Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Sunday, 26th June

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Sunday, 26th June

It was a grand day to be alive. A breeze freshened our faces and carved curling veins of ivory in the cobalt sea. The sun was warm and friendly, too. Only the rocks deep in the chasm of The Devil’s Frying-pan, never silvered by its fingers, reflected no joy. Clusters of people rimmed the amphitheatre, their cameras flashing feeble signals into the dark void and the great seascape beyond. A souvenir postcard view of that last vision his eyes took to eternity as he tumbled through space. Have these grave rocks absorbed the fear and the screams torn from the throats of the people who have died here? No. The true horror is that geology, like evolution, is indifferent to our tragedies.

Through the circles of the binoculars I caught glimpses of the naked body tumbling in the white froth, like greying knickers whirling in the window of a washing machine. A great orange predatory insect hovered over this rump of flesh, beating the air with its wings. A crewman hung suspended on its silken thread — a winch cable. He dropped into the waves to fasten the strop around the corpse, but it slipped away and he swanned up again. The body surfaced, again he dropped, disappeared beneath the froth and came up arms empty. The body appeared between two rocks. The crewman signalled the helicopter to swing him over it. A large wave crashed over the rocks, and then another. The corpse was still visible.

On the ebb the orange insect swooped down over its prey and the crewman braced against the emerging rocks. As the next swell hurtled in over The Giant’s Playthings, the cable lifted, yanking the crewman’s feet from the rock. The corpse bashed into the rock, but the strop was across its trunk, and it rose too, swivelling and gushing seawater from its dangling limbs like an old boot snagged on a fish-hook. The helicopter sought altitude while the cable shortened. The two human weights spun slowly around, and as they drew out of the cauldron I could see the crewman blinking the salt out of his eyes. The body was larger. Slung on its sky hook, the limp corpse hung glistening, a bloodless androgynous lump, its head a hunk of gristle streaked with dark hair. The devil had gnawed this piece of bait.

Rabbit would not look through the binoculars, but she gave a cry of disgust and buried her head in my shoulder. Her hands seized my arm like talons. Charlie lowered his binoculars and turned his face to me. It was the same drained colour as the flesh of the corpse. I had seen that unfocused look in his eyes before, the day he thought Colonel Meeker’s body had been found and had vomited on the pavement outside his office.

“It’s Malcolm,” he said. He bent over and vomited into the grass.

I put my arm around his shoulder. “It could be anyone.”

Charlie heaved again, then turned to me, wet threads hanging from his teeth. “It’s a big man,” he said. He pulled out his well-used handkerchief and put it to his mouth and gagged through it. “Christ, what happened to him?” He turned his face into my shoulder. Now I was hugging both brother and sister.

We had waited for Superbloke in Charlie’s office for half an hour before starting the Executive Committee Meeting without him. Charlie reported what we all already knew: the Extraordinary General Meeting had been cancelled as the Gladwell company had withdrawn its offer on the club property.

He straightened the papers which lay before him into a perfect rectangle while he looked first at Spider and then at me over the top of his glasses. “I think I know why Malcolm’s not here today,” Charlie had said. “He was in cahoots with them.”

Spider and I looked at each other.

“We know,” I said.

“You know?” Charlie was startled.

“We know,” said Spider.

Charlie squared the perfect rectangle of papers with his palms again before speaking. “He had an option on the castle property. If he got hold of that, he could have cut a sweet deal with Gladwell.”

“Except that Angie’s exhibition was a success,” I said. “Which he didn’t expect.”

“No one did,” said Charlie.

“How did you find out about his scheme?” asked Spider.

Charlie’s hands jerked, and the pile of papers went awry. “He told me.”

“Why would he confess to you?” I asked.

“He’s been very upset. He’s in a lot of financial difficulty. He came to me for help. I’m his lawyer after all.” Charlie craned his neck in his collar, took off his spectacles and began to rub the spotless lenses with a grubby handkerchief he found in his pocket.

“You and Malcolm and Nick were all planning to sell me down the river,” Spider grumbled.

“Who told you that?” Charlie stuffed his handkerchief back into his pocket and put his spectacles on his nose. The right lens was smeared now. “I admit I did want to sell. There’s nothing wrong with that. I needed — I thought it was time to capitalise on my investment. But Malcolm had his own game. I knew nothing about that. He was cheating me. If he had got hold of the castle the club property would have been worth ten times what we were offered. Twenty times.”

“He was cheating everyone,” said Spider.

I fed Charlie some smelly bait. “What exactly were Superbloke’s financial difficulties? Was he a Lloyd’s investor, too?”

The only answer I got was a dirty look because that’s when Spider’s bleep went off. Three-quarters of an hour later Charlie and Rabbit and I were part of the small crowd gathering on the rim of The Devil’s Frying-pan, while Spider was a couple of hundred metres below us in the wheelhouse of the orange and blue lifeboat, hovering just outside the line of white waves breaking over The Giant’s Playthings. There was nothing the lifeboat crew could do but sit, like us, and watch the helicopter perform its dancing dips into the cauldron.

The chopper sped off with its cargo and the lifeboat bore off south-west, then turned east and disappeared around Grise Head. A thickening stream of the curious was hurrying up the path toward us. But there was nothing to look at now that we hadn’t seen a thousand times before. The onlookers drifted down to tell the latecomers what they had missed. As we turned to go, there was a shout. Behind a clump of gorse someone had found a neat pile of clothing.

A pair of gleaming white trainers sprouting thick padded tongues sat on a bright blue-and-lime-green windbreaker. Beneath that was a folded maroon track suit and some white underwear. Nearby a black-and-yellow baseball cap was upended like a bowl. On its brim, in scarlet script, were the words, ‘Style Master.’ Inside the cap was a pair of spectacles and inside one of the trainers was a thick brown wallet.

I thumped Charlie on the back. “Superbloke wouldn’t be seen dead in that rig.”

The colour came back into Charlie’s face. Charlie pushed past the middle-aged couple who had discovered the clothing and knelt beside it.

“Do you think he should touch that?” the man who had found the clothing asked me.

“It’s all right. He’s a lawyer,” I said.

Charlie picked up the white trainer which held the wallet. It was a Nike.

“Just do it,” I said.

He opened the wallet and pulled out a driver’s licence.

He read out loud. “Angus Fergusson. Double s.”

“I’ll take that if you don’t mind, sir.” The voice belonged to the sergeant, one of two uniformed constables who elbowed through the crowd. They were from Kings Ferry. Eddy Starr was out on the lifeboat and missing his moment of glory.

“It’s all right, he’s a lawyer,” I said, but it didn’t work this time. Charlie handed over the wallet and the trainer. The sergeant was interested only in talking to the couple who had discovered the clothing, and the young constable shooed the rest of us down the path.

The procession wended past a figure bending in the bracken. It was Dinny and when I said hello, he turned and faced us. He was holding something in his arms. Textiles. A pile of clothing. A worn navy blue suit with broad stripes and wide lapels that had been made in Savile Row twenty years ago. On top of it were white underclothes. And resting on those a pair of brown Chelsea boots well-rounded in the heel. The underpants were smeared with mud. No — they were skid marks. Superbloke’s togs, certainly.