Laura Martz


As a journalist, Laura Martz wrote about everything from bars to hacker culture for publications ranging from Salon to Time Out guidebooks. Two of her short stories have since appeared in print. She holds postgraduate degrees in psychology and cultural theory and works as a translator and editor.


LinkedIn: in/lauramartz

View as PDF: Laura Martz - London Bridge 

London Bridge

Chapter 1

The plane turned, and sunlight lanced through the rounded window into Jackson’s eyes. She blinked and looked down at the cognac on her tray table. Light slanted through the half-inch of red-brown liquid. It was melancholy, autumnal. As she’d left the house on Ibiza this morning for the last time, the same light had filtered through the stained glass in the foyer and pooled on the floor like yellow sadness.

Jackson filled her mouth with the cognac and savoured its perfumy burn. It’s not fall. It’s spring. And you’re starting fresh. Sadness is banned.

She swallowed and looked toward the galley. The crew were fumbling with the drinks cart. Hurry up, kids. I’m celebrating.

Shifting position, she cracked her knee on the seat in front of her. Last time she’d flown economy she could’ve sworn there’d been more room. Was it ten years ago, seriously?

A guy behind her guffawed loudly. She smelled BO. Or were they heating up instant soup?

She picked up the cognac in its featherweight glass. Half an inch. If you had to pay extra for a drink they could at least give you a decent pour.

The flight attendant swished past in a cool breeze of Estee Lauder or Davidoff: one of those mass-market scents engineered to please everyone and always smell the same. Jackson blotted her eyes with her shirt. “Excuse me,” she said.

The woman froze and fixed her with a wide-eyed smile. Jackson knew that look. That way of telegraphing disapproval without visible signals. That deployment of coldness. Does she recognise me?

“I asked for another doub– you know what, never mind.”

She didn’t want a repeat of that flight to Japan, with Tom and the band manic, heading off on their first Asian tour. Sir, you’ve had enough. Sir, we’re not permitted. Sir, I’d be happy to bring you a Coke. A cup of tea. A nice cake... Jackson had fallen all over herself trying to talk him out of wanting another drink, get him to stay in his seat and keep his voice down.

Of course Tom had solved things by heading for the bathroom. Back then, it hadn’t even occurred to her that he’d be carrying, much less on an international flight. Hadn’t occurred to her that worse than embarrassment lay in store.

Worse and worse. Again that night in February flashed up, vivid as life: Tom on the floor, grey. Shaft up loud, sour reek of spilled beer, scatter of packets, encrusted needle. Jackson had thought he was dead. The ambulance had seemed to take hours.

She deserved another drink. It’s not like I’m drunk, she wanted to say to the flight attendant. But apparently the woman felt that, for Jackson, two doubles was enough. I’m not paying for your opinion,she wanted to say. But the woman definitely recognised her; she could tell. And she didn’t want to fight that battle now.

The last thing she needed was some ugly tabloid story: Wacky Jacky in drunken air-rage meltdown as she leaves rocker hubby Tom. She was done done done being gossip-rag fodder. Forty-plus years since the Beatles, and women still got Yokoed. She was exiting the life – she was free! – and she no longer intended to pay its price.

“We’ll be landing soon,” the flight attendant said, pretending it explained her stinginess with the booze.

Jackson flashed her an angry smile and turned to look out the window. She resented having to care what people thought, what they’d say. Well, soon it would all be over. Screw them all. She was a private citizen now. She ran a hand over her long blond shag, pictured it short and black, wondered how long that would fool anyone.

But outside certain circles, maybe fewer people would recognise her than she’d been used to. “It’s true that Tom has lots of fans,” the therapist on Ibiza had said in her maddeningly gentle voice. “Yet plenty of people around the world haven’t heard of him. They’d have no idea who you are. To them, you’re nothing but an ordinary person.” And she’d fixed Jackson with her signature reality-check stare: one thin eyebrow raised on her otherwise blank narrow face.

Nothing. It didn’t sound that bad.

