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The Vanity Game

The Vanity Game is available on Amazon as an e-book.  Hard copies are coming soonish – watch this space!

“As black as black comedies come and twice as audacious, HJ Hampson’s The Vanity Game eviscerates celebrity culture with the incisiveness of an expert surgeon—but with a giddy, over-the-top pleasure that’s exhilarating.”

— Megan Abbott, bestselling author of The End of Everything and just-published Dare Me

“Take a pinch of TOWIE, add a measure of vapid sleb culture, throw in a few dark temptations, lob the lot OTT, and you’ve got a recipe for a premier league winner.”
– Val McDermid, bestselling author of THE RETRIBUTION

“The trenchant first-person narration … comes into its own as an engine for driving the story at a page-turning pace that’s hard to resist.”
– The Herald

“a debut novel of rare originality and dark wit”
– Crime Fiction Lover

“you’ve got a hugely compelling main character at the center of a fast-paced book that’s part downward spiral noir, celebrity satire, and paranoia thriller”
– Spinetingler Magazine

My debut novel The Vanity Game is out now as an e book. It’s a dark, funny satire on celebrity culture.  The protagonist is a footballer called Beaumont Alexander whose reckless behaviour leads to him becoming tangled up with a shady cartel.

Below is an extract:

The Vanity Game by HJ Hampson

A fat, balding face on the CCTV screen scowling up at the camera. Huge bushy eyebrows that make him look a bit like an owl. I press the buzzer and watch Owl Face as he carries on staring at the screen, the scowl turning to this gormless look, and then he must notice the gates are opening because the eyebrows suddenly raise and he vanishes from the screen, obviously rushing back into his car. That would be kind of funny if he wasn’t the Old Bill. Owl Face obviously ain’t used to hanging out at gaffs with high security gate systems.

I’m at the door before he’s even driven down the drive, and open it to watch him pulling up in his plebby little detective car and get out. The eyebrows rise again when he sees me standing there. Awe-struck probably. His body is fat to match his face, well middle-aged, plump at any rate, and his face is flushed red, as if he’s an alky. And he’s wearing this crumpled shitty, grey suit that looks cheap as hell, with a maroon and cream tie that could have been nicked off a school kid.

“Detective Inspector Dante,” he says flatly, flashing me a police badge with a photo of his face on it, in the same scowling expression that I saw on the CCTV screen.

“Beaumont Alexander,” I say back.

“Aye.” He just nods, furrows the brows and gestures we should go inside.

Great, he’s northern, ninety per cent likely to be a Hater then.

We don’t speak as I lead him through to the lounge, passing the kitchen which makes me shiver a little and I pray to God he doesn’t sense it.

“I’ve come to ask you a few questions about your girlfriend’s disappearance, Mr Alexander,” he drawls as he settles himself into a cream leather arm chair.

Makes me shudder to see a suit that cheap sitting on a chair that expensive and I hope it don’t leave any marks on it.

“You say it were about six o’clock when you noticed she were missing?”

“Yeah, about that.”

I feel that it comes out a bit stand-offish, but I can’t help be wary of this guy. He just nods though, as if he’s expecting me to say something else.

“Any idea why she might just take off like that?” he says, when he realises I ain’t going to.

I shake my head and try to look miffed. “Well…she was a bit messed up I guess.”

“Messed up?” he asks, narrowing his eyes, the eyebrows meeting. “She’s a recovering drug addict, isn’t she? You think she’s still using, you know, on the quiet?”

It’s good he’s thinking on that track.

“Well yeah, I suppose it’s possible.”

“Hmm…” he nods, “And you say ‘was’?”

“What?”

He’s cocking his head to one side, and I’ve got this weird feeling, like something is falling through me.

“You said ‘she was a bit messed up’, as opposed to ‘she is’. I mean, presumably she still is messed up, wouldn’t you say?” One eyebrow, raised.

“Oh yeah, well of course…I mean, she was a bit messed up, last time I saw her, when she was here. I went through this with the other police.”

“Right, yeah. So who was her dealer?”

“Her dealer?”

“Her drug dealer. Where was she getting the coke from?”

He’s speaking to me like I’m a kid, and I’m bricking it big time, hoping this mess inside ain’t showing through on the outside. This guy is snidey, no question. And shit, what do I say now? I weigh up the likelihood of CJ, our dealer, taking a hit out on me if I grass him up, but figure that it’s pretty unlikely.

“Erm, a guy called CJ I think. He’s pretty small time.” Exclusive, CJ would say: A list only.

Dante writes the name down, and sighs. What the fuck is this guy thinking?

“And was there anything else that might have been troubling her? Messing her up, as you say.”

Thankfully, he seems to have forgotten the ‘she was/ she is’ thing. I pretend to be thinking for a while and then finally say:

“Well, she did complain about the press attention and being in the public eye so much.”

Owl Face scribbles this down and nods, which is good.

“Actually, only the night before she ended up in tears when we got back from a party. She was talking about how she couldn’t take it any more and saying we should give all this up. I just thought she was drunk, but maybe there was more to it.”

He cocks his head, frowns and nods, which I take as a sign that he’s buying it.

Seems that I’m okay at this acting business. Maybe I should try my hand at a film part after this has blown over. Old Owl Face is still writing and nodding.

“Mind if I have a look around?” he asks, looking up from his notebook.

“Er, no, go for it mate.”

