Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Monday, 18th July

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Monday, 18th July

“Why didn’t you invite me?” Rabbit’s eyes were moist.

“You don’t like sailing.”

“I could drive down and meet you in Plymouth.”

“I’m not going to Plymouth.”

“Wherever.”

“I’ll sling a hook offshore, or follow the estuaries up as far as I can. It’s a pub crawl.”

“I could meet you in the pub.”

“You don’t like pubs.”

Rabbit’s eyes were streaming now. She stared straight ahead, avoiding my eyes in the mirror. “You’re going off with her, aren’t you? Like you did last time.”

It was another beautiful morning, but instead of rocking in the cockpit of the Amaryllis with a blue-and-white Cornish Ware mug of hot instant coffee and a plate of fried eggs and bacon and a slab of bread and butter, thinking of Angie, I was sitting up next to Rabbit in her soft scented bed with a dainty cup of tea and she was talking about Angie. Her tits hung loose and flaccid under her kimono. Like fried eggs.

“You wouldn’t have wanted to be there last time.”

Now the tears came. “I don’t like boats.” She sobbed into my shoulder for a while and when she turned her face up it was puffy and smeared with mascara. “I’m not that sort of woman. I can’t help that.”

I patted her hand. “It would ruin your fingernails.”

She plucked at the hairs on my chest. “I’m good at other things though, aren’t I?”

“Sometimes you’re very naughty.”

“Do you still like making love to me?”

“Wasn’t it good enough?”

“It’s not often enough.”

I was trying to remember what had led me up the primrose-banked path to Glochamorra last night. Eddy Starr had come alongside the Amaryllis around teatime to update me on his latest deductions.

“I reckon Goodfellow did a Stonehouse.”

“Stonehouse?”

“That Postmaster-General back in the 60s. He left his clothes and wallet in a pile and walked into the sea. And turned up in Australia.”

“You can’t walk into the Frying-pan.”

“I saw you up on the cliff with Mrs Harris.” Eddy had that glint in his eye again. “It looked to me like you were hugging her.”

“And her brother. You might have got a bit wet. He was vomiting downwind.” Eddy’s face relaxed, still I thought it best to keep the subject off Rabbit. “Superbloke could have left some spare clothing, then walked down to Fairfoul Bay and got into a boat.” As I said it, it occurred to me that Colonel Meeker could have walked the same path, in the opposite direction.

“No sign of a boat.”

“Or he could walk the other way, to Sandcliff Road and get a bus.”

“Only on Tuesdays.”

“Or a car.”

“Goodfellow’s car was in his garage.”

“What about Angus Fergusson?”

Eddy shrugged his shoulders and took a sip of his tea. In death as in life Angus Fergusson played second fiddle. Perhaps because he was not a Bohemian artist, a cashiered Colonel, a drug-crazed Lord or even a Christeby’s representative — just a man who had stepped out of his track suit and trainers. Or perhaps because there was no mystery about his suicide. Angus Fergusson’s body had been recovered before anyone noticed he was gone, and it was promptly identified. After dallying with the notion that he and Superbloke were star-crossed lovers — ‘Gay Suicide Pact in Latest Westowe Tragedy?’ — the truffle hunters shifted their focus to Malcolm Goodfellow’s family history, and elevated him to the eminence which had escaped him in life: ‘Did Westowe Art Toff Follow Father’s Footsteps Over the Cliff?’ The journalist’s snout had sniffed the decaying gossip that Thomas Goodfellow had not slipped, but jumped from the spot overlooking the castle where I had sat on his memorial bench to spy on his son and Angie.

I had missed the inquest. I had gone up to London to interrogate my solicitors, and returned poorer but no wiser. The inquest was adjourned after the body had been formally identified. Angus Fergusson, aged 49, was a partner in the Bristol office of a firm of management consultants. He had taken off his new day-glo leisure clothing, purchased that morning at the Fore Street Boatique, folded it around his clean undergarments and a wallet empty of cash but full of credit cards, placed the tidy pile under the gorse on the edge of The Devil’s Frying-pan, and stepped out into the space above that boiling cauldron. His choice of leisure wear could perhaps be explained as the judgement of a management consultant. Why he chose to take it off before diving was not apparent. Perhaps, following the Stonehouse example, he thought it was what one did at times like this. One usually only gets to do that sort of thing once, after all, and receives no training. Mr Fergusson left a current copy of Accountancy Age magazine in the front upstairs room of the Oceanview Guest House and, hanging in the cupboard, the pin-striped suit, the pin-striped shirt and diagonally striped tie he had worn when he had arrived in Westowe the previous evening. He had registered in his own name. He told Mrs Jenkins, the landlady, and Dale of Dale’s Taxis, who picked him up at Kings Ferry railway station, that he was on a short holiday to work on some papers, and these were found in his room. He had dinner in The Jubilee Inn, and the barman remembered him, too. He said he was going for a walk the next day and the barman told him how to get to the clifftop path. As far as anyone knew he had never been in Westowe before. He was married, without children, and had lived in a comfortable old stone house in a village outside of Bristol with his wife who, sensibly, refused to open the door for the television cameras.

“Angus Fergusson?” Eddy stroked his chin. “He’s the turd in the sleeping bag. But a connection will turn up, believe me.” It was always hard to believe Eddy, but he had a way of being right for the wrong reasons. He spoke again. “Charlie’s your man.”

“A serial murderer? Charlie?” I had a vision of a bull, crumpled to its knees, suspended between two trees by the rope around its neck. The farmer slit its throat with a knife. The bull jerked its head up and bleated while its eyes rolled and the blood poured on to the ground. Charlie was bent over, too, vomiting over the new plimsolls he had got for his birthday. They weren’t called trainers then.

