The Risk of Darkness / Page 22

Page 22


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The only problem was whether or not to expand, take on staff and double her turnover. She had played about with the figures for months, but it was not the money that worried her so much as taking the giant step up from being small and single-handed. She liked to do most of the work and all of the decision-making herself. Expansion? What was she thinking? But she knew she would go on brooding about it as she ploughed up and down the sports centre pool, doing her forty lengths, and it was pointless talking to Matt. “Search me,” was his usual answer.


She turned the corner. Then, someone called her name. She looked round. The man was waving and calling again, running towards her up the road. Lynsey hesitated. She did not recognise him and he was still some way off but as she heard him shout her name urgently again, she waited. Perhaps he had looked round one of her houses, perhaps he was one of the tenants, though she did all the letting through an agency.


“Lynsey …” Was that what he said?


He was nearer now and the expression on his face was strange, as if he were astonished to see her and excited and somehow … the only word she could find was wild.


“Lizzie …”


He stopped dead, a yard or two from her.


“Hello?” Lynsey said. “Sorry, were you meaning me?”


He was staring at her, his face contorted into something like anger, something like bewilderment—again, she could not read it. But she was nervous now and as she spoke, began to turn and move away quickly, towards the main road, towards passing cars and open shops and other people.


“No … don’t go, don’t. Stop. Please. Stand still. Stand STILL.”


She stood still. He came slowly nearer to her.


“Who are you?” he asked.


“Lynsey …” she managed.


“No. No, you’re Lizzie. Turn round. Let me look at your hair.”


She froze.


“You’re Lizzie. You have to be.”


“I’m Lynsey. I’m sorry, I have to go, someone … someone’s waiting for me over there.”


He stood, staring, his eyes scanning her face desperately. “Turn round.” Her hair was long, pulled into a cotton scrunchy “Please loosen your hair … I want to see your hair. I must, please …”


He did not come nearer but his voice was urgent, and his expression still so strange that she put down her sports bag, and obeyed, pulling the band off and shaking her head until her hair fell loose.


“Lizzie?”


“No. I said. I’m Lynsey … Lynsey Williams. Look, you’ve just mistaken me for someone else … please let me go, I’m late, I have to meet someone, I said.”


“Your hair’s the wrong colour. It isn’t Lizzie’s hair.”


“No,” Lynsey said. “Sorry. No.”


There was a low wall in front of the house beside them and the man suddenly reached out for it, as if he felt faint, then sat heavily down. Lynsey stood, watching, wanting his signal so that she could go, run, fast round the corner and out of his sight.


Then she saw that he was weeping, openly, silently, putting the back of his hand up to his face to wipe his eyes, which then filled and overflowed again. She felt embarrassed and awkward, unsure what to say, desperate to go. And in the end, because he took no more notice of her but sat on, wrapped in himself and his own distress, she simply did so, turning and walking away, slowly though. As she reached the corner, she looked back, upset at what she saw, wishing she knew how to help him—except that she did not know what had happened or what he needed or why.


It was not until she had swum a dozen slow lengths of the pool that she felt calmer, but for the rest of the evening, she had the image of the man in her head and could not wipe it away.


She took a different, longer route home and walked quickly, looking behind her time and again, listening in case she heard someone calling her name again.


No one did.


*


Matt was in the kitchen, the salmon salad eaten and the plates and cutlery washed and put away. Matt was a dream to live with, neat and tidy about everything, clean, organised, punctual. He was sitting at the kitchen table trying to finish the cryptic crossword.


“Hi, babe. Good swim?”


Lynsey dropped her bag.


“Lyns?”


“Something weird happened.”


He looked round. “What? Are you OK?”


“I think so. Yes. Yes, I am. Only it was … a bit weird, that’s all.”


She got a bottle of water from the fridge and wandered to the table, to the sink, back to the fridge. The man was still in her head, sitting on the wall in the street, crying.


Matt listened carefully. “And he didn’t do anything, didn’t touch you?”


“No. I think … when I wasn’t whoever he thought—this Lizzie, not Lynsey—he just crumpled up, you know? He didn’t, sort of, notice me again.”


