Nearly two years had passed since I last heard from her. It had been so long, I had almost put her out of my mind. Verruca had always been a bad dream, popping up when you least expect her to, but her erratic behaviour, since her unceremonious departure from OXSCAM House, had become so outlandish and idiosyncratic, that there had been times I was actually afraid for my life. I knew she would always be in the shadows to an extent, but by just how much, I was never quite sure. The hold she has over people is indescribable; she is not someone you underestimate, she is the arch nemesis, all of us fear. Verruca would always surprise you at the most inopportune moments, but the longer she stayed away between visits, the more I hoped she had finally given up!
The bath was steaming, nice and hot, just how I liked it. Wiping my hand across the bathroom mirror, I could finally see my face, the morning expression I was so used to – a frightened rabbit in the beam of a headlamp, slightly pained and that grimacing look, that doesn’t do wonders for my ageing complexion. A handful of cold water splashed liberally on my boat race and I nudged gently into the day.
Shaving is the bane of my life, I hate it; having a five o’clock shadow at 11am is never a good look, so I am always meticulous about making sure I look presentable for the day ahead. Manoeuvring a sharp blade across ones profile early in the morning, navigating fifty years worth of cracks and crevices, steering towards a perfect crescendo, was never my forte and today was no exception. On the last stroke, I punctured the top of my lip. In a rage, I through the razor into the sink, it spun around multiple times, dislodging the head; broken, it was the last one in the pack. As blood dripped into the porcelain bowl, scowling, I got into the bath and tried to relax before my temper reached boiling point; not a great start, but it was about to get far worse.
Two minutes in and there was a knock at the door; I decided to stay put; maybe they would just go away. A few seconds later a louder more determined banging, so I decided reluctantly to get up. Soaking wet, I put on my dressing gown and angrily headed downstairs. The third pummel on the glass panel, was enough to shake the house. ‘Alright, ALRIGHT, I’m coming’ I shouted, as I adjusted myself, making sure nothing was hanging out and frustratingly swung open the door. In front of me was a bush, an overgrown plethora of foliage, accented by the occasional red carnation. In truth, it looked a mess, although organic and natural would probably be the preferred words I'm sure.
I wrinkled my nose upwards and squinted my eyes, looking puzzled and confused, I shook my head. It was no one's birthday, family occasion or funeral? Had I actually missed something? ‘Delivery for Mr Martin?’ cried a faint voice behind the monstrosity before me.
‘Who, Mr who,’ I exclaimed?
‘Mr Martin; Mr Luke Jones,’ came the reply.
‘Oh Luke Martin-Jones,’ I asked?
‘Yes Sir, Mr Luke Sir,’ came the reply, as a heavily masked florist poked his head around the forest burgeoning in the porch!
‘Yes that’s me, I’m Mr whoever you said!’ I affirmed, less than impressed, by the service I had received so far! Biting the side of his lip, he looked towards my dripping wet face and blood, now pouring down my cheek.
‘You are bleeding Mr Jones,’ he retorted, gesturing with his finger, animating my distress.
‘I know, I know, because I’m stood here talking to you, when I should be in the bath!’ I growled angrily; grabbing a mask from the console table in the hall, I awkwardly attached it to my face.
‘These are for you, Sir,’ he said thrusting the Amazon rain forest into my face.
‘Thanks, thanks for nothing!’ I shouted as he scurried up the road, leaving me to close the door loudly behind!
Who on Earth is sending me flowers, especially the unseemly disarrangement, not so proudly on display. Strangely the muddled mishmash of flora and fauna looked familiar, but I just could place where from. As I wiped away the last of the blood from my face, using the mask now dangling from my ear, I saw an envelope attached on a spike, set precariously in the middle of the bush. Parting the evergreen, I delved in and retrieved the dog-eared attachment; instantly my heart sank. Familiar handwriting, the scent of woodbines on rum and the usual blood stained scrawly writing. Standing back, I could immediately see the unruly mess for what it was. The floral composition, red flowers, matted greenery was Verruca in all but name, this was her calling card, she was back after two years away.
Immediately I grabbed the industrial strength sanitizer, next to the bowl of medical masks on the bookcase near the door, an unfortunate necessity when living through a pandemic. I liberally soaked my hands, rubbing vigorously, in case she had left anything behind. It sounds almost mad doesn’t it, but this woman has infected so many people, you just want to remove any trace of her from your person.
