Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Monday, 16th May

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Monday, 16th May

There had not been so many outsiders gathered in Westowe on a cold early-season Monday since the week before D-Day. They were journalists, thrill-seekers, retired people who had moved to the south-west away from their friends and family and had nothing else to do — so many that the inquest on Lord Nick had to be held in McGinty’s sail loft. Cars overflowed the Jubilee Quay and crowded every lane. The car parking machine had run out of change and Dinny Dinsmore, in one of his part-time responsibilities, was busy sticking tickets under the windscreen wipers of every unfamiliar piece of metal that wasn’t moving.

A flotilla of dinghies chafed in the choppy water alongside the Jubilee Quay, and I had to manhandle the tender amongst them, clambering over five boats before I could reach a cleat on the quay with my painter. One was a new inflatable, bright orange and neatly stencilled T/T Snow Queen. Lord Nick’s gleaming fifty-footer had come in sometime last night. On the way in from my pontoon I had pulled up alongside her on the visitors’ moorings and gave a shout, but there was no one aboard.

On the quay I had to wait in a queue before I got into one of the telephone boxes and put my call through to London. I still had a few favours outstanding and one of my chums had agreed to look into both the Gladwell consortium and Crowview Ltd. for me. When I got through his protective phalanx of secretaries the names he gave me for the people behind Gladwell were all strangers, but Crowview was a shelf company wholly controlled by Malcolm Goodfellow and Lord Farthing-Tattersall.

Back out in Fore Street two streams of people conjoined, one flowing across the bridge from the boat park and another down from the summer overflow car park on Signal Hill. The two figures in red oilies coming down the hill, one bright, one faded, were Spider and Matty. She was talking and laughing, and pulling him along the way she used to do me. He looked uncomfortable, the way I used to feel. I waited for them and when they came up she smiled and took my elbow with her other arm.

“Hello, sailor.”

“You’re bright as a button, considering.”

“Considering?”

“It’s your Dad’s inquest.”

Spider snorted. Matty’s mouth drew down at the corners. In Spider’s oversize oilies she looked like an apprentice clown.

“It hurts, somehow. Even though I hardly knew him.” The crush of the crowd at the door to the sail loft brought us to a halt. I felt her breath on my ear. “I want to see you.” Her face was still sad. As I thought what to say, the crowd started to surge forward and so I just nodded. By the windows that overlooked the creek a craggy blonde profile rose above a sea of shoulders. It was Lothar, and he beckoned towards us. I waved but when I turned to Spider and Matty they had already pushed off down the other side of the room, so I went over and took a seat next to Lothar. I avoided shaking hands and punched him in the arm instead. That was a mistake, because he punched me back. My left shoulder ached throughout most of the proceedings.

“I might need an interpreter,” he grinned.

“You’re not testifying?”

“Aren’t you?”

“Of course. Suspect number one as usual.”

Lothar laughed, and then leaned closer and said, under his breath. “They want to know how I got the boat.”

“I was wondering that myself.”

Lothar tried to look pained, which he did badly, because I don’t think he knew the feeling. “I bought it. With OAP’s money.”

“You robbed a pension fund?”

“Other People’s Money. Isn’t that what you say?”

“If they put you in the box today, just don’t say O.J.”

His grin stretched even broader. “Should I take the Fifth Commandment?”

“Wrong country.”

A battery of hired paraffin heaters failed to keep breath from misting in the far corners of the room, and people in the back rows turned around and scowled whenever a latecomer came through the big barn doors behind. This time the coroner was a stout middle-aged lady with improbable silver blue hair, wearing a bright yellow floral dress suitable for a Royal Garden Party. Over that, to keep warm, she had thrown an acid green cardigan with orange flecks. The corners of her mouth, plunging straight towards her pearl necklace, suggested she did not suffer humour gladly.

The witnesses who took their turn at the deal table beneath her gaze were suitably subdued. Spider gave a matter-of-fact report. On the night that I lay cold-cocked in the Amaryllis, a signal from a satellite alert beacon, automatically activated when it’s immersed in salt water, had been picked up by the crew of a BA flight to New York, who alerted HM Coast Guard at 02:13 am. The position was off the harbour entrance. The Westowe lifeboat slipped its moorings seventeen minutes later and found the wreckage of the catamaran just inside the bar at 02.47. A flashing red light in the water led them to a ship’s life buoy and the only survivor, Simon Tate, who was hauled on board at 02.55. He had been in the water for two hours. He told them that the only other crew member, Lord Nicholas Farthing-Tattersall, had been at the helm. After continuing to search for three-quarters of an hour without success the lifeboat delivered Simon Tate to an ambulance waiting at Jubilee Quay, and then returned to assist the Air-Sea Rescue helicopter in a thorough exploration of the harbour approaches until after dawn. No trace of Lord Farthing-Tattersall had been found. The liferaft was still secured to the cabin debris. A fishing boat had retrieved the deflated rubber tender off The Devil’s Coat-tails the next day.

