Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Monday, 25th July: 2

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Monday 25th July: 2

Time and space, thought and perception, hung suspended in a white ball of wool. The only reality was the slow plod of the engine, the rise and fall of the deck I felt through my knees and the light slap of the sea yielding under the prow. There were no white curls on the waves now, and in the absence of wind the fog clung to the surface of the water like a damp sponge. I stood in the pulpit holding a boathook upright, the bedraggled ghost of a Norse invader, while Bartholomew nosed L’Aventure Doux eastwards at low revs. We were making just one knot through the water, but the current added another. Looking aft, Bar­tholomew appeared as a dark shape at the helm. Which meant I could see perhaps ten metres forward. So anything I saw we would probably hit.

The constant is things change. When change came it was a green light. It was off the port beam at about ten o’clock. And before the cry rose in my throat I saw a red light just to the right of it. The running lights of a boat heading straight at us. My arm shot out to point, as I wheeled to aim the shout that came out of my mouth aft. “Collision to port!”

Bartholomew gave the engine full throttle and swung the bow to starboard. I dropped the boathook on the deck, grabbed a halyard in each hand and braced for the impact. Then I thought of Spider lying in the bunk amidships. I grabbed at the forward hatch cover, but it was locked from the inside. We should have collided by now. A fog horn blasted. I looked up. The red and green lights were gone. Bartholomew had put the engine into neutral. I moved astern and climbed into the cockpit next to him. The foghorn was in his hand. He raised it and gave another prolonged blast. We listened, but there was no answering sound, only the sluggish tick of our idling engine.

“There was a boat,” I insisted.

“Did you see a steaming light?”

“No.”

“She must be riding at anchor.”

Bartholomew nudged the accelerator handle forward. The compass swung until we were heading back slightly north of west.

“There she is.” Bartholomew pointed. A dim red light hung in the air just off the bow. I ran forward and held a fender alongside as we glided up to a white-hulled sailing boat with a blue spray hood. Its sails were furled and on the blue sail cover its name was picked out in white: Snow Queen.

I jumped aboard and passed a warp around a cleat on the forward deck while Bartholomew tied on aft. The cabin was unlocked. I went below and flashed my torch about. No one was aboard. Stuffed into a cubby-hole was a pair of dayglo mauve and green trainers and some other familiar clothing. As I clambered back aboard L’Aventure Doux, Spider poked his head out of the hatchway.

I said, “I thought you said Lothar walked over from the shore.”

“You saw him yourself.” Spider wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

“I saw only two figures.”

“If he’d come by sea I would have heard him,” said Spider, emerging from the hatchway. He stumbled, although the two boats, linked together, were rocking only gently in the swell.

“Matty,” I said into the night. “The cabin’s full of her scent markings.”

Bartholomew swung an uplifted arm. I flinched, but he was pointing aft. The mist lifted like a curtain and there, a hundred metres away, was the mewstone, silhouetted like a cathedral against a starry sky and moon-rimmed cliffs, its base trimmed with white lace work.

“We’re lying just west of it,” said Spider.

“The ledge is under water now,” I said.

Bartholomew pointed “We go up the chain.” I took up the binoculars. What looked like a ragged constellation of fallen stars glinted in the moonlight on the abrupt west face of the mewstone. “The Coast Guard was planning to put a beacon there. The chain is slippery, but it’s got rungs.”

“So that’s how you got Meeker off,” I said.

“There’s something on the water’s edge,” said Spider. I lowered the binoculars and a hemisphere swam into view. It was the yellow dome of my life raft. And next to it was an inflatable dinghy. Then the mists descended and shut down the scene like the end of a slide show.

I grabbed the chain first. It wasn’t a proper ladder, just a series of links with iron bars welded athwart at intervals. It was fixed only at the top and bottom so we had to go up one at a time. The chain sprawled up a steep slope; it wasn’t a climb, but a slippery crawl. When I reached the topmost piton I stood up, and walked out of the fog like a swimmer coming out of the sea. The moon had sunk beyond the cliffs; the black stage above the clouds was lit only by starlight. And then the Grise Heel light fell upon it. In the juddering discotheque light I saw three monochrome snapshots. Two figures coming together. Clenching. Or fighting. A large one and a small one.

