by Violet Carson
Claudia Andrews stared blankly at the screen of her laptop. It had been almost 6 months since her husband Dave Andrews had died suddenly of a heart attack aged just 53. At only 36 herself, she was now a relatively wealthy and very attractive business woman and widow. Many had viewed her as Dave’s “trophy wife” when they wed, knowing very little about her and what they could possibly have in common. In fact she had to admit that with her endlessly long legs and shoulder length expensively highlighted blonde hair, she ticked most of those boxes.
She day-dreamed the afternoon away, in between checking the odd email that flashed up on the screen and aimlessly staring out of her office window. She had told her PA: Sam to hold all her calls for the afternoon, for no particular reason other than she wanted time to think about how she was going to bring her undoubtedly insane plan into action and how much her life had changed since her teenage years growing up as Klavdia Kuznetsova an only child in post Communist Russia in Volgograd in the country’s south. She was always known as Klava, which had been a common girl's name on her mother’s side of the family. She had always hated it and when she settled in London changed it to the more international sounding Claudia.
Her father had been a Materials Scientist in one of the city’s state owned Aluminium plants and as the old USSR collapsed around them grasped the opportunities offered by Glasnost to attempt to make some serious money. However, whilst academically exceptionally gifted, his business brain was less well developed and after a couple of years of relative success and prosperity, in the mid 1990s he made some bad business decisions and watched his fledgling business empire get snapped up by competitors for next to nothing. He quickly fell victim to the Russian disease of heavy drinking and died a desperate alcoholic shortly before Klava’s eighteenth birthday.
She was a gifted child and had thankfully inherited her father’s intelligence and her mother’s dedication to hard work, which she knew had been something of a blessing. Her mother Natalia was very different to her father and although not unintelligent had not gone to University and had spent her entire life working as a cleaner in various government offices in Volgograd. In fact she continued to work as a cleaner every day until shortly before her death from cancer just over two years ago. Whilst Klava always worshipped her father’s intelligence and dry sense of humour they had grown increasingly distant as his alcoholism took hold and she saw him self-destruct before her and her mother’s eyes.
Her mother however was totally dedicated to him and her daughter and the less work he seemed either able or willing to do the more Natalia took on. For some reason that she could never quite understand Klava was never happier than when on school holidays she volunteered to help her mother clean the offices wearing her cheap overalls and scarf tied around her head signing songs to herself that she heard first on Russian state radio and then the western songs they heard post-Communism. Deep down, she knew that she had inherited both the worst and best traits of both her parents, her father’s intelligence, her mother’s work ethic and unfortunately, although she could normally keep it well hidden, her father’s self destructiveness.
She was suddenly roused from her daydream by the sound of Sam knocking on her door. A Mr. McPherson was on the phone and that he insisted she speak to him straight away. Klava cursed herself for not remembering that the call was due. After all, it was probably the most important call she had to take since the death of her husband. A call on which her future plans depended.
“Hello Steve” she answered in her most seductive voice playing up the last remaining hint of her Russian accent that she knew turned him on.
“Claudia, its lovely to hear your voice as always” Steve went on, as Klava thought to herself how easy he was to read!
“I’m delighted to say that my accountants have completed the due diligence and we’re happy to buy Andrews Facilities Management for £3.75m as outlined in our previous discussions.”
Klava could feel her heart pounding as she tried to maintain her composure in expressing her delight at concluding the deal. They had agreed to the utmost secrecy in their negotiations so far and now as soon as she received the official contract of sale she could announce this to her staff at the company her late husband had spent the last 25 years of his life building up.
Andrews Facilities Management had been started as a contract catering, cleaning and reception services company by her husband in 1991 and grew to support various clients across North London. By the time Klava met her future husband when in London studying English, the business was well established, and whilst not exactly a looker he was certainly a good catch for a 21 year old Russian student. In return, Dave got an extremely attractive, intelligent but most importantly compliant wife.
What Klava didn’t appreciate when they met, was the fact that her husband was a bully. He was not abusive, but took delight in humiliating her and his staff and dominated the office like a minor tyrant. Klava had almost left him on a number of occasions but as she had signed a prenup that would give her next to nothing, she remained. He also took pleasure in secretly taunting her for being unable to have children after two miscarriages. So, other than at work where she quietly ran the business and soothed the ruffled feathers of their staff, they led largely separate lives. Away from work she spent her time buying designer clothes and attending gym sessions at least three times per week, coupled with various discrete afternoon liaisons with toy-boy lovers to keep her amused and satisfied.
But now she was free of all that, with an expensive home in North London, her husband’s life insurance, a few small rental properties that they had invested in in some of London’s less salubrious areas, along with the impending sale of the business she was both free and wealthy.