With its infinite population and black-hole density, London offered possibilities for getting lost. It would mean going off the usual map. In plenty of places in the central city – restaurants, clubs, salons, stores – envy’s infrared gaze never stopped tracking. It sensed every weakness, and the snipers took aim. But Jackson couldn’t imagine starting over back home in the US after twelve years away. At least in London there were a million starting points.

She’d never been cut out to be a famous person’s appendage. This time, she’d build something that worked from the inside out. And she’d start with Rufus. Once she found him, things would fall into place.

He’d refused to surface in all her lengthy late-night Internet searches, which was weird. But Rufus had always been the type to reinvent himself: make up a stage alias, marry a woman and take her surname. Jackson would head for his old haunts, talk to his old friends, ring his old doorbell. And when the universe decided the time was right, she’d look into his eyes again. She’d reconnect with him, and with herself.

Jackson had decided to start believing in intuition. She’d ignored its tiny voice all those years ago. Listened instead to other voices from outside: Oh, fabulous. Aren’t you lucky. I wish I was you. Now she was going to tune in. The voice had told her to find Rufus. And it would lead her to him.

It wasn’t as if she had any better guide.

Chapter 2

The gate swung noiselessly shut behind Jackson and locked with a click. “Hello, gorgeous,” she whispered up at the house.

After Ibiza, the London place always looked extra-imposing: the bricks and carved stone of its forbidding Victorian factory front so well restored you might have been on a movie set, the high walls protecting you from curious eyes, the pair of trees shading the short walk. Behind the black iron window frames, the grey shades were down.

The house was lonely. You could feel it.

Jackson punched in the code, waited for the beep, and pushed open the heavy door. “Honey, I’m home,” she said to the house. Out of nowhere, grief squeezed her throat and tears pricked her eyes.

Then she saw. Special blackout blinds, bought for jet-lagged days, blocked out the bright sun, but you could see enough in the gloom. In the foyer, the table and sofa were gone. Beyond, the living room was a vast tundra with a fireplace at the end.

“What the hell?” she said aloud.

The space seemed twice as huge with nothing in it. Jackson felt small and insubstantial. She switched off the alarm, then pressed the button to open the shades. Nothing happened. In frustration, she hit the light switch. It didn’t work either.

The alarm and the gate must be on battery backup. In the hall, she found the fuse box behind a plain panel and reset it. The switches still didn’t work. Jackson groaned. “Dammit, Tom. What did you do?”

She looked at her watch. Sixteen hours now since she’d made the decision, locked in her big closet on Ibiza, sobs wracking her body like nausea. Eight hours since she’d snuck out in the pre-dawn chill, carrying her big silver bag, nothing else. Tom wouldn’t have had time to figure out her plan and order this place cleared. It wasn’t his style, anyway.

It wasn’t hard to work out: he was selling the house to pay off his debts, and he hadn’t bothered to tell her. Of course, she hadn’t bothered to tell him she was leaving and would be needing it as a base. Did that make them even?

In the turmoil of last night and the exhausting busyness of travel, she’d forgotten to call Kevin, the caretaker, to let him know she’d be coming. She’d hoped he’d be out so she could set herself up without making small talk or enduring his smirks.

Tom must have let him go. That, at least, was a relief.

Jackson went to the kitchen. Table and chairs gone, Italian barstools gone, even the fridge: gone. She opened cupboards: they’d left plates and glasses. But when she turned on the water, it spluttered and stopped. She set her glass down too hard, knocking it against the marble counter.

Her footsteps echoed through the foyer, the sitting area, the glassed-in patio. The walls were vast and blank all the way up to the high ceilings.

Into the music room: an empty box. Everything was gone, even the framed certificate from the animal rights charity Tom had given a million pounds to. They’d been guests of honour at its gala dinner. The Daily Mail’s website had ridiculed the mushroom parcels and vegan wine. Her mother had even seen something on TV back home in North Carolina.

“That man’s crazy,” she’d said breezily to Jackson on the phone. “No, he’s not,” Jackson had retorted. “He’s kind.” Turned out he was both.

