Date: 15 September 2015 7.46 am
Subject: Evil twin
Attachment: Evil twin.jpg
I know the attached picture can’t be you so I thought I’d give you a heads up. An acquaintance of mine is shopping this around for five figures. Confirm it’s your evil twin and I’ll get him to drop it.
Date: 15 September 2015 7.59 am
Subject: RE: Evil twin
OMG! You can’t believe how close to the truth you are. It definitely isn’t me. You’d have my everlasting devotion and appreciation if you could kill this.
P.S. Call me tomorrow and I’ll set you up with a photo shoot. Kim Cattrall is coming into town especially for it and I remember how much she liked working with you last time.
Date: 15 September 2015 8.04 am
Subject: RE: Evil twin
Consider it dead.
Phoebe Monroe was doing her best to stay calm, particularly while she was at the wheel of her black BWM hard top convertible driving as fast as traffic would allow. But it wasn’t easy. She was on her way to a very important rendezvous. She was going to kill her sister.
Not just any sister. Her only sister. Her identical twin sister who seemed intent on ruining her life. Okay, so it was a benign intention, but that didn’t make it any less cancerous to Phoebe’s career. A career she had worked hard to establish. A career in fashion journalism for both the print media and television. A career that was threatened when Phoenix appeared in public looking like she’d been dragged through a swamp backwards and then dried herself off at the edge of a volcano. Especially when some nitwit photographer – no, he didn’t deserve any title that gave credence to what he did for a living, a nitwit paparazzo – thought one sister was the other.
Personally, Phoebe didn’t see how it was possible to get the two of them mixed up. Where she was gorgeous and glamorous, her sister was brilliant but boring. She could speak, read and write fluently seven different languages – a skill Phoebe would have found useful when dealing with models and designers from all around the world – but Phoenix chose to put it to use by translating mind-numbing business documents for some nothing company and getting paid close to nothing for it.
Even worse, she hadn’t had a boyfriend in years and spent most evenings lying on her couch, a Phoenix-shaped groove indented in it, watching TV. And not even interesting dramas but the 24 hour news channel with a documentary thrown in here and there.
But perhaps worst of all were the cats. A good Samaritan gesture several years ago, taking in a neighbour’s cat when they’d been moving and unable to take the animal with them, had now turned into some sort of crazy cat lady obsession. At last count, there were six cats living with Phoenix: two who were officially her own, a previously pregnant stray she’d taken in to prevent the neighbourhood from being overrun by kittens, and the resultant litter of three who were now five weeks old.
Well, enough was enough. It was one thing for Phoenix to ruin her own life, but to attempt to ruin Phoebe’s like this was just not on. Her sister was about to get a dressing down about her dressing down.
Phoebe pulled up at a red light and used the time to check her Blackberry, hoping to see an email from Ned. He hadn’t confirmed yet if he’d been able to do what he’d promised but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. He was an in-demand photographer who had better things to do than look out for her, but then again, she had career-making skills in the industry they both worked in. Career-breaking skills, too. She’d never had to use the latter, but she would if the stakes were high enough. And the stakes were high enough.
Phoebe put the cell phone down on the passenger seat as the light turned green and she resumed her journey. It wasn’t far to Phoenix’s cottage now. She practised what she was going to say and tried not to think about all the places she could quite adequately hide the body.
To: Marco Di Carlo (cell)
From: Phoebe Monroe (cell)
Time: 9.24 pm
Sweetie, something has come up. Can’t make drinks with yr business pals. C U at home L8R.
To: Phoebe Monroe (cell)
From: Marco Di Carlo (cell)
Time: 9.29 pm
Phee, this is important. Don’t make me beg!
To: Marco Di Carlo (cell)
From: Phoebe Monroe (cell)
Time: 9.32 pm
Beg all U like. Have to go C my sis. Won’t B 2 L8.
“What are you doing here?” Phoenix Monroe stood in the open front door of her cottage wearing grey tracksuit pants, an oversized sweater with pulled threads all over it, a pair of Ugg boots that were once black and several cats. She was holding a tin of cat food in her left hand and a can opener in her right and Phoebe was almost too overcome with anger to answer the question.
“Nixy,” she started, but she didn’t get any further than that.
“Don’t call me Nixy. You know I hate it.” Phoenix stood back to let her sister in, making sure not to dislodge the five-week-old kitten who was climbing up the outside of her pants. Phoebe, as per usual, was dressed like a model. A black jersey wrap dress, black patent stiletto heels so tall, so thin and so pointy Phoenix didn’t know how she could walk in them, gold bangles but only on one wrist and a hand bag that almost certainly cost more than her entire month’s salary.
