Saras face, p.9
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       Sara’s Face, p.9

           Melvin Burgess
 
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  Sara frowned. ‘You’re not wearing a mask,’ she said.

  ‘Yes, I am,’ he said.

  ‘Where?’

  ‘Here.’ Mark touched the edges of his face and showed her what he’d done. He was right – he was wearing a mask, but he’d cut the face of it away, so that only the edges of it remained, and his own face was naked in the middle.

  Sara laughed out loud; it was just the kind of thing she loved. ‘That’s not a mask!’ she said.

  ‘It’s a mask-mask.’

  ‘What’s a mask-mask?’

  ‘A mask that masks another mask.’

  ‘And where’s the other mask, then?’

  Mark looked suspiciously from side to side like it was a big secret, then lifted up the cut-away and tapped his own face.

  ‘Here.’

  Sara laughed. ‘God, you don’t want to go out in public wearing that thing, that’s awful. I’d take it back to the shop if I was you.’ Mark smiled and there was a pause. They stood watching each other from opposite sides of the table.

  ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’ she said at last.

  Mark’s heart did a quick bang-bang-bang. They used to play this game of not knowing each other and it usually led to seduction.

  He ducked his head deferentially. ‘I don’t think so, madam. I only work here.’

  ‘You’re bad. You’ll get the sack if they catch you.’

  He shrugged, then glanced up at her. ‘Why don’t you take your mask-mask off and show me the real mask underneath?’

  ‘What? Not here,’ said Sara, as if taking off her mask was like going naked. Mark’s eyes drifted away from Sara’s face and down her body. She was wearing a designer dress, the kind of thing she’d never have been able to afford before. Mark had never really seen the point of spending so much money on clothes, but then he’d only ever seen people wearing such things in photos. In the flesh, it was different. It didn’t so much reveal what was underneath, or even let on what was underneath, but somehow it really made him want to find out. They were clothes to take off.

  He looked back up at her and smiled. She didn’t say anything, just watched him. She was popping salad leaves into her mouth, slipping them under her mask. Mark thought, Hmm … underneath. Taking that mask off and kissing her – that would be like undressing her, too.

  He was suddenly tongue-tied. Sara always filled him with desire. Now it was worse than ever, but it made him feel clumsy and inadequate.

  Sara lifted up her arms. ‘Do you wanna dance?’ she asked.

  ‘I can’t.’

  ‘Why not?’

  He shrugged. ‘I’m staff.’

  ‘So what?’

  ‘Staff aren’t allowed to dance with Saras. Orders.’

  Sara shrugged and waited.

  ‘We could dance somewhere else,’ he suggested.

  ‘They keep watch all the time. We’d have to be entirely on our own.’

  Mark’s heart went bang-bang again. They were talking about something else, another kind of dance, one that usually doesn’t happen standing up.

  ‘If we were on our own,’ he said carefully, ‘would you dance with me then?’

  ‘How could we be on our own?’ she said. ‘They have cameras everywhere.’

  ‘If the cameras were off.’

  ‘Ah, but how would we know they were off?’

  ‘I’d know. I’m security, remember?’

  ‘I’d have to know, too.’

  Mark thought about it, and then said, ‘If we were on our own in the dark, the cameras wouldn’t see us then.’

  Sara, he thought, panted very slightly. Perhaps her jaw just dropped slightly. He wasn’t sure. You couldn’t see under that mask. But he was pretty sure.

  ‘On our own in the dark? What sort of a dance would it be?’

  Mark smiled. ‘That depends. We wouldn’t have long.’

  ‘Not a very long dance, then.’

  ‘Sorry, not at first,’ he said. ‘I’d need some practice. I haven’t done it for a bit.’

  They’d entered a little intense world of their own, but now it was broken by applause as Heat finished his set. Sara turned and watched. Heat was looking around for something as he bowed: her.

  ‘Maybe if we were on our own and in the dark I’d dance with you,’ she said. ‘Maybe not. I don’t know. But it won’t happen, will it?’ She smiled ruefully and left to go and join in the applause before Heat missed her.