“In your opinion, Coxswain, what was the cause of the sinking?”

“There was a strong south-westerly swell with a moderate breeze, force three or four, right behind. We don’t know whether the boat was under power or not, but it slammed straight into the bar and pitchpoled.”

“Pitchpoled?”

Spider rolled his hands over each other. “Leading edge of the keel bites into the sand and the following sea takes it right over on its mast, ass over tit.” Spider didn’t see the coroner frown, but sensed the sudden silence in the audience. “A somersault,” he corrected.

“What do you think happened to Lord Farthing-Tattersall?”

“The webbing aft of the cockpit was torn. That would only happen if a weight had fallen through it. I think he had to take a — went to relieve himself off the stern. So he jammed the tiller and stepped out on the webbing. It may have been weak and given way.”

“In your experience have you ever known that to happen?”

“No, ma’am. But, in my experience, anything can happen at sea.”

“On land, equally, in my experience.”

“You don’t get many second chances at sea.” A murmur of approval rumbled through the audience.

“Could he have given an alarm?”

“They had a fresh wind on the beam, they’d be making maybe five knots. According to Simon, Nickers — Lord Nick — probably wasn’t wearing a life jacket. By the time he plunged down through the water and surfaced again, the boat would be forty, fifty yards away. And the lad was asleep down below.”

“Would it be normal procedure to wear a life jacket in those circumstances?”

“Alone on the helm at night? Absolutely. And a safety harness, too.”

“A safety harness?”

“A web harness which you wear with a line attached to a steel cable with a quick release clip. So, even if you fell in you’d be hanging off the boat.”

“Was Lord Farthing-Whittingstall an experienced sailor?”

“Yes ma’am. A good sailor.”

“Would you expect that he would follow the usual safety precautions?”

“That depends.”

“On what, Mr Meersman?”

“On how he was feeling. He had his moods.” And that was all the coroner could get out of him on that subject.

Charlie Segui explained that Nickers had agreed to help him fetch his yacht, Grace of God, from the Helford River where it had over-wintered. Charlie himself had withdrawn from the cruise at the last minute because of important business in Bristol. Simon Tate, who worked at the club, had taken his place. When he had finished and the coroner excused him, Charlie put up his hand the way we used to in primary school.

“I just want to add one thing. We agreed that Nick would call in to the marina in Plymouth. I was going to join him for the last leg on the Wednesday night.”

“So, you met him at the marina?”

“No, he never came in. I was a couple of hours late getting there, because of roadworks on the M5, so when Nick contacted the marina and found I wasn’t there, he left a message saying they were going straight on. So I drove on home.”

“Is that important?”

Charlie pushed out his lower lip. “Well, it was important to me that I wasn’t on the boat.”

The audience ventured its first timid laugh of the morning.

“I mean, if I had been there I could have done something.”

“Indeed,” said the coroner. “You may step down. “

Charlie scowled and spoke to the floor as he stepped off the dais, “I just wanted to put that on the record, that’s all.”

When Simon Tate rose to take the witness chair, I saw that Pixie and Poxy were sitting right behind him. He had gone off watch at ten o’clock. Nick was going to rouse him when they reached the harbour entrance. An alarm clock woke him, which Nick must have set for him, and he started getting his gear together. Suddenly he fell to the ceiling. The gangway was suspended over his head, and then he was slammed down on to it. By the time he got topside, the boat had cracked open like an eggshell and he was in the waves. The distress signal went off automatically as the yacht disintegrated. Nothing came out about Simon’s drug connections, and he stepped down to sit with his minders.

My time sitting on the hard wooden chair at the deal table was short. Charlie Segui had already testified that he was surprised to meet me in the village on the night Lord Nick had disappeared because he had thought I was crewing on Grace of God.

“Why did you change your mind about taking part in this voyage, Mr. Golden?”

“I never told Nick I would go.”

“He had written your name on the crew list on the club notice board.”

“He was taking liberties. He invited me, but I had other things to do.”

“What did you do that evening?”

“I had a few pints and went to bed. Same as every evening.”

“Mr Starr testified that you were not at home when he called early the next morning.”

“He found me on my boat next morning.”

“Had you been out sailing that night?”

“Only between pubs. My boat was in the car park.” I was rewarded with a titter from the audience.

“While you were making your — usual rounds — did you see anything unusual?”

Two visions came into my mind: Dinny standing upright at the tiller of his launch piled high with nets with the moonlight glancing off the rim of his nautical cap, and the television picture the next day, showing the orange woolly hat with the big plastic spider on it, lying on the thwarts beside the nets. Unusual? Certainly. But snitchworthy? And then I thought of a better target. “Yes, when I saw Charlie Segui he was wearing wellies.”

“Don’t people often wear wellingtons in Westowe?” There was an appreciative laugh from the audience. The coroner was winning the joke contest.

“When they’re getting on or off a boat. Or if it’s raining. It was a dry night and he’d been out to dinner.”

The coroner peered at me through her pince-nez as if I were a laboratory specimen beneath a microscope. “Do you attach any significance to Mr Segui’s choice of footwear on that evening in the light of Lord Farthing-Tattersall’s disappearance?”

The audience laughed again.

“No. It was unusual, that’s all.”

“Thank you, Mr Golden.”

Lothar strode to the stand with the grace of a blonde lion. The coroner sat up a little straighter and adjusted her cardigan.

“I understand you’re a visitor from Denmark, Mr Volkmann. Will you be able to take part in the proceedings in English?”

Lothar knew that the English like foreigners who know their place, so he used the line he’d charmed me with: “If you speak only Danish, there’s only about eight million people in the world who will understand you.” This brought a chuckle from the audience and the first smile of the day from the coroner. Her questions flowed in a sweeter tone. Lothar explained that he had completed the purchase of the Snow Queen on behalf of a Caribbean-based charter company just two days before Lord Nick disappeared. Nick had stopped off at the Plymouth marina to sign the papers and pick up a banker’s draft. He ordered a taxi to take him to a bank before taking the train down to Helford.

“Did you get on well together?”

“Oh, yes.” He held up two fingers. “Lord Nick and I are just like that. Thick as two short planks.”

“Thick as thieves, you mean.”

“No. But, I think he was a druggist.”

“A chemist?”

Lothar was patient, and leaned forward to explain to the coroner. “His sailing companion is a drug dealer. With those two sitting behind him.” The audience craned their necks to look at Pixie and Poxy. “They are as thick as thieves.” He put two fingers up to the coroner. The locals already knew Simon Tate was into drugs and that Pixie and Poxy were no better than they should be. The great buzz of noise came from the outsiders. A camera flashed in the back. Pixie and Poxy stood up, shielding their faces with raised arms, and hurried Simon down the central aisle and out the door. When the clerk restored order in the Coroner’s Court, the coroner dismissed Lothar with an admonition about British court procedures.

When he came back to sit beside me, I asked, “Why did you drop them in it?”

“They’re using him by feeding him drugs.”

“Show me that thick-as-thieves sign.”

He spread his fingers into the reversed V-signal again. “No. Like this.” I said, and pressed them together. It was like holding two sausages. “Do you realise you were telling the lady coroner to go fuck herself?”

Lothar groaned. “Such a sophisticated language.”

The coroner asked Eddy Starr when and where the body might surface. “The body decomposes, fills with gas and almost always comes to the surface,” he said. “It generally takes about six weeks. The tides could sweep it anywhere along the south coast.”

This time, Eddy Starr was supported by his colleagues. The Kings Ferry constabulary had begun to take an interest in events in Westowe and at the request of the police, the inquest was adjourned so that they could continue their investigations. Outside, rain drummed on the slate roofs and puddled the cobblestones. Matty was standing in a doorway across the alley. We pulled up our hoods and crossed over. Lothar shook her hand and spoke to us as if we were a couple. “Do you two fancy a trip to the Caribbean? I’m looking for crew.”

Why not, I thought, and then I knew why not. It had to do with Matty and Angie and Bartholomew, too. Too many questions that needed answers. I shook my head. “Maybe next year.”

Lothar sighed and clapped a heavy arm on my back. “You can’t postpone your life.” He turned his wide smile on Matty. “Isn’t that right, Matty?”

“I’ll consult my horoscope,” she said.

A pack of journalists surrounded us, rattling questions at Lothar. “Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you everything I know,” he said to them. “Come along, Ted.”

I shook my head and shot him a warning glance. He leaned his head over and rasped in my ear, “I propose to talk in Danish.” He looked at Matty. “Want to get your picture in the papers?”

She put her arm in mine and pulled me back into the doorway. “I don’t have the right figure for those papers. And I’ve got a date.” To me, she whispered, “Relax, I’m not going to rape you.”

Lothar waved and strode off towards The Sailor’s Return like a stag surrounded by yapping hounds. All the pubs and tea rooms would be heaving by now, so Matty took me to Spider’s. Mam was asleep in her room. We went into the kitchen and Matty made us some coffee. She was shivering.

“You’re cold,” I said.

