A web of lives, p.8
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       A Web of Lives, p.8

           David Medlycott
 
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‘John?!’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘I’ve been questioned by the police! They think I’m a murderer!’

  ‘Teri! Teri! Calm down! Don’t be so silly. Why should they think that?’

  ‘I don’t know! But, I’ve just spent two hours at the police station!’ Tobin eased the phone away from his ear as he checked the time. It was ten-thirty. Allowing fifty per cent for Teri’s exaggeration, she’d probably been there since nine-ish.

  ‘Where are you now, at the house?’

  ‘I’m at your office! I came here expecting to find you and you’re not here!’

  Damn the woman! The last thing he wanted was the for the staff there to hear and see Teri like this. ‘No. It’s a Monday morning and I’m here. And I’m busy.’ But he immediately relented to avoid a further outburst. ‘You’d better come round. I’ll leave the door off the latch and the kettle on. I’ll probably be in the shower ….’ But, she had hung up. Damn the girl, again! What business had she got to go there? His life was difficult enough there without her barging in! He shoved the last of the shelves into place in his new bookcases with a snort of frustration and stood back to admire his handiwork. They would have to be painted, or stained, another time. They would have to be filled later, too.

  By the time he emerged from the shower, shaved and in clean clothes, she was pacing the living room floor clutching a mug of coffee.

  ‘I made you one, but it’s probably cold by now!’

  ‘Well, thank you very much.’

  Her eyes were puffed and red from crying, her jaw was rigid and white with fury, her breathing shallow and rapid.

  ‘Sit down,’ he said, firmly. She sat.

  ‘Why?’ She demanded.

  ‘Because you make the place look untidy standing up.’ He joked, feebly.

  ‘No!’ She screamed at him, furious at his flippancy. ‘Why were they questioning me? Why would they think I’d do that?’

  ‘Well. You told me the other day that you wouldn’t have minded helping her down the stairs like that.’ He had barely finished when she threw herself at him screaming.

  ‘You told them that!!?’

  ‘No! I haven’t said a word.’ He said, pushing her back into the seat. ‘But, if you said that to me, who else have you said it to?’

  ‘No-one! No-one.’ Her voice tailed off as the thought raised questions in her own mind.

  ‘Are you sure? You don’t sound too sure. You haven’t moaned to someone at work? Or in a shop, say, or some public place where you could have been overheard?’

  She sat looking at the floor, shaking her head.

  He continued, ‘you didn’t have any rows with her where you could be heard?’

  ‘Only at home, and she screamed at me more than I screamed at her. Ooh!’ She gave a loud sigh and slumped back into the chair. ‘This is typical. She’s still giving me a hard time and she’s dead!’ Tobin stayed silent, studying the carpet. ‘She has had smash ups before - in the house. Just a couple of times. After she’d had too much … the depression was awful.’ She got up and stalked to the window. ‘Bloody, bloody, bloody … stupid woman!’ She paused for a breath.

  ‘What else did you tell them? Did you tell them about Nottingham and what Norris found?’

  ‘No! No. I’ll not tell them anything! Anyway I don’t believe that, now. It’s stupid! They must have got it wrong somewhere.’

  Tobin interrupted to slow her down. ‘What did you tell them about France?’

  ‘What about France?’

  ‘Why you went there at the same time as Alan disappeared?’

  ‘How did you know about that?’ She glared at him, defiantly. ‘It was just a coincidence, that’s all. That’s what I told them. But, they’re so bloody stupid! They don’t want to believe you! Stupid, bloody … drunken bitch throws herself down the stairs and everybody else has to suffer for it!’

  ‘But, that’s the point, isn’t it? Was it an accident? You told me yourself about the place being wiped clean. Who did that? And why? The police need to know that. Maybe it was an accident; she got herself so pissed she just fell down the stairs; but if there was someone else there, why didn’t they help? By not calling for help they may well have contributed to her death. Probably did. We know she lay there for some considerable time before she died, don’t we?’

  Teri turned away, partly covering her ears, not wishing to hear the gruesome details again. She hadn’t been so squeamish the first time round. Tobin remembered her relating it to him in all its awful detail. She had almost seemed to delight in it. Her hands turned into clenched fists either side of her bowed head. She turned back to face him, a mixture of fury and despair. ‘Why can’t Alan be here? He was the one who always sorted her out. Why can’t he be here when he’s needed? Just disappearing off without a word. It’s just so … bloody selfish.’ She had moved back in front of the open window and Tobin tactfully drew her away. She clung to him. ‘Do you think he will get in touch? He is your friend! You should know!’

  ‘I think he will.’ He said, quietly and cautiously into her ear.

  She jumped back. ‘Do you? Why?’

  ‘Well.’ He hesitated, unsure of what to tell her or whether to tell her anything at all. ‘He said he would try to get back in touch as soon as he could.’

  ‘When? How do you know that? Did you know he was going? You did! You knew he was going!’

