Leah knew, before she had been in Brighton three months, that they meant to murder her.
With the pandemic and the introduction of working from home, the door to her office job in London had been thrown open and she had bolted south. For years she had dreamed of living in Brighton and kept a lazy eye on house prices. So when she was unchained from her desk, she ran.
She had found and bought a house quickly and moved in the first release from lockdown. Wandering her new neighbourhood, still marvelling at the diversity of shops and small bespoke businesses, she had one day bumped into Rose coming out of a grocer that sold the most wonderful bread. Leah had been in two minds whether to enter the shop next door but seeing this woman struggling with her shopping, she decided to leave it for another time and offered to help her.
‘May I?’ she had asked.
‘Darling, that’s so kind.’
On their way back up the hill, Rose had invited Leah for a drink in the pub.
And that was that.
The two neighbours – Rose lived around the corner from Leah in Alexandra Villas – had become fast friends. Within days Leah felt as if Rose were a familiar. Within weeks Leah found it almost eerie how quickly and intensely they had become so close.
Within months, Leah would be dead.
ose Hill lived a full life and also had her husband Fredrick, but she had made space for her new bestie. They met for drinks in each other’s homes, did yoga classes together and visited gardens in Sussex. It was as if they had known one another since primary school.
The garden of Leah’s ground floor flat on Albert Road, if it could really be called a garden, was small and paved with red brick and overlooked on all sides. There was one thin raised bed with a couple of dying ferns and a few plants in pots, one of which Rose had given her as a housewarming gift.
Rose’s garden seemed regal by contrast. Apart from a large ugly water tank in the corner, it was competition standard. It was so bursting with life and beauty that Leah had been taken aback the first time she’d seen it. The only plants, unsurprisingly, were roses. A show stopping array of colours, sizes and shapes, and indeed Rose had won prizes for them.
‘How do you do it?’ Leah had asked.
‘Fish, blood and bone fertiliser is the secret,’ Rose had replied. ‘But it’s Fredrick’s doing really.’
Fredrick was a strange man and the only thing that gave Leah any pause in her friendship with Rose. He was nice enough – amiable, but a little reserved; and a foodie, – he had been a pioneer of locally sourced ingredients. He ran a shop in the North Laine, selling artisanal sausages and pork pies, for which he too had won prizes. What was odd about him, she couldn’t quite put her finger on. But it was unimportant. She was Rose’s friend, not his.
Rose was large, had short spikey hair and used a quantity of makeup that on anyone else would have looked gaudy. She wore long flowing dresses with big pockets that she dug her fists into. She would gesticulate from them, seeming as if she was trying to break out of bondage.
he moment Leah had understood what they were doing, what they intended for her, came just after she saw a drip from the water tank. They were in the garden one mild February afternoon, enjoying Negroni Sbagliatos.
Fredrick had come out with a wrench to fix the tank. He was telling Leah how he had rigged it up to not only catch the rainwater, but for the water to mix with his own secret recipe fertiliser and then irrigate the roses automatically.
‘That’s clever,’ Leah had offered, knowing that some sort of admiring response was required. ‘Rose said that you use fish, blood and bone. My father used to use the same stuff.’
‘I doubt that,’ he had replied, struggling with the tap. ‘And Rose wasn’t being entirely truthful. I don’t use fish.’
At that moment, the wrench slipped, and the tap came clean away. A foul, coagulated stream began to glug thick clots from the hole. Its colour, dark and evil was unlike any Leah had seen before. An appalling stench filled the air.
Leah put her elbow over her nose and mouth and turned away. A clunk and a hollow gurgle from the tank made her turn back. A long white stick the length of her forearm protruded from the hole, stemming the discharge. A mucilaginous gob seeped out, dripped onto the grass and pooled in a vile little puddle. She stared at the stick. Then, realising what it actually was, she vomited on the grass.
Wiping her mouth, she looked up at Fredrick in horror.
He grinned in return.
She turned to Rose who smiled sweetly, before sighing and looking away.
Frederick moved towards Leah with the wrench.
Moral – enter the shop next door.