  Heat was surrounded by people, but, as Sara suspected, he was waiting for her. He pulled her into the circle with him and pressed his mask to hers as if kissing while the cameras flashed. It was something he’d often done before but this time there was a brief touch of a tongue as he poked it through the mouth holes and touched her lips. No one had seen, it was so quick and secret. Then Heat turned away and was swallowed up by the crowd.

  It was the first time he had kissed her like that. Done there in the full glare of the public, but in secret – it was typical Heat. His mask was beautiful, but she could never forget what lay underneath. And so close after her encounter with Mark … She had to fight an urge to wipe her lips at once.

  Then the power went down. Suddenly, the whole room was plunged into darkness – lights, sound, the fountains of wine and chocolate all stopped. There was a minute of confusion.

  ‘Everyone stay still, please. We’ll have this fixed in a few minutes,’ called a voice. Patches of torchlight appeared as staff began to find their way around. Sara didn’t notice one among them that came on and off as it approached her until someone touched her elbow.

  ‘Dance?’ said a voice.

  ‘Oh. It’s you!’

  Mark took her by the hand.

  ‘Chance is a fine thing,’ he whispered. But chance it never was.

  Hidden in the dark confusion, Mark led her across the ballroom, out of the double doors at the other end and down a slope, towards the service area under the house. Heat had a labyrinth hidden down there where he stored his old props and costumes, and housed the security room, the boiler room and so on, and offices for his staff. Sara had never been down there before. There were rumours about passages going far out under the grounds to various outhouses and so on, so that Heat could travel underground all over the estate.

  Through a solid-looking oak door, down a passage, through a pair of double doors … Now they entered another realm, under the house, lit by dull strips overhead.

  ‘There’s a back-up system down here,’ said Mark. He stopped and looked at her. They were alone now. He wanted to kiss her, but she still wore her mask. He was unable to read her face at all.

  ‘Dance now?’ he asked.

  ‘We’re alone, but it’s not dark,’ said Sara.

  Mark took a couple of steps to one of the doors and opened it. It was a cupboard. He took her hand; she followed him inside and shut the door behind them.

  ‘It is now,’ he said. He touched her bare arms. Even though they were alone, in the dark, even though she had come with him and shut the door, he still wasn’t sure. The mask was confusing him.

  They stood so close. It felt gorgeous. Mark slid his hands down to her waist.

  ‘Is it dark enough now?’ he whispered.

  ‘What sort of dance?’ she whispered back.

  He touched her face – but there was no face, just the mask. ‘I want to see you,’ he said.

  ‘It’s too dark.’

  ‘I have a torch.’

  ‘I never take my mask off any more.’

  That wasn’t true – not quite. She almost always had it on these days, but she had been bare-faced when he had first seen her at Home Manor Farm. Bare-faced for him, he realised, since she was always masked when she was with Heat.

  ‘The darkness is a mask,’ he said. He was sure that, underneath, she was smiling at that.

  She opened the door just a fraction, enough for a little light to get in, and stood there, waiting. Mark lifted his hands to the mask, paused, then lifted it up. There was her l
ovely face smiling up at him. It made his heart stand still. He wanted to tell her that he loved her, but he didn’t dare.

  She leaned up to him to kiss.

  About five minutes later, the light coming in through the door grew brighter. The power was back on.

  ‘I better get back,’ said Sara.

  ‘Can we meet again?’ he asked.

  ‘You want to see more of me?’ she said. ‘I don’t think there’s any more of me to see.’

  Mark looked at her curiously, because nothing like that had happened. They had only kissed and stroked each other. She meant she had shown him her face; she meant she had shown him herself, but he didn’t understand. She pulled a funny face and stepped outside. Mark followed. She put her mask back on, looked over her shoulder at him and smiled – he could see the sides of her face move. She turned to go, but then stopped suddenly. He could hear her gasp. She was looking forward along the corridor, but when he followed her eye line, there was nothing there.

  ‘What is it?’ he asked.

  ‘Do you see her? There!’

  Mark looked, but saw nothing.

  ‘There she goes, round the corner and off home to bed,’ she said in a quiet voice. She sounded very calm. ‘Now, I wonder what that means?’ she said. Then, before he could say another thing, she ran up the slope to the double doors and disappeared.

  Jonathon Heat

  (The following is an extract from a newspaper article written by Heat from prison.)

  Stories about me are almost always not true. It was that way even before I was famous. People circulate damaging stories about me. It’s a form of vandalism. People always want to break and deface beautiful things.

  My motives with Sara were always pure. I never had any desire to sleep with her and I made no attempts to have sexual contact with her during the whole time she stayed at my house. Most especially, I had no designs to steal her beauty. Of course I’d heard of face transplants. It’s not true that I ever denied that. And of course I hope one day to be fortunate enough to have one myself. But knowing about something and wanting something are different from abusing a position of trust in order to make it happen.

  As soon as I saw her in hospital that day, I recognised a kindred spirit, someone with the same kind of talents and the same kind of problems. Yes, Sara and I are both ill in a way that no one can imagine unless they suffer from it themselves. Our illness is a strange thing. We are unable to recognise ourselves. I believe that one day our illness will become accepted as such by the medical profession.

  When a normal person looks in the mirror they see a face and they know it’s theirs. When Sara and I look in the mirror, we see a stranger. Dr Kaye took advantage of that situation and over the years encouraged me to have more and more surgery, setting me on an endless search for the identity I never had until, in the end, there was nothing of me left to recognise. When I reached the bare bone, I was as much myself as I had ever been.

  And then he hunted down a new face for me so that he could begin the process all over again. That’s the simple truth.

  I know people will find this hard to believe after my conviction. I want everyone to know, my fans, my friends and family, all those people who have kept faith with me over the years, that we are in the process of preparing an appeal that I am confident will be successful. To my supporters, I say, Wait. Your faith will be justified. My innocence will be proven. To my enemies I say, You will not prevail over us.

  Sara is a sweet child and it is a matter of intense sorrow – no, pain – no, heartbreak – to me that she was so cruelly treated while in my care. I trusted Dr Kaye. He was more than my physician, he was my friend. He abused that position. But what he did, he did without my permission or knowledge. If I had known – if I’d only known – I would have killed him with my own bare hands rather than allow him to do what he must have been planning all along. I have no doubt he did it solely in order to regain his reputation. I believe that everything he did was with that aim in mind. I repeat, I had no knowledge of any of it.

  Remember that Sara was not this man’s only victim. He abused me, too. My abuse was not sudden like Sara’s. It took place over many years but the end result was the same – he took away my face. People say that there’s a difference: he did it with my permission. Well, I plead guilty to being a fool, to being gullible, to being full of hope and believing in people more than I should have. I plead guilty to hoping to be well, to hoping for a normal life, to wanting to be able to look in the mirror without being disgusted by what I see. I have no explanation as to why I allowed such a monster to talk me into giving away something I valued so very much. Our faces are so much more than just appearance. When he took my face away from me, Dr Kaye also took away my soul to serve his greed for knowledge. Foolishly, I agreed to it, but I am no less a victim for that.

  No one will ever stroke my cheek, no one will ever kiss me. He turned me into a freak and I will never forgive him for that, any more than I will forgive him for what he did to Sara.

  I’d also like to say something about certain rumours that have been circulating in the press. There never were any other girls. Sara saw things, I understand that and believe it, but that is not proof. What those visions were and what they mean, I am only now just beginning to discover. One day, when I know more myself, I may be willing to share that information but in the meantime my lips must remain sealed. At one point during her stay Sara came to me with a photograph of one of our previous employees, a girl who used to keep house for me. Her name, I believe, was Catherine Monroe. Katie had left us some years before. So far we have been unable to trace her movements, but we have leads and I am hoping to be able to produce her to clear those rumours up once and for all. If she is out there, listening – Katie, I beg you to come forward and help put an end to these malicious stories my enemies are spreading about.

  I appeal to you and to all my millions of fans for any information, any lead, no matter how small, that might help us track Katie down.

  Finally, I want to thank my fans for keeping faith with me. My promise to you all is that your faith is not unjustified. Meanwhile, we have set up a charitable foundation to help people with similar sorts of problems to Sara and myself, called the Sara Carter Jonathon Heat Foundation. Anyone who wants to help should put their efforts towards the foundation, or make donations.