Upstairs, devoid of furniture, the bedroom was as still as the sickroom of someone recently departed. The blinds were open; dust motes churned in the light. Outside on the balcony, beyond the French doors, gone were the wrought-iron table, the cushioned chairs, even the potted plants. In the landscaped garden below, the big yellow and white flowers still waved lazily in the breeze. Soon some stranger would lie here in a strange bed and look out at those flowers.

Blinking her eyes free of tears, Jackson saw the big closet in the corner of the room standing open. She went inside, made for the safe and punched in the code. The safe beeped and she opened its heavy door. The box was as empty as the rest of the house.

“Safe,” Jackson said aloud. “Ha.”

Her stomach burned. What had been in there? It had been so long since she’d looked. Just papers? Her jewellery was at the bank. Wasn’t it? Grandma’s necklace. The ring with the rubies and emeralds.

She couldn’t face many more empty rooms, so she headed for the back stairs, spiralled down and down all the way to the bottom, and entered the low doorway of the house’s pub. A previous owner had installed it, some duke, and they’d kept it for its kitsch value. Tom and his friends had loved jamming in there, throwing out cheesy jokes between songs, pretending they were playing a holiday resort. Jackson and the others would make cocktails and sprawl on the sofas, singing along.

She’d been hoping to curl up on one, but the sofas were gone. At least the antique bar was still in place, for now. Jackson stroked its curved wooden rim as she walked its length and went around behind. The shelves were bare of liquor and glasses. She started opening and closing cabinets: empty. Empty. Empty. The fridge stood silent, its door open on a dark interior.

She pictured Kevin boasting to a clutch of party guests in some rodent-infested East London flat full of pseudo-antiques above a fried chicken joint. She didn’t know where he lived, but that was what she’d always imagined. It went with the trendy facial hair – different every time she saw him – and the studied casual air.

“Courtesy of Tom Sparks,” Kevin would tell his friends, waving a rare, numbered bottle in his beringed hand. “The poor bastard.” A lopsided smile, a hint of sensitivity indicating intimacy. The friends nodding knowingly as they lifted glasses of the smoothest, purest crystal: glasses Jackson had picked out herself.

Maybe she was being unfair. She had no evidence Kevin was a thief. Just a longterm, vaguely formed hunch. Maybe the bottles were in storage, with – was anything in storage?

Was she going to have to call Tom?

No. None of this was her problem now. She’d get a hotel room, step forward into her new life. Her savings might stretch a few months, if she lived cheaply. Her student days hadn’t been that long ago. And she’d find a job before the money ran out.

Jackson yanked drawers in and out. Empty. Empty. Finally, at the back of one, something rolled. She reached in: a bottle of French pear eau-de-vie. She unscrewed the cap, brought the bottle to her nose and inhaled deeply. She loved the strange, musty perfume.

Unexpectedly, the tangy bouquet conjured Rufus. That party; those few minutes out by the pond. She’d forgotten. Angels and demons: you remembered people as one or the other, but people were both. He’d carried a bottle of poire William out there with him. She’d come to bring him back, but he was already lost.

Then again, there was lost and there was lost.

A pack of disposable plastic glasses lay on the counter behind the bar, God knew why, but Jackson never questioned luck. She filled one and wandered back out, sipping.

In the pool room, sunlight filtered down through the retractable glass roof. The pool was a dry, tiled hollow. “Ohhh-whoa-ohhh,” Jackson sang like a blueswoman, and listened to the echo. She touched the pool’s smooth stone lip.

Back upstairs in the music room, she lay down on the deep burgundy carpet. She hadn’t really slept last night on Ibiza. She drew in a fiery mouthful of eau-de-vie and let her eyes close.

Don’t think. Rest. Figure stuff out later.

Every now and then, she and Tom had used to love piling on hats and scarves and sunglasses and taking the tube across London to check out new bands in dive bars. They’d make bets on how long they could go without being spotted and cackle over the press pictures the next day. It was a thrill for Tom; slumming it reminded him of who he was, and how different. As if he was ever able to forget. They only went to the hippest, most name-dropped places, and only the darkest and sweatiest of those. Tom’s image and identity were inextricable. He didn’t do mundane, and he didn’t do inauthentic.

