Behind Her Eyes, p.23Sarah Pinborough
David doesn’t call at our agreed time; another clue that he meant what he said last night. He’s washing his hands of me. Maybe even challenging me to make good on my threat. Poor thing. He’s at his wits’ end.
I make a peppermint tea and go upstairs and lie on the cool duvet cover and stare at the ceiling. I’m remarkably calm given the situation. There are still some wild cards out there, and I’m entirely reliant on Louise to find and put together the pieces of the puzzle I’m laying out in front of her. At the right moment she needs to grasp the significance of this morning. If she doesn’t, I’ll need to find another way to show her. Still, life is better when it’s interesting. I feel quite content.
Being told a thing is never enough. I’ve told Louise what I think David did all those years ago, but words really don’t carry any weight. Momentary sounds on air have no solidity. Written words, slightly more perhaps, but even then, people don’t ever really trust each other enough not to have doubts. No one ever truly thinks the best of anyone else.
To trust the truth of a thing, you have to suffer the thing. You have to get mud on your hands and dirt under your fingernails. You have to dig for it. A truth like David’s and mine anyway. That can’t be understood by telling. I need to take Louise into the fire before she can come out the other side pure and clean and trusting. If David is to finally be free and unburdened, she needs to carry the burden first. The truth has to be hers. She needs to take the truth to him.
And then let it unravel them.
… I’ll wait till Ailsa’s asleep or passed out drunk with gimpy Gary and then I’ll go. Fuck them and their shitty little flat and their shitty little lives on this shitty little estate. Pissy Pilton. Like it’s the whole fucking world. Maybe it is for them. It’s not going to be like that for me. No wonder I wanted to get off my face as soon as I was back here. What did they think, that after rehab and everything, wanky Westlands would miraculously work? They’re idiots. They’re scum. They’re all scum and I can feel their dirt trying to stick to me. They won’t even care when I’m gone. They’ll be relieved. And they’ll be relieved of whatever cash is in the flat too, ha ha! I need something to take to Adele’s with me and today was benefits day. Their loss, my benefit.
I can’t believe I’m going to see her so soon. It’s like there’s colour in the grey world again. I almost didn’t text her. I didn’t want to risk her saying no. How that would feel. I’m not used to caring about someone like this and wanting them to like me. I’m not used to caring about anyone. If I hadn’t had the dream door and been able to see a made-up her that way I think I’d have gone mental by now. I laughed and joked when we said goodbye but she could see it was hurting me. It was hurting her too, but even though she tried to hide it from me she was excited to be getting out. She’s got a life, she’s got money, she’s got David. I’ve got my bitchy sister’s box room that needs repainting in a shite Edinburgh schemey flat.
But now I’m free! I’ll hitch or jump the train to Perth and then she said to get a taxi and she’ll pay. She’s missed me, I can tell. That’s what makes me the happiest. I make her laugh. She’s different with me. She says I’ll get to meet David because he visits some weekends from university. She reckons we’re going to get on, but I think the one thing that me and dull David have in common is that neither of us are convinced about that. He’s not going to want me around. I wouldn’t want me around. I’ll try for her sake though. It’s not like he’s going to be there all the time anyway. I can pretend to like him for a couple of days at a time if it keeps Adele happy. I may even try not getting stoned when he’s there. I’m not going to let the thought of David bring me down. Tomorrow I’ll be back with Adele! Fuck off, old life, hello new! Adele, Adele, Adele! The gateway to my happy future.
There’s no more in the notebook; whatever else Rob wrote has been torn out. Did David do that? Did those pages say things that could incriminate him? My mind is on fire, working so hard my scalp is almost burning. Could David really have killed Rob? Maybe it was an accident. Maybe they fought and things got out of hand and he hit his head falling down or something?
Or maybe Rob isn’t dead at all. Maybe Adele is worrying over nothing and he did just leave. She says he wouldn’t have been bought off, but he stole his sister’s dole money, so who knows? It’s clear from the notebook that he loved her, but he was from a poor home and maybe the promise of several thousand pounds in hand was too much to say no to? But why won’t David sell the estate if there’s nothing to hide there?
Questions, questions, questions. It seems that ever since David and Adele came into my life I’ve been filled with questions. They’re like weeds in water. Every time I think I can swim away another one tangles around my legs to drag me back down.
I need to know what happened to Rob. I need to find him. It’s not even about Adele and David any more, I need to know for me. I can’t have this not knowing in my head for ever. I don’t have to pick Adam up until five fifteen, so I make a strong coffee – even though my nerves are jittery enough – and open my laptop. Everyone’s findable these days. If Rob was only a few months older than Adele then he’s still under thirty. Surely, even if he’s a junkie somewhere, there’ll be some trace of him? I flick back to the first page of the notebook to where his whole name is printed so neatly, and type it into Google: Robert Dominic Hoyle.
A list of results comes up; various LinkedIn accounts, a few Facebook ones, and some news reports. With my heart racing, I work my way through them, but none match. They’re too old, American, too young, and the only one whose Facebook profile picture looks about the right age says that he’s from Bradford, and there’s a list of schools he’s attended, none of which are in Scotland. I try searching the name with ‘missing or dead’ added, but I get the same set of results. I try ‘Robert Dominic Hoyle Edinburgh’ and still nothing.
My coffee sits untouched and cold beside me, and I’m not even puffing on my e-cig. Why are there no results at all for him? If David had bought him off, then for a little while at least he would have been on his feet. Surely he’d have got a laptop and the Internet? I thought everyone had Facebook? But then, it didn’t sound in the notebook as though he had a lot of friends or any real desire for them. Only Adele, and probably some junkies. Facebook might not be his thing.
Maybe he’s living in some squat somewhere and all his money is going on drugs? That doesn’t feel right. Junkies are devious – all addicts are, the condition makes them that way. If Rob needed money, he’d have found his way back into Adele’s life and got some – either from her or David. Maybe he has. Maybe David’s still paying him off occasionally and not telling Adele. But why would he bother? And that still leaves the big question – why hasn’t he sold the estate? Or rented it out? Why is it still sitting there empty when it could be earning money?
I stare at the screen, willing an answer to appear there, and then decide to try another tack. Rob’s sister, Ailsa. I type her name in and start to sort the wheat from the chaff. As with Rob, there are several people with her name across the country and globe, and then an electoral register site gives me a list of seven Ailsas, only one of whom lives in Edinburgh.
I can’t get a further address on that site without paying, which I’m prepared to do if it comes to it, unemployment be damned, but on the next search page I find a small news article about a Lothian Arts Festival. It mentions some local shops that were set up by grant initiatives and that have stalls at the festival. One is called Candlewick, and the owner is mentioned – Ailsa Hoyle. Candlewick has a website and a Facebook page. I’ve found her. At least I hope it’s her. I stare at the phone number that almost throbs its presence through the screen. I have to call it. But what will I say? How do I even go about starting this conversation without looking like a crazy person? I need to lie, I know that, but what lie to tell?
I look at the old notebook and it comes to me. Westlands. That’s how I’ll
She is there. My heart leaps to my mouth as the shop assistant calls her to the phone.
‘This is Ailsa, how can I help?’ Her accent is strong. I can imagine that voice, unleashed from the telephone middle-class politeness, screaming at Rob.
‘Hello,’ I say, deepening my own voice and smoothing it, just as I’d do when taking calls at the clinic. ‘I’m sorry to bother you at work, but I wondered if I could have a few moments of your time. I’m writing a paper on the effectiveness of the Westlands Clinic,’ I suddenly realise I have no idea where the clinic was or any of the doctors’ names, and that I’m woefully underprepared to carry this deception through if she starts to question me, ‘and I believe your brother was there for a time. Robert Dominic Hoyle? I’ve been trying to locate him, but he’s not appearing on any records anywhere. I wondered if perhaps you had a contact number for him, or could pass mine on.’
