I am Judith Chambers.
I am thirty-four years old.
I am obscenely wealthy, insatiably beautiful, and a dedicated bitch.
Do you love your husband? Do you go to sleep at night imagining that he loves you?
Did you count on me turning up on the scene?
In your wildest dreams did you imagine that you could ever compete with what I have to offer?
I will take what you have and give you back the empty husk. That's what I do. That's what I specialize in.
I am the Hannibal Lechter of relationships, the shark in marital waters, I am Judith Chambers, these are my memoirs.
Two years earlier it is April and I am in Istanbul, standing alone on the banks of the Bosphorus. The evening sunlight glints off the nearby dome of the Ortakoy mosque as a distant muezzin summons the faithful to prayer. I am presently snarling down my cell phone at Greg Noll, the man I've left in temporary charge of my company back in London, cupping my hand to my ear to ward off the sounds of piety and river traffic.
'I don't care if she is pregnant,' I tell Greg, 'I want her out before her maternity leave is due, I'm not having her breed at my expense, get her on capability, restructure the department, do what you have to but make sure she's gone by June, is that clear enough for you?'
Greg is used to my impromptu tirades and his tone remains calm and neutral. 'Consider her gone,' he says, 'will there be anything else, Judith?'
'Have you closed down the Baxter account yet?'
Greg hesitates. 'They're asking for a reason,' he says, 'Ed claims he's been with us four years, says he's one of our founding clients so he reckons he's entitled to an explanation at the very least.'
'He's become a liability,' I respond as I turn away from a quayside hawker who's attempting to sell me some trinkets, furiously motioning the lad to bugger off. 'The Moriarty account is ten times larger,' I continue '...And they don't want us working with the competition....'
'Yeah, but I can't tell Ed that,' Greg reasons, 'I can't tell him he's being dumped in favour of the competition, that's unethical, Judith....'
I sigh, 'tell him we're downsizing, tell him we can't offer him the service we think he's entitled to, butter him up, make it sound like we're doing him a favour, whatever it takes, Greg, but I need him closed down and gone by the end of next week or we can kiss the Moriarty account goodbye.'
'No problem,' Greg says, 'consider it done. How's Istanbul?'
'Never mind Istanbul,' I snap, 'I'm relying on you, Greg, call me if there's a problem,'
I hang up.
As I stand staring past the Bosporus Bridge at the distant lights of Europe I spark up a cigarette and take a long measured puff.
I feel wretched despite being rich, young, and unattached, I feel I could own the whole world and it still wouldn't be enough, could never be enough. I watch young lovers walking hand in hand along the banks of the river and they are poor people, without merit or consequence, and yet they seem far happier than I'll ever be.
The wind picks up and I try to keep the silk shawl from blowing off my head and my anger grows with each despairing puff on my cigarette.
The poor have no right to be happy.
The rich have no cause to feel wretched.
Something's not right with the world and I can't quite put my finger on it.
My father, the architect, built many houses in his time but to the best of my knowledge he never succeeded in building an actual home. He was conspicuously absent from the house I grew up in, he was "away on business" my mother would tell me in the same manufactured tone she used to describe the weather, it wasn't until my early teens that I realised that father's particular brand of "business" involved siring children out of wedlock and leaving them scattered across the country like so many unfinished projects.
He died of heart failure when I was twenty years old and I inherited a vast sum of money when my mother died two years later.
I started my business when I was twenty-three and worked long hours to make it the success it would later become, but nothing, no amount of success, will ever fill the void left by absent fathers, that's something that never goes away.
My life will be changed forever by events that evening two years ago and I mark that point as the beginning of my obsession with married men.
I was visiting Istanbul on the first holiday I'd allowed myself in over a year and I'm afraid the local sights were lost on me, I'd been working too hard for too long, my head swilling with all the things that could possibly go wrong back at the London office, and it was impossible to switch off for any period of time. Greg was competent but that wasn't the point, I was a control freak and at that precise moment I was experiencing a catastrophic loss of control.
Heroin addicts must experience something similar when they're forced to go cold turkey.
Whilst staying in Istanbul I lodge at the Grand Hyatt hotel which is quite close to Taksim Square I believe, and I have a patchy recollection of gorgeous fountains that spill water down blue marble terraces, and things floating from high elaborate ceilings, paper dragons and butterfly lanterns and luxurious draperies that extend from floor to ceiling, and of course I'm thinking the ad team really needs to come out and have a look at all this, a little Ottoman decadence might help shift that new line of tampons we're having problems selling.
I spend the first part of that evening watching a rakkas, a male belly dancer, perform in an exclusive club just off the Nevizade Sokak. The dancer is all sinuous snake hips and lithe muscles and he is quite the most beautiful creature I have beheld in a long while, but the performance is spoilt by the fact I am not alone. A fellow guest at the Hyatt hotel, an American called Chiles, invited me here on the pretext of "grabbing some culture", but that's not all he's interested in grabbing as it turns out.
Chiles informs me he's here in Istanbul on business. He's frightfully boring, a serial philanderer with large fleshy hands and a wide insincere smile and he presses far too close when he talks, his breath sodden with alcohol and traces of peppermint, and when he tries to insinuate one of those hands between my legs I snatch a carving knife off the table and press the point against his balls, hard enough to make him wince and recoil in shock. I move after him, keeping the pressure on the knife, my voice low and urgent.
'Listen to me, you ghastly yank,' I hiss, 'you do that again and I can guarantee you'll lose the masculine inclination to touch another woman as long as you live.'
'Jesus!' Chiles holds his hands up in terror, 'I'm sorry, lady, I thought we were...Christ, I thought we were connecting....'
'We are connecting,' I probe his testicles with the point of the knife, 'would you like to feel any more connected?'
He shakes his head, his eyes bulging with fear.
I toss the knife back on the table and retreat to the ladies toilet where I sit in a luxurious cubicle and I'm so angry at that point I actually start shaking. I'm not angry at Chiles who's merely incidental, but every now and again this rage creeps up on me, this black hatred for the world and every creature on it and all I can do is squat and shake and wait for the feeling to pass, like an animal nursing some monstrous injury.
As I sit there a woman's voice floats over the toilet divider
'This world is entirely a thing of the senses, don't you agree?'
I'm not certain the voice is addressing me so I remain silent.
The voice continues. '...We see, we taste, we touch, and some say we are here merely to observe, that we cannot ever truly possess, I find that sad because of course I think it is true, don't you think it is true?'
'Are you talking to me?' I ask.
'Yes I am; does that alarm you?'
I'm nonplussed, not used to being addressed over the dividing wall of a public toilet: 'I'm not...' I stammer, '...I don't...Excuse me; I find this exceptionally odd; do you often talk to people in the toilet?'
'It's the most honest place in any establishment, I find.'
'I'd like to be left alone, if that's alright with you?'
'Alone with a rage you can never explain?'