This morning, Jackson had savoured both. She’d walked boldly among the people. And no one had bothered her. She’d started with a bloody Mary in the Ibiza airport bar, where a British businessman had chatted her up; she’d told him she ran a pub in Brighton. At Heathrow, she’d talked to an American tourist in the cash machine queue, saying she was on holiday from her job at the Utah department of motor vehicles. Then she’d taken the tube into town, openly eyeing the dozy commuters. They’d stared blearily at phones and newspapers or kept their eyes shut. Nobody’d noticed her. Hey London, I’ve missed you.

Maybe she wouldn’t draw interest after all, on her own in the city. The thought had buoyed her with relief. Alone in a big house – don’t think – free to be anyone, meet anyone. She was curious about strangers, hungry to know regular people.

Rufus would be pleased. Inside her closed eyes, there he was, with his gentle smile. She let him float in soft focus, basking in his fuzzy gaze.

Chapter 3

Jackson woke to a bloopy noise echoing far off in the front of the house. Someone was trying to turn off the burglar alarm. Her shirt had slid up, and the carpet was itching her back. She sat up and scratched.

Footsteps tapped down the hall and into the kitchen. “Fuck,” breathed a male voice. Kevin.

He didn’t know she was here. He’d never come in the music room.

“Yeah,” Kevin said, presumably to someone on the phone. “I’m just round the old man’s.” A quiet laugh. “God. It’s like, yo, Kurt Cobain. Sad, really.” His guard was down, his Australian twang on full display. His voice grew indistinct as he moved around the kitchen, opening cupboards. What was he expecting to find?

He moved back out into the hall. “Nah, man, I’m staying at Tina’s. They cut the power.” A snort. “Bastard didn’t pay his bills. They’re showing the place this afternoon. I just came round to check on it, pick some stuff up...” His echoing voice dwindled.

Silence. Maybe he’d left.

After a while, Jackson stood up and stretched. She’d go find her bag – where had she left it? – and get online and find a hotel.

Kevin loomed in the doorway. “Fuck!” Under his faux-neglected brown hair, his eyes were big with shock. He had her overweight silver bag on his arm, and a smaller one over his shoulder. He recovered and forced a smile, holding hers out toward her. “Jacks. You scared me!”

She stared at him. “Thanks for bringing that. Actually, though, it was fine where it was.”

“I didn’t know you were here. Thought you’d left it.” A red wash covered his cheeks, but his voice stayed smooth. “I was going to keep it safe for you.” As he lowered her bag to the carpet, the pocket of his long, lightweight coat gaped, and something poked out: the neck of a clear glass bottle.

She pointed. “That too.” Her voice sounded shrill.

Kevin allowed himself a sheepish grin. “Didn’t think anyone would miss it. Seeing as it got left behind.” Slowly he withdrew the bottle and extended it. As he did, a muffled clank sounded from the messenger bag draped over his shoulder.

“Kevin. What else have you got in there? What did you come to pick up?”

His eyes slid up to the ceiling, as if she was trying his patience.

“Kevin!” Jackson put down the eau-de-vie. “Leave it here. Right now. Everything you’ve got. Or watch me call the cops.”

He folded his arms. “You and your husband owe me two paycheques,” he said in a different voice.

“A lawyer’s your best bet there.”

Above the sculpted beardlet, Kevin’s face hardened. He tapped his pointy shoe on the carpet.

Jackson sighed. “Look, I get it. I do. But there’s no need for vigilante justice. And just for the record? I lost out too.”

Slowly Kevin lifted the flap of his bag and extricated the two antique silver wall sconces that had flanked the front door. As he did, a large screwdriver fell to the carpet. Kevin picked up the tool and slipped it back in the bag.

The sconces had cost a fortune at some Sotheby’s auction, Romanticism or the Age of Decadence or something. Surprising that they’d been left behind. Antiques and eau-de-vie, saved for Jackson by the fates. What was the message? She closed a fist around each sconce and clutched them like a baby with a pair of rattles. “Was there anything else you came for?”