After several minutes, trying to compose myself, I opened the card and read the short note inside:
‘Hello Lovvie, it’s V, but I guess you already knew that, didn’t you? I’ll see you tonight down by the beach, the bench opposite the Co Op, facing the pier. I'll be there, red hair, Hannibal Lecter mask, drinking a bottle of Captain Morgan's, from a brown paper bag. Bring the envelope! Love V!’
It was blustery down by the promenade, as I walked down from the funfair towards South Parade Pier. Holding my cap tightly with one hand and the envelope firmly with the other, I had butterflies in my stomach, as I cautiously strolled along. There were plenty of people about – dog walkers, overweight joggers, offloading their COVID germs on you as they raced past, breathing heavily, sweating profusely. Friends sitting two meters apart were perched perilously on either side of the promenade wall. Wearing masks, they shouted conversations at one another, in order to be heard in the force nine gales. I felt safe in public, nothing could possibly go wrong!
Then I saw her, taking a swig out of the bottle of rum, stretching her arms outwards and cracking her fingers, just like she always did. I hated that, I couldn’t stand the cracking fingers, it sent shivers down my spine. It was Verruca alright, looking as indignant as ever, red locks blowing demonically in the ferocious sea air. Head down, I walked up to the bench…
‘Hello V, fancy seeing you here, oh what a surprise,’ I joked.
‘Whatever, don’t try and be funny, just give me the envelope and p*ss off,’ she demanded. This seemed very strange, usually she likes playing games, messing with your head for a bit, then leaves you wondering what just happened. Today she was different; still her usual obnoxious self, but more battle worn and tired.
I walked to the other side of the bench; socially distanced, I put on my mask and sat down, against my better judgement. I could have just given her the package and left, but the empath in me told me to sit for a while and find out what was going on. She looked broken, more than I had ever seen. Her trademark red hair was greying in traditional lockdown style, longer than I’d ever seen it, and she had aged beyond her years. The pandemic had taken its toll on all of us, but for a sociopath like Verruca who thrived on other peoples misfortune, without little or no contact with the World, she was a shadow of her former self.
I handed her the envelope, which she snatched begrudgingly from my hand. Her face was emotionless, her eyes glazed. She turned her head ever so slightly, facing me, mask to mask. Her red hair, constantly blowing across her brow, kept getting entwined with her thick bottle top spectacles. You could just see her eyes peering over the Hannibal Lecter mask. Raising an eyebrow, she then turned her head and looked down towards the envelope, nails, jagged and chipped as usual, she caressed the fastening, quickly looking up once more.
‘I never wanted to do this boyo, this is what they have done to me,’ She mumbled from behind her face covering!
‘What are you talking about V, who, who are they,’ I asked?
‘Them, the ones at the top, the ones who will come tumbling down, the ones I will crush and the ones who made me who I am,’ she continued. Verruca was almost demonstrative, for the first time in her life. If it wasn’t for the pandemic. I could have even placed a hand on her cold shoulder.
Suddenly she turned and flipped back to her usual self. The emotional facade, turned icy once again. Standing bolt upright, she took one last look into my eyes, lowered her mask ever so slightly and smiled, that sinister grin she always had when she was up to something.
‘You’ll be seeing me in the future, the time to tell our story is near, so make sure you get it straight, until then, keep looking over your shoulder; one day I’ll be stood there, for the last and final time. Until then, adios amigos…. Oh and remember, I was never who you thought I was!'
Perplexed, I was left with more questions than answers. Who exactly was she talking about? Who are they? And would it really be the last time I see her?
I have been in the UK for a little over a month now and knew it wouldn’t be too long before I had that knock at the door. This morning, as I was getting ready for work, there was a loud banging on the glass window of the front porch. I recognised this hammering from old; it had a very familiar tone to it. As a rule I don’t usually open the door to strangers; I am a private person, who has had to deal with ‘toxic people’ in my life, so have always been very cautious; today, I was half asleep!
Bleary eyed, I looked through the opaque glass that adorned the vestibule; I could make out a figure wearing what looked like a hoodie. Not thinking about the consequences, I opened the aperture, facing the person on the other side. Their head was bent low, although I could just make out a coil of ginger hair, protruding through the rather dishevelled hood; instantly, my heart sank; I knew exactly who this was; it was Verruca, Verruca Almond! Verruca slowly moved her head upwards; wearing a pair dark sun glasses, smelling of woodbines and rum, she smiled; a sarcastic menacing grin, that always sent shivers down my spine.