‘Westlands?’ she barks out a laugh. ‘Aye, I remember it. Complete waste of time. Robbie was back on the gear within days of getting out of there. Then he stole money from my purse and fucked off in the night. Sorry about the language.’ She pauses, perhaps lost in angry memories of her own. ‘But I cannae help you, I’m afraid. I never heard from him again. He’s probably dead or close to it in an alleyway somewhere.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ My heart is in my mouth.
‘Don’t be,’ she says. ‘It was a long time ago. And he was a wee shite, he really was. You can’t cure them all.’
I apologise for disturbing her day, and mutter a polite goodbye, but she’s already hung up. I throw away my cold coffee and make a new one, just for the sake of doing something as it all sinks in. It’s actually possible. What Adele suspects could well be true. I’m only just beginning to see that. For all my questions I was pretty certain, deep down, that Rob must be still alive. These things don’t happen in real life. Murder. Hidden bodies. Only on the news and in films and books. Not in my mundane, dull existence. I ignore the coffee and find a forgotten bottle of gin left over from Christmas at the back of the cupboard. I’ve got no tonic, but I add diet Coke to a generous measure and take a long swallow to calm down before grabbing some of Adam’s drawing paper and getting a pen. I need to think this through. I start with a list.
David – Wants the money or protecting himself against Adele? Both?
Rob – Vanished. Still on the estate somewhere? What happened in the torn-out pages? Evidence of a fight? Offer of money?
The notebook makes me remember one of Rob’s suspicions, and I add that.
Adele’s parents. Was it really an accident? Who benefited most – DAVID.
Adele’s parents. Of course – why haven’t I thought of that before? There must be stuff about that on the Internet. The fire would have been big news. I look at the clock – quarter to five. I have to go and pick Adam up, and that almost makes me scream with frustration, and then I hate myself. All the times I wanted him back from his holiday, and now I’m ditching him at daycare when I don’t have to, and resenting him getting in the way of my … of my what? Murder investigation? I nearly laugh out loud at the awful absurdity of admitting it to myself. Because that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to piece a murder together.
I’m going to need to buy a bottle of wine.
‘But I don’t want to go to bed yet.’
I love my boy, but I hate it when he whines, and he’s definitely been whinier since France. ‘I’m not tired.’
‘It’s bedtime and that’s that. Now get your pyjamas on.’
‘One more game.’
‘I said now, Adam!’ He storms off to his bedroom huffing and puffing and whingeing all the way, but one look at my face tells him this isn’t open for discussion. I’ve done his Day Play colouring homework with him, he’s had his tea and played some games, and now I’m desperate to get him to sleep so I can get back to mining the Internet for treasure. I can’t do it while he’s up – he’d be looking over my shoulder the whole time and asking questions. ‘And brush your teeth!’ I shout after him. A second later, the bathroom door slams. This is what the teenage years are going to be like, I realise. Sulky, rebellious moods, interspersed with tiny nuggets that make it all worthwhile.
That thought saddens me and I get up to go and read with him and cajole him back into being my happy boy. The Internet can wait ten minutes longer.
By 7.30 he’s asleep, and I’m back at my laptop, a large glass of white beside me.
This search is easy. I have Adele’s maiden name from Rob’s notebook and ‘Rutherford-Campbell fire’ brings up streams of information, mainly newspaper articles from the aftermath, both national and local. There’s pages of it here. Faced with so much information, I can’t believe I haven’t looked all this up before, when she first told me. When she gave me the notebook.
