Excerpt from Chapter One
They were telling each other the stories of how they met when the phone rang. Bill got to his feet.
“Hang up call,” he announced from the kitchen, then he opened another bottle of wine and took his seat again.
It was an impromptu dinner, and they ate in the warm flicker of candle-light amid the drop cloths, the brushes, the paint congealing in trays, and the lingering tang of paint thinner that even open windows and a summer evening breeze couldn’t displace.
Leaning back in his chair, Bill began to tell them the story of Holly and himself. It was the sort of thing one was supposed to do with neighbors you hardly knew who brought you lasagna dinners after you’d put in a hard day’s painting. As he spoke he swirled his cheap Cotes du Rhone, which he hoped everyone thought was expensive Cotes du Rhone, round his glass. He called it the story of the Black Slip.
“Why do you always call it that?” said Holly, scowling at him. She picked some lasagna crust from the baking tray and ate it. “It makes it sound like an Edgar Allan Poe story.”
“I see, an American Gothic story done in an English accent.” Jerome grinned at his hosts, then at Sue, seated beside him, but his attempt at humor didn’t quite manage to smooth over her comment. So neighbor Jerome’s a conflict avoider, Bill said to himself. Only just met us and he’s trying to keep it light.
He put down his wine and gazed at Holly.