In the ten seconds of blackness I moved forward, following the yellow disc of my torch on the rock. Three more flashes. It was a man and a woman. They were embracing. They didn’t see me.

Then I slipped and fell and pain seared into my ankle. It was strained and I could not stand up. I crouched on two arms and one knee, the aching leg stretched out behind me. Grise Heel light blinked again. Now there was only one figure on the skyline moving jerkily in the stroboscopic flashes. It was the larger one.

I twisted round and shone my torch behind me. I flashed it twice. It caught a figure moving up the slope. Bartholomew. But he was a long way behind.

I looked forward again, and saw three freeze frames. The first two were in monochrome. Two figures meeting across a narrow strip of starry sky. The third frame was in colour. An orange burst of fire and smoke. A glimpse of a contorted face. A few lingering sparks of orange. And then, in the darkness, again the shriek of a tortured seagull. A torchlight rushed past me from behind. It was Spider. I got to my feet and found I could hobble. Just beyond the summit of the mewstone, two figures were wrestling. No. Embracing.

Matty was sitting on the ground, sobbing, with both hands feeling her neck. Angie’s arm was around her. Beyond them, Spider stood at the edge of The Toilet. It was belching orange smoke like a small volcano. Angie looked up at me and said, “Bartholomew’s down there.” Bartholomew pushed past me into the circle of torchlight. Angie’s face went slack, her knees buckled, and she fell. Bartholomew caught her.


We sat in the cabin of the Snow Queen because there was more room. Matty and Angie sat together on the port side, facing Spider and me. Bartholomew perched on the steps over the engine hatch, as far as possible from Angie. There were five tumblers on the table now, and the bottle contained malt whisky.

“Make sure nobody’s peed in it,” I said. Nobody laughed.

Angie took a large swallow and shuddered. She looked her age now. Even older. She put the tumbler back on the table and started to talk to it. “Matty untied his hands. He said, ‘Thank you, my sunshine’ and took her in his arms.”

“Schätzen,” said Matty. Angie kept looking at her glass. “He said ‘Thank you, mein Schätzen.”

Angie gazed up at Bartholomew, a sinner seeking forgiveness from God. “I thought it was you. He was embracing her. She was struggling.”

Matty choked back a sob. “He was holding me too hard.”

Angie continued. “When the light flashed again he had his hands around her throat.”

Matty, dull-eyed, massaged her throat with both hands. “Why would he want to kill me?”

“Jealousy,” said Bartholomew. “That’s why men kill women.” He looked like a man who knew what he was talking about.

“He had his hands around your throat,” Angie repeated.

“He was angry because I had followed him. He liked to be obeyed.”

“He beat you, didn’t he?” asked Angie.

Matty chewed at her fingers. “That’s different.”

Angie reached up and took one of Matty’s gnawed hands. “You don’t have to let them beat you, you know. Just because you love them.” She released Matty’s hand and gripped her own throat. “He had both hands round her neck.”

Spider spoke softly to Angie. “What did you do?”

Her voice was drained of emotion. “I ran up and put the parachute flare into his face and pulled the trigger. It went off. He put his hands to his face and stepped back. Instinctively, I put out my hand to save him. And then I drew it back. He took another step backwards and fell down into The Toilet. He screamed just once.”

Bartholomew raised his head out of his hands. “You pulled the trigger. You drew back your hand. Because you thought it was me.”

“He was killing her,” said his wife.

“Or embracing her,” said her husband.

“I pulled the trigger on a murderous beast,” said Angie. “You led me to believe it could be you. Is it?”

Bartholomew’s eyes were red-rimmed where he had sunk them into his fists. “Did you pull the trigger because the man you thought was me was threatening Matty, or because he was loving her?”

Angie stared into the glass which had been set before her. “I don’t know,” she said at length. “It was instinctual.”

Spider broke the silence that followed. “Before you ran up, Angie, did Lothar know you were on the mewstone?”

“No. I could see a figure sitting on the skyline. I didn’t know his hands were tied. In my heart I knew it was Bartholomew. But I wasn’t sure. I kept hidden in a crevice. I knew you’d be coming back. And then the Snow Queen chugged in, and Matty came up the chain ladder.”

Matty’s face was thinner than it had been and there were deep lines under her eyes. Her voice wrenched from her chest with sobs. “Maybe he thought I’d set him up. Maybe he was going to kill me.” She covered her face with her hands. Angie pulled her head gently to rest on her shoulder until the sobs subsided. Matty put her hand on Angie’s, lifted her head and smiled up at her. She rubbed her eyes and tossed her lank hair. I was close enough to smell the diesel oil. Now the words came out in short, jerky sentences, like logs tumbling down a flooding river. “I guessed Lothar would go here. We had anchored in the lee of Grise Heel. He said he’d be back in a couple of hours. I saw a torch going up the coastal path. Where else can you walk in an hour from Grise Heel? Walking in wellies?”

“Did you set him up?”

That was Spider’s voice. But when she answered she looked at me. “They forced me to go with him. Your mates.” There was a flicker of a smile. “Pinkie and Perky?”

“Pixie and Poxy.”

“They blackmailed me into it.” There was pain in her eyes again when she looked at me. “That’s why I left Westowe with him.”

“Why?” I asked.

“All I had to do was keep an eye on him. They said they’d get in touch with me.”

“Did they?” asked Spider.

“Not yet.”

“How did they blackmail you?” I asked.

“They knew I gave some shit to Lord Nick.” She gave a short laugh. “My esteemed late father. It was a trade. Coke for a blood test. Wolfgang gave it to me. Another set-up.” Another short laugh. “They thought they were smart. But Wolfgang was a lot smarter. He was using them. After beating me up didn’t work.”

“Why did he beat you up?” I asked.

“To get me back. Here.” She patted the bunk with the hand that wasn’t holding Angie’s. “But I wouldn’t play.”

“Why not?” I asked.

The vacant eyes looked up at me. “Because I was happy with you. Until he turned up that day.”

“When Eddy Starr brought him on board?”

“I was terrified. When I heard his voice, I slipped out the forepeak hatch and went off in your dinghy.” She said it as if it had happened in another life. It was dead issue of long ago. No one else bothered to look at me. It was as if Matty and I were alone in the cabin, and the others were just ghosts.

“I got your postcard,” I said to her. “I thought I could be your father.”

Matty gave an uncertain grin. “So it wasn’t my body odour that put you off.”

Bartholomew came to life. “What’s this all about?” He put his hand on Matty’s shoulder. “I thought you were dead.”

She looked him in the eye for the first time. “I thought you were dead.”

“I found Cody and the remains of Goose Girl,” said Bartholomew.

Matty gulped. “That was Sam Cody’s body that drifted in?”

Bartholomew touched her face. “Where were you? And Wolfgang?”

“I left him as soon as we got to the Scillies. He was . . . abusive.”

“The Goose Girl got to the Scillies?”

“She was at anchor off St Agnes the last I saw her. Wolfgang and I had a row in a pub in St Mary’s. The police took him into custody and I got on the next boat to Penzance.”

I remembered how Lothar had spent his last birthday. I said “And Lothar — Wolfgang — was detained in Her Majesty’s slammer in St Mary’s.”

Bartholomew said “I found the wreck of the Goose Girl twenty miles south of Bishop Rock.”

“Cody was talking about making for the Azores,” Matty confirmed.

Spider spoke. “If Wolfgang was working with those pirates, he could have arranged a rendezvous just off shore. That anchorage would be empty that time of year. But Cody must have got in the way.”