At first, I’m entirely distracted by the photographs. It’s hard not to be as I open link after link, leaving about fifteen tabs on my browser. There’s an aerial before and after shot of the estate, and Adele hadn’t been joking when she said it was a big place. In the second picture I can see where one part of the building is blackened and charred, but what’s left is still the size of maybe three or four normal houses. It’s built from thick pale stone and looks as though it’s been there for a couple of hundred years or more. Built in a time of landed gentry. There are woods and fields surrounding it, creating a sanctuary for the building away from prying eyes. I try and imagine it now. Does someone keep up the grounds? Or is it now overgrown and forgotten?
There’s a photo of Adele’s parents, and seeing her mother is like looking at a reflection of her face on unsettled water. Almost the same but slightly different. Adele is more beautiful, her features more aligned, but her mother had the same dark hair and olive skin. Her father, originally an investment banker, and with a personal fortune of several million as well as a portfolio of high-profile investments according to these articles – looks grey and serious in one picture – obviously from his time in the City – but there is another of him in a Barbour and wellies smiling straight at the camera. His skin has reddened from time in the fresh air or maybe from too much good wine and good food, and he looks happy.
There are pictures of Adele too – the tragic beautiful daughter left behind. A face slightly plumper with the glow of youth, but still the Adele I know. The heiress, one paper calls her. How much money is she actually worth? A fortune it would appear. Her eyes sparkle with carefree laughter in a photo of the three of them one Christmas.
In another, blurry and taken from a distance in that way that tabloid journalists do, her head is down, one hand covering her face, and she’s thinner, her jeans hanging loosely on her hips as she walks through the grounds of the damaged house. Grieving. There’s a man beside her, one hand on the small of her back, his face turned almost directly to the long lens camera as if he can somehow sense it’s there. His other arm is bandaged and in a sling. David. His face is blurry, but it’s him. He looks wary and protective and tired. They both look so young. Them, but not them. I stare at the picture for a long time and then lose myself in the myriad news articles, piecing the story together from all the different angles.
There’s talk of Adele’s parents’ partying, of their wealth and their move from London after their daughter was born. All the usual gossip from neighbours feigning shocked grief but actually giving snippets of judgement. Adele was a lonely child apparently. Her parents didn’t have much time for her. A lot of space is given to the romance of the poor farm boy and the beautiful daughter, and how he saved her from the blaze. There’s mention that some sources say Adele had been in therapy as a child.
Then I find something that stops my heart aching at their story that I’m not a part of, at David’s
Suspicion of arson.
There, in the later reports, once the emotional tabloid feast is done, the words slip in, insidiously. A policeman, Angus Wignall, is pictured studying the fire damage. A thickset man in his thirties maybe. A comment on the speed at which the fire spread. The mention of petrol kept in canisters in the barn for the quad bikes. Arson can’t be ruled out.
Detective Inspector Angus Wignall was seen leaving the Perth Royal Infirmary where David Martin is being treated for third-degree burns to his arms. Sources say that the inspector, accompanied by a sergeant, spent two hours talking to the student who has been hailed as a hero after rescuing his girlfriend, Adele Rutherford-Campbell, 17, from the blaze in which both her parents died. Inspector Wignall has refused to comment on the nature of his visit other than to say it was part of an ongoing investigation.
I scan the reports, my eyes darting to and fro across the lines to find out more. There’s talk of a disgruntled estate manager, and also a later mention of David’s father’s financial troubles. Talk of how Adele’s parents disapproved of their relationship. It all stays the right side of outright accusation, but there is a definite shift in mentions of David from hero to something other.
Then on the third page of searches, where the Internet starts drifting into other vaguer territories, I see a report on their wedding. A quiet ceremony in the village of Aberfeld. There are no pictures in this one, and I think of Adele’s suspicions and the fact that maybe between those earlier reports and this one, a terrible crime has been committed and a boy has lost his life. The thought strikes me that maybe that wasn’t in fact the first terrible crime. How much did David want to change his life from poor farmer’s boy to wealthy doctor? Enough to set a house on fire in the middle of the night?
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes