Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Sunday, 4th September

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Sunday, 4th September

The daily miracle occurred: waking up to start afresh again, curious to see what new entropy the day would bring. Rabbit had phoned last night, asking me to meet her at Charlie’s office. I stepped out into a flaught which lashed my face like a wet towel. I took the short-cut along the walled walk to Fore Street. The sky was black and no one was abroad in the lanes.

Rabbit was in no-nonsense mode. She had trapped her hair in a severe bun. Electronically, perhaps, as a pink glow tipped the wings of her spectacles. She wore a grey pin-striped suit and draped over her shoulders like a trailing parachute was an immense white silk scarf with the heads of horses and other equestrian symbols and the name of the manufacturer printed on it in gold and green. Rabbit had a good seat, but I’d never seen her on a horse. She led me into Charlie’s little office. I perched on the edge of the table. She closed the door as Charlie used to do when she sat in the next room and brushed her hips past my knees in a cloud of scent that reminded me of the night I had got out of bed to take a pee and put on her dressing gown by mistake. She settled in the rickety leather armchair behind Charlie’s desk and placed her hands palm down on the ink blotter.

“You’re not taking over the practice?” I asked.

“Be serious.”

“Yes, Miss.”

“You’re not funny, you know.”

“I’ll try harder, Miss.”

“Still playing the card, Teddy boy? Where has it got you?”

“The same place everybody in my generation has got to. Those who are still alive. We’ve all got to be almost fifty.”

The pin-striped shoulders slumped and the edge left her voice. “Why do you always have to spoil things?”

I cocked my wrist to look at a non-existent watch. “Crikey. The pubs aren’t open yet, and already I’ve spoiled something. What was it?”

She withdrew her right hand from the desk and left the other pointing towards the silver sailing trophy which Charlie had won when we were all twelve years old. Engraved on it was ‘Most Improved Sailor — Section B’. It was what they gave you when you didn’t win any races all year. Charlie had kept stubs of pencils in it. Now it was empty and tarnished. The blotter had been full of telephone numbers and doodles. That was empty, too.

“Notice anything?”

“You’ve changed the blotter.” She raised her hand, bent at the wrist, and held it under my nose. “You’re wearing a new scent?”

“The ring, you cretin.”

On her fourth finger was a small heap of sparkling shards a hermit crab could have moved into.

“You’ve been to Woolworth’s.”

Her fingers formed a fist and she dragged the crab’s house down my cheek. When we were kids she used to do that with hairpins. In bed, she drew blood with her fingernails. I winced.

“Real diamonds. How do they feel?”

“I’ve still got the weals on my back from the last time you did that.”

She fluttered the encrusted hand at me. “You’ve got to try to forget all that.”

“Not until I can wear a swimming costume again.”

“I’m engaged to be married.”

“Who’s the lucky guy?”

“Eddy, naturally. I finally gave in.” She took herself to the window to admire the ring in the light.

“Did he rob a bank?”

“I paid for it. But we picked it out together.”

“Congratulations.”

“I hadn’t heard from you. I never saw you. You were avoiding me, weren’t you?”

“I’ve been a bit busy.”

“Lovers come and go.” She took off her specs and looked at me with her out-of-focus eyes. “They come. Then they go.”

“You made a joke.”

“I’m not a Cindy doll, Ted.”

“You’re a sweetheart.”

Her eyes were saucers. “Is there any hope for us? I would give him back this ring if there was.”

“Even though you paid for it?”

“Why do you always have to make fun of everything?”

“People can hurt you while they’re smiling, but not if you make them laugh.”

She laid her hand on my arm. “Did you ever love me?”

“I like you one helluva lot.”

She took off her engagement ring and plopped it into Charlie’s silver cup. “Let’s do it just once more.”

There was no room to lie down in either office. I tried to guide her thighs on to the table, but she resisted. “The leg is held on with tape,” she said. My brain seized up for half a tick before I realised it was the table she meant. So I removed the ink blotter from the desk. My last impression of Rabbit was from the rear, sprawled chest down on the imitation leather panel set into the top of her brother’s reproduction partner’s desk, her tailored charcoal pinstripe skirt ruffed up over her pudgy bottom, thighs ringed with the marks of her tights, which were pushed down now around her knees with her pink knickers, while the windows darkened, the sky turned black and a squall hammered the rain down like rivets on the former fisherman’s cottage which housed the premises of Segui and Cooper, all partners now demised. Rabbit moaned and thrashed and her hair spun adrift while I pictured Angie spread-legged like this and Charlie’s silver ‘Most Improved Sailor’ trophy tinkled and tottered towards the edge of the desk. On the last stroke I thought, ‘And this one’s for you, Eddy Starr, for bonking me on the head.’ The silver trophy fell to the floor with a great, satisfying clang, the engagement ring which he had approved spilling out of its mouth.

She pulled up her tights with the knickers inside them, retrieved her ring from the floor and went into the tiny loo. When she came out her hair had been retamed and she looked like a schoolteacher again.

“I don’t want you to think that was why I asked you here today.”

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a lawyer’s office.”

“You’re still in love with her, aren’t you?” I didn’t know who she meant, so I kept quiet. She went to the filing cabinet and pulled out a thick file. She thumped it on the table. She took out two folders. One was labelled ‘DNA Comparison: Farthing-Tattersall v. Ferguson’. I stared at that for a moment before I remembered that Matty’s surname was Ferguson. The other folder was labelled ‘DNA Comparison: “B. Streb” v. Deceased’. There was a third folder in the file which she did not remove.

“You know the results of these tests?” she asked.

“Yes. Ferguson is Matty. That test proved Lord Nick was her father. The other one is the sample Angie submitted to compare with the body that washed in. That test was negative.”

“Do you know where her sample came from?”

“She said it was Bartholomew.”

“There was no proper chain of custody. That’s why Charlie had me write ‘B. Streb’ with inverted commas around it. Because it didn’t prove anything.”

“It satisfied her.”

Rabbit opened the top drawer of Charlie’s desk and pulled out a pad of pink adhesive post-it notes advertising ‘Eternity Funeral Services (Formerly Dinsmore’s)’. She tore off two slips and wrote on them with a souvenir of her former husband’s business, an outsize pen that was also a pocket torch and had a slogan printed on it: ‘Harris Stationery Supplies, all ways the write choice’. She kept a box full of them in her kitchen.

“This is what Charlie tested.” Rabbit placed a slip on each file folder. The slip she stuck on the folder labelled ‘DNA Comparison: Farthing-Tattersall v. Ferguson’ now read ‘Farthing-Tattersall v. “B. Streb”’. On the pink slip which she stuck on the other file, the one labelled ‘”B. Streb” v. Deceased’, she had written ‘Ferguson v. Deceased’.

“Charlie switched the samples?” She nodded. “How could he manage that?”

“He is a solicitor. Part of the certified chain of custody.”

“How did you find out?”

“I saw him do it. I always knew he was up to hanky-panky when he closed the door. So I’d step into the loo.” She slid the door which led to the inter-communicating toilet halfway open, reached inside and I heard a switch click. A point of light appeared where one of the screws should be in the ceramic plate that said ‘Stallions’. She pointed to the mirror on the opposite wall. “Even if he was playing with himself behind the desk I could see him.”

“Why would Charlie do a thing like that?”

She snorted. “Because of those magazines he kept in the safe.”

“I mean, why would he switch the samples?”

“There was something in it for him.”

“What?”

“When that corpse floated in, Charlie fell to pieces. He spent a lot of time in here on the computer, sending E-mail messages about Project Blue Horizon. That European property deal I told you about. Supposedly. He kept that file in his safe.” She nodded towards it. The door of the red safe under the mirror was ajar. “Then one day he came out of here grinning like he’d won the lottery. I knew he’d just checked his
E-mail. And after that he started saying that the body that had floated in probably wasn’t Bartholomew after all. Even though everyone thought it was.”

“Except Angie.”

“So when she came in with her sample, which she said was from Bartholomew, he didn’t think that test mattered one way or the other. Particularly since she wouldn’t tell him where she got the sample from. But he was worried about comparing Matty’s sample to Lord Nick’s, both of which were proper jobs.”

“I still don’t see what was in it for him.”

“Lord Nick had just appointed Charlie as his legal executor. He was in some financial scrape as usual and Charlie was going to sort it out for him. Everybody thought Matty was batty, but if she ever did turn out to be Nick’s daughter, she’d be an heir. And Charlie didn’t want any legal complications with Lord Nick’s estate. So, just to be on the safe side, he switched the samples.”

“And the sample that Angie gave Charlie turned out to be related to Lord Nick.”

“Father and daughter. Or brother and sister.”

My mind reeled. ‘Angel Child’, Gwendolyn’s baby, had been fathered by Lord Nick. “Which means Matty is not really Nick’s daughter,” I said almost to myself.

“But somebody else is related to him. Angie could tell you who.”

“And Matty’s sample, tested against the corpse that floated in was negative?”

“That’s right.” Of course. That was Sam Cody

My brain was aching. “It must have confused the hell out of Charlie.”

“He was flabbergasted when the certificates came back. Of course, he couldn’t switch them back again. He took to pacing around his office, bumping into the furniture, like a rabbit in a cage. Finally he started playing ‘what if’ games with me, so I knew exactly what was going through his mind.”

She took the third folder out of the file. This one read: ‘”B. Streb” v. A. Streb’. “Angie also wanted to compare her own sample against the one she gave us to check against the body. The one she said was from Bartholomew. Charlie said that was stupid, because you don’t inherit DNA by marriage. And that comparison was negative, like he said it would be.”

“So Angie is not related to the sample she gave, but Nickers was.”

She nodded. “I suggested to Charlie that he should make another test. Of course he thought it was his own idea.” She picked up the file marked ‘A. Streb’ and the other marked ‘Ferguson’ and held them both out to me. “To compare Angie’s DNA to Matty’s.”

