Where the Bodies are Buried – the complete book online - Sunday, 29th April: 2

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Sunday, 29th April: 2

“Happy birthday, Mr Golden.”

The man’s voice comes from behind me. It is English. Someone I know. Then I smell the sweet pipe tobacco. So before he comes into view I know it is Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe. He stares at me. The cherubic face is set in stone. I am in for a hard time.

“Chief Inspector.”

He shakes his head. “Sadly, no.” He bends over me to take a close look at the lock, then steps back. “I was waiting for you on the Mont
St-Michel causeway. I thought I’d better come and find you.”

He looks at his watch, then at the sea, then pivots to view the flats stretching between us and the distant shore. He says nothing, so I have to come to the point. “I don’t suppose you could work out the combination to that lock?”

He shakes his head again and grunts. “All you need is a Swiss army knife or a pair of pincers.” He rummages in the pockets of his 1970s sheepskin coat but his hands come out empty. “You’d be out in a jiffy,” he concludes, and jams his pipe in his jaw.

“Have you got one?”

He shakes his head a third time and squats beside me. We both observe the white line of foam edging towards us. It seems to be about halfway in from the Tombelan rock.

“Can’t stay long,” he says.

“Neither can I. What do you want?”

“What does a policeman always want? The truth. The whole truth and nothing but, as the saying goes.”

“Is the study of clichés mandatory at Plod University?”

“Why do you go out of your way to alienate people, Ted? It will get you into trouble some day.”

The penny drops. “You set me up with her.”

He speaks in a reflective monotone. It sounds like something he has said many times to himself — a rehearsed speech to the Police Officers’ Association, or a passage from the memoirs he will write some day. “Mrs Fergusson represented the only conventional aspect of the Wes­towe murders. When a well-off person in the prime of life is killed under suspicious circumstances you look first at his nearest and dearest. There was only his wife. So we started with her. She had no alibi — and a certain colourful history — but we had only your sighting from the balloon to implicate a woman. No one else in Westowe remembered seeing her. Perhaps she wore a disguise. And you, naughty boy, had done a bunk. We knew where you would turn up, of course, when we followed your chums to Corsica.”

“So you know Meeker’s alive.”

“We cut a deal with him.”

“You wrote that message on the exhibition invitation.”

“Not personally. It was the fair hand of a WPC on my staff. Donald Penny was kind enough to lend us some of your late wife’s correspondence.” He whistles softly. “She was — how shall I put it — strongly attracted to him.”

“You reckoned that would draw me to the Bartholomew retrospective.”

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

“That show was a stroke of luck for you.”

“My dear fellow, we staged it. A complete bit of theatre. And the amazing thing is, it’s a staggering commercial success. I shall go down in police history as the only man ever to return a profit on an officially funded project.”

“So why didn’t you pick me up?”

“You wouldn’t have told us anything.”

“So you got her to interrogate me.” My mind races back to last night. Did they bug the hotel room? How much did I tell her? Only Spider’s version of the events on the mewstone, thank God.

“She has a romantic nature. My guess is she lured her husband to a rendezvous on the cliffs of Westowe on the pretext of some sort of sexual play-acting. If she killed him there, it was bound to be linked to the other disappearances.”

“How did you get her to come to St. Malo?”

“We simply let her discover the truth. That she had been observed by you with her husband on the edge of the cliff on the day he went missing. We made sure she heard about Bartholomew’s retrospective. And we arranged for one of our operatives to get to know her — shall we say, socially. That’s not difficult, as you know. Sergeant Noble. You know him.” Radcliffe pauses for effect and achieves it. Was it Pixie or Poxy that had been inside her before me? “He posed as an old friend of yours. And allowed her to ferret out the information that you would be bound to attend Bartholomew’s exhibition. He even let drop the name of your favourite hotel in St Malo.”

“You set me up to be murdered.”

“We just wanted to put you two together and hear what you talked about. I never thought you would be dense enough to take a stroll on these quicksands with a murderess.”