“Just keeping an eye on the place, Jackson, as instructed.” His voice was snide now; the accent’s cocky lilt irritated her.

She stared levelly at him. “Great. Well, there’s no need. I’m here now.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Right, then. Lllaterrr.” He turned and went down the hall.

Snorting, Jackson shut the door of the music room. She sank to the carpet, dropped the sconces, filled her cup with eau-de-vie, and sucked in a mouthful.

She didn’t want to go and stay with a friend. Didn’t want to have to explain. Didn’t want anyone questioning, poking for loopholes. So. A hotel. Not a nice one: her savings might have to last a long time. You couldn’t predict your luck.

Chapter 4 

Jackson had fallen asleep on the floor again. She lay still, tasting fermented pear, half-floating in a dream she couldn’t quite catch hold of. It was based on the last time she’d seen Rufus, out by the pond.

Their connection failure that night was still painful to remember. The first epic Tom-and-Jackson party, harbinger of a notorious series, was under way: two hundred guests to chat to, ultra-familiar faces she’d never met before, a loud mishmash of live music and laughing and shouts. Jackson had waiters to manage. Trays passed; she grabbed canapés, champagne and drugs.

Rufus had swum up through the swirling chaos. She’d forgotten she’d invited him. “Wow,” he said, an unreadable glittering in his eyes. “What a house. What a party.”

It was latish, and Jackson was drunk and overexcitedly chattering to a filmmaker. “Alessandra, this is Rufus.” Not knowing what else to say. “Rufus, Alessandra.”

Rufus shook his head. “Oh, Jackson. Hanging out with the aristocracy? How low can you go?” His tone was flat. He wasn’t kidding.

Jackson, her unease leavened by chemical euphoria, looked over to see Alessandra’s reaction. Alessandra rolled her eyes. “Oh, Jackson. Hanging out with scruffy class warriors?” she said, her face cold and smooth as marble.

“I hang out with artists,” Jackson said. “Alessandra’s really good, Rufus. You should check out her work. Alessandra, Rufus makes art too.” Maybe they could all be friends. Rufus needed connections.

But he shot Jackson a look, his face tight with disgust, and turned and wove away through the crowd.

A moment stretched out. Finally, Jackson said, “I’m so sorry about that.”

“That’s why you don’t mix with those people. You’ll learn. Or” – Alessandra rested her feather-light hand on Jackson’s shoulder, and Jackson caught a subtle waft of clove – “at least pick the attractive ones.” She laughed.

Rufus wasn’t unattractive. Just ungorgeous by the standards of someone like Alessandra. Jackson secretly found him physically compelling: his curly bedtime hair, his luminous eyes and slow smile, his warm, leaflike smell.

Fifteen minutes later, she came across him outside by the pond, drinking from a half-empty bottle of eau-de-vie. Where had he even found it? She put her hand on his arm. It was her night: she felt loose and reckless and powerful.

He turned his head and butted his hot brow against hers like a baby bull. Confused, she drew back. He looked into her eyes. “Come with me,” he said. “We’ll go out.”

It was hard to breathe. “Where?” she said, as if she might.

He shrugged. “Away from them. East London.”

“Rufus.” She stared at him. “This is my party. I invited these people.”

He looked down at the stone patio with a sad smile.

“Oh, get over yourself.” Lightly she knuckle-slapped his thigh. “There are some hot girls in there. Go say something nice to one of them.”

She got up and went inside to find Tom, and she didn’t see Rufus again.

Later, she wondered how he’d known who Alessandra was. Had he been reading the tabloids? Hiding them inside NME? What on earth for? To keep up with her and Tom? Did he at least look her up on the Internet now, once in a blue moon?

Once or twice over the years, their old friend Susan had run into him, but she’d never quite gotten him to say what he’d been up to since the old days. Jackson hadn’t talked to Susan in months.

Susan had gone through some of the same crap with her marriage, on a lesser scale. She also had some of Jackson’s stuff.

Jackson sat up, pulled her shirt into place, dug through her bag for her friends-and-family phone, and composed a text.