“He’s at the heart of it,” Eddy went on. “He had that meeting with Colonel Meeker. You said he was wearing wellies the night Lord Nick disappeared and he wasn’t at Veroni — Mrs Harris’s place like he said he was. He was working with Malcolm Goodfellow to sell out the club property. He’s administering Bartholomew’s estate. Goodfellow’s too. And Nick Farthing-Tattersall’s. Come to think of it he’s just about everybody’s lawyer.”

“That alone is enough to put him inside for a good long time, I reckon.”

“Then there’s Spider.”

The farmer was tired. A dozen times he had lifted the sledgehammer and swung it with all his might in a high arc. Each time it landed on the bull’s skull with a the thud of a cannon. The bull still stood, dazed and stumbling. The farmer rested the head of the sledgehammer on the ground, took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. The farmer looked at me, the biggest of the kids surrounding him. He pivoted the handle of the heavy hammer in my direction. I took a step backwards. Spider brushed past me, pushed back his sleeves and spit on his hands. Charlie and I laughed because we didn’t know what else to do. Spider tested the weight of the hammer. Then he swung it, from the ground up and his heels left the ground. The sledge hit the bull’s head with a different sound, the sharp crack of splintered bone. The bull’s knees buckled and its eyes rolled like marbles.

“What about Spider?” I asked.

“Dinny told us he and Spider have been taking regular moonlight cruises.”

“You can’t trust what Dinny says.”

“You can always trust what Dinny says. The trouble is interpreting it.”

“He was scared to death.”

“It was the only way to get him to grass on Spider.”

“How did you get him to go up in the balloon with us?”

“I told him he could drive it and we wouldn’t go higher than the church tower.”

“You’re an evil bastard.”

“Cops get called lots of names.” Eddy found a page in his notebook and showed it to me. It had a number of dates on it. “There was a nearly full moon the night Colonel Meeker disappeared. And Lord Nick. And the night Goodfellow and Mr Fergusson left us.” Eddy closed the book and finished his tea. “There’s a full moon next weekend. And Mrs Harris tells me Charlie’s planning to take a few days off. She’s got to mind the office. At least that was her excuse.”

“Excuse for what?”

“For not going on the excursion to France next weekend. But I had the feeling she was maybe planning to go somewhere with you.” Eddy turned his head from me and spoke the next sentence over the side of the Amaryllis. “Some people say you’ve been seeing her.”

The truth was, I saw her as little as possible. And when I did I usually kept my eyes shut. Eddy had turned his eyes to me again. They were squinting into the sun and I couldn’t read his expression. So I told him I was going sailing. Everybody knew Rabbit wouldn’t go on a boat unless it was on a mooring. Eddy seemed satisfied. But I wanted to know more about Charlie’s plans for the weekend. That’s why I had knocked on the door of Glochamorra Cottage last night. So I asked her now.

“He’s not going anywhere,” she answered.

“So why don’t you go on the twin town outing to St Malo?”

“You’ve been talking to Eddy.”

“He’s very keen on you.”

“I’m very keen on you.”

“He’s not very keen on my being keen on you.”

“Are you?”

“I’m here aren’t I?”

“Sometimes I wonder. If you’re really here. When you’re here.”

I kissed her cheek. “What’s your scheming brother up to now?”

She turned her serious gaze on me. The one she learned from watching television soap operas, the freeze-frame at the end when the music thumps and the credits roll. “I’m worried about him.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s worried. Very, very worried.”

“He was close to Superbloke wasn’t he?”

“He hated Malcolm. It’s his overseas property deal he’s worried about. He put in several calls to France the other day. He doesn’t know I listen on the extension.”

“Who was he calling?”

“I just heard him speaking to someone in French. Well, Charlie’s version of French. Six calls in one day. He was having trouble getting through. And finally he did. And he was very, very worried afterwards. That’s when he rang Spider to ask him to come over.”

“What was it about?”

Tears welled up in the corner of Rabbit’s eyes. “I don’t speak French. I don’t sail and I don’t speak French. I bet Angie speaks French.”

I licked the corner of her mouth. It was salty. “Your French is fine.” This brought her tongue into my mouth and we wrestled together for a while. I rested my hand on her pudenda. “Go ahead,” I said.

“You go ahead,” she breathed.

“Did Spider come over?”

“You’re so romantic.”

“I want to hear the end of your story.”

“Charlie told me I could go home early. Which meant he was up to something. So when Spider came I pretended to go out the front door and tip-toed into the ladies. The partition is thin.”

“So is the one in the gents.”

“Charlie was crying.”

“You’re joking.”

“Charlie’s not a real man. Not like you.” Her hand reached for me.

“Later. Finish your story.”

“They spoke very quietly. Spider was very stern.”

“What did they say?”

“I couldn’t hear anything very clearly. The only thing I could swear to was what Spider said when he left.”

“What was that?’

“He said there’d be springs after the full moon next weekend and he was going to Texas on Sunday night.”

“Texas?”

“Houston.” She pronounced it the way the Americans do. Not Howston or Hooston, but Hewston. “Why do you suppose Spider is going to Texas?”

“Why do you suppose Charlie was crying?”

“Charlie doesn’t get enough pussy,” said Rabbit. She took both my ears in her hands and twisted them. I demurred. She said, “You don’t like me, do you.” It wasn’t a question.

“I like your body,” I said. Which wasn’t strictly true, but she was all I had.

“Get out,” she said.

That evening I went up to Angie’s for dinner. I told her that Spider was going to the mewstone on Sunday night and that I was going to happen to be out cruising, too. She told me to be careful and on the doorstep she yielded a little when I pressed her body to me and kissed her goodnight.