Authors: Charlotte Lamb
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Suspense, #Fiction
‘Oh, no! I’m not getting rid of my baby.’
‘And you’re not getting rid of me, Sean. You’re going to have to break off your engagement and marry me. Or I’ll talk to the press. I don’t think your fiancée’s father will be very happy to hear about your little bastard, do you? Your engagement isn’t going to last long, once he hears about me and the baby.’
Miranda hated the ugly sound of their screaming at each other. She got up and ran to the window, then froze in shock.
The girl was still screaming, but now her voice was muffled. There were other, uglier noises now – flailing arms beating the water, a rhythmic banging as if hands were beating on the side of the bath.
She knew those gulping, choking sounds. Somebody was drowning.
The nightmare played again in her head. Those familiar, terrifying noises going on and on.
She was dragged backwards in time.
Tom was drowning. Tom was dying. She could not see him, could not reach him, but she heard him and felt sick and faint.
When everything was still again, when silence fell, Miranda didn’t move. Couldn’t move. Just stood there, trembling, white as snow, icy cold.
Had she imagined what she just heard? Had it really happened? There had been so many nights when she had dreamt those sounds, woken to hear them in her room, only to be forced to admit she had imagined it.
She stood listening, waiting, staring at the bathroom opposite.
Sean reappeared at the open window. He was tying the belt of a black towelling robe as he reached forward to close the window. Behind him the steam had cleared, the room was horribly quiet.
This time he looked across and saw Miranda.
They stared at each other. His face filled with visible shock. He turned ashen.
Miranda’s mind clouded. She had not imagined it. Someone had just drowned. A girl had died in that bathroom.
From the minute she saw that man at the party yesterday she had known a death would follow.
She slowly slipped to the floor in a dead faint.
Miranda opened her eyes and stared up blankly at the plain white office ceiling. For a few seconds she could not understand where she was, or why she was lying on the floor. It was like a strange dream, except that she knew she was awake and wasn’t in her flat.
She began to scramble to her feet unsteadily but as she stood up memory returned and she staggered, clutching at the desk.
Oh, God. Oh, God. Someone had drowned. Over there, across the courtyard, in the bathroom of Terry’s flat, someone had drowned.
She lurched forward, pulled up the blinds. The window of the bathroom was closed and she could see nothing through the bubbled glass, not even the shadow of anyone in the room beyond. There wasn’t a sound. The summer afternoon was languid and still. In the distance she heard the drone of London traffic, like bees fumbling among flowers.
Had it really happened? It was dreamlike. Had she heard someone drowning? Or had she imagined it?
Confused, she stared across the courtyard. Suddenly out of the fog of memory and doubt she had a clear vision of Sean’s face staring at her through that window, just before she fainted, and she knew she had not imagined anything. It had really happened.
First, she had heard them shouting at each other, and she winced at the memory of what they had said, then those awful, terrifyingly familiar noises had begun.
Panic welled up inside her. What was going on over there now? Was Sean still there, or had he left? What if he was coming round here, to confront her?
Her hands shook with nerves at the idea of seeing him after what she had overheard. What could she say? What would he do?
She wanted to run, but wouldn’t give in to it. She had to do everything she always did before leaving the office. Ever since the shipwreck, she found life safer if she stuck to a careful routine. Habit was the hedge that kept out chaos. Leave out something you usually did and the boundaries burst and a deluge rushed in on you. That was what she had learnt in hospital. Get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, eat at the same times, every day. Safety was a small oasis in the middle of a jungle. You had to stay inside those parameters or you would be lost.
So she lowered the blinds again, picked up the work she had been doing, put it into the safe, locked it, shut down her computer and locked the drawers of her desk. Only then did she pick up her handbag and leave.
As soon as she was out of the office, though, her iron control broke and she began to hurry, to run, her breath coming quickly. Must get away before Sean arrived, she thought. Must get away.
The porter was in his little cubbyhole making a pot of tea; she heard the kettle whistling, heard him rinsing a cup, clattering a spoon into a saucer.
He stuck his head round the door. ‘Finished? Hang on, I’ll let you out.’
She waited in a fury of impatience, watching the street which was almost empty except for the odd car driving past. Sean would have to come that way, but she couldn’t see him yet. He would either have to go down to the car park or walk across the courtyard – there was no direct way through to the office complex from the private apartment. Terry had often complained about it, said how much time he lost having to go the roundabout route. One day soon he meant to get the builders in to make it easier, to put a door in each building so that it would be easier to walk out of the back of one into the back of the other. But it would cost a good deal, and cause a big upheaval, so he kept putting it off.
‘There you go!’ the porter said and the glass door clicked open.
‘Thanks,’ she called and hurried out, hearing the door shut behind her and lock.
Now she was out in the open, and vulnerable. She felt hunted. Her eyes flicked round the street but there were few people in view; she could see nobody looking back at her.
Her car was in the underground car park. She hesitated to enter the shadowy underpass, looking for movement, for a darker shadow down there, ears alert for the sound of footfalls, but nobody moved, there was no sound.
So she ran down the slope into the dimly lit interior. She couldn’t see anyone and there were no other cars parked there, although on a weekday it would have been full.
Sean must have come by car, but he had no doubt parked on the far side of the complex.
Her car was parked close to the exit. It only took her a minute to reach it, press her automatic key ring to open the doors, and dive inside. She locked it again at once, started her engine and drove out, sick with relief at having escaped.
Sunlight dazzled her eyes. She fished in her glove compartment for dark glasses and put them on as she drove northwards. Inside her head the noises went on and on – if only she could turn them off, like a radio. She had often thought that, after Tom drowned; now she could not recall how long it had been before she slept a whole night without the dream, or spent a whole day without constantly thinking of her dead husband.
She didn’t see the traffic she was driving through, or even hear it. Tom called her. She couldn’t get to him, only hear the choking, gasping cries. Love and guilt overwhelmed her. If only she had been able to reach him, support him, Tom might never have died.
Tears filled her eyes until she couldn’t drive any more, blinded and sobbing. She knew it was stupid and dangerous. She would have an accident if she went on driving in this state.
She pulled off the road and parked in the next layby. The traffic following her thundered on. She sat, trembling, rubbing her wet eyes.
Trying to ignore the other vehicles passing, she leaned her head back and stared fixedly at a sycamore which bent overhead, the lobed leaves shimmering in sunlight, five-pointed, dark green, veined, like hands reaching down to her.
If only she could stop shaking. Sweat poured down her back. Her shirt clung to her.
She had begun to think she was really better, that the nightmare was over, or at least, locked away for good, but here it was again.
Except that this time she had been awake. This time was different in other ways, too. She was not emotionally involved; she had not even known that girl.
She found a packet of paper hankies in her handbag and blew her nose, wiped her eyes, dried the perspiration from her forehead and face. After combing her hair she felt almost normal.
Staring at her face in the little mirror of her powder compact she couldn’t believe how ordinary she looked when her mind was in such chaos. Who would guess what was going on inside her at this moment? Even her breathing had calmed down and she could think clearly again.
She should not have fled like that. She should have stayed in the office, rung the police, got help. That was what she should have done, not run away.
She would have to go back, call the police, tell them what she had heard and seen.
Should she first ring Terry and warn him? He wouldn’t be very happy if she called in the police without telling him. Sean was his son, his only child, and Terry thought the world of him.
He was such a good man. She enjoyed working for him; he was an excellent boss. Over the last couple of years he had been very kind to her. He didn’t deserve this.
At that moment, Terry was enjoying a long, fluted glass of champagne, lying back in a lounger, on the lawn behind his large, glossy country home, which was being extensively cleaned after the party yesterday. He had come out into the garden to escape the drone of vacuum cleaners, the bang of doors, the hum of the dishwasher.
The bottle of champagne was thrust deep down into a bucket of ice standing on the grass beside him under his wide, dark green cotton umbrella. He could hear the cubes of silvery ice cracking, hear water dripping down into the bottom of the bucket. He loved the sound.
It was a hot afternoon. In spite of the shade in which he lay, dressed in a sleeveless t-shirt and brief shorts, perspiration pearled his skin and he decided he would take a swim in a minute. The doors of the swimming pool stood open, he could just catch the inviting blue gleam of the water within.
It was moments like this that he cherished. Here he was, drinking champagne, lying in the sun, about to go for a swim in his own pool – it was wonderful. A dream come true, most people would say, and they would be right.
This was the life he had always wanted for himself, had daydreamed about, ever since he could remember.
He had been born in a tiny, two-up, two-down, workman’s cottage in a narrow, red-brick terrace in the back streets of Victorian Manchester. His father was a big, broad, clumsy man with a face the same dark red as their house, and eyes that were either dull and lethargic, or hot with temper.
Joe Finnigan wasn’t a drunk, but he drank heavily, especially if he were out of work. He took bad luck personally, flew into rages, lashed out at anyone near enough to reach, used his fists on his wife and children in any of his moods of resentment and self-pity. Terry learnt at an early age to keep out of his father’s way, especially if Dad had been in the pub.
He rarely had a job yet sometimes he had money, other times he had nothing. By the time Terry was five he had realised, partly through his own sharp wits and partly from accusations other boys threw at him, how his father got money.
‘Your dad’s a crook, Terry Finnigan.’
‘Is. Me dad says.’
‘Your dad’s a liar, and barmy into the bargain.’
Sometimes the police came to the house. Terry and Jim were usually in bed by then, but would creep out on to the landing to peer down through the banisters. They got to know the policemen by face, even by name. They filled the tiny house as they shouldered in through the front door.
Terry could remember how his dad had sweated, seeing their hard, flinty faces and those tight, threatening smiles.
‘Have you been out tonight, Joe?’
‘No, I’ve been here all evening – haven’t I, Nancy?’
‘That’s right,’ Mum would agree. ‘Been here all evening.’
She always backed him up in a confrontation of that kind, whatever she might say to him when they were alone.
‘Somebody burgled the chemist’s shop, Joe. You got any drugs in the house? Mind if we have a look?’
‘Yeah, I do mind. Told you. Haven’t been nowhere. You get a search warrant if you want to poke around my home.’
‘Why would you mind us looking if there’s nothing for us to find?’
‘Would you like strangers coming into your house, going through your things?’
‘I don’t burgle other people’s houses.’
‘Neither do I, then. You can’t prove I did.’
‘Some day we will, Joe, don’t worry.’
He was never caught, but Terry realised how uneasy life was for his parents, especially his mother, who lived in a state of worry and always had a frown of apprehension on her face, especially if someone knocked on the front door.
Terry and Jim would lie in bed, upstairs, listening, tense, anxious. They both loved their mother and were afraid of their father. Their childhood had been tough, they never had enough to eat and wore the cheapest clothes, but they could have borne that, if they had not lived in permanent fear.