“Well, then, it looks like we’re both pissing each other off today. Would you like to explain this?” Phoebe held up a print out of the reason she was here.
It was a picture of Phoenix showing her pale faced, virtually in rags and without any evidence of a hairbrush having been used in the recent past. In fact, not too dissimilar to how she looked right now.
“That’s a picture of me! Where did you get that?”
“A photographer friend of mine. Some idiot paparazzo is shopping this around as a picture of me. For five figures. Do you know how damaging this could be to my career?”
Her career. It was number one on a list of two things that were the only two things that Phoebe ever talked about. And this was a well-worn subject. How Phoenix’s lack of interest in her own appearance and the fact that they were identical twins, making mixing them up very easy, could be the death knell of her precious career.
Number two on the list was her revolving roster of continuous but monogamous boyfriends. Man of the month was Marco Di Carlo, a former Italian model now trying to set himself up as an importer of impeccable Italian men’s fashion and using Phoebe’s cachet in the industry as somewhat of a springboard. Phoenix had only met him once but that had been enough. Unfortunately, he was lasting longer than most and was into his second month. In fact, the last she’d heard, Marco had practically moved in.
“Sorry. It looks like it’s from two days ago. I ran out of kitty litter so I went to the 24 hour market down the road.” Phoenix paused to consider the picture in more detail. “Why would anyone think this was you? You would never be buying kitty litter and you can clearly see the scar on my hand.”
It was the only obvious difference between them, from when Phoenix had shut her hand in a car door at the age of eleven. The doctor who’d stitched up the gash hadn’t done a particularly neat job and there was a large, silvery and very permanent reminder.
“Paparazzi aren’t always the smartest people. Or the most ethical. Maybe the guy did know it wasn’t me but was sniffing around to see if he could get any mileage out of it anyway.” Phoebe realised she was being distracted. “But that’s not the point. How many times have I told you to expect situations specifically like this? Is it too much to ask that if you’re going out anywhere to put on a pair of designer jeans, slick a coat of red lip gloss on your mouth and make sure to remove from your person any cats who are using you as a resting place or a scratching pole?”
“I don’t own a pair of designer jeans.”
“What are you talking about? I gave you a pair for your birthday not two months ago!”
Phoenix tried to think about what she might have done with them before realising just as Phoebe was spotting it, in the corner of her living room where Mama Mia had taken up residence with her three kittens, that they were currently nestled amongst a pile of clothing that the cats were… well, nesting in.
“Phoenix Stefania Monroe! Do you know how much those jeans cost?” Phoebe wailed.
“No.” The answer came quickly and the unspoken portion of it was, “And I really don’t care.” Phoenix tried to explain it away by continuing, “Besides, they have a wicked stain on them from when Mia gave birth in a pile of unfolded washing and I just figured she and that pair of jeans were meant to be together.”
Phoebe expelled a long, frustrated breath and Phoenix could see she was about to slump onto the couch.
“I wouldn’t—” if I were you, she was about say, but it was too late. Phoebe and her pristine black dress pressed into the cat fur-covered couch. Long experience with cats told her that the dress would never be pristine again. She decided not to mention it to her sister.
“I wouldn’t know what to do with designer clothes, Phoebe.”
“Try not to take it so personally. I don’t do these things deliberately to piss you off.”
“And yet they always do.”
“Sorry.” The word was starting to feel repetitious. “I’m not sure why it seems such a surprise to you that, when it comes to fashion, I’m completely in the dark.”
The house was suddenly plunged into well-timed darkness. Phoebe laughed a little hiccupy laugh.
“Damn,” Phoenix said as her eyes adjusted. In the minimal amount of light coming in from the street, she could see the whites of her sister’s eyes. “Don’t move. I don’t want you to step on a kitten. I’ll grab a torch and check the fuse box.”
But she didn’t have the chance. A microsecond later, all the windows blew in, shattering into a thousand pieces, glass raining down on both of them. Phoenix fell to the floor with her arms over her head for protection while Phoebe screamed her lungs out and put her hands over her face.
When the glass had finished raining down, Phoenix looked up cautiously. What the hell was that? The air smelled smoky but there didn’t seem to be any fire.
“Nixy…” Phoebe whispered uncertainly, her fingers checking for damaged areas of her exposed skin. “What happened?”
She was about to say she had no idea when she caught movement from the corner of her eye. Too large to be a cat. And they were probably all hiding under her bed by now.
Phoenix turned towards the movement and was quick enough to glimpse two large men, clad entirely in black, balaclavas over their faces, coming into the room. But a glimpse was all she got.
As she was pushed to the ground, her hands bound and a hood placed over her head, she heard Phoebe start to scream again. And despite knowing it was ridiculous considering their situation, there was only one thing she could think.
“Don’t hurt my cats! Please don’t hurt my cats!”
To: Bruno (cell)
From: The Boss (cell)
Time: 9.59 pm
Do you have the girl?
To: The Boss (cell)
From: Bruno (cell)
Time: 10.03 pm
Yes. On our way. But could be a problem.
To: Bruno (cell)
From: The Boss (cell)
Time: 10.07 pm
Fix it. And get here. I’m not a patient man.
Phoebe didn’t want to seem petty but the floor of the van she and Phoenix had been bundled into smelled really, really bad. There was the hint of some sort of grease smeared all over it that was now smearing itself all over her. She didn’t want to think about what had lain on this floor previously but in order to stop herself thinking about anything else, it became the only thing she could think about.
Animals maybe. Or some kind of dirty, oily machinery. Whatever it was, the residue of the previous occupant was now residing on her favourite little black dress. And her shoes. And her Marc Jacobs handbag, which had been slung over her shoulder when she’d been pushed onto the floor of Phoenix’s lounge room and her hands bound together with some sort of hard plastic strip behind her back.
At least her hair and her face were protected by the black cloth hood their kidnappers had slipped over her head. And they’d been gentle. None of that brutish roughhousing you saw on TV and in movies. Almost perfect gentlemen, apart from the fact that they’d exploded all the windows in Phoenix’s house, kidnapped them both and no doubt scared the shit out of her sister’s numerous cats.
God, the cats! Nixy hadn’t shut up about them. Don’t hurt my cats! she’d pleaded over and over again. Forget the cats, Phoebe had thought. What about us?
But since they’d been put into the van, her sister seemed to have settled down and was lying quietly next to her.
“Nixy!” Phoebe whispered, edging closer in the direction she thought she was laying.
“Don’t call me Nixy,” Phoenix said in a low, flat tone. Well, whatever else was going on, Phoebe at least knew that she was okay enough to make her nickname a priority.
“What the hell is going on?” Phoebe asked.
“How should I know?” Fair enough question. Neither of the men had said even one word.
“Why don’t we just ask?”
“It’s your funeral,” Phoenix said without humour, still keeping her voice down. She seemed subdued. Not an unreasonable emotional state given their circumstances.
“This has to be some sort of mistake. If we just tell them they’ve got the wrong people, I’m sure they’ll let us go. We haven’t seen their faces.”
Next to her, Phoebe heard Phoenix sigh but she didn’t say anything.
“Sir,” Phoebe called out. “I think there’s been some sort of mistake. My name is Phoebe Monroe and this is my sister, Phoenix. I understand that you have a job to do but I don’t think we’re the people you were supposed to pick up. I’m a fashion journalist and my sister is a translator and we’re both very law abiding citizens. Please—”
“Shut up or I’ll shoot you in the leg.” The voice came from the front of the van and was deep and masculine, speaking lightly accented English and obviously meaning business. Phoebe instantly shut her mouth. Perfect gentlemen, my ass, she brooded.
“Nixy, we have to escape,” Phoebe whispered, suddenly realising that it was possible they were in a lot of danger as well as suddenly realising that she should have realised it long before now.
“Okay, you first,” Phoenix whispered back, clearly sarcastic this time.
“Well, we have to do something.”
“How? How are we going to escape? How are we going to do something? We’re tied up in the back of a van going who knows where. Just be quiet.”
“What does being quiet accomplish?”
“It accomplishes you not getting shot in the leg.”
“Take your sister’s advice. She’s clearly the brains of your little operation.” A different voice from the front of the van, this one clearly and heavily accented with an Eastern European lilt.
“Hey!” Phoebe began to protest until Phoenix kicked her in the leg. She grumbled silently to herself as she tried to rub her shin with the back of her calf. It was one thing to know she was the less academically-inclined sister but it was another to be told so by a complete stranger.
Next to her, Phoebe felt Phoenix roll towards her and stiffen slightly.
