Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Saturday, 30th April

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Saturday, 30th April

Before going to the castle we took a long walk as far as The Devil’s Coat-tails. A light breeze swept away the last strands of my headache and combed the surface of the sea below the cliffs into shallow furrows. The sun was fitful and when it shone there was no warmth. Walking back, we came to the gate leading into the gardens behind Tattersall Hall. Apart from the wing which Lord Nick had infrequently inhabited, the estate was a National Trust property. It had not opened for the season yet, but the gate was unlocked. We trod on mossy bricks along the rectangles of the formal gardens, where green shoots shivered on the rose bushes. Some shrubs were still wrapped in hessian, like tombstones. Silver light drained from the clouded sky.

“I never had a child,” she said. “I told you that.”

“You’re sure?”

“You remember those things.”

“I mean — .”

“You mean, am I lying to you?”

“You could be leading me up a garden path.” I pointed up the brick walk and she smiled. “One isn’t obliged to answer intrusive questions truthfully.”

“How very perceptive — for a man.” Angie slipped her arm through mine and we went on walking.

We came to a small wooden bench with a brass plaque: ‘Dedicated to the memory of Frederick Dinsmore, lost at sea, November, 1963.’ “Spider reckons you had a daughter and that I’m the father,” I said.

She sat down on the bench and I sat next to her. When she turned her face to me, it glowed pale in the gloom and her eyes were wide and puzzled. “What is he thinking of?”

“That’s not the half of it. He reckons her name is Matty, and I’m a child abuser.”

“You let her into the castle the night she was beaten up.”

“No. Ronny and I found her in the Amaryllis. She was freaked out. Cold as death.”

“Did you beat her up?”

“Would you believe me if I said no?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Who did?”

“Somebody was in the castle that night. They let her in.”

“I heard she was hospitalised.”

“Her face was like chopped liver. But nothing broken.”

“She won’t say who did it?”

“She says she doesn’t remember being attacked. She had a booze-and-Stugeron cocktail hour.”

“A suicide attempt?”

“Just puts you to sleep. She probably knew that.”

“Poor girl.”

“You sound as though you mean that.”

“I do. I think she’s been treated horribly. By Bartholomew, and whoever else.”

“The doctor said it was done by experts.”

“More than one?”

“I reckon it was Pixie and Poxy.”

Angie’s eyes smiled in the gloom. “Who?”

“A couple of Hell’s Angels rejects.”

“In the leather jackets? I thought they were policemen. They came round with Eddy Starr.”

“What did they want,” I asked.

“They asked questions about you.” She averted her eyes. “About your wife.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing about that.”

“They’re keeping an eye on Spider, too.”

“I asked them to.”

“Why?”

“The same reason I asked you to. He’s hiding something about Bartholomew. I can read it in his face every time he looks at me.”

“Pixie and Poxy wanted to use the castle as a lookout. I refused, so they came uninvited.”

“How would they get in?”

“The door wasn’t forced. You didn’t give them a key?”

“No.”

“So who else has keys?”

“I gave Charlie a set.”

“Charlie? What about Broderick’s?”

“The same set. He holds them, or they do.”

“Typical. An estate agent and a solicitor at the bottom of it. I suppose it was an adman lurking in the bushes that did for me.”

“What happened?”

“I fell unconscious. Attacked or self-inflicted. I don’t remember. Like Matty. Maybe we both just got in the way of something that night.”

Angie was looking at the tips of her sensible brown walking shoes which were making little arcs in the pebbles. “Veronica Harris says Matty was also there on Wednesday. The night Nick disappeared.”

“I slept on the Amaryllis that night. Ask Eddy.”

“But you let her in to the castle.”

“I gave her the key.”

“Why?”

I couldn’t think of any other reason. “We were going to make love.” Angie’s sensible shoe kicked up a spray of pebbles. “But I changed my mind.”

“Why?

“That’s when Spider put his spoke in.”

She clasped her hands in her lap and looked down at them. “Are you and she lovers?”

“Not yet.”

“It does seem inappropriate, in view of your suspicions.”

“I can’t be her father. She’s twenty-seven and she was born in the summer.”

“So?”

“I left Westowe a year ago today. You said your baby was due some time in the winter.”

“End of January.”

“So it couldn’t be Matty.”

“That’s summer in Australia.”

My heart sank into my groin. Angie stood up and we walked in silence until we came to the magnificent magnolia tree on the small lawn at the top of the grounds, where there was a view across the bar. Sullen waves rippled where the Grace of God had pitchpoled three nights ago. Beyond, the leading light on The Elbow pierced the smudge of purple wash on the skyline. The magnolia blossoms shimmered above and lay scattered on the ground, white as rolled-up paper. There was a chill blast of wind, and a blossom fell into her hair.

I put my arm around her. She leaned against me for a moment and I bent my head to kiss her, but she shivered and pulled away.

“You’re cold.”

She plucked the magnolia blossom from her hair and shook her head. “It’s spooky here. I’ve never liked it.” She walked on, shredding the blossom in her path. I followed.

“So, it could be true, what Spider says?”

“Do you want to believe it?”