  ‘No! No. No. I didn’t know any such thing.’ He regretted saying anything, now. But, he had started, so … ‘He wrote me a note, probably as he was leaving. I mislaid it after receiving it and didn’t open it till much later.’

  ‘Do the police know about this?’

  ‘No. Not yet.’

  ‘Why didn’t you say anything earlier?’

  ‘I was going to tell you when I thought the time was right.’

  ‘Oh. Were you? And when did you think that would be right? Why does everybody think that they can make decisions for me? I’m not a child anymore, I can decide these thing s for myself, you know. I’ve had to spend my life with people talking behind my back and then finding out what other people think will be right for me to know! ‘When it’s OK for me to know’!’ She stood in the middle of the floor stamping her foot, fists clenched at her side, her head thrust forward.

  He let the ferocity of the outburst fade. ‘Well, I was going to tell you. Look. I’m not sure what to make of it.’ Tobin said, fetching the note from the office. ‘And, I’m not really sure what to do with it, either. Did you see the note he left your mother?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘What did you make of that?’

  ‘I think he’s being… bloody selfish.’ At another time her childlike swearing would have been quite amusing. But Tobin didn’t smile as he handed her his note from Alan. She glanced at it and threw it on the floor. The last line had obviously not registered.

  ‘Well?’ He asked as he bent to pick it up.

  ‘I don’t know! All I know is, it’s just not fair. I’m just getting myself sorted out and he does this! It's so selfish! It's not fair!’

  Tobin could see the young Teri and her childhood tantrums all over again. ‘You’re not the only one, Teri … ‘

  ‘I don’t care about anyone else … what am I going to do? He’s left me all alone … he’s not thought about that! Has he? And now, I’m questioned by the police like some criminal!’ Tears welled up in her eyes. She banged her coffee mug down, messily, grabbed her bag and stormed out. Tobin heard her feet clattering down the stairs followed by a vicious slam of the front door.

  He fetched a cloth from the kitchen and cleaned up after her. She had had a lifetime of someone cleaning up after her! He flopped on the settee; he hadn’t handled that encounter very well. Just how else he could have handled it, though, he wasn’t sure.

  An hour and a half later he was working on the draft of the who-
done-it when the phone rang.

  ‘Tobin.’

  ‘Good afternoon, Mr Tobin. D.S. McColl.’

  ‘Good afternoon, detective sergeant.’ He checked his watch, in surprise. ‘What can I do for you?’

  ‘You could be honest with me, sir.’

  ‘Sorry?’

  ‘I said, ‘you could be honest with me, sir’.’

  ‘Yes, I got that bit, but what do you mean?’

  ‘I mean that you haven’t been honest with me, have you?’ He paused, but Tobin didn’t answer. ‘You might remember, I asked you if you had heard from Alan Harper and you told me that you hadn’t, didn’t you, sir?’

  ‘Ah. I see. Yes. Well. It doesn’t take someone very long to run and tell tales, does it? I bet she didn’t tell you the explanation, did she?’ There was silence down the phone. ‘You see, I did get a letter, but, I put it aside and forgot all about it. I didn’t open it till the other day. I didn’t realise who it was from until a lot later.’

  ‘Really? Yet you identified his handwriting for me, didn’t you, sir? I think we need to talk about this, don’t we, sir? I’m at the Longalnbury office, it's only a five minute walk for you; and don’t forget to bring the letter.’ He hung up.

  Tobin slowly returned the receiver to its cradle. What a vicious little …. What was Teri playing at? Spite, he supposed. He had embarrassed her by finding out about her French trip, so now she was lashing out in revenge. She hadn’t really grown up much, after all. Stupid, selfish, childish, thoughtless …. Tobin packed up his office, thumping things down as he thought of each adjective, as if he could beat them into her.

  Having noisily banged everything around that he could safely bang around he retrieved the letter from under the keyboard and walked to the police station, slowly.

  By the time he returned to his flat, after his two hours at the police station, Tobin had to admit that he could understand some of Teri’s feelings about the experience. He had made a poor job of explaining himself and the timing of the opening of Alan’s letter. The obvious accusation of complicity in the disappearance of Alan Harper had quickly cropped up and he got quite flustered as he tried to deny it. After about the third attempt he even doubted himself! Then had come the accusation that he was not prepared for. Did he realise that if he had opened the letter Rosemary Harper might still be alive now? His face must have been a picture, he only hoped that it told the story. Shortly afterwards he had been allowed to leave, angry, bewildered and fed up.

  He felt insulted by the insinuations and had struggled to stay calm at the barrage of repeated accusations. He realised afterwards that that was the ploy, of course, to put him off his balance and see what he said. He was only thankful that, for some reason, they had not asked him if there was anything else he could tell them. He had been waiting for the question, but for whatever reason it hadn’t occurred. Just how he would have answered he still didn’t know.

