it company boast and that included a lot of rich fans who wanted their idea of good taste on display and pictured in the myriad of online images of Roxanne’s home. Lex had seen the audit that Will had secretly commissioned from three of the major art dealers. Actually, there were two reports. A secret assessment of how much all this expensive crap was currently worth and then an ultra-secret report that Lex wasn’t even meant to know existed. It was an estimated valuation of how much the presents would sell for if Roxanne died. It put between five to ten times the value on each item, which came to a lot of money. Except, that when you knew how big Feel.it had become, a few million pounds became a fraction of a percentage, certainly not enough for Roxanne to die for.
Lex wasn’t at all fussed about people wasting their money on Roxanne memorabilia, it was the idea that Will wanted to know how much he would get when she died. After tonight’s ‘accident’ Lex figured it was a matter of when Roxanne died, not if.
The thought didn’t make her happy. Roxanne had turned from a mentoring project into a best friend and she had few enough of them. Friendship was a matter of trust. Experience had taught her that was a rare commodity. There were her university friends, of course, the Right Club, but that kind of blood bond was exceptional and suffocating. Fate had made them friends for life, but she didn’t even like some of them. What she had with Roxanne was more normal and easier. Lex just enjoyed hanging out with her.
Roxanne had less real friends than Lex and all of them worked for the company that owned her. Stardom was a lonely job. That somehow made their relationship, even more, precious and Lex decided that she wanted to keep her alive.
As a child, she had liked puzzles, especially human ones. So why would Will want Roxanne dead before the final? That seemed incredibly bad for business. No, it didn’t make sense. So if it wasn’t Will, then who?
Lex turned on hearing her boss come up the stairs. She glanced at the bank of security screens. “Still no Ray,” she said.
“Good. I’d prefer we chat without him.”
Well, that got her interest. Why would Will want the sideline their head of security? “I’m intrigued.”
“I don’t think this was an accident.”
“Hmm, that’s odd, neither do I.”
Will frowned, “why?”
“Just instinct,” she shrugged. “I think we should get some outside help with security?”
He hesitated, conflicted. “Ray will go ape-shit.”
“Ray’s staff, you always seem to forget that.”
“So are you.” Will retorted, annoyed. He relied on Ray and his dodgy dealings far too much. It was an unhealthy weakness and Will knew it.
“I enjoy working here, but I don’t need to work here.” She hated playing the rich card. It was so double-edged. While she was rich enough to never bother with a career, she hated the implication that it was just something she was playing at. “Now tell me who you think is trying to kill Roxanne?”
“I can’t,” Will said. “I don’t want to say anything that I will have to deny later.”
“But you’re happy for me to figure it out?”
“Anyone can speculate.” Will had one hand in his hair, pulling at the roots of his short blond locks. He was trying to hide the panic.
“We could always manufacture a death threat.” Will’s eyes came into focus at that. Lex continued. “Roxanne has had enough genuine threats in the past for me to know what the real deal looks like. It would give us the excuse to get someone in.”
“I know a man at the Palace. Colonel Malthouse. He will arrange introductions.”
“Introductions to who?”
Lex really had no idea, but she knew ‘Boots’ Malthouse would ensure they were efficient and lethal. “Someone who will keep Roxanne alive, or die trying to.