The last thing I want is this guy snooping around. These police fuckers have eyes for any kind of evidence, I’ve seen it on those cop shows, where all the eagle-eyed bastards have to do is spot a tiny fleck of blood from a mile off and then the game’s up for the suspect. Am I the suspect yet though? It’s hard to tell.

He hauls his fat ass out of the chair, and where’s the first place he heads? The kitchen. Perhaps he can smell blood. I feel my legs getting weaker as I follow him and when we get there, I have to lean on the worktop to steady myself. He just glances round though, and I hold my breath as I watch his eyes scan over the place where she died, between the fridge and the breakfast bar. Nothing. No comment. We leave the kitchen and walk through the dining room, and then to my games room, the utility room, the pool area (no floating bodies, much to my relief), and then upstairs. He sticks his head into every guest room and I’m starting to think the guy just wants a nosy round my gaff to see how bling it is.

“This the master bedroom then?” he asks when he gets to our room. He goes in and starts looking through the cupboards, like he’s maybe expecting a corpse to fall out of one or something. I almost say this, but hold my tongue as the Old Bill ain’t ones for jokes.

Finally he gets to Krystal’s underwear drawer, and the sleazy bastard starts lifting out lacy bras and kinky thongs, admittedly with this complete look of total boredom on his face. Then he pulls out something else – a square thing tied with a ribbon, a book. I’ve never seen it before.

“This her diary, then?” he asks, tugging at the ribbon.

I have to clear my throat to speak because my mouth has gone so dry.

“Er, yeah, I guess so. I didn’t know she kept one.”

I watch in silence as he flicks through the pages, frowning.

“They always keep ‘em with the knickers.”

“They?” I ask, trying to laugh, but it comes out more as a cough.

“Aye. Missing girls, what else?” He doesn’t lift his eyes from whatever gripping content the bitch wrote in that book.

Then he snaps the book shut and pulls a clear plastic bag from his pocket.

“I’ll take this back to the station if you don’t mind. It might give us some clues about where your lass has gone.”

Are they allowed to just take things like that? I’m sure they need a warrant or something? But what can I do? If I question him he’s likely to get suspicious, so I just keep schtum and hope that it’s just a load of girly crap about shoes and food in there. Christ, I feel I’ve said enough already.

We go back downstairs, and just as I’m thinking the worst is over and beginning to relax a bit, he asks:

“You got a garage here? Mind if I have a look in that?”

Fuck. I’d forgotten about the Land Rover. What if it’s still there? And what if it’s not? Will he notice?

“Yeah, course you can.”

I lead him down the passage towards the garage and hope he doesn’t notice that my hands are shaking as I turn the key to unlock the door.

I flick the lights, illuminating my gorgeous collection of beauties: the black Brabus Merc, the blood-red Invicta, a silver Aston Martin, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a large space where the Land Rover was. So they’ve taken it. Dante the Owl raises his eyebrows.

“Nice cars you’ve got here, mate,” he says, stroking the Invicta as if it had fur.

So that was it. He’s a car man and he knew I’d have some classy machines. Damn it, why did they have to send a car man? Another detective wouldn’t have wanted to see the garage. He makes a kind of whistling noise as he goes over to the bike. For fuck’s sake, what does he want? A test drive?

“Ah, a Harley. I used to ride myself, when I was a lad…not a Harley of course.”

Great, big whiz, just get the fuck out of here.

“Did she drive then?” he asks suddenly, looking up, fixing his eyes on me, eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, she did sometimes.”

“So, there’s no cars missing then?”

I take a deep breath, and try to think, think, think. Obviously, the house is in the middle of the Essex countryside. You couldn’t even walk to the nearest commuter village, and Krystal wasn’t one for walking anyway, not with those heels she’d wear. How the hell would she have got to wherever she’s supposedly disappeared to? Beads of sweat form on my neck and back. I’m going to have to put on a damn good act to pull this off.

“Shit, well now we’re in here, yeah, the Land Rover’s missing,” I say, and then put my hand over my mouth as if I’m shocked, “it was there, parked in that space. I’m sorry, I hadn’t noticed before, I guess I’m not thinking straight at the moment.”

I run my hand through my hair and wait for his reaction. He stares between the empty space between the garage wall and the Invicta and back to me.

“You never noticed ’til now? But you drove to your mother’s in that Merc after you reported her missing.”

How the fuck does he know that? And then, as if he could read my fucking mind: “I saw the pictures on the web.”

I’m floored, don’t know what to say. Damn the paparazzi bastards – are they in league together, them and the pigs? It wouldn’t surprise me. I’m standing here like a mug, might as well paint ‘murderer’ across my forehead, and I can’t think of anything but the flash bulbs going off and the thugs pressed against the car windows.

“I just didn’t notice… I often lend my cars to friends, so I guess I just forgot, it’s, erm, it’s hard to keep track sometimes.”

The words just come out. Bollocks, it’s a stupid lie because if they do any research they’ll find out that I never, ever let any of my mates use my cars. I can feel Dante’s owl eyes burning my skin, scanning my face, my body language, looking for signs of betrayal. A dog fixing on a scent, I imagine the saliva forming behind his heavy cheeks. He’s pulling out his notebook again.

“Registration number?” is all he says.

I give him a number, I don’t know if it’s the right one. It feels like the whole thing has spiralled out of control. It seems ridiculous now that I ever thought I could get away with it.

“Mr. Alexander, would you mind coming down to the station to give an official statement? Routine procedure, you understand.”

A roaring sound fills my ears, but above it I hear myself telling him that no, of course I didn’t mind going down to the station.

 

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