“I knew you were back lovey; there’s not much you can keep from me these days!” Veronica retorted in her characteristic Bonnie Tyler, gravelly, smokers voice. I grimaced ever so slightly; not wanting to show Verruca my true feelings, I quickly produced a smile, bigger than a Cheshire cat. Extending my arms outwards I embraced Ms Almond momentarily; not for too long, she would have known there was something up. She had a confused look of cautiousness in her eyes; pursing her lips, nodding her head up and down, she knew I was pretending to be emotionally attached. “That’s enough lovey, you and I both know, we aren’t going to make babies anytime soon; cut the crap and invite me in!” she continued belligerently, awkwardly almost confrontational in reply.
Knowing Verruca the way I do, I invited her inside; it would cause more trouble not too. Probably not the best move, judging on her past, but the safer option under the circumstances. I understood it was best to ‘play the game’ where V was concerned. She was a clever, master of manipulation, but after three years I knew just what to say, in order to calm any impending situation. I escorted Verruca into the kitchen, where I switched on the kettle.
“Cup of Coffee V, just how you like it; dark, strong, a bit mysterious; no sugar sweet enough?” I asked knowingly!
“You understand me too well boyo!” she laughed ‘I’ll be standing right here, no funny business…..If you have a nip of rum, I wouldn’t say no!’ she continued.
“No rum, sorry V, just Vodka; not a big fan of Captain Morgan, as you well know, after that stint in hospital on New Years Eve 1988!” I replied.
“No worries, a shot of voddie will do. Keep it to the side, don’t mix it with the coffee,” she explained. I knew there was something up; she liked her drink, but never straight, at nine o clock in the morning.
Verruca finally removed the hood that was obscuring her face, unzipped the top and threw it on the back of the kitchen chair. Her face was dirty, eyes blood shot, hair matted. Not dissimilar to how she used to look, but this time her clothes were equally unkempt. There were holes and tears from the top to the bottom of her Laura Ashley dress. She had a chunky pair of stockings on, stained and riddled with holes. Her usual trademark patent leather shoes were scuffed and worn, the soles detached, broken straps, crooked heels! There was something missing, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what. Then after thinking for a minute I realised, her thick bottle top glasses were gone. She could barely see without them; there was indeed a problem!
Despite Verruca’s many faults, she always took pride in her appearance. Whatever she wore, she wore it well; she always looked immaculate. Not wanting to seem shocked, I quickly averted my eyes, stirring her coffee directing her to the breakfast table. Jeremy Kyle was on the television. “Turn it off, we don’t need that rubbish on, it’s time for a chat!” Veronica demanded; I duly responded, switching off the box. Verruca had never liked Jeremy Kyle, calling him a bully. I had a feeling the show was just too close to home for V and she preferred to avoid the many issues raised; I could be wrong of course!
“I need you to look after a package for me she said, something very important. I don’t want you to open it, just keep it safe, until I need it; you know the score right?” she asked!
“The score V, what are you talking about?” I replied, confused, as to where this was all leading.
“Do I really have to explain myself Lil man?” she shouted, “I’m on the run, after what happened in my office; the accidental death of a WPC. Oh I know you got that letter, so don’t try and deny it!” she whispered sternly in my ear. To be honest I couldn’t say a thing, so just sat there listening, to her tail of woe. Luckily for me, she had no idea I had phoned the Police, stupidly believing we were still ‘friends,’ which just goes to show how deluded this poor shadow of a woman had become.
I listened for a good half an hour, Verruca managed to get through three quarters of a bottle of Vodka and six cups of coffee. I felt exhausted by the end, but finally agreed to take the thick manila envelope, hidden beneath her jacket, sealed tightly with duck tape, the words ‘DO NOT FKING OPEN, EVER,’ emblazoned across the front.
“I’ve gotta go, things to do, but I will be in touch and remember DO NOT OPEN THE ENVELOPE!” Veronica snapped. ‘Don’t get up, I’ll go out the back way!’ she proclaimed. She stood tall, knocking her chair to the ground, fastened her coat, placing the hood over her face. Still sitting there, not saying a word, I watched as she climbed on top of the summer house and jumped over the wall; looking back momentarily, she smiled as she left!
I remained at the table for a good hour or so, looking at the envelope, touching it, shaking it, prodding it with my fingers, wondering what was inside. The clock was ticking, it was time to go to work. I gathered up the package and placed it upstairs, hidden away from prying eyes. Tomorrow is another day, for now I would do as I was told, what happens after, I really don’t know!