“How did you find your way past the quicksand?”

“It’s simple enough — if you’ve already covered the ground with a guide. I did that yesterday.”

“Why?”

“I was following Mrs F. She was with another guide. Rehearsing your outing today.”

“So, before I even met her, she planned to kill me. And she didn’t change her mind.”

“Evidently you failed to charm her sufficiently.”

“She said she was a nurse.”

Radcliffe grunted. “It’s getting so you can’t trust anybody. Don’t you worry about Mrs Fergusson. She’s being kept under observation. I had a man follow your car.”

“The bloke with the dog. How are you going to explain to him that you abandoned me here?”

“You know about the tides here. By the time I get to the mainland and locate a pair of pincers I shall have to return by boat. And that is what we shall do. You’re a goner. Though if you were prepared to co-operate . . .”

“You might find those pincers in your pocket,” I finish. He says nothing, so I have to carry the ball again. “What do you want to know?

“Who killed him.”

“Who killed who?”

“Lothar.”

“Lothar? What do you care about him?”

Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe’s face darkens a shade as if a cloud has drawn over the sun. He resolves to ignore my question. “Of course, we know all about Charlie Segui’s little enterprise. Colonel Meeker told us how Charlie set up his disappearance. How he was picked up from the mewstone by Charlie’s Corsican contact, Bartholomew Streb. A lucrative financial transaction for the impoverished provincial solicitor and the renegade artist. But some of Charlie’s friends found out. Lord Farthing-Tattersall. And then Malcolm Goodfellow. They were in a similar fix, and blackmailed Charlie into providing the same service. With power of attorney he tied up their financial affairs in a way that he could exploit in the event of their death and led them to the mewstone where said event immediately took place.”

It was clearly time to set the great detective right. “The radio signals for the rendezvous kept coming through from the drug gang,” says I. “Avril, Juillet and all that.”

“Decoys from Customs and Excise. The French found a list of the coded messages when they picked up the smugglers from the San Vicano. C&E continued to send them as scheduled, and staked out the various rendezvous. Fruitless, of course, by then.”

“Makes no difference,” I says. “Lothar was part of the gang. He came up from Corsica. He knew the signals. He knew Charlie’s game. He just let Charlie carry on. And as the punters turned up he topped them.”

Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe drops his jaw. “What on earth for?”

“They carried a lot of cash with them.”

He looks at me as if I am something nasty that has just crawled out from under the seaweed. “Lothar was Interpol.”

“You’re joking.”

“I don’t have a sense of humour.”

“Look what he did to Matty.”

“I didn’t say he was a saint. But he was a colleague. Lothar had infiltrated the Corsican gang. He navigated for them on their drops. Until his cover was blown in the Isles of Scilly.” So I was right. Lothar had been the unseen man in the cabin of the San Vicano who had persuaded the gang not to murder Bartholomew and Matty. “I believe you killed him,” Radcliffe concludes.

“Why? I liked the cove.”

“You just said why. Matty.”

My stomach turns over. Of course. It could have been Charlie all along. It fits. He went out to the mewstone with Lord Nick and Superbloke. And flushed them down The Toilet. The last time, when he was coerced by Spider into going by himself, he was followed by Lothar. That night at Lord Nick’s manor I had told Lothar about our childish pranks on the mewstone. He had jotted it down in his notebook. In the struggle by The Toilet in the snapshots of illumination from the lighthouse Spider could have been confused about who was attacking whom.

Radcliffe prods me. “I just want you confirm it. So I never have any doubts.”

“I didn’t kill him.”

“Then who did?”

I have to invent now. He already knows that I was sailing in the vicinity of the mewstone that night. I’ve told him that I had been rescued by Lothar and Matty. I’ve told him I had last seen them careering off into the fog in the Amaryllis, with its sails full of wind and the sheets jammed. Yet, four months later Lothar’s body surfaced with the other victims from The Toilet. Matty never surfaced — until Radcliffe located her at Colonel Meeker’s villa. What yarn has she spun him? With the cold piercing my bones and the wire noose cutting into my neck it is hard to keep my mind straight. Radcliffe has no reason to suspect that Spider and Angie were on the mewstone. I can still keep them out of it. “They killed each other. Lothar had a club of some sort and Charlie had a flare gun.”

“You saw them?”

“Yes,” I lie.

“Why did you sail to the mewstone?”

I don’t have time to concoct a new story. The best strategy is put myself into Spider’s boots that night. I tell him what Spider told me. “I worked out that Charlie was having these people picked up by Bartholomew at the mewstone. I told Charlie he had to make one more delivery — himself. I would go along to protect him.”

Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe shakes his head. “If he was murdering these people it was you, not he, who would need protection.”

True enough. But neither Spider nor I knew that at the time. “I didn’t know that then, did I?”

“Why were you so keen to play detective?”

Why indeed? I try Spider’s seaboots on for size again. “I wanted to know if Bartholomew was really still alive.”

“Why?”

The answer to that came easy. It was as true of Spider as it was of myself. “Because I was keen on his missus.”

“What happened on the mewstone?”

“It was thick fog. I anchored the Amaryllis and came in by dinghy. When the tide reached low ebb Charlie came across from the shore as we’d agreed.”

“If he were the murderer it would have been a perfect opportunity for him to dispose of you.”

“I kept hidden. After a bit another dinghy came in on the other side of the mewstone. I thought it was Bartholomew. Charlie must have thought it was me. In fact it was Lothar. There was a struggle, up by The Toilet.”

“Who attacked whom?”

“I don’t know. You could only see when the Grise Heel light swept the mewstone every ten seconds. Otherwise it was pitch dark.”

“I wonder why Lothar didn’t just use his gun.”

“I don’t know about a gun.” I remember what Spider had said. “Lothar clubbed Charlie with something — a belaying pin, maybe.”

“So how did you realise it was Lothar and not Bartholomew?”

Good point. “When Charlie shot the flare gun into his face. I recognised him and he cried out something in German. And they both fell into The Toilet.”

“No sharp instruments were used?”

A warning clicks in my brain. Who was it that said he had heard a knife fall to the ground? We had never found it. “Not that I saw,” I say, my first truthful statement of this exchange.

“So how did you leave the mewstone?”

“When the fog cleared the Amaryllis was gone. She must have dragged anchor. But Snow Queen was moored just a few metres away.”

“With Miss Ferguson on board?”

I could keep Matty out of it, too. “No sign of her. She had sent me a postcard from Cornwall. I reckon she must have jumped ship there. Stable relationships were never her strong point.”

“She had a sprog the other week. Whose bastard? Yours?”

Tears well in my eyes. “None of your goddamn business, you pompous prig.”

“There you go, ruffling feathers again.”

“Is that a capital offence now?”

“You should be a bit humble to people who are in a position to help you. That’s how to get on in life.”

I wish Matty’s baby were mine. To leave behind me a memento that this humble clown had once been part of this circus. Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe picks up a pebble and launches it towards the advancing line of the sea. I hear it plop into water. “It won’t wash,” he says.

“How do you mean?”

“Charlie died at least three hours before Lothar.”

I snort. “Your pathology can’t be that good.”

“They both wore watches. Neither waterproof. So, I want you to think a little harder. If you didn’t kill him, who did?”

Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe wanders down to the water’s edge and back. It doesn’t take him long. He squats down beside me and puts his face close to mine. His shaving lotion smells like the ground floor of Selfridges and the pipe tobacco like a Cairo souk. “Who else was on the mewstone with you?”