“Why?”

“Out of curiosity. There was some talk in the village when Angie suddenly went up to London the winter after you left. Before she took up with Bartholomew.”

“And?”

“There was a positive match. Matty is Angie’s daughter.”

I picked up a file in each hand. “This is all bona-fide documentation?”

“That’s just the correspondence. One of Charlie’s little surprises before he cleared out was that he sold the practice to Donovan & Donovan without telling me. The official certificates are with them. It’s all straight. You can see them if you like.”

“I’ll have to.”

“You know what it means — about Matty’s father — don’t you?” I nodded, but she went on anyway. “It could be you.” She trilled the last word like the TV ads for the lottery. Then she walked to the red safe, stooped, and pulled the door open. Inside there was only a single file folder. She gave it to me. It was a fat blue folder and on the cover was Charlie’s doodle of a sun rising out of the sea and a label which read ‘Blue Horizon’.

“This was Charlie’s retirement plan. But there was no property deal. All those people are alive. Colonel Meeker and Lord Nick and Malcolm Goodfellow. Alive and well and living on the Costa del Sol. And Charlie’s with them. They were all in deep financial do-do. Charlie engineered a scam, putting all their assets offshore and leaving their debts behind.” I didn’t say anything. She paused and blinked at me. “Don’t you believe me?”

“Why do you say that?” I reached for the file. She let me take it.

“You don’t seem very surprised.”

I opened the file. Stapled top and bottom to the inside cover was a list of names and telephone numbers. I could not recognise any of them, but some were headed ‘Capri’. Charlie’s idea of secret codes was simple: think of another island starting with the same letter. Next to the word ‘Chopper’ was an E-mail address. The original had been crossed over and another substituted. I made an instant decision and memorised the original. Something had been slipped behind the page, held in place by a paper clip.

I answered Rabbit. “I was just wondering, why would he leave all this incriminating evidence behind?” Tucked in behind Charlie’s list was a small card: a pocket Westowe Sailing Club tide table. With blue highlighter on the dates of the full moon plus two days.

“Charlie would leave his head in his hat if I wasn’t around to sort him out.”

“What are you going to do with this?”

“I discovered another file in the safe. Charlie’s stolen all the investments I put through him. So I’m going to give this to my fiancée. It should get him a big promotion.” She held out her hands for the file.

“There’s one more thing I’d like you to do for me,” I said.

She looked at me from head to crotch and back again over the rim of her spectacles and shook her head. “You should have asked me before I put my ring back on.”

“Could you give me a photocopy of that page stapled into the cover?”

“Why?”

“For Angie. If Charlie was right and Bartholomew is still alive, those people can help us find him.”

As I followed her into the outer office I slipped the little card from under the paper clip and put it where pocket time tables belong. I gave Rabbit the file. She removed its contents and placed them on her desk and then took the folder to the photocopier. On a notice board on the wall above her desk were pinned a local bus timetable and a rail timetable for Kings Ferry services. While her back was turned I unpinned them and slipped them into the sheaf of papers. She handed me the photocopy of Charlie’s contacts and replaced all of the papers into the file without looking at them. Eddy would lay all this at the feet of Detective Superintendent Radcliffe. He was a clever man. He would know the significance of transport timetables for men on the run and perhaps lose his inconvenient interest in tides.

Rabbit was hugging the file to her bosom. “How long are you going to stay in Westowe?”

“There’s just one more question I’d like to ask,” I said.

Rabbit’s benevolent mood was souring. “What’s keeping you here? Your home’s been turned into a museum. Your topsy ran off with a sailor. Your boat’s sunk. Most of your playmates have left. And you never really belonged here anyway.”

“Do Donovan and Donovan have custody of all these samples now?”

She nodded. “It’s Angie, isn’t it? You used to follow her around like a puppy.”

“I’d like to arrange a test of my own DNA.”

“You don’t suppose you’re Lord Nick’s brother, do you?”

“I want to test it against Matty’s sample.”

Rabbit stroked my arm. “Poor Teddy. One has to be so careful whom one sleeps with these days.”

“You’re the only woman I’ve slept with since I’ve come to Westowe.”

Rabbit’s eyes softened. “Honest Injun?”

I passed my forefinger across my throat, the way we used to pledge when we were kids. “Cut my throat and hope to die.”

“Matty will have to sign a consent form,” she said.

“Oh, Christ.”

Rabbit was digging in the file drawer again. She extracted a sheet of paper. “Charlie always took a few precautions with wandering clients,” she said. It was a Segui & Cooper letterhead, blank except for Matty’s signature at the bottom. Rabbit fed it into her typewriter, and, fluffing out her skirts, sat down to copy out a consent form.

When she handed it to me she said, “This is for loving me just a little.”

“You’re a brick,” I said.

“Beazer for ballast.” Rabbit’s eyes were moist and so were mine. She grazed my cheek with her wire brush hair, the wing tips of her spectacles, and her lipsticked lips, in that order, before pushing me out the door into the drumming plash.