It’s been a stressful few weeks here in Spain, having to once again deal with the fall out from yet another scandal at OXSCAM. There’s been many times, I’ve just wanted to throw a brick at the television set, as my blood pressure has reached boiling point. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse, a letter dropped through my mail box this morning. I instantly knew this envelope spelt trouble. It was addressed in pink, scrawly words, pointing downwards. There were indistinguishable marks and blemishes all over the white self seal envelope. Just to the left of the stamp, there was a black cigarette burn hole. As I held it up to the sun, I could see right through. Somebody had been smoking, whilst writing this correspondence. On the reverse there was a large red stain in the bottom corner; it looked like tomato sauce, raspberry jam or worse, I really couldn’t be sure. I pressed it against my nose; a faint whiff of rum, woodbines and cheap nail polish punctuated the air. This was no ordinary note, this was a Verruca Almond note; the words of anxiety written in haste; tension in the air!
It’s V; I’m in a bit of a bind; troubles a brewing at OXSCAM House and it has my name all over it. I don’t mind tellin ya, I’m in a bit of a mess lovey. The rozzers are pokin arand looking for evidence. Not sure what they exactly want, but they are combing through the lot; paperwork, call logs; even my cheap knock off Versace bag. I arrived early yesterday, just before the Misappropriation of Funds Department opened. The head of HR had tipped me off; there was going to be a raid. I needed to get there before them, just to tidy up me desk and stuff, but I was too late. Some large butch lesbian police officer had already gained entry and was fingering her way through me filing cabinet.
Of course, I had no idea what to do, I just had to get her out of the office. I had fings of a personal nature, that I had to remove, fings that they couldn’t see. There was no way I woz goin inside again.
You remember the trophy I won for Manager of the Year, for diverting funds to the less needy; the golden charity box? Well it was just sat there on me desk, next to the silver serrated penknife I used for opening me mail, so I just grabbed it, knocking the knife to the floor. The noise it made was deafening and the bloody WPC looked rand, facing me square between the eyes. Quickly I hid the box behind me back, gripping it tightly with both hands and carefully walked over to her, all sweet and innocent like; just like Mary Poppins….Remember you used to call me that lovey?
Smiling sweetly, I asked if I could help her with her pokin arand me draws like. She didn’t say a bloody word, shaking her head turning rand, carrying on with her meddling like. Well you know me lovey, I can’t stand being ignored; I just lost it, smacking her rand the ead with me trophy. I panicked, I didn’t know what I was doin….NO ONE TOUCHES ME DRAWS; you know that right?
She went dan like a tonne a brix, smacking her ead on the corner of the cabinet. Now you know how sharp that corner is, I was forever cuttin myself on it. It totally gashed her forehead, blood spurting out all over that new carpet, all those donations paid for. Awight, that made me even more angry and I hit her again and again with the golden charity box. ‘Don’t bloody bleed on my bloody new carpet,’ I shouted. It just came out me mouth; she had really hacked me off like.
Not a sound, she was still and motionless. I gave her one last kick with me pointy witches boots, as you used to call them; there was nofink, not even a murmer. ‘See no one touches me draws; look what you made me do; it’s ya own fault!’ I must ave sounded deranged, talking to a corpse on the floor; well I fink she was dead anyway. Luckily it was eight in the mornin and no one else was in, so did me best to clear up the evidence and get out as fast as I could, leaving her, lying by the cabinet….Well she deserved it!
Here’s the thing lovey, I need to lie low for a bit. I’ve taken some garden leave, while the police investigate what happened and all the other crap at OXSCAM House. So far they don’t fink it was me. I turned up at 10am, all refreshed, dressed head to toe in Lara Ashley, all innocent like. I was told of the attack and put on a bloody good show; shock horror, why oh why, how could someone….you know the sort of fing. After an interview with CID; (he woz gorgeous by the way, you would ave loved im,) I was allowed to leave, distressed, alone, shaking, all part ov the act!
They’ve given me leave for a bit, so I thought I’d pop over and see ya; it’s been a long time right! I have tried phoning, but ya been outta range. I ope that’s OK lovey?
Sees ya soon
Well I wasn’t expecting that. I knew OXSCAM was in a mess, but Verruca had just murdered someone. Oh I knew she was wayward and unhinged, but even I didn’t think she was capable of murder. The last thing I want is her making waves in Spain. OK, she was my friend, but what else could I do. I’ve just got off the phone with the police, who are on the case. I am not in the habit of protecting killers and believe she has to be stopped. OXSCAM has a lot to answer for; Verruca is just the tip of a wobbly iceberg that is about to collapse and I for one can’t wait.
I know this wont be the last I hear of Verruca; she’s a crafty one. Ever since I have known her, she has managed to get out of every situation she has put herself in. Whether it has been a combination of good luck or OXSCAM protecting their reputation, I just don’t know; whatever it is, I hope she finally gets the help she needs. We did have some great times, her and me; she taught me much about life and surviving in a harsh World. Verruca also had a soft, sensitive side and would do anything for those she loved. Her biggest downfall was her childhood, unloved and uncared for. She has a vendetta against everyone, because of what she went through as a young girl. Verruca Almond will always be a big part of my life, because of the experiences we shared; without her I would not be here today. She was most definitely the carer who cared too much!
Until next time Verruca!
Christmas is always a special time, hearing from friends and family you haven't heard from in a while, spending a few days with loved ones and reflecting on the past year. It was 3am this morning when my mobile phone rang; bleary eyed, I picked it up; Verruca Almond was on the end of the line. I knew I shouldn't have put me new phone number on facebook, but it was too late; Verruca had done her homework and tracked me down! For those of you who don't know who Verruca is, she was a carer, who taught me the ways of the World; looking after myself, surviving in the most difficult of circumstances, how to lick knives, without cutting ones tongue, totally deranged, sociopathic and now working for the biggest charity in the land 'OXSCAM,' after infiltrating the HR department at OXSCAM House. She has had her tough times, but was finally on the up, always keeping in touch when she could!
Verruca has this habit of phoning at the most inopportune moments; ridiculous times in the morning, whilst you were away on holiday or in an important meeting; in fact anytime she knew it would annoy you the most. In true form, she was unapologetic and immediately started to squawk loudly, on what I can only describe as an inaudible phone line. Verruca has no family to speak of, so tends to spend Christmas on her own. She has always pretended to be married, buying underwear and vests, for her imaginary husband, from the very charity shops she manages, however this partnership isn't quite as it seems. Verruca has created a fictional World, something none of us who knew her, ever spoke about, although were fully aware of. She had no husband, no family life and was a spinster living her life in a dream. For her, Christmas is the most productive time of the year. She can sit alone in front of a PC, trolling through social networking sites; drunken status updates, compromising photographs and pretend illnesses, on Boxing Day; getting as much information on people she knows, as she can. Verruca is a game player and spends most of her life, trying to destroy others; it's what she was born to do. She used to say to me, how proud of herself she was; dragged up as a child, fending for herself and now more powerful than others could ever imagine. At the time, I never understood her words, believing she was just deluded and egotistical, today, things are very different; I understand her vision completely!
Verruca's charity work is without question, winning awards for misappropriation of funds and redirecting money for good causes towards buying property in the Cayman Islands, year on year. Oh she is good, financially astute and always one step ahead of the accounts department at OXSCAM House. I remember when a rather large amount of money went missing from her department, she was quick to deny any foul play, as shocked as everyone else about the disappearance. She had left no paper trail in her wake, but planted plenty of evidence and false documents in the drawer of her boss, who she loathed since he fired her many years previously, moving her to another area. She was proud of her accomplishment; not only had she gained thousands of pounds in her back pocket, but she had also framed her superior, killing two birds with one stone.
Every Christmas Day Verruca would spent time at the local soup kitchen and shelter, where the homeless were given a Christmas meal. Verruca always said. why should she pay for a Christmas dinner, when she can get a free plate, eating with the most vulnerable in society, helping them towards a better path in life. Verruca went to the shelter every year, a bit like those old women that sit in the back of churches knitting away through every service. She has no right to be there, but no one says a thing, turning a blind eye. Back in the day, I used to be amazed by Verruca's charitable nature, believing her to be a good Christian fearing woman. In fact today, I know she is nothing but. She may well spend time with those in greatest need, but only because she can manipulate them more than most; they were ideal fodder; they fed her most basic needs and desires.
The phone line was crackling; I could hear a whirling sound and the rush of water in the background...
'Are you alright Verruca? you sound like your in a washing machine!' I enquired.
'I'm great, feeling energised, full of beans, having a wonderful time!' she screamed!
'...but where are you? It's three O'Clock in the morning! Are you sure you are OK?' I asked again, shouting louder over the increasing noise at the other end of the phone.
'I'm in the forest, kayacking lovey!' she explained, barely audible under, what sounded like a waterfall!
Verruca had told me once before that she used to kayak, whenever she could. To be honest at the time, I just assumed it was another made up part of her life, how wrong was I. Actually this was one aspect of her, that I soon realised was true. I have to admit, when I was ill at work, she gave me her home address details, in order for me to send my 'sick notes' to. I took a sneaky peak at her house on 'google maps,' and bugger me backwards, there was a bloody Kayak parked outside.
'It's 3am Verruca; you are in a kayak in the middle of the New Forest, on a phone. What the hell for?' I shouted at the top of my voice.
'There's no time to explain that, I needed to ask you a question!'
'A question, NOW, about what?' I cried exasperated down the phone!
I thought she had phoned to tell me about her Christmas and ask me about mine. It may well be the early hours of the morning, but I assumed she had been drinking, as she often did. I would frequently find empty bottles of gin, all over her company car, when she used to give me a lift to meetings or during those long chats in private, that she said were for my own good. I never spoke about the bottles, preferring to concentrate on getting out of the car as quickly as possible. Questioning her, would have only made her angry and prolonged the experience of being trapped in her Ford Focus, that stunk of cigarettes, lighter fluid and cheese and onion crisps; it was unthinkable. Luckily I always had an exit strategy. planned down to the last second, before I closed the passenger door. If things got heavy, I could faint at the drop of a hat, even in a vehicle. Not only that, I always carried pepper spray and had a 'safe' friend phone me after an hour in her company, with a made up emergency; bad situation avoided!
'Have you finished, the end of month paperwork yet, I have to get it to head office ASAP?' she yelled, her voice cracking, followed by an ear-splitting shrill of excitement; she must have gone around the bend, in mind and on the bloody river, a bit fast. She loved her action and adventure, did Verruca, but this was insane!
'Verruca, you really have been drinking; I haven't worked for you in over two years.' I replied, barely discernible under the commotion on the other end of the phone. There was silence, seconds later, a rather pained shriek and finally silence again.
'Verruca, are you alright? I have no idea what you are talking about! Verruca? Verruca?' I bellowed....!
That was the last I heard from her this morning. I have no idea why she phoned or what she was saying. I can only assume she has lost the plot, thinking I am still working at OXSCAM, living in the UK. It looks like I'm going to be spending the rest of the day, trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. Phones have a habit of going dead on her and judging by previous experience, I am highly unlikely to hear from her for a few months. She will of course deny the phone call ever happened and tell me I am going mad, when the opposite is true. Still it's good to know she is still alive, despite rafting down a river at stupid O'Clock in the morning, the day after Christmas. I'll keep you updated!
The last time I heard from Verruca Almond was just over three months ago. She had fallen on hard times, on the run after stealing sensitive information, from the charity she had been working for, disguised as a tea lady. Verruca would stop at nothing to track me down, after I escaped her bonds just over a year ago. Last night, while blogging until the early hours, Ms Almond, as she prefers to be called, popped up in my inbox, that's a first for her, she had been off line for quite a while; I thought I'd seen the back of her.
She had sent me a message and a photograph of her, sat back in her palatial office, in Oxford. The last time we spoke, her surroundings were less than salubrious, sat in a poorly lit room, only distinguishable from the tattoo on her neck, glimpsed briefly through a flickering candle in the background. Her aggressive grin was smiling back at me, made all the worse, by her ground down teeth. Verruca was a teeth grinder. When she spoke, her jaw chattered, constantly. It always reminded me of chalk writing on a blackboard and sent shivers down my spine. You can tell a lot about a photograph and she had staged this one perfectly.
Verruca always had a demure, unassuming, almost modest persona, at least that is what she wanted others to see. She was dressed in a pink floral, figure hugging top, covered with a cerise cardigan, that had clearly seen better days; the biggest silver cross, hung from her neck, glistening in the sunlight, streaming through the office window; her religious credentials without question, in tact. She was sporting a new perm in her ginger locks; this time there were no roots visible. The Verruca I knew, never wore makeup, preferring the natural look. She once told me, she didn't need a mask, a painted face to hide who she was, because she wore a mask every day of her life. At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. Looking back now, I realise exactly what she meant.
She was still sporting her trade mark thick bottle top glasses, eyes peering over the top, still piercing my very thoughts. On her desk, sat a golden charity box; in 2008, she had won, Manager of the year, for her endeavours, misappropriating funds, diverting cash to the less needy at Head Office. She was the first Manager in history to reduce the amount of money going to good causes and was used as an example, for others to follow. I remember her in a meeting once, complaining, that we always had to stick up for those in most need, when she herself was suffering; having to keep her company vehicle for another year, especially when it wasn't the colour she wanted. The deep cheery red paint, clashed with her barnet; she felt a laughing stock, discriminated against, because of her ginger hair and unable to do secret visits to other shops in her region, because she stood out a mile. 'You might as well stick a blue flashing light on my head', she shouted. You could see the others in attendance, look at each other in agreement; maybe that wouldn't be such a bad idea; looking down at the floor, trying to hide their laughter!
Verruca was indeed a character, always vocal on matters she held dear. She was a champion for over worked Area Managers, everywhere. She was instrumental in reducing the number of hours worked from 37 per week, to 22. According to Miss Almond, she could be most persuasive when she wanted to be. According to those in the know, she knew no limits, threats were commonplace, something she made on a daily basis, as a petulant child screams to get a bar of chocolate. When Verruca arrived at Head Office, there was an emergency plan of action, that would click into place. It was followed to the letter every time, without fail. 'As one prepares for a fire drill, one also prepares for FIRE.' whispered a colleague in my ear.
It was difficult for me to judge this woman, who had become a good friend to me. She had always tried to save me time in my job, reducing the 'unnecessary form filling', as she put it, filling in my annual reviews herself, signing on my behalf. She set my budgets, rejected the rigmarole of Health and safety and dismissed procedures when dealing with vulnerable people, all for my own benefit, teaching me the way things should be done, not the imposition of a few do-gooders sat on The Board of Trustees! I admired her, for her firm Management style, always willing to learn from a 'Golden Charity Box' winner, the oscars of the voluntary sector.
Verruca was a game player and always left little clues in her calls, messages and emails; clues about herself, her life and where she was at any given point in time. In all the years I knew her, she never once gave me a straight answer, always answering a question with a question. I knew she wanted me to look closely at the photograph and play her game. Well, I have moved on a lot, since she was in my life, that is for sure, but I did take note of a few clues she had left.
There was a card on her desk; 'Congratulations on your promotion.' Verruca was back in the fold, the charity family, as she always called it; the ones she was there to, in her words 'do business with!' Although she wasn't liked or respected, it was better to keep a person of her ability in one place, where she could do least harm to others. The charity had learned its lesson at least. She had two mobile phones on her desk. It was a standard joke, when I worked for them, that if you received a call from Verruca, there would never be a record of it, anywhere. We always used to call her 'Verruca two phones'; when she rang, no one picked up! There were other messages in that picture, the main one, a paper knife. The knife was her trade mark; a veiled threat against trying to undermine her. Underneath the photograph, there was a brief message:
'Back where I belong, still licking knives, be in contact soon!'
It was lovely to hear from my old friend, carer, ex boss and confidant. We aren't in contact as much as we used too, since I moved away, but it is kind of comforting to know, that Verruca is still the old person I knew; unhinged, but unchanged by circumstances that have characteristically shaped her and her life. On the surface she was a 1950s housewife, below the exterior she was hard as nails, determined to forge her way through life and take no prisoners. That meek, timid creature, I always loved and knew, was still there deep down. Her weakness, just wanting to be loved!
Disclaimer: Verruca Almond is a fictional character and does not refer to a real person, living or dead.
For those of you who read my first blog, you will remember 'Verruca Almond'. Verruca had been sent to me, like a Fairy Godmother, to help me get through the hard times. A carer, jailer, confidant, personal shopper and teacher of wise and wonderful things. Things I never knew, small tips to get me through each struggling day; a planner of futures.
I was sat at home, feet up, meditating, chanting, expelling bad karma, when there was a beep on the laptop. To my delight, but equally my horror, Verruca was sat at the other end, on a video call. The room she was in, was dark; I could make out a flickering candle in the background, sat on top of one of those old spin dryers. You remember the ones your Mother used to have in the 1970s. The room looked damp, with mould growing up the walls; there was a cracked, darkened window behind her and dangling from the ceiling, live wires! I could make out Verrucas face, from her distinctive neck tattoo and goatee beard, she used to bleach, to try and hide her, hirsute affliction, from the Word. Sadly, in the light from the candle, it was more noticeable than ever.
Verruca was wearing her distinctive, green tabard, blood stained and looking just a little bit tired. She was bedraggled, not her usual self, her sixty a day voice, cracking as she spoke; chain smoking, one cigarette after another and not her usual brand, but roll ups, made with shaking, awkward hands. Little did I realise, the tabard was a clue as to her present condition.