I don’t reckon I owe anything to Angie anymore. Nor to Spider. But I’ve caused her enough anguish for one lifetime. And Spider deserves her. As Angie said, it’s other people that matter. If I can do something for them it will help to balance my life’s account. In any case, if this sadist gives me my life back, what will I do with it? I resent being tortured by the British police. Which clicks a delayed switch in my brain. I say, “Shouldn’t you be taking notes? Or have a witness to all this? Or read me my rights?”

Detective Superintendent Radcliffe gets to his feet and disappears out of the corner of my vision. I hear him knock his pipe against the hulk before replying in a friendly tone. “Officially, all this is none of my business.”

I won’t move my head to look at him. It hurts too much. “You’re a police officer. An execution won’t look good on your record.”

He steps back into my field of vision, his coat collar pulled up, not looking at me. We are both looking seaward again. A white froth of waves is grinding against Tombelan now. “It’s not my show anymore,” he says.

“I thought you set up all this theatre.”

“I did. And then I was passed over for promotion. I took early retirement. But they appropriated my plan. I’m just here as a spectator. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

“So where are the good guys?”

“Don’t expect the British police to come riding out over the sands like the cavalry. Our methods are more civilised, particularly when we’re on assignment abroad. One of them took the opportunity to bring his wife and three kids along. I’ve been chatting to my former colleagues. They’re waiting for you now at that restaurant you booked for lunch. Your table is wired and they’re probably in the bar, knocking back some G-and-Ts on per diem.”

“And your man with the wolfhound?”

“An old acquaintance from the Sûreté. Now in the security business.” Radcliffe sighs and kicked a pebble. “I suppose that’s what lies ahead for me.”

“Believe me, I did not kill anybody.”

“I do not believe you. But if not, in any case you know who killed Lothar. And I’m not going to let you get the best of me intellectually.”

“Even if it kills me?”

“Then, at least, no one would ever know you had got the better of me.” He glances at his watch. “I reckon you’ve got about five minutes.”

I say nothing. Radcliffe squats again, near enough to be heard over the approaching surf, too far to be kicked. He punctuates his argument by drawing lines in the sand with the stem of his pipe. He’s been thinking about this for a long time. “Charlie died three hours before Lothar was murdered. It is conceivable that Charlie might have murdered both Lord Farthing-Tattersall and Malcolm Goodfellow, but I think not. More likely it was someone who learned about Charlie’s enterprise and decided to profit from it. When Bartholomew went walkabout and failed to respond to Charlie, this individual stepped in and contacted Charlie with a new E-mail address.”

“He would have to know the password.”

“Chopper.”

“Who told you?”

“Matty. I reckon she might have told anyone she was close to.”

“Why do you think Charlie was innocent?”

“Two reasons. Firstly, if he had been the murderer, no one could have persuaded him to go out on the mewstone the night he was killed. He would know that no one was coming to the rendezvous. So why put himself at risk? No, he came to the mewstone because he did not know what had befallen Lord Farthing-Tattersall and Malcolm Goodfellow. Maybe he was even worried about them.”

That could be true. Charlie was ill when he thought Colonel Meeker’s body had drifted in to Westowe. He sicked up again when he thought the body winching up from The Devil’s Frying-pan was Superbloke. Rabbit had told me how frantic he had been when there was a hiatus in the communications with Corsica. And Spider himself had said that it was because of anxiety that Charlie had finally cracked and told him all, and, indeed, allowed himself to be persuaded to go to the mewstone.

“What’s the second reason?” I say.

Radcliffe draws an X in the sand and shakes his head. “He’s not the type. Remember our conversation about our prototype serial murderer. The hedonist. He takes a keen interest in the progress of the investigation. He will attend the inquest.” He smiles up at me. “Playing detective. He is methodical. He has the temperament of an artisan rather than an artist. He often chooses work beneath his skill level — scraping boats, say, instead of closing deals. He was probably the eldest child. Or an only child. There will be a domineering female in his past.” He wipes his pipe stem, sticks it in his jaw and aims it at me. “Sound like anyone you know?”

“I didn’t know my mum long enough to be dominated.”

“I was thinking of your foster mother, Mrs Meersman.”

“I didn’t do it. What would I have to gain?”

“A more comfortable life. You were in financial straits. You wanted to start a new life with Mrs Streb. You would need money to keep her in style.”

“I didn’t do it.”

Radcliffe gets to his feet and glances at his watch. “It had to be a local man, who knew the tides and the mewstone, who knew the personalities involved. The circumstantial evidence points to you. All I want is confirmation.”

“What evidence?”

He pulls a glistening object from the pocket of his sheepskin coat. An ice-pick. But it is not my ice-pick because it is not a sharpened screwdriver and it is brand new. “The original is being held as police evidence. We found it on the mewstone. My colleagues, Detective Sergeants Smart and Noble have identified it as yours. Apparently you threatened them with it on your boat one day.”

Pixie and Poxy. The ice-pick sliding into the rotted mainmast of the Amaryllis. “I lost it early that spring. Anyone could have taken it from my boat.”

“Or you could have used it yourself.”

“To do what?”

“To spear Charlie Segui in the throat. It had his blood on it. Because that is how he died. Not, as you just told me, from a blow with a club.” I had told him what Spider said he had seen. I remember now. It was Lothar who said he had heard a knife falling on the rocks. If Lothar had held it in his hand, would he have called it a knife? If he had just thrust it into Charlie’s throat, would he have called attention to it at all?

“Then of course, there’s this.” Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe prestidigitates a gun from his sheepskin cloak. It looks like Lothar’s automatic pistol. “A similar gun was turned in by Mr Dinsmore. He says he found it in the car park.”

The gun. What had happened to the gun? I had been about to throw it overboard. What was it Spider had said? ‘These things have a way of turning up in fishing nets. I’ll bury it in the council tip.’

Radcliffe almost smiles. “The original has your fingerprints on it.”

“You can shoot this goddamned lock off,” I say.

His mind is not entirely on our conversation. He shivers and casts a long glance at the shore behind him and then turns his face back to me. “Sorry, no bullets.” He consults his watch again. “Your time is nearly up.”

I close my eyes. A group of thirteen-year-old lads stands in awe as Spider Meersman spits on his hands and tests the weight of the sledgehammer. He swings it, from the ground up, and his heels leave the ground. The sledge hits the bull’s head and cracks it open. Spider shows no emotion.

Spider used to call into Charlie’s office regularly. When I confronted him about it, Spider had seemed far too incurious about the colonel’s letter he had posted, containing his last Will and Testament. Spider always had a great ability to read papers on a desk upside down. It would have been a doddle to glance over Charlie’s shoulder while he was turning the combination lock on his safe. And all of us knew that Charlie kept the spare key to his office under the flower pot. Spider would have known all about Charlie’s game early on. It’s the word ‘hedonist’ that is misleading. Spider is not into the soft life. But there is one comfort he has always craved: Angie. With Bartholomew presumed dead his chance had come. But he would need money to install Angie on the pedestal he had designed for her. And then I came along to foul up his rigging.

Lord Nick and Superbloke were a convenient means to his end. And because Charlie would blather, after he cracked he had to be eliminated. Yet, Spider saved my life. Was there more truth than jest in his remark, ‘I was saving Angie. You just happened to be attached to her.’? We were raised as brothers, yet I think he could have killed me, too. Only he wanted to win Angie fair and square. She had to choose him over me. But he littered Radcliffe’s investigation with enough scraps of circumstantial evidence to put me into the frame. Not enough to convict me, but enough to keep me on the run.

Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe leaps to one side. A wave has splashed over his feet. He comes up to me, frowning as he wipes his wet shoe on the back of his trouser leg. The cherub has lost his innocence; his face is red and his eyes bulge. “I want you to know this is personal. I don’t like you. I don’t like people like you. You think you can get away with murder. I don’t have a case against you that the Crown Prosecution Service would accept. But I shall not allow you to go unpunished.”