  Unsurprisingly, McColl had kept the note, but Tobin had had the foresight to run it through his fax machine to get a copy. He laid the copy on the worksurface in the kitchen while he made himself a mug of decent instant coffee and studied it again. The second line ‘It's a bit awkward, I wasn’t quite ready’, intrigued him. He was sure McColl wouldn’t miss it either. It was the most significant line there, he was sure, but he wasn’t sure why! More significant than the line ‘taken care of Rosemary …’ Alan had obviously been planning to leave at some time in the near future, but, he ‘wasn’t quite ready’ must mean exactly what it said. But, why would he be leaving? And so secretly. It obviously must have something to do with his identity. Could it have been Rosemary? Had she discovered something that had caused her to employ the Norrises? Or, worse thought and therefore probably the police’s thought, had she been in danger of discovering something? Or could it all be just terrible coincidence? He pondered all the way through his coffee and slowly regained his composure.

  Unlike Teri, Tobin believed the Norris’s report. People like that don’t make mistakes like that. Did they?

  Teri. He picked up the phone and dialled her number. There was no answer; she must be at work. He looked up her work number. She worked for a public relations partnership and he was amused to see that Public Relations immediately followed Public Houses, it seemed a natural progression, he thought, with his experience of that industry. He found the number.

  ‘Prentice-Partnership-Paula-speaking-how-may-I-help?’

  Argh! How he hated that! She had done the course but didn’t know what it was about! She was nearly human, though, and that was marginally better than those electronic menus, no matter how clever they were.

  ‘Teri Shaw, please.’

  ‘Sorry, Miss Shaw doesn’t work here anymore, can anyone else help you?’

  ‘Since when?’ He demanded, a little more abruptly than he had intended.

  ‘Erm … well, today, I believe.’

  ‘Where’s she gone, then?’

  ‘I’m sorry, sir, I can’t tell you that.’

  ‘Can’t or won't?’

  ‘I’m sorry, sir, …’

  ‘Yes, I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have jumped on you like that, but, she has led me a bit of a dance today.’

  ‘Yes, sir,’ said the voice of Paula, very knowingly. ‘Hold on. Please.’

  Tobin endured a minute and a half of electronic Greensleeves until a man’s voice said, wearily, ‘can I help you?’

  ‘Yes, I hope so. I’m trying to get hold of Teri, er … Rebecca Shaw.’

  ‘Can I ask who you are, please?’

  ‘My name is John Tobin; I’m a friend of the family. I’m trying to help sort out some of the problems.’

  ‘Of which she is most certainly one,.’ stated the voice, dryly.

  ‘I’m afraid so.’

  ‘Well. I’m afraid to say… we had to let her go.’ The euphemism was not lost on Tobin.

  ‘And why was that?’

  ‘Well, … Her … er … reliability was not really … er … .’

  Tobin saved him any further embarrassment, ‘you mean, she didn’t turn in? She was at the police station.’

  ‘Oh. I know, and we were happy to give her the time off for that. But, when she rang in to say that she wouldn’t be back in this week and would we just put it down as unpaid leave … well … .’

  ’What was she going to do with this unpaid leave?’

  ‘Go on holiday. Again!’

  ‘Thank you, … Mr … er … ?’

  ‘Murphy.’

  ‘Thank you.’ He hung up. What on earth was she playing at? He was beginning to wish Alan was here, now, just to sort out Teri. He seemed to be the only one who could.

  He closed the Yell.com page and paced about the flat. He had had enough. It really was not his problem. There were limits to how far he would go in watching out for this uncontrollable child. He was not a paid minder, and wouldn’t fancy being one, either! He retreated to his office and closed the door. Now that was a novelty!

  The thick folder lay on the desk. He smiled at the irony of the title, a year or more ago he had given his who-done-it story the working title of ‘Disappearance’. He opened the folder, found his place and began to work.

  On the M25 motorway skirting the south-west of London a small blue Ford car was caught on a speed camera as it raced toward Southampton. The young female driver showed no concern for the double flash of the camera, indeed she might not have even noticed it as she stared straight ahead, muttering at the slower cars ahead of her in the outside lane.

  One of the last vehicles on to the ferry at Dover was a white, French registered, Citroen van belonging to a food company. The driver pulled into the bay indicated, extinguished his cigarette, picked up his jacket and climbed out. His passenger, a white-haired hiker followed him and they headed for the bar, talking animatedly in French.

  Near Newcastle Central station the car rental company was just clos
ing when their regular London hirer returned his car early. The representative, annoyed at being delayed, managed a forced smile, nevertheless. ‘Had a good weekend, Mr Mitchell?’

  ‘No!’ He threw the keys on the counter.

  ‘Oh. Dear.’

  They went through the usual procedures and the rep’ put the car in the compound near the office. He was only ten minutes late for his girlfriend picking him up.

  --------------------9---------------------

 
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