Out of bounds, p.18
Out of Bounds, p.18Val McDermid
The one thing they had going for them was that newspapers still protected their sources fiercely. It wasn’t like he was going to walk into the offices of the Record or the Scotsman on Monday morning and be handed full access to their freelance payment files. They’d fight like dogs to keep him out of their system and they’d probably win. But meantime, Jilted John would be cultivating contacts and offering a mixture of bribes and threats to uncover what nobody wanted to tell him. After all, he was the Macaroon’s man and the Macaroon wasn’t about to pass up a chance to make her life difficult. How he would love it if Jason was exposed as the leak. Being able to blame her at one remove would be almost as satisfying as being able to nail her directly. At the very least, she’d lose Jason and end up with one of the Macaroon’s placemen at her side. She might even lose the HCU and end up back in regular CID, chasing the feckless and the gormless.
Karen knew she had to figure out somewhere else to lay the blame. Somewhere that wouldn’t damage some innocent, obviously. But somewhere convincing. And she had to figure it out quickly.
But right now, she didn’t have an idea in her head.
It took the alarm to wake Karen. She couldn’t quite believe she’d slept for more than eight hours. It might have had something to do with the three glasses of wine she’d drunk before her eyelids had grown heavy, but she didn’t think so. There were many nights when she’d necked more alcohol than that and sleep had been as elusive as ever.
It wasn’t as if she had nothing on her mind. After her conversation with Jason, she’d paced her hotel room, trying to come up with a false provenance for the leaks that would convince Jilted John. She’d come up empty. And yet she’d slept.
The disappointing thing was that her subconscious hadn’t come up with anything useful during the night, as it often had before. No brainwaves, no tangent offering a credible alternative to the truth. In the grey light of morning, she was as stuck as she’d been before she’d crashed.
Nothing for it but to ignore the problem and get on with the day. Shower, coffee, breakfast back in Euston station, and by half past nine she was on the tube heading for Notting Hill and Felicity Frye, Jason set firmly to the back of her mind. This was the make-or-break interview. Either she’d find something to get her teeth into or she’d bury her doubts, walk away and leave Alan Noble to it. Giorsal would just have to live with her uncertainties, the way that so many of them did.
Navigating by her phone, Karen walked down the hill from the tube station, soon finding herself surrounded by high white buildings with porticos and private gardens filling the space between them. It was a bit like a bleached version of the grandest parts of Edinburgh’s New Town. She turned into a quiet side street and followed the numbers till she reached the address she’d been given.
It was the last house in the terrace, separated from the rest of the street by a narrow mews. Three storeys of brilliant whitewash and tall windows with swags of curtains visible from the street. A pillared portico jutted out from the glossy front door with its brightly polished brass letter box. It spoke of money, but there was nothing vulgar about it. Karen had texted ahead because you didn’t doorstep the dying. But faced with this imposing house, she was glad she’d made an appointment. If she’d turned up on spec, she might have bottled it. Outclassed and outgunned, that was how it made her feel.
But there was no going back now. She gripped her bag, climbed the steps and pulled a brass knob that gleamed softly from years of other people’s hands. In the distance, a proper bell jangled. Footsteps approached, muffled by the heavy door. It swung silently open to reveal a slightly stooped man with a large patrician head crowned with thick silver hair swept back from a high forehead. He wore baggy corduroy trousers and a shabby hand-knitted dark blue Guernsey. ‘Detective Chief Inspector Pirie, I presume?’ he said, shaggy eyebrows raised in a question.
‘That’s me,’ Karen said.
‘Come in, do. I’m Jeremy Frye, Felicity’s husband.’ He stepped to one side and made a sweeping gesture with one arm.
The hallway looked like something out of an interiors magazine – an elaborate tiled floor, tasteful art on the walls, toning colours of paintwork without a single scuff, nothing out of place. Where did people like the Fryes keep their crap, Karen wondered. Where were the carelessly discarded keys and gloves, the junk mail, the bags-for-life waiting to go back to the car? Even a life as stripped-down as hers seemed to accumulate clutter on a daily basis. The rich truly were different.
She followed Jeremy down the hall, exchanging meaningless pleasantries about the journey and the weather. He paused in front of a closed door, fingers closing on the handle. ‘You’re aware that my wife’s health is . . . delicate?’
‘Yes. I’m sorry.’
‘She tires easily. I’d appreciate it if you would bear that in mind.’
‘I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible.’
A thin smile. ‘She may not want you to. Felicity loves to talk.’
He nodded and opened the door into a room that felt as if it was made of light and greenery. It was like stepping into one of the glasshouses in the Botanic Gardens. At the heart of the room, on a wicker chaise longue piled with silk cushions, lay Felicity Frye. Recognisably herself, but a shrunken, paler version of the woman Karen had seen on countless screens, large and small. She turned her head and her face lit up with a shadow of her familiar smile. ‘How lovely,’ she said, her voice still carrying effortlessly across the room. ‘Forgive me for not getting up to meet you.’ She held her arms out in welcome. ‘Come and sit down, my dear. Jeremy, bring us some tea, please? You do drink tea, Chief Inspector?’
‘Yes. Thanks.’ Dry-mouthed, Karen approached.
‘Sit down, here. Beside me.’ Felicity pointed to a rattan tub chair set at right angles to her chaise.
‘Thank you for seeing me.’ Karen said, sitting down. ‘I really appreciate it. I know you’ve not been well.’
Felicity’s smile faltered. ‘I’m dying, Chief Inspector. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still be useful. Or at least, I can try. Now, your message was rather intriguing. You said you’re re-examining that atrocity in 1994 that killed my dear friends Caroline and Ellie? What on earth has happened? Has someone finally confessed? Or rather, what is it they say? “Claimed responsibility”?’
‘I’m afraid not. I assume you didn’t see the news last week about Gabriel Abbott?’
She looked intrigued rather than concerned. ‘No, I’ve given up the news. What’s Gabriel been up to?’
‘I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Gabriel was found dead.’
What little colour Felicity had faded from her face, leaving what had been subtle make-up stark against her skin. ‘Oh, that poor boy. Was it . . . an accident?’ There was a plea in her voice.
Karen knew she was dealing with an actress, but that didn’t mean Felicity’s reactions weren’t genuine. She hated herself for having to deliver more bad news to a dying woman. ‘Gabriel died of a gunshot wound to the head. It’s not clear at this point whether it was self-inflicted.’
‘You mean he might have been murdered?’ Incredulity in the face and the voice. ‘Why would anyone murder Gabriel? Suicide I can comprehend. But murder? Surely not.’
‘We’d like to be able to exclude that possibility.’
At that point, Jeremy returned with the tea tray. As he fussed over the pouring and handing out of cups and saucers, Felicity repeated what Karen had told her. ‘It’s madness,’ she concluded. ‘Who would want to hurt that poor damaged boy?’
‘Indeed,’ Jeremy said, patting her hand. ‘But what has that to do with an act of terrorism in 1994?’
‘It was never established that the plane crash was an act of terrorism. It was an assumption, a reasonable one in the circumstances. But no terrorist organisation ever claimed responsi
Jeremy and Felicity looked equally taken aback. ‘What sort of conspiracy?’ Felicity asked.
‘He didn’t go into details.’
‘He wasn’t a well man,’ Jeremy said.
‘Did you see much of him?’
They both shook their heads. ‘We haven’t seen much of either of them,’ Felicity said, sighing. ‘I always felt we ought to, but—’ She waved a hand. ‘Life got in the way.’
‘The last time we saw them, I think, was at Frank Sinclair’s daughter’s wedding,’ Jeremy said slowly. Karen caught a quick sharp glance from Felicity towards her husband, but he continued, oblivious. ‘Yes, I’m sure of it. Three years ago last summer. Gabriel seemed quite morose, as I recall. To be honest, I’d have thought he was a more likely candidate for suicide than murder.’
‘You’re probably right, sir, but it’s my job to look at all the possibilities. Ms Frye, I understand you were a close friend of both women?’
‘Felicity, please. I knew them both, of course, but initially I spent more time with Caroline because of the theatre, and because our daughter Perdita is the same age as Will. But the three of us became close friends over the years. I was probably their best friend, apart from each other, of course.’ Felicity was no longer looking at Karen. She had the thousand-yard stare of someone lost in memories.
Time to tread on eggshells. But there was no other way to go. ‘What was the nature of their relationship?’
Felicity dropped her eyes to the teacup she was clutching. There was a long pause, then she seemed to gather herself physically. ‘I don’t have long to live,’ she said decisively. ‘I made promises years ago, and I’ve kept them. But I do not want to go to my grave carrying other people’s secrets.’
A look of alarm spread across Jeremy’s face. ‘Darling, there’s no need—’
‘There’s every need.’ She closed her eyes momentarily. ‘Secrets and lies, they’re poison, Jeremy. Perhaps Gabriel wouldn’t be dead if I’d spoken sooner. If I hadn’t kept the secrets of the dead so long.’
It was like being in a lost episode of Downton Abbey, Karen thought. Melodrama galore. ‘What is it that you want to tell me?’ she said, feeling like the prompter in the wings of a West End play.
‘They were a couple, Caroline and Ellie. When they met, they fell for each other like a runaway train. They were absolutely devoted to each other. But they were also absolutely devoted to keeping their relationship secret. It wasn’t an issue for Caroline. But Ellie worked in children’s television. Clause 28 was in the wind and, if she’d been outed, she’d have lost her job without a doubt. So they bought the house and split it in two and made much of the fact that Ellie loved to take care of Will when Caroline was working.’
As Karen had suspected. ‘But what about Tom Abbott? What was his take on all this?’
Felicity laughed, a throaty, sexy laugh. ‘Tom was always away on the high seas. He had his own life. Caroline was an aberration for him. He preferred boys. That’s what killed him in the end. He died of AIDS in Thailand.’
‘The Philippines,’ Jeremy interrupted. ‘If you must tell the story, get it right.’ He clamped his mouth shut again in apparent disapproval.
Felicity rolled her eyes. ‘Somewhere overseas. It doesn’t matter where. What matters is when. He died in 1984.’ She delivered the line with all the aplomb of the curtain line at the end of an act.
It didn’t make sense. ‘But Gabriel wasn’t born till 1986. And Caroline told everyone that Tom died in 1990.’ She was sure of this; last night, she’d checked when Nelson Mandela walked free.
‘She did. But it was Caroline’s little white lie, to keep things simple.’
In Karen’s book, it was neither little nor white. And not simple either. She reminded herself of what was becoming the mantra of the day: the rich were different, right enough. ‘I’m sorry, how did that keep things simple?’
‘Caroline and Ellie desperately wanted a child of their own, to set the seal on their relationship. They adored each other. So much so that Ellie persuaded their gynaecologist friend Guy to sign her off work for three months, allegedly because she had fibroids and needed a hysterectomy. That, added to the fact that her programme was always off the air for three months in the summer meant she had six months to support Caroline through the end of the pregnancy and for the first few weeks after Gabriel was born.’
‘So Ellie pretended to have major surgery to keep up the pretence that they were just pals?’
‘Yes. As I said, devoted.’
‘And nobody noticed? What? Did Ellie stay confined to the house all those months, pretending to be convalescing?’
‘They spent most of the time at their place in France,’ Jeremy said. ‘Lovely little cottage on the Normandy coast a dozen miles west of the D-Day beaches.’
‘Heaven knows what their phone bills were like. Caroline was on the phone to the office every day.’
‘I don’t think that was much of a concern by that stage. Caroline was doing terribly well by then,’ Jeremy said drily.
‘I was pining for them dreadfully,’ Felicity said. ‘But we simply couldn’t get away. My schedule was a nightmare. I was in Macbeth at Stratford with lovely Desmond Barritt and Maureen Beattie and then I was filming some dreadful sub-Henry James tosh in Boston. By the time I got back, Gabriel was a couple of months old and they were home in Hampstead.’
‘And nobody asked why Tom wasn’t around for the birth of his second son?’
Jeremy shrugged. ‘People were so accustomed to Tom not being around for birthdays and Christmas, I don’t imagine they gave it a second thought. Besides, Gabriel was born in France so nobody really knew whether Tom had been there or not.’
‘Absolutely. Maintaining the fiction that Tom was still alive meant there were no awkward questions about Gabriel’s parentage. And if any lowlife journalists came sniffing around with ideas about their relationship, the girls could point to Gabriel and assume an air of injured innocence.’ Felicity explained this as if it were a perfectly normal way of going about things.
‘So who was Gabriel’s father?’
‘We don’t know,’ Jeremy said firmly. ‘The girls never told.’
‘At first, I assumed it was Jack Ash, the disc jockey. With a turkey baster, obviously.’ She tittered. ‘Really, if you knew Jack, you’d know that was the only available route.’
Karen would have put money against that paternity. Not even a solipsist like Jack Ash could react with such equanimity to the news of a son’s death. ‘“At first”?’
‘The more I thought about it, the more unlikely I decided it was. After all, Tom had died of AIDS. There was still a huge amount of stigma around it then. I really didn’t think Caroline would take the risk of impregnating herself with the sperm of a man whose sexual habits would have made him a high risk. So I had to live with the cloud of unknowing.’
‘Which has never been a happy state for you, darling.’ There was still a faint air of disapproval about Jeremy.
‘Indeed.’ That sexy laugh again. ‘And then I had a blinding revelation.’ She paused, clearly waiting for another prompt from Karen.
Karen dutifully obliged. Keep the witness happy, that was the way to do it. ‘What happened?’
‘It was the wedding Jeremy mentioned earlier. Samantha Sinclair and Toby St John Sargent. You know, the youngest daughter of Frank Sinclair. Lord Sinclair. The newspaperman.’
Frank Sinclair was a newspaperman in the same sort of way that T. S. Eliot had dashed off the odd poem. He’d edited several national newspapers and now he was editor-in-chief of the biggest stable of daily and weekly publications in the UK. He’d been elevated to the
‘Frank was a very old friend of Ellie. And later, of course, he got to know Caroline.’
Karen tried to hide her surprise. ‘I wouldn’t have thought Frank Sinclair had anything in common with Ellie and Caroline. Isn’t he always on about families being a husband and wife and children? And how we’re all going to hell in a handcart with our sinful ways?’
‘Absolutely,’ Felicity said. ‘But he and Ellie went back a very long way. They were the star pupils in their small-town school, then they both went off to Durham University and they stayed friends. Sometimes we need people in our lives who don’t agree with everything we do, Chief Inspector.’
Jeremy laughed indulgently. ‘You should try it sometime, darling.’
‘Very funny, you silly old boot. Anyway, we were delighted to see Caroline’s boys after so long. I’d always said how odd it was that they looked so unlike each other. You’d never have known they were brothers. Gabriel so dark and Will so fair. But then genetics are a funny thing. Our two girls look nothing like each other.’
‘That’s because Viola looks like you and Perdita is the image of my mother,’ Jeremy said. ‘It happens.’
‘Of course it does. Look at the Windsor boys.’ Felicity raised her eyebrows suggestively. ‘So, there we are, at the wedding, drinking Frank Sinclair’s perfectly delicious champagne when one of those odd little moments of coincidence brought Gabriel’s profile into alignment with Frank’s. And suddenly all the pieces fell into place. There was no doubting it. Frank Sinclair was obviously Gabriel’s father.’
Karen was momentarily lost for words. Felicity Frye had demonstrated for the second time that she was still the mistress of the curtain line.
Out of Bounds by Val McDermid / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes