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Chapter Six

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Vanessa lived six streets over, where the shops and pubs petered out into quieter roads flanked on both sides by lavish-looking houses. Frankie felt like she should be paying for the privilege of just walking down this road. More than once she glimpsed the telltale blue of a swimming pool peeking through a garden fence; the people who lived here had money.

Frankie had never visited Vanessa's house before, she only knew it was big and fancy through the boastings of the queen bee herself and her gang of clones. As they approached, she reflected that it was exactly what she would have expected.

Vanessa lived on the corner of the street, in a huge mock-Tudor with two BMWs in the drive. The front lawn was meticulously tended, surrounded by equally neat flowerbeds, and a stone water feature gurgled in the middle of the grass.

The quieter street meant less sick people around and Frankie was supremely grateful for that. Running from the jeweller's to Vanessa's road had been a span of time that felt like a warzone; dodging the sick and dying, knocking into other people as they tried to flee, and desperately trying to block their ears to the sounds of screaming.  

Vanessa's road still looked normal and Frankie couldn't help a pang of irritation. It would be typical if somehow the rich in town had managed to completely avoid whatever was going on. As soon as the thought crossed her mind she felt bad for it. No one deserved to go through what she'd seen today.

Vanessa's heels beat a staccato rhythm as she strode up the sloping drive to the front door. Frankie and the other girls trailed behind. Now they were away from the horrors they'd seen, it almost felt like it hadn't really happened, like they'd all woken up from a bad dream. It made Frankie uncomfortable again - walking towards the queen bee's house, a place she'd never ordinarily have been invited to. 

Vanessa unlocked the front door and strode inside. She didn't invite them in, but she left the door open and Frankie took that as an invitation.

The door led into a vast foyer, open arch doorways on either side leading to a living room and dining room. At the end of the foyer, a wide staircase curved up to the second floor.

"Mum?" Vanessa called. Her voice was imperious as ever but there was an undercurrent of fear shuddering along the edges of her words. "Dad?"

Nobody answered.

Vanessa looked back at the others. "Don't just stand there," she snapped.

Frankie ventured into the dining room. It was a huge room, dominated by a polished trestle table. An ornate mirror overlooked a marble inlaid fireplace and a teardrop chandelier hung from the ceiling. It was probably made from real crystal. Nothing looked out of place so she moved onto the living room.  

Vanessa had disappeared through another door to the left of the fireplace. Her voice echoed back through the house, calling for her parents. But still nobody answered.

There could be a dozen reasons for that, Frankie reasoned with herself. They could have been out shopping, or playing golf, or sipping crystal flutes of Dom Perignon on someone's private yacht. Okay, the last one was a little implausible.

Beth, Melly, and Allison still hovered in the foyer, looking awkward. Frankie didn't know if it was because they were in the home of someone who'd never made any secret of the fact that she didn't like them, or because they were still in shock from what was happening. It could be both.

Frankie headed into the living room. It was as lavish as the dining room, boasting ceiling-to-floor curtains, a plasma-screen TV that took up almost the entire far wall, several sofas upholstered in what was probably silk.

And a body lying in the middle of the floor.

Frankie froze. The dead woman wasn't Vanessa's mum, she could tell that right away. Vanessa was blessed with porcelain-pale skin that never seemed to blemish or sprout spots. The woman on the floor had an olive cast to her skin, something Mediterranean.

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