“It’s just that — .” My hand gestured because my tongue wouldn’t work. She finished the thought for me.

“It’s just that Spider is always right about things. We all know that.”

“You said you had an abortion.”

“I could have said that just to hurt you.”

“She’s Australian.”

“I could have gone to Australia. I could have had a baby.”

“You should have told me you were pregnant.”

“You wouldn’t have wanted to know.”

“Was it a girl?”

“I didn’t ask. I would have called her Devon.”

“Devon?”

“If I had gone to Australia. To remind me of home. But if I gave her up for adoption, they would have used another name, of course.” She took my arm again. “But, I’ve never been to Australia.”

“She’s come here looking for her father.”

Angie flexed her dimples, a sure sign she was on the tease. “So, if I give him a divorce, Bartholomew may have to ask you for her hand in marriage.”

“Will you divorce him?”

“And if Matty were our daughter, would that make Bartholomew my son-in-law?” We had taken several turns around the rectangle of the rose garden. I stopped and seized her shoulders and pulled her towards me and kissed her full on the lips. They failed to yield.

“It’s growing dark,” I said. “We ought to be getting on to the castle.”

Angie laughed. “Is that what this meeting is for? For Spider to tell me that Matty is our daughter?”

“He didn’t want me to tell you anything about that.”

“I don’t mind what he thinks. But I’d rather not have it aired at a public meeting.”

“It’s not public. Just Spider, Charlie and Matty.”

“Do I have to see her?”

“Yes, she’s part of it.”

“Malcolm is at the castle. Preparing for the exhibition.”

“He’s involved, too.”

The grey granite bulk of the building where Nick Farthing-Tattersall had lived was merging into the dark patch of trees that enclosed it. We set off down the gravel drive towards the lane that led down to the castle.

“They want to talk about Bartholomew,” I told her.

“I know he is alive.”

“Whose body was it, then?”

“Who knows? But it’s not Bartholomew. Charlie’s ordered a DNA profile.”

“You found some tissue to match to?” She nodded. “What does Charlie think?”

“He’s been very supportive. I think he secretly agrees with me.”

“I hope you’re right, Angie. But then, where is Bartholomew?”

“Wherever little boys go when they run away from home. He’ll come home when he’s thoroughly shamed.”

“Is that why you’re putting this exhibition on?”

“How do you mean?”

“To lure him back?”

She stopped and took me by the arm. “You’re not to suggest that to anyone.”

“Spider?”

“No. And particularly not Malcolm.”

“What’s his game, Angie?”

She laughed. “You’re not jealous of Malcolm, too?”

“I’m jealous of your bath towel. But he’s finding the money for this exhibition, isn’t he?”

“Not a great deal. But it’s more than I have.”

“So what’s in it for him?”

“If some money comes in, he gets paid back three per cent above bank rate.”

“That’s very generous of him. Too generous for a man who doesn’t have much money himself.”

“I’m sure it’s not his money. It never has been, has it?”

“So, what’s the catch?”

“I suppose the catch, if the exhibition should fail, is the mortgage lien on the property.”

I stopped, caught her by the shoulders and turned her to face me. “Angie, you haven’t. Why didn’t you come to me?”

“You’ve got financial problems of your own.”

“I’m sure I could have got you a deal without any strings attached.”

“What strings?”

“Who holds the mortgage?”

“A shelf company called Crowview.”

“Who’s behind it?”

“I didn’t ask. Does it matter?”

“It matters if it’s Superbloke. He’ll have his own agenda.”

Angie halted us. “I may have been a naive young girl when you last knew me, Ted. But I have lived a life since. I know what I’m doing.”

“If this thing doesn’t work, Superbloke gets the castle, and probably the club as well.”

“If this thing doesn’t work, that doesn’t matter. Not to me.” I could just make out her smile in the dusk. “So, let’s keep him motivated, shall we?”

There is, after all, no healthier appreciation of the value of a modern artist’s work than the assurance he will never be able to perpetrate another. “Matty said he did several portraits of her. Have you got them?”

“That girl is a pathological liar.”

“The early seminal work would probably fetch more.”

We were in the black pool under the rhododendrons by the castle now. She stopped again and took both of my hands in hers. Her face was a pale shimmer, like an electric bulb that had just been extinguished. “Yes, that’s it,” she said. “The seminal work.” And she chuckled without mirth. I did not understand the joke.

The castle was blazing with light. The room was empty of furniture and looked larger because the old stone walls had been whitewashed. They held a display of large black-and-white photographs mounted on white card. Bartholomew sailing and working and laughing. In one of the pictures Bartholomew was sketching at an easel while Angie posed nude in the background. But no paintings had been hung as yet and there was precious little room left for them on the walls. Matty was by the window. Her clenched left fist was at her mouth. She dropped it and grinned like a naughty child. I had never seen Angie and Matty together before. They were unused to it as well, because they avoided looking at each other. Spider and Charlie stood in the centre of the room watching Superbloke attempting to hang a framed Admiralty chart of the Westowe estuary on a spike he had jammed into a crevice.

“Spider’s got something to tell you,” I said to Angie. “You’d better sit down.” There were no chairs, so we all remained standing.