“Right, well, people do make mistakes, you see someone’s back view, they turn round, it isn’t whoever at all … but you don’t ask them to take the band out of their hair. That’s weird. That’s what I don’t like.”


“No.”


“What do you want to do?”


“How do you mean?”


“Go to the police? Now? Tomorrow?”


“What would I go to the police for? Don’t be daft.”


“He could have been up to anything. You were on your own in a quiet street, he shouted after you … he could have been a rapist.”


“He wasn’t. I don’t know what it was all about but he wasn’t going to attack me … it wasn’t like that.”


“You can’t be sure. We had a serial killer round here not that long ago, don’t forget.”


“I haven’t. No one has. Only, I said, this was … different. I wish I hadn’t told you now.”


“OK.” Matt turned back to the crossword.


He was like that. He was hopeless to argue with because he never would, he just dropped a subject, forgot it, got on with something else. It drove her nuts sometimes but it made for a quiet life.


She went upstairs and ran a bath. The man was still there, in her head, still sitting on the wall, crying. She heard his voice, calling to her above the sound of the water gushing down from the taps, calling out her name, but not her name.


She wasn’t frightened. But it troubled her.


Thirty-two


They had stayed in small B & Bs before, but on this trip Dougie had booked into a hotel, Sandybank, overlooking the bay. In the foyer was an advertisement for Turkey and Tinsel Weekends, from October. He nodded at it as they went in. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”


“You are joking, Dougie Meelup! Christmas is all very nice, I quite enjoy it when it comes, but it doesn’t come until the last week in December. Some people want to get a life.”


He laughed. Dougie laughed a lot. It was one of the things she had liked about him from the start, his laughter and the way years of it had set his face in a laugh, so that even when he was asleep, he sometimes seemed to be smiling. They had a room at the front with a sea view, but the sun had gone in now and the sea was churning about inside itself under a threatening sky.


“What would you like to do? Drink in the bar here or wander along and find somewhere else you fancy for a glass of wine?”


“I think here looks very nice.”


The hotel was bright and clean and not too large, they had been welcomed as if they were wanted, not just customers, and she would be happy sitting looking out at the bay and the life on the seafront. Happy.


She was happy.


There was a handful of other people in the bar and in a small room next to it the television was on.


“I like that,” Eileen said, taking her glass of wine. “I don’t like places where the telly blares out at you whether you want it or not.” She looked behind her through the window. Most people had left the beach and the benches along the promenade now that the sun had gone. It was quiet. The tide was on the way out.


“I could live here,” she said.


Dougie raised his beer glass to her. But then he set it down again. “Do you mean that?”


“Live here? Yes. By the sea. I would. It’d suit me very well.”


“Well, there’s nothing to stop us. Eighteen months’ time, I’ll be a free man and I could always get a bit of a part-time job somewhere here. So could you, come to that.”


She took a sip of wine and tried to picture it.


“Oh, I don’t know really. It’d be such an upheaval.”


“What’s wrong with an upheaval? Keep you young.”


But she knew she would have to roll the idea about slowly in her mind, turn it over and over like a penny in her pocket, look at every bit of it, see the problems and drawbacks. She couldn’t begin to take it all in now. It would be weeks. Pleasant weeks though. Whatever side she came down on, the thinking would be pleasant.


“I’ll just go and have a look at the news,” she said. It was too exciting, that was the thing; she realised that the moment Dougie had suggested it, she had wanted to leap in then and there, say yes, yes, and move, be in a place like this, a house with the sea view beyond the windows, and it was a dream and you had to be careful with dreams. Very careful. She had had too many of them broken to be anything but wary by now.


She needed to calm down and have her mind taken off it. For now. Just for now.


The small TV lounge looked over the garden, with blue hydrangea bushes and a bird feeder swinging from the branch of a rowan tree. That was the sort of garden they could have, with bushes and trees and not too much weeding to do. So long as they had a view of the sea from it.


Dougie stayed in the bar. He took up the evening paper and ordered a second glass of beer. She glanced affectionately at him through the open door. He looked like anyone else. He was neither very tall nor too short, neither fat nor thin, bald nor with his youthful head of hair. No one would look at him twice, nor remember him, no one would stare at him, no one would envy her or feel sorry for her when they saw them together. No one could have known the goodness of him, the kindness and the way he had given her a new life.


The news was announced by the music Eileen always thought of as angry, but Katie Derham had an extremely nice navy blue suit on with white pipings.


“Good evening.”


Dougie Meelup went through the local evening paper quite thoroughly, always having believed that you learned more about life that way than from any national media. He had meant what he said about moving to somewhere like this, right on the sea, and after reading the news and sport he moved on to the property pages to get the measure of the house prices. They shocked him. Anything facing the sea or even with a fairly distant view of it looked out of their price range by miles, though there were some nice small new houses a short walk behind the promenade. But would Eileen like the view? He had seen the way she had looked out across the bay, from the bench and then from the bedroom window. He wondered how much money he might be able to raise and whether one of the boys might even be interested in coming in with them.


He took the pen he had won in a spot-the-ball competition years ago and which had been his only pen ever since and started to jot down figures in the margin of the Gazette. He was immersed in them, trying to juggle and massage them to make them look more promising, when he sensed Eileen standing near.


Dougie glanced up. She was in the doorway between the bar and the television lounge. Her face was so odd, so contorted somehow, in an expression he had never seen and could not interpret, that for a second he wondered if she had had a stroke. She was very pale but with two high spots of colour on her cheekbones and her mouth was twisted.


He put the pen down. “All right, love?” But it was so clear that she was not that now the girl behind the bar looked at him and started to ask if there was anything she could do.


Eileen did not move. Her mouth opened and shut again but she did not move. Dougie went to her. Her eyes were huge and bewildered. He felt her shaking. But then, in a dreadful, surrealistic moment, she started to laugh, a weird, giggly laugh, not loud.


Another couple had come into the bar, they were standing staring, looking uncertain as to whether they wanted to sit down after all.


Between them, Dougie and the girl got her to the table and sitting down.


“Shall I fetch her a brandy?” the girl whispered.


“Maybe a glass of water.” He took her hand between his and chafed it. “Eileen …” Her expression was still odd. It panicked him.


She fumbled for her bag and handkerchief and wiped her eyes and then her mouth in an aimless, unfocused way, looking at him, then away from him, and once or twice glancing round at the door to the television room, as if checking something.


“Do you feel ill? Shall I get them to ring a doctor? Can you just tell me what happened?” He kept her hand between his.


She smiled a wonky smile. She tried to lift the water but her hand shook, so Dougie held it up to her mouth as she took a few sips, before pushing it away.


“The thing is, it’s all so stupid, it’s not true, I mean, it isn’t the right one, it’s stupid, but it gave me a terrible shock. Well, of course it did.”


“What gave you a shock?”


“When they said her name.’


“Whose name?”


She glanced at the doorway again. Then she gave a deep, juddering sigh. “It isn’t as if it’s such a common name, is it? Weeny’s name. Edwina.”


“Not so common, no. No, I can’t say I’ve known any other.”


“Only there it was. Edwina Sleightholme. Of course it isn’t her, my Edwina that is, my Weeny, of course it couldn’t be, but you can see how it gave me a shock, coming out of the television like that. The room went round.”


It took several more minutes for him to get the story fairly clear.


A young woman, the same name as Eileen’s younger daughter, the same age, had been charged with the abduction and murder of two children, and the abduction, with intent to murder, of a third.


“It just seems unbelievable, that,” Dougie said. “Just unbelievable. No wonder it gave you such a shock. Was it that little lad disappeared last year, that one?”


“Yes. And another boy and a little girl. It’s terrible.”


“Of course it is. I suppose if they’ve got someone … it’s … no, it’s terrible.”


But there was something not right. There had to be.


“Where was this?”


“On the news. Katie Derham.”


“No, where was the … the one with the same name as your Weeny? Where was she?”


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