  Thank you all.

  See you soon.

  Jonathon Heat

  Hiding from the House

  When the security system crashed, taking with it all the power in the house, Tom Woods predictably blamed Mark for messing things up and Heat, who was furious at the blackout, quickly agreed that he should be kept away from the control room from now on. So Woods got his way in the end. And he was right; it was Mark’s fault, but not because he’d messed up, fooling around with something he didn’t understand. Mark had engineered his sweet minutes in the cupboard with Sara by programming the blackout himself.

  He didn’t mind being banned from the computer. It no longer mattered. He’d already wi-fied himself into the mainframe via his laptop and Palm Pilot. He could now control the entire house from the comfort of his bedroom without Tom or anyone else there knowing anything about it. He hadn’t even had to visit the control room to arrange the blackout – he’d done it from his Palm Pilot in a cubicle in the toilets. It had taken all of five minutes.

  ‘It wasn’t that I was, like, this big genius,’ Mark told me later on. ‘It was just that Woods was, like, this big idiot. I don’t know why Heat was employing him; he was so far out of his depth. He was still trying to flick switches. That system was like a ghost – you could practically walk through walls with it, and he just had it sitting in a corner staring at them.’

  Now that he had touched her again, Mark had it bad. For the next few days, Sara was all he could think about. Every time he thought of those illicit kisses in the dark, he felt dizzy with lust. He wanted to dance with her all right – horizontally. He had to see her again, and he h
ad the means to do it. Next time, he would be more subtle. He didn’t want to alert Heat and Woods to what he was doing by strangling the whole system whenever he wanted to see her. Sooner or later they’d call in a real expert who’d very quickly spot what he was up to. He wanted to be able to go where he wanted without anyone knowing anything about it, leaving no traces or tracks behind him.

  He spent the next days trying to ‘haunt’ the house, as he called it – devising a stealth program that would allow him to move through it without the system noticing him. Basically, he was going to make the house look the other way. That was far more difficult than just crashing it, and it took a lot longer than ten minutes. To make matters worse, Heat had not only exiled Mark from the security room – he had exiled him from the house itself. Perhaps he suspected where Sara was during the blackout. Mark now slept in a gatehouse. His new job was letting cars in and out of the main gates during the day and patrolling the perimeter fence in the evenings – both jobs that kept him out of wireless reach of the mainframe. He was only able to connect at night, by creeping close to the house and sitting under a window while he worked. There he sat, shivering in the cold dark for hour after hour, worming his way into the mainframe and, camera by camera, through the house.

  It took him a week of hard work to get his system up and running – a week of great anxiety because every day he left it was another day for Sara to forget him. But at last it was done. Now he had complete control over Heat’s electrical and security systems.

  ‘You have no secrets from me now,’ Mark whispered to the house. He had set up a loop on the cameras, one by one, so that he could override them and put them on play, record or simply freeze them whenever he wanted to. It was scary. In a strange way, he felt as if the house was Jonathon Heat himself and the mainframe was his heart and mind; and the heart and mind of Jonathon Heat were places he really didn’t want to go.

  Eight days after the party, Mark was ready to make his move.

  It was a bad business. It was all very well having control of the system, but he had no control of the guards who paced the house at night. He could check the corridors out on the Palm Pilot before he stepped into them – he could see through the cameras as well – but the Palm Pilot was small and it didn’t respond as quickly as he would have liked. If they caught him, he’d be out, and his kisses with Sara at an end. If they discovered the security codes for the whole house on his Palm Pilot, he wouldn’t just be hitting the road, he’d be hitting the court – with some force, if all the stories about Heat’s lawyers were true. As we’ve seen since, they most certainly were. Mark was also anxious about how Sara would react. They’d exchanged texts, she’d said she wanted to see him again, and on the strength of this he’d decided to take her by surprise. All she knew was he had a plan. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but, come the night, he was unsure. Maybe she’d only gone with him that night because she was angry with Heat for not letting her in on his performance. What if she regretted it and was only saying she wanted to see him again because she thought he couldn’t? Creeping through the house at midnight, all these things felt far too real to Mark.

 
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