I have discovered the fountainhead of evil. Any man who cannot suppress extreme desires may be driven by circumstance to do evil things — ‘Uncle Tom’ Goodfellow, his son Malcolm, Charlie, Spider — but evil is not his purpose. Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe is truly evil. Like a despot or a religious zealot, it is because of his beliefs that he chooses to do evil. He sacrifices free will; he wants to belong to a cause. He is incorrigible. He has surrendered his soul to a malignant force. This man will not thrust an ice-pick into my throat. But he will do nothing to save me. As the protagonist in Camus’ novel did nothing to avert the suicide, as I did nothing for Maire when she cried out to me.

Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe prods me with the toe of his boot. “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” he says.

“You owe me,” I say. He looks at me, puzzled. “As a member of the human race. You can’t just leave me here.”

He spits white saliva on the sand. “You don’t deserve a place in my world. You don’t know your place. You don’t obey the rules.”

He is wearing his Royal Yacht Club tie. “I would never wear the tie of a club I don’t belong to,” I say.

He looks down and makes a gurgling sound. There is froth on his lips. “It got us a table at the Yacht Club tonight,” he replies. And he turns on his heel and strides behind me, out of my sight. His final words are torn by the wind. “You should be grateful. I got you a good last fuck.” When it comes to the crunch all men revert to the playground.

It is difficult to hold my head up against the hull of the boat. There is just enough slack in the double loop to permit me to lay my head on the damp sand. The gulls wheel in the sky and I can hear the sound of the surf now. How much should I believe Radcliffe? I think he is still back there behind the boat. Waiting. Testing me. And that he must have a Swiss Army knife in his pocket.

Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe has not yet discovered complexity. He thinks in straight lines. He is looking for an aberrant individual with murder in his heart. But there are so many of us. Thomas Goodfellow wished someone dead — my mother or father, or possibly both. And arranged it. His desperate son, Superbloke, tried the same trick on Angie and me. To the drug-runners who disposed of him, Sam Cody was just a professional obstacle. Maybe Charlie — more likely Spider — had killed Superbloke and Lord Nick for personal gain. Spider then eliminated Charlie. Angie killed Lothar in righteous — or unrighteous — outrage. Cordelia pushed her husband off a cliff. I wished my wife over one, and my E-mail drew Bartholomew to his death. Deputy Superintendent Radcliffe now ordains my deathday. And if I had spoken up about my mother’s affair with ‘Uncle Tom’ none of this would ever have happened. It would have happened some other way. We are all murderers.

It comes to me with chilling clarity that suffering does not lead to redemption as Angie believes. It creates evil. Which is why — in a sudden surge of suffering for Matty — you killed Lothar, Angie. Now I know why I want to go on living. I shout into the wind. “Radcliffe, you evil bastard. I will get out of here and I will kill you.”

My fingers can just clutch the combination lock. There is a button on the side which will release the wire when it is pressed. When it’s set to the right combination. There are three small knurled wheels on top. They will have settings numbered from 0 to 9. That’s only one thousand possible combinations. Or have I got that wrong? I start turning the outside wheel and pressing. It’s hard to know if I’m moving only one notch at a time. In her haste she may only have turned one of the wheels. In which case I’ll be free in about ten seconds. Or maybe she spun only two wheels. I’ll be on my feet in a couple of minutes. With a fighting chance of making it through the rushing tides and the quicksand. If she were careful, and spun all three wheels, it could take at most twenty minutes. Which is more time than I’ve got. In the wind I can taste the dank brine that mussels and limpets and crabs live in. The scaly things that feast on the drowned. I splutter. My head jerks forward. The steel wire tightens and I am coughing. An autonomous cycle of choking and coughing and trying to breathe. My socks are wet and so are my underpants. Not just damp, but wet. The sea has penetrated through my open flies. The wave recedes and I try to remember which way I should be turning the wheels of the lock. My destiny lies in the lap of the Great God Random.