'To be honest Verruca could throw on a bin bag, and still look a like a crisp £20.00 note. Dishevelled and a little worn, she was oozing sexual prowess. There was something different about her. She was a bit Sassy, a little Minx like.'
This was the Verruca I knew, just over a year ago. Despite her job, caring for the down and out's, ill, infirm and victims of Southampton, she still, always did her best to look good. There were occasions, you could smell alcohol on her breath, chip fat in her hair. Chipped nails and ginger roots forcing through her matted hair were commonplace, but as a rule, she was a lass who made the best of what she had!
Something was different this evening. A lot had happened since the last time I saw her face, that was for sure. When I left Southampton, I sadly forgot to tell her where I was going, just an oversight. She was only with me for professional reasons, and I saw no reason to carry on our relationship.....
'How, why, I mean, you found out where I am, but, I don't quite understand why, Verruca?' I asked, confused
'We were, friends. I taught you how to stand tall, in a World, where people like me, are not appreciated. I showed you have to survive in a Biffa bin, lick knives and take from the unfortunate. I thought we understood one another!' she began, lighting another cigarette, taking a sip from a bottle of Captain Morgan's, placed on the floor, at her feet!
Verruca had indeed been there for me at difficult times. She taught me much; I remembered her words.
'This weekend Verruca taught me how to lick knives successfully. She caught me running a blade along my lips on Saturday night. Horrified, she showed me the way to do it safely, with most impact. A moistened knife can be a godsend in many survival scenarios. For everyday kitchen use, a lubed up utensil will always make light work, of even the hardest task. Cutting meat from the bone, is done with ease.'
Verruca was never normal, we got on, conversed and had a relationship of sorts, because of the circumstances at the time. She had a past, not a pretty one and had hurt many people on her journey. Slightly on the psychotic side, she reminded me of an old boss I used to have. Heart of steel; clenched hands, always ready for a fight; grinding teeth; false platitudes but, a little bit Mary Poppins; a cross between Laura Ashley and Attila The Hun! I knew we had to keep a distance between us, especially as she became fixated on me, my life and those in it! I never imagined that this saint in bondage gear, would ever track me down. How wrong could I be!
'You look great, Verruca, positively radiant' I muttered, trying to deflect from her obvious, unkempt appearance.
'Cut the crap lovey. You always did speak a load of old bull. You may be good with words, but the rubbish that comes out your mouth sometimes'. She shouted, rum dribbling down her chin. There was so much rage in her eyes. The anger was welling up inside her, but I had no idea why!
It seems that when I left for Spain, Verruca felt abandoned and alone. She had got a new job, in Oxford, where she had managed to track me down. Able to gain access to sensitive information, she found out where I was living. The trail of destruction she left in her wake is not even printable. What I will say, is HR, will be clearing up the mess for many years to come. When we spoke yesterday, that was her last day, working as a tea lady, under cover, following in the footsteps of Betty Gruffle, the fastest tea lady in Oxford. She had managed to use her charm, wit, good looks and devious ways, to get what she needed. The end result was not the best though, I have to say.
I was a little concerned, about the way she looked. What had happened? What had gone wrong? Why the candle? What the hell was going on and what did she want with me? Well all those questions and many more are for another day. Suddenly the candle blew out and the line went dead. I heard a muffled scream, then darkness, she was gone!
Verruca is a bit of a character it has to be said. Our bond was built on a mutual need; companionship for Verruca and guidance for me. She taught me much about the grittier side of life. How to walk to the shop, without having a panic attack, how to kill with my bare hands, wear dark glasses at all times and mix with the local 'chav boys', Southampton is after all, second to Portsmouth, The Chav capital of the World!
'Verruca is taking me for a walk around town next week. Her tips for such an extensive expedition are things we should all know when we set off to the local shop on the corner. Rehydration is a must. If one falls in a Biffa bin, when hiding from the Police, alcoholic beverage, or otherwise is essential. It will get one through the night and could even save one's life!'
Despite her hard exterior, violent nature and mean swagger, Verruca is as vulnerable as you or I. People like V, come in all shapes and sizes, different walks of life and on the surface look pretty normal. When you get right down to the person inside, then and only then will you know, just who you are dealing with!
I first started writing about Verruca Almond, in my fist blog Bipolarcoaster. Verruca was a parody of my then boss Vera Lynham; the woman responsible for bullying, harassment, homophobia, lies and attacks against myself, my partner and other good members of staff. I created Verruca as a tool to offload my frustration and anger at the time and it worked.