“It was February,” Bartholomew said. “On that chart I found, there’s a plot coded Fevrier. Just off St Agnes.”

I remembered how Lothar had arrived in Westowe. I looked to Spider. “Where was the Tradescant this winter?”

“She came up from the Med, as usual, via the Scillies.”

“She was lying in Bonifacio while we were in Corsica,” said Matty. “Wolfgang knew some of the crew.”

I looked at Matty. “He followed you here from the Scillies?”

She nodded. “I must have talked about Westowe too much.”

“Did he know about Charlie’s arrangement with Bartholomew? About disappearing Colonel Meeker?”

She looked at me open-eyed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then her eyes flicked to Bartholomew.

“That’s why I had to leave you in La Coruña,” he said to her.

Matty’s fingers flew to her mouth. “I thought you were going back to her.” She looked at the woman seated next to her.

Spider butted in. “What was the password to access Bartholomew’s E-mail?”

Matty glanced at Bartholomew. “Chopper,” she said. Nobody smiled.

“Did you tell Lothar? Wolfgang?”

She gnawed her nails. “It was a name I called Bartholomew. Wolfgang knew about it.”

“Pillow talk,” said Bartholomew. But there was no venom in his voice.

Spider spoke to Bartholomew. “You say you didn’t make any pick-ups except Colonel Meeker.”

“Don’t you believe me?”

“Suppose Lothar or his chums hacked into your E-mail address and found Charlie’s messages. And then set up shop with Charlie, changing the E-mail address. That’s another reason Lothar would have come to Westowe. To find out who Charlie was.”

“And Charlie thought he was dealing with me?”

“Aye.”

“Christ.” Bartholomew sunk his head between his hands. “Why?”

“There was money in it, wasn’t there? Off-shore arrangements?” Bartholomew nodded and Spider went on. “Plus what they were carrying. Credit cards, identification, bank drafts, the lot. A guy like Lothar knows how to turn those into cash.”

Somehow I felt I had to defend Lothar. “We only have Charlie’s word for that. He could simply have gone out to the mewstone with them, topped them, and poured all their assets into his piggy bank.”

“We know Charlie,” said Spider. “He’s not the type.” He looked at Matty. “Would Lothar do that?”

“He was a strange man,” she answered. “He didn’t use drugs and he hated people who did, but — .”

Angie broke in. “Which is why he wouldn’t mind selling them. A very logical man with his own sense of values. He wouldn’t mind killing strangers.”

Spider looked at Bartholomew. “He needed new employment. Because you busted their drug operation when you broadcast that SOS about Goose Girl.

Matty was taking an interest now. “We went back to the Scillies in this boat. He had ordered some engine spares, he said. But then we just hung around. I realised that the Customs people were probably right. I thought he was waiting for a drug drop.”

“Were you with him all the time?” Spider asked.

“He went off in the boat for a few days once. Put me up in a bed-and-breakfast.” She looked at Bartholomew. “Just like you did.”

Bartholomew held her gaze. “But you were there when he came back.”

Matty reached out to him, then dropped both hands in her lap. “The Customs could have sent me to gaol at any time.”

“Would that have been on the 25th of last month?“

Matty nodded. “Around the full moon. He joked about it. He said wolves turned into werewolves on the full moon.”

“It was dead simple,” said Spider. “He’d make all the arrangements with Charlie. Who would think he was dealing with the Skipper here.” The use of our adolescent title for Bartholomew was a sure sign that Spider had now mentally exonerated him. “Lothar could send the first radio message from anywhere to set up the rendezvous. Then turn up in his place, probably, in Grise Heel Village that night, follow the victim on to the mewstone. Mug him, rob him, and drop him in The Toilet. Then confirm by radio to Charlie that everything had all gone well.”

“Swimmingly,” I said. I was ignored and regretted my bad taste.

“Three full moons the bastard’s made the trip,” Spider carried on. “Nickers, Superbloke and now — .” I remembered the conversation Nick and I had had with Lothar. About growing up in Westowe. “I told him about that damned hole,” I added. But Lothar had spared me. He had made sure I did not sail with Nick.

Matty spoke again. “We were in St Malo for a while. Then, suddenly we set off for Grise Heel. When he asked me to send off that radio message, I thought it was the drop.”

“What message?” Spider asked.

“The one that brought me here,” said Bartholomew. “On channel 80. Reserving a berth at the club for Joie du Juillet. Those co-ordinates were up in Lyme Bay somewhere.”

Spider closed his hands into a fist. “And the Customs had a copy of them which the French found on the San Vicano. Lothar would have worked that out. And so he’d use the codes to divert attention. The Joie du Juillet code coordinates would have sent them haring up to Dorset, and leave the coast clear here. To make another killing.”

Angie looked up in shock. “Not another one?”

Spider covered her hand with his paw. “I’m sorry, you didn’t know. He pushed Charlie into The Toilet tonight.”

Angie’s face twisted in shock. “Charlie Segui?”

“I saw him.”

“So Lothar’s down there with him now,” she said. “I’m glad I did it.”

Matty’s eyes were wide. “Wolfgang killed all those missing people?”

“Not Meeker,” Spider answered. He frowned at Bartholomew. “According to our Skipper here.” He spread the fingers of his left hand and ticked them off with his right. “Charlie told me it was Lord Nick who approached him about arranging a disappearance. Blackmailed him into it. Nick heard about Meeker somehow. Lothar knew. He must have put the idea up to Nickers. Then, Malcolm. Now, Charlie. And he had a good try at me. And you.”

Angie looked up. “That man from Bristol. Angus Fergusson?”

Spider shook his head. “He’s not in The Toilet. He doesn’t compute.”

I saw a flash of light through the porthole. I put my head up through the hatchway. The fog had risen. It hovered at the height of the mast, and swirled in patches. Grise Heel light flickered through the rents. I went back inside. “Fog’s lifting.”

Bartholomew looked at his watch. “Sunrise in a couple of hours.”

“What next?” I asked.

Bartholomew cast his eyes around the cabin as if he were looking for an exit somewhere over our heads. “I’m a dead man. If I come back I could go to prison.”

“Your wife could go to prison for killing Lothar.” I said.

Matty lifted her eyes. “No she won’t. She saved my life. I’ll tell them everything.” She looked at Bartholomew. “Even if you go to prison.”

“Nobody has to go to no prison,” said Spider. “Angie saved Matty’s life and did the world a favour by getting rid of that psychopath. Nobody else in this cabin has hurt anybody. These people have just disappeared.”

“And when the bodies turn up?”

“They won’t. The reason The Toilet don’t flush anymore is that the passage has been blocked by that wreck. I’ve dived there a few times.”

Angie raised her head and I saw she was crying. She wiped her face with her sleeve. “You think we can all just sail away from this?”

Spider put his hand on her arm. “Anything we do is not going to do anybody any good. Not Nick or Malcolm or Charlie. Nor any of us in this cabin.”

“That’s irresponsible,” I said.

Spider glared at me, “Responsibility’s a privilege we can’t afford. The absolute truth neither. Because we don’t know what it is. So, let’s get one thing straight, Angie. If it ever comes to the witness box, you never stirred from your bed tonight. And neither did I.”

I had never heard Spider tell Angie what to do. Nor had she, apparently, as she shrank back a little. Angie nodded. Spider’s gaze fixed each of us in turn. “Are we all absolutely clear about that?” We each nodded.

The wife spoke to her husband now. We listened to their dialogue in embarrassed silence, a small audience in the front row of a very intimate theatre-in-the-round. “Do you want me to come with you?” she asked. Bartholomew shook his head like a small sorrowful boy. “I am your wife,” she insisted.

“Your husband is dead.” He pointed at Matty. “That is the woman I love.” He took Matty’s hand, as if he were going to slip a wedding ring on her finger. “Will you come back?” he asked her. Tears streamed down Matty’s face. She turned and wept into Angie’s shoulder. Bartholomew faced Angie. “What did you do with my paintings? The ones of her.”

“They’re in The Devil’s Frying-pan.”

“You tried to kill me before you pulled that trigger tonight. You destroy my paintings, you destroy me.”

“You destroyed me.”

“I fell in love with another woman.”

“She’s young enough to be my daughter. Ted’s and mine.”

Bartholomew spoke more gently. “Your daughter’s dead, Angie. I held her in my hand. We consecrated her together.”

Angie moved past us, crossed to where he sat in the hatchway and knelt before him. She took both his hands in hers and looked up into his face. “She consecrated our love.”

He touched her hair. “I remember. It was very strong. But it’s the past. It’s not wanted on voyage.”

She gazed at him for a moment. “Then there’s something I have to tell you.” She rose on her knees and took his head in both her hands and pulled it down to hers. She whispered in his ear. I could not see his eyes. But the lower half of his face sagged. When she stood up and he turned his face up to her, with deep shadows in the sockets of his eyes, it looked like a death mask.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

“I didn’t want to lose your love.”

“Why tell me now?”

“The same reason I put ‘Angel Child’ on exhibit. I thought it might bring you back.”

“Oh, Christ!” Bartholomew sank his head in his hands.

“Does it matter?”

“Everything is meaningless.”

“Our love? Our life together?”

Bartholomew had one hand over his eyes. With the other, he reached out and took her hand.

“My life’s work. My art.”

Angie put her arms around him and held him against her stomach.

“Come back with me.”

They stood motionless for a moment, a heroic sculpture, two star-crossed lovers in lumpy jumpers and oilskin trousers. Then Bartholomew pulled away from her, and he was crying. He stood up and rubbed his eyes. “I have to think. Go away and think.”

“I know how to wait,” said Angie. She crossed back to her seat.

Embarrassed, Spider lapsed into West-Country-speak for a moment. “I don’t know nothing about them theatrics.” He swept us all with a glance. “The only thing I’m interested in is keeping Angie out of trouble. We can do that, if we all keep our lips zipped. There’s nothing that any of us have got to gain by talking.” The coxswain of the Westowe lifeboat rattled out our instructions. He gave Bartholomew a cold stare. “You clear out, wherever you’re going. I’ll look after Angie. Dinny will be round at daybreak. He can drop me and her off at Fairfoul Bay and we’ll sneak into the village. Ted, you sail Snow Queen back to her berth in Plymouth with Matty. We set Ted’s liferaft adrift to follow the Amaryllis. And if anyone asks where any of us were before that, we was all tucked up in bed. With whoever.”

I said, “They’ll ask Matty what happened to Lothar.”

“You’ll think of something,” said Spider. “The rest of us never saw him.”

Tired and confused, we all fell in with this wild scheme. Bartholom­ew got to his feet and climbed up the hatchway without saying good-bye. The engine of L’Aventure Doux started up. Spider and I went topside to cast him off. The fog was a hundred feet above our heads now, rising up the cliffs like steam. There was a faint glow in the east, and a breeze was stirring a choppy sea. I took the bow warp and Spider stood by to cast off astern.

Bartholomew stood at his tiller. “Stand by to cast off,” he said, in the old way. “Aye, aye, Skip,” said Spider.

“Bon voyage,” I shouted from the bow. And then, just before we cast off, Matty came out of the hatch and stepped across on to L’Aventure Doux. She didn’t glance at Bartholomew but went up to the bow and stood on the foredeck just a couple of metres away from me. She didn’t look at me either, but stared straight ahead as we cast the warps on to the French yacht. Bartholomew engaged gears and she was swallowed up by the darkness, with Matty pointing south like a figurehead. In my pocket my fingers closed around Lothar’s gun. I made to throw it after her, when Spider came up and held his hand out. “These things have a way of turning up in fishing nets,” he growled. “I’ll bury it in the council tip.”