“What? What is it?”
To: Phoebe Monroe (cell)
From: Marco Di Carlo (cell)
Time: 11.42 pm
Where are you? You said you wouldn’t be late.
To: Phoenix Monroe (cell)
From: Marco Di Carlo (cell)
Time: 11.48 pm
Have you seen your sister? She is not home yet. Should I worry?
To: Phoebe Monroe (cell); Phoenix Monroe (cell)
From: Marco Di Carlo (cell)
Time: 12.25 am
Where the hell are you both? Call me ASAP.
Apart from the initial excitement – a word used loosely in this instance – being kidnapped was pretty boring, Phoebe had decided. It felt like hours since they’d been taken. Maybe it was hours. They’d driven, and driven, and driven some more. Then they’d stopped. Then they’d driven a little further and stopped again. After which, they’d hauled both women out of the van and led them inside. Inside what, Phoebe didn’t know since they hadn’t yet removed the hood. But it echoed like a big room without furniture and there was an artificial light seeping in through the miniscule gaps of the woven cloth hood. Not enough so that she could see anything. Just enough so that she knew there was a light.
And then they’d waited. And waited. And waited longer until finally Phoebe had to ask, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of my using the bathroom, is there?”
There hadn’t been any response except for a metallic click-click noise that sounded the way it did in the movies when someone was chambering a bullet in a gun. She hadn’t asked again.
Phoenix hadn’t said a word since they’d arrived at their destination. She was a quiet person generally, happy to live her life and watch the world go by. Phoebe hoped she was okay. Being kidnapped by criminals or terrorists or MI6 or whoever these guys were was bound to upset even the most well-adjusted person.
Phoebe shifted in her chair, trying to rearrange her dress, which was bunching uncomfortably and probably exposing more than she usually did. But with her hands still tied behind her back and her handbag dragging heavily on her arm, there was little she could do.
It took her by surprise when the black hood was suddenly whipped away from her face. The light was bright and it took her a while for her eyes to adjust. When they did, she wished they hadn’t. She’d seen their faces now. This wasn’t going to end well.
There were three men standing in front of her, several metres away, regarding her with fixed expressions. She thought about smiling at them but they didn’t seem like the kind of audience who would respond well to it. Like a room full of fashion designers.
She looked around and her eyes fell on Phoenix sitting next to her, blinking the same blink. Her twin seemed unbelievably stoic in the face of all this.
“I’m sorry to have kept you both waiting. An unavoidable delay, I’m afraid.” The older of the three men finally spoke, moving towards them. The other two were clearly their kidnappers. Large, butch, built men with thick necks and short haircuts.
“Can I get either of you anything?” His politeness and the question seemed incongruous with the circumstances.
One last cigarette? But neither of them smoked. A telephone? Phoebe pondered. A squadron of heavily armed special operations police? She decided to take the honest and humorous route.
“I would love a glass of ice water and my sister is clearly in dire need of a hairbrush.”
She felt the back of the man’s hand on the side of her face before she even realised it was coming and her head snapped sideways painfully.
“Ow!” she cried out pointedly, looking back at him the way she looked at her boss when he was making her cover a story she didn’t want to do.
“Perhaps that will teach you not to be so flippant.”
Perhaps, Phoebe thought, wishing her hands were free so she could rub her cheek. Or give him the bird. Or both.
“The reason this has taken so long is that there was only supposed to be one of you. And yet here you both are.”
Only supposed to be one of them? What did that mean? That they were only after Phoenix and that Phoebe had thrown a spanner in the works? Or had they been after Phoebe but unable to tell the two of them apart – like some idiot paparazzo she knew.
“Sorry,” Phoenix said in the same tone of voice she used when apologising about bird’s nest hair pictures and designer jeans, which Phoebe knew meant she wasn’t sorry at all.
“There’s no need to be sorry. Just tell me what I want to know and I promise neither of you will be harmed.”
Even Phoebe knew that promises like that were routinely broken. Nonetheless, she asked warily, “What do you want to know?”
“Which one of you is the spy?”
EISEC (Enhanced Information Service for Emergency Calls) Log Record #174852
Time: 1.29 am
From: Marco Di Carlo (cell)
Location: Tennery Lane, Biggin Hill, Bromley
Metropolitan Police Service
Bromley Borough Operational Command Unit
999 Call Transcript
Time: 1.34 am
Operator: What is your emergency, sir?
Caller: I have come to my girlfriend’s sister’s house and there has been an explosion.
Operator: An explosion? Is the house on fire? Do you need the fire and rescue service to attend?
Caller: No. There is no fire. But all the windows are broken.
Operator: Where are your girlfriend and her sister? Are they injured?
Caller: I do not know where they are. I cannot find them anywhere. They are not answering their cell phones. Please, please, send the police urgently.
All Phoebe really wanted to ask was if it was a trick question but she suspected if she did that the side of her face would become uncomfortably reacquainted with their questioner’s hand. The only other responses that sprang to mind – “I am Spartacus” or “Did you mean ‘Which one of us is spry?’” – again would have likely prompted an unwelcome reaction.
So both sisters sat there silently until the man standing in front of them couldn’t take it any longer.
“Ladies, I am not a patient man. I would recommend you answer my question.”
“Sir,” Phoebe began, clenching the side of her face in preparation for another backhander, “I really, truly think you have the wrong women.”
“Miss Monroe, I really, truly think I have one wrong woman. The other – well, the other may have some explaining to do at the next family get together.”
“This is ridiculous. I have one of the most recognisable faces in the UK media,” Phoebe pointed out. “And so does my sister, given that it’s identical to my face. Neither of us would make a very good spy. We’d never get away with being covert.”
“Who says you have to be covert to be a spy? Some of the best were very, very famous people.”
“Spare us the history lesson.” Phoebe rolled her eyes in Phoenix’s direction. There was no getting through to this man.
They had to do something. Phoenix just continued to sit there meekly so Phoebe decided to take charge.
“Let’s say, hypothetically, that one of us is a spy. What would you want from that person?”
“Information about what precisely?”
“About many, many things. Information that would give me a great deal of power and a great deal of leverage over just about every government in the Western world.” He leaned in close to emphasise how serious this all was – to him, anyway.
But something about the man standing in front of her was starting to remind Phoebe of Dr Evil. Destructive yet inappropriately hilarious. Or perhaps she was just descending into the depths of the madness that tended to overtake people who were subject to this sort of treatment. Like the Stockholm Syndrome, except that instead of bonding with her captor, she could barely keep from laughing in his face.
“You are so full of shit.” The sudden sound of Phoenix’s quiet voice put paid to any thoughts Phoebe had of laughing. Everybody, including her sister, looked over at her. “You’re not going to let us go.”
“Not at this rate, no. Not unless one of you starts talking.”
“My sister already told you. We don’t know anything about any spies. Fuck you!” she cried out uncharacteristically, jostling Phoebe’s arm violently as she strained against the plastic strip binding her wrists.
“I don’t think you would enjoy it much, my dear.” The older man’s paternalistic tone only just failed to hide his growing anger.
“Phoenix!” Phoebe’s tone was a warning in itself.
“What?” She looked back at her sister and it was almost as though a complete stranger was sitting next to her. Phoenix jostled her roughly again but seemed to realise the futility of struggling and slumped back into her chair, her chin on her chest as she stared at her lap.
The older man stepped back and motioned for one of his henchman to step forward. “I really am sorry it has come to this, ladies.”
“Wait, wait, there has to be something—” But Phoebe’s pleading words did nothing to halt the henchman approaching. The larger of the two – although there wasn’t much between them – did an eeny, meeny, miny, mo and decided on Phoenix while the other stood back ever so slightly. Then he brought the gun he was holding up to her chin.
“Okay!” Phoenix called out, looking up at him and then over at the older man who had been questioning them. “I have something to tell you.”
“What!” Phoebe said disbelievingly.
“What?” their interrogator prompted.
But instead of saying anything, Phoenix suddenly grabbed the man standing beside her, put him into a headlock and rammed a set of gold-plated nail scissors that Phoebe recognised as the emergency pair she kept in her handbag into his ear. Phoenix caught the gun that faltered in his hand and shot the other henchman in the face with it. They both fell to the ground at the same time.
Phoenix pointed the gun at the only man left standing. “Do you really need me to tell you?” she asked him. He shook his head and held his hands out in a gesture attempting to placate her.
“You’re the spy!” Phoebe realised belatedly. “You’re the spy?” It just didn’t quite fit. Which, she supposed, made it perfect. No one would ever suspect her. Not even her identical twin sister who was supposed to know her better than anyone else in the world.
“I’m the spy,” Phoenix confirmed, then said to the man, “On your knees, please.”
He went down slowly as if it was painful.
“Now what are we going to do with you?”