Mam had ensured that Spider knew about Confession. He took off his orange woolly cap, held it in both hands, and cast a sidelong glance at Angie. “I spun you a yarn. I found Bartholomew in Corsica. He was alive last October.” Then he told her the whole story. Charlie and Matty filled in details. Superbloke stood like a stranded whale that had been propped against the wall, his mouth agape, his shoulders drooping, holding the framed chart and the hammer.

“I knew it,” Angie said afterwards. She clenched both her fists and the knuckles whitened. “That sounds exactly right. Just how the pack of you would behave.”

“So, he was alive, at least until October,” I said.

Angie just smiled. “He’s alive now. We’ve checked his DNA against the body that floated in, haven’t we, Charlie?”

“That’s right,” said Charlie.

“Was it him?” Superbloke and Spider asked the question at the same time.

Charlie took his glasses off and started polishing them as if he were about to read out a Last Will and Testament. He unbuckled the old leather satchel that his father had also used as a briefcase. As one of the straps was fastened with string, this took a little time. Finally he drew out a document and spoke. “The sample which Angie provided me with did not match the corpse.”

Spider turned on him. “You didn’t tell me.”

Charlie thrust out his jaw. “You didn’t tell me about the power of attorney.”

There was a heavy thud and the sound of breaking glass. The frame of the Admiralty chart lay smashed on the floor. Superbloke stared at us, his big paws clutching the air. “I’m sorry, Angie. It was the shock.”

Spider shot a sharp glance at him. “The power of attorney?”

“That means Bartholomew’s alive,” Superbloke stammered.

“That’s supposed to be good news,” I said.

“Yes, of course,” said the big man. He looked at Angie. “I’m very happy for you.” Then he spoke to the ceiling. “It’s still quite a shock.”

Charlie was polishing his glasses again. “It doesn’t prove anything at all. Because the sample Angie gave me wasn’t certified in any way. We don’t know where it came from.”

“I know where. And that’s enough for me,” said Angie.

“It’s just as well,” said Charlie. “Or it would put paid to the insurance claim.”

I aimed a finger at him. “You mean it would be a lot tidier all around if Bartholomew is dead.”

Charlie looked at Angie. “Will you go looking for him?”

“We already did that.” She glanced at Spider. “He’ll come home when it’s supper time.”

Superbloke came over and joined us where we stood in the middle of the room. He had emerged from his daze. “Perhaps it’s best if we do nothing whatsoever. If that body that floated in is Bartholomew’s, as I believe it must be, then nothing has changed.”

“And if it isn’t?” asked Spider.

“If it isn’t, he’s been declared dead anyway. If Bartholomew doesn’t turn up the insurance company will pay up eventually. Everything can go ahead as planned.”

“What’s planned?” I asked.

“I mean as Spider planned. Supporting Angie through this tragedy.”

“And stopping the sale of the club property?”

The colour rose in Superbloke’s face and so did the pitch of his voice. “That’s a legal question. Charlie’s taking advice.”

“And what if Bartholomew swans in here some fine day?”

“That will be a bit messy. Still, legally, I can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong.”

Charlie, quivering like a beagle, pointed his nose at Spider. “Except Spider. He withheld information from the inquest.”

Spider smiled. “I wasn’t asked.”

“I don’t see what there is to gain by telling the world and his brother about this,” said Superbloke. “Think how it will stir the press up.”

He had a point. “It’s what Angie wants that matters,” I said.

“I don’t care what you do,” she said. “He’s alive , and if he comes back, I’ll take it from there.”

Everyone looked at Spider. He looked at me. “What do you think, Ted?”

This was a surprise. I was used to Spider taking decisions. We all were. So I thought carefully before I answered. “I agree with Angie. If Bartholomew’s alive, it’s his move.” If I had said something else instead — if we had talked to the police then — perhaps all of the people in that room would have lived to collect their old age pensions. Should I blame myself? Or was it just an unlucky bounce on the rugby pitch?

“We’re agreed then,” said Superbloke. “What’s been said here goes no further than this room.”

Everyone nodded, except Angie, who was sweeping up the broken glass, and Matty, who was still by the window gnawing her knuckles. Superbloke turned his head towards her. “Matty?”

She crossed to Charlie. “What about my DNA test?”

“The report is promised for next week.”

Superbloke took a step towards her. “Blabbing about this won’t help anyone.”

She backed away from him. “So long as I get my report.”

“That’s settled then,” said Superbloke, looking around him like a statesman who had just signed the Armistice.

Then Angie surprised us all. She went to Matty and said, “You’ve had a rough time, too. I want us to be friends.” Matty just leaned forward and hugged her. I could see she had tears in her eyes.

Charlie started to buckle his satchel. “Better make sure you don’t mix them up,” said Spider.

Charlie’s mouth dropped open. “Mix up what?”

“You don’t want to get that DNA mixed up in your briefcase with your egg sandwiches and all.”

Charlie replied with heat. “There’s no possibility of error in Matty’s case. There’s a certified chain of custody all the way to the lab and back. Matty’s blood sample was taken at the clinic at the same time as Nick’s.”

“Which will come in useful if another headless body washes in,” said Spider.