However, what she had only begun to realize in the last couple of months was that somehow she needed her husband to talk down to her and she missed dreadfully being made to look stupid in front of her staff and even being called a Russian peasant, even though she was better educated and harder working than her husband. She did not know why she got a sexual thrill out of it, but she did. She had even visited a psychiatrist without her husband knowing, but soon realized that analysis was not for her. She simply needed humiliation to compensate for the luxurious surroundings that she felt a deep-seated guilt for possessing.
She thought of her poor mother working herself to death in a drab humdrum existence. She had often asked her mother to move to London and enjoy some of life’s luxuries that Klava was comfortably able to share with her, but she refused, having an in-built dedication to her mindless repetitive work-life. Strangely, Klava longed for some of those mundane days herself and now, due an unexpected series of circumstances the opportunity was hers, but could she really go through with it?
Every evening for the last two months she had thought of nothing else and had gradually started to make preparations for her new life and with each passing day the prospect seemed more achievable and more enticing. She was also not so stupid as to completely cast herself adrift from the existence that she’d grown accustomed to.
They had spent the last 5 years in a large 5 bedroom detached house in Highgate, one of North London’s most desirable areas and had spent a considerable amount of money with an interior designer decorating it to meet her exacting requirements. She knew it would be a wrench to leave the place she had created for herself, but it would not fit with the new persona she was secretly recreating. A local property management company had told her that it could be rented for c£6,000 per month and now with the business sale completed her next call would be to them, saying she would move out in 4 weeks when it would become available. Her whole body tingled as she made the call that was to be the next critical step in her plan for a new life.
Her next task was to write to one of her tenants in East London to confirm the last day in which they could stay in the one bedroom ex local authority flat in East London that her husband and she had purchased just over a year ago and not yet had time to refurbish. She’d only visited it once or twice initially, and as she could remember with its outdated kitchen and bathroom and worn fitted carpets it would be perfect for her new home.
She then ordered a number of boxes to be delivered to her Highgate home so all her personal possessions could be put into storage, for how long, she did not yet know, as her heart continued to pound ever faster and she became increasingly moist as she clicked through the Internet pages making her purchases.
Having dropped her first name Klava as soon as she reached London, she thankfully still had a Russian passport in the name: Klavdia Kuznetsova along with her much more frequently used British one in the name Claudia Andrews. Her plan was based around recreating herself as Klavdia Kuznetsova. She didn’t believe anyone in the business knew her maiden name and even if they did, would not necessarily believe them to be one and the same person. Her husband Dave had always turned a blind eye to some of the East European migrants that were employed on some of their contracts as they could pay them less and make a higher margin. Even though she hated this exploitation and was worried about a possible fine for the company, this could now work to her advantage. She was able to convince one of her managers: Bill McDonald who she knew secretly employed illegal workers and often enjoyed certain “favours” from the more attractive ones, as well as taking a small additional cut for himself to add Klava to the payroll for their contract cleaning work. Bill was surprised that Claudia as he knew her knew so much about what had been doing, but she threatened to expose him to the new owners if he didn’t comply and he was prepared to believe that Klava was a distant cousin coming to England to study and needed work. She breathed a sigh of relief after their conversation but now had the work she wanted secured for herself.
That evening, drinking a glass of Chardonnay she started to go through her many cupboards looking at all her designer clothing that would either go to charity or be put into storage. Going through these things made her realise how much money she had effectively wasted over the last few years. She counted seven pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes along with many more by other designers: Versace and YSL suits and too many Prada and Gucci handbags to mention. There were also two Rolex watches one a Gold and Diamond one worth at least £10,000. None of these would be suitable for Klava!
The next day she would go to her West End Safety Deposit and deposit all her jewelry and her designer clothes would go into a lock-up storage unit her future return. The house was to be let as furnished, so other than a few more personal items, the furniture could remain. She also made arrangements with the local garage to sell her BMW, telling them she was going abroad for at least 6 months and would buy a new car on her return. As both she and her late husband had been very good customers over the last few years, regularly changing their cars they were more than happy to offer her a good price, not that she really cared what they offered. In her new life, she had decided that Klava, like her mother before her would not drive but would have to suffer the discomfort and inconvenience of public transport on a daily basis.
She also decided that Klava would still look attractive, but in a very cheap way with a little too much tarty make-up, cheap jewelry and badly dyed hair. When not working, her heels would be a little too high and her skirts a little short. There was to be no mistaking her lack of style and class!
She surfed the net a little longer finding suitable sites for the cheapest clothes that an East European immigrant was likely to wear and finally drifted off to sleep feeling more aroused than she had in months.
What would the future bring?