She moved forward, hesitant, half a step. “Just hold me.” I placed my hands on her hips and she pressed forward. Her hands were freezing. Her long hair tickled my nose and I brushed it away. She pulled back. “You’re holding me like a boat hook.” She took her mug in both hands and sipped from it. “What went wrong between us?”

“I’m very fond of you, Matty.”

“Shit.” She turned and looked out the window at the view of the stone wall of the cottage one metre across the passageway. “It’s Angie, isn’t it? You’re goddamned in love with her, aren’t you?” She wheeled to face me again. “I just wanted you to know that I might not be here much longer.”

“Back to Bartholomew?”

“Bartholomew is goddamned dead. But I’ve got to go.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere.”

I was feeling sorry for myself, so I said, “You could always take a holiday with Lothar in the Caribbean.”

Her mouth twitched. “If I do, it won’t be for his company. Remember that.”

“I hope you don’t leave.”

“After tomorrow, there’s nothing to keep me here.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Charlie’s getting the results of the DNA test by registered post.”

A ghost stirred at the edge of my vision. “Hello, Mam,” I said.

“Who are you?”

“It’s Ted, Mam.” I went up and gave her a hug. She smelled of sour milk and damp towels.

She pushed past me. “I want my tea.” She leaned on the sink and looked back at me. “Ted Golden?”

“That’s right, Mam.”

The mist in her eyes lifted. She raised the ham of her arm to shake a bony finger at me. “Are you going to marry that girl?”

“Which girl, Mam?”

She pointed at Matty. “This girl here. Angie.”

“I can’t, Mam.”

She teetered forward. “You’ll ruin her life.” She swayed.

Matty stepped out and caught her. “Get back to bed Mam, I’ll get your tea.”

“I only wanted my tea,” said Mam and she hobbled past me without another look.

Matty put her hand out to me. “Good-bye, Ted.”

I put my arms around her but it was like embracing a refrigerator. An image of her haunted brown eyes stayed with me after I left Spider’s house, which was just as well, because I didn’t see the originals again for a long time after that. Two days later I was having a sundowner with Charlie and Spider on the club veranda, when we saw SnowQueen motoring down channel into a stiff breeze. The figure in yellow oilies at the helm looked out of scale for the cockpit. It was Lothar.

I spotted the yacht first. “Where’s he headed at this hour?”

“Caribbean,” said Spider.

“You’re joking.”

“Via Plymouth and then the Scillies.”

I stood up and went to the rail. “The bugger. He didn’t say good-bye.”

The mainsail was up to steady the craft and a slighter figure in yellow oilies was on the foredeck taking the ties off the jib. In the cockpit Lothar heaved on the halyard and the foresail raced up flapping to the top of the mast. He snugged it in hard to the breeze and the figure on the foredeck stood up. It was Matty. I went to the telescope on the veranda which was used to observe the dinghy races in the estuary. I found Black Rock first, and then Matty’s face swam into view. She was waving to us and looked, as she would say, as happy as a sandboy. She blew a kiss into the lens, and then the boat tacked and when I got the Snow Queen in focus again I could see both yellow figures looking aft and waving as the black profile of Sentinel Point slipped across the circle and erased them from view.

“Matty’s with him,” I said.

“There’s nothing to hold her here now, that’s what she told me,” said Charlie. “I told her she didn’t have a prayer of getting anything out of Nick’s estate.”

“You gave her the DNA results?”

“Yes.”

“No surprises there?”

“It’s client privilege, of course.”

“Well, she told me,” said Spider. “And said I could print it in the Weekly Herald if I liked.”

“How did she take it? It was an unhealthy obsession.”

“‘Happy as a sandboy’, is what she said.”

I nodded. “Relieved, I suppose to have to face the truth.”

I was looking through the telescope again because the Snow Queen would reappear in a few seconds as it tacked east to pass the outliers off Grise Head. Spider came up and put his hand on my shoulder.

“I had it wrong, matey. The truth is, Nick is her father.”

I jerked my head, jabbing my eyeball on the metal rim of the eyepiece. I pressed my hand against my eyelid to dampen the pain and, aiming my undamaged eye at Charlie, pointed my finger at Spider.

“He’s not serious?”

“It’s true,” said Charlie. “The samples match. But damned if I know why. She’s absolutely vindicated. Except it’s a little too late. Old Nickers left nothing but debts and confusion.”

I put my left eye to the eyepiece. Snow Queen swept around Grise Head into the full force of the westerly breeze, bent her sails almost flat to the water, quivered, then rising, swung round to a north-westerly heading. The setting sun outlined the tiny pale triangle of her sails with fire. The dotted line of rocks in the foreground crept slowly across her hull until she passed from view, carrying the woman who was no longer my daughter. And Lothar. She had said “It won’t be for his company. Remember that.”