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Authors: Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Hiding the Past

BOOK: Hiding the Past
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Hiding the Past

by

Nathan Dylan Goodwin

 

 

Copyright © Nathan Dylan
Goodwin 2013

 

Nathan Dylan Goodwin has
asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 to be
identified as the author of this work.

 

This story is a work of
fiction.  Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

 

All rights
reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, without the prior permission in
writing of the author.  This story is sold subject to the condition that
it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or
otherwise circulated without the author’s prior consent in any form of binding,
cover or other
 
eformat
, including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to dedicate
this book to my son, Harrison River

Prologue

 

6
th
June 1944

When Emily woke, everything was dark and everything
was still.  The angry, vicious weather from the previous day had subsided
and yet something outside wasn’t quite as it should have been.  It
couldn’t have been an air-raid – they had stopped three months ago. 
Quietly rolling back her woollen blanket, Emily sat up in bed and
listened.  She was thirty-one and effortlessly beautiful, even now, after
a bad night’s sleep.  She gently switched on her beside lamp, not wanting
to disturb her precious baby boy, who slept silently beside her in his
cot.  The lamp cast a low, amber glow over his face.  Whatever it was
that had disturbed her, had not stirred her son.

Emily padded
over to the window and lifted the heavy blackout curtains.  It took a
moment for her to process the sensations she suddenly experienced: a
charcoal-grey curtain of thick smoke, reeking of a chemical she couldn’t quite
place, enveloped the beloved orchard which surrounded her home, as enraged
orange flames fought their way towards the house.  Emily snapped back to
reality, let the curtains fall into place and quickly scooped up her child,
still blissfully sleeping.  She turned and picked up the small brown
suitcase beside her bed, which she had hastily packed last night.

Carrying the
boy close to her chest with one hand and the suitcase in the other, she hurried
into the kitchen, wearing her white, silk nightie. There was no time to change
or search for her shoes.  She paused at the front door, momentarily
unwilling to loosen the bolts that kept her safe inside.  Placing her hand
on the first metal bolt, she suddenly placed the chemical stench outside, which
was now seeping through the cracks and crevices of the kitchen – petrol: she
was being driven out.
 

Emily
pointlessly looked around the room for another means of escape, another plan,
but she knew it was hopeless.  Insidious tendrils of smoke began to creep
from the bedroom ceiling, licking their way towards her.

The baby began
to cry, a soft, mournful sound that broke Emily’s heart.  It reminded her
that nothing was real.  This life that she had made was not real. 
Her home was not real.  Even her name was not real.

With a final
glance around the room, Emily unbolted the brass fastenings. 
Maybe
there is time to run, to get away from here,
she thought.  She pulled
open the solid oak door and could see only blackness tinged with the muted
light from the raging fire at the rear of the house.  Despite the
darkness, she knew that someone was there; waiting in the shadows for her.

Emily held the
baby tightly and ran from the house.  She navigated the orchard easily -
nobody knew it better than she - and made it to the periphery of the
woods.  As the baby began to scream and pain spiked her bare feet as she
ran, she knew she could never escape, yet she kept running – pushing further and
further into the darkness, her nightie catching and snagging on branches. 
Behind her, the crunching of heavy boots was gaining ground, easily homing in
on the sound of the screaming child.  She pulled him tightly into her
bosom, hoping to stifle his cries.  From the blackness behind her, an
unseen hand reached out and grabbed Emily’s shoulder.  It was over.

Chapter One

 

Wednesday

 

Morton Farrier was perplexed.  He was
sitting at home running an online birth search and, according to the indexes,
the man for whom he searched hadn’t ever been born.  It was a rare
occurrence for a birth not to have been registered, he had to admit, but it
wasn’t
that
extraordinary.  Nothing to get over excited
about.  In his twelve years of working as a forensic genealogist he had
come across it maybe once or twice before.  Although, now that he actually
thought about it, he couldn’t bring the specifics of any particular case to
mind.  It certainly didn’t warrant the unnecessary histrionics that his
new client, Peter Coldrick, had displayed when he had visited him for the first
time yesterday afternoon.

Morton had
found Peter living an austere life in a run-down council estate on the
outskirts of Tenterden, a charming Kentish Weald town not far from his own home
in Rye.  Peter’s house was crammed with a plethora of genealogical books
and guides.  Years of personal research and three redundant genealogists
later, Peter Coldrick had come to the conclusion that any antecedents prior to
his father had been wholly obliterated.  It was for the birth of Peter’s
father, James Coldrick, that Morton had searched in vain.  He ran one
final check on Ancestry, his favoured website for birth, marriage and death
searches, but came to the same answer: there was no James Coldrick.  He
was pondering the implications of this when his mobile rang.  It was
Juliette, his girlfriend.

‘What was the
name of the guy that you went to see yesterday?’ she asked. 
Typical
Juliette, storming straight in with a random question
, Morton thought.

‘What?’

‘The man you’re
working for, what’s his name?’ she asked in an impatient whisper.

‘Coldrick,
Peter Coldrick.  Why?’

‘I’m guarding
his house while SOCO are inside; he’s dead, Morton.’
 

Her words
struck him like a rock to the head.  ‘What happened?’

‘Well,’
Juliette began, lowering her voice so that Morton struggled to hear her, ‘we’ll
know more when the Scene of Crime Officers are done but it looks like suicide.’

‘Suicide?’

‘Uh-huh. 
Look, I can’t talk long, just thought I’d let you know.’

‘Thanks,’
Morton said absentmindedly.

Juliette
paused.  ‘Listen, Morton, I’m going to have to tell the sarge that you
visited him yesterday and that he phoned our house last night,’ she warned.

‘That’s fine,’
Morton answered.

‘Got to go. See
you later.’

‘Bye.’

He pocketed his
iPhone and thought back to Peter’s garbled voice message, which he'd left
within two hours of Morton having left his house.  The message asked
Morton to phone back as he'd found something important.  Morton never
returned the call, figuring that it could wait.  A frenetic surge of
thoughts and questions bounced around his brain.  The idea of Coldrick
topping himself seemed ridiculous.  Then he remembered the money. 
Coldrick had paid Morton
way
over and above his usual fee. 
Who
pays someone all that money in the morning then kills themselves that same
night?
  It didn’t make any sense.

 

The sun was shrouded behind voluminous,
concrete-grey clouds when Morton set out, rendering the drive an uncomfortable
fusion of stickiness and claustrophobia, which only worsened as the ten-mile
journey progressed.  By the time he reached Peter’s house on Westminster
Rise, his skin was clammy and his pulse racing.  He didn’t know what he
was expecting to find when he got there – one police car and a few nosey neighbours
maybe – but the reality was very different: an angled police car dramatically
blocked the road, its blue warning lights flashing rhythmically, matching the
beat of two further police cars and an ambulance parked behind it.  A
strip of yellow tape proclaiming in thick black letters: POLICE LINE DO NOT
CROSS, cats-cradled its way between lamp-posts and gateposts across the
street.  Behind the cordon were what appeared to Morton to be half of
Kent’s emergency personnel, idly chatting and drinking hot drinks.  And behind
it all quietly stood the mournful little council house containing Coldrick’s
dead body, penned in like a quarantined animal.  He felt slightly sick as
he parked up and climbed from his car.  Morton, handsome with a boyish
face that belied his being in the final few weeks of his thirties, was dressed
casually in a loose-fitting, white t-shirt and faded jeans.  He ran his
fingers through his short, dark hair, as his chestnut-brown eyes surveyed the
scene before him; he blended well with the crowds of spectators who had
gathered on the pavement.

In his
peripheral vision, a uniformed figure broke from the
mêlée
, heading
towards him.  It took a double-take to realise that it was Juliette,
thunder etched onto her face, ducking under the cordon tape.  Although
she’d been a PCSO for more than six months now, he still hadn’t got used to
seeing her in uniform.  His presence here wasn’t going to go down too
well.

‘What’re you
doing here?’ she demanded.  Morton shrugged.  He didn’t know.

‘I just wanted
to see…  Is there any news?’

‘SOCO are still
in there.  Nothing else to report.  There’s no need for you to be
here, Morton.’

‘I’m sure he
wouldn’t have killed himself, you know, Juliette,’ Morton ventured.

‘Not what it
looks like in there.  Besides which, you knew him for what, six hours?’

‘It just
doesn’t feel right.  Have you actually been inside?’

Juliette
nodded.

‘And?’

‘I’ll talk to
you later.  The sarge is sending someone over to talk to you at home.’

‘Coldrick
wanted to show me something, Juliette.  Can you get me in?’ Morton said,
knowing it to be a futile question, but hoping that she could flash her badge
or whatever she did and wave him through.

Juliette
laughed, glancing over her shoulder.  ‘You think going out with me is
going to get you past that lot?  No chance.  Go home.’  And with
that she turned, stooped under the yellow tape and was reabsorbed into the sea
of fluorescent yellow jackets.

Morton returned
to his car and started the engine.  All he needed to do was stick it in
reverse and leave this unpleasant place behind.  But he was mesmerised by
the spectacle playing out through the windscreen, his own television set with
no off button.  He supposed that was why cop shows always did so well on
TV; there was something strangely appealing about life going so terribly wrong
for someone else.  He wasn’t a great fan of emergency services
dramas.  Juliette loved and loathed them in equal measure, usually lapping
up the crime then decrying the police work with angry snorts of ‘It’s obvious
who the murderer is’ or ‘That wouldn’t happen in real life’.  Not like
this,
this
was real life and he knew that if he waited long enough, he
would see it – that one defining image that he’d seen a hundred times on telly
and, sure enough, it came.  Half an hour later Peter Coldrick’s lifeless
corpse, enveloped in a black body-bag, was rolled out onto the pavement by two
sombre paramedics, his head and feet cutting revealing shapes into the shiny,
dark material.  Seconds later, in front of the mesmerised audience, he was
loaded into the yawning rear of the ambulance and slowly driven away.  No
sirens.  No blue flashing lights.

He started the
car and headed home.

 

Morton looked out from the lounge window
of his home, a converted police station that fell in the long shadow of Rye
parish church.  Whilst some deemed it disturbing that Morton’s nearest
neighbours were the long-deceased, he found it strangely comforting to live
there.  As far as he was concerned, the dead were so much more predictable
than the living.

He stared at a
weathered sandstone grave, attempting to recall his journey home from
Coldrick’s house, but there was nothing for him to latch onto.  After the
ambulance had pulled away his mind went blank, as if somebody had recorded over
his memories with white noise.  No matter how Morton allowed his mind to
wander, it immediately boomeranged right back to the conundrum of Coldrick’s
apparent suicide. 
Did a few hours spent in his company really afford
Morton the absolute certainty in his belief that Coldrick hadn’t killed
himself?

He realised
that his strong feelings might well stem from the harrowing circumstances
surrounding Coldrick’s death, rather than the death itself.  It somehow
had managed to crank open the lid of an area of his brain that he only accessed
when absolutely necessary.  He imagined that place to be like a small
wooden chest with a tight-fitting lid that only
he
could open when
he
chose.  It was the same place that he kept memories of his childhood, his
mother and questions surrounding his own identity and hidden past.
 

Morton's addled
brain leapt from Coldrick's death to his brother, Jeremy, who was on the verge
of being posted to Afghanistan.
Was this how it would feel to be told that
he'd been hit by a Taleban sniper?
  He chastised himself for his
morbid pessimism about Jeremy’s ability to survive in a war-zone.  As he
glanced out at the erect needle commemorating the town’s war dead, the thought
occurred to Morton that maybe he was projecting his own inadequacies onto his
brother.  He often thought that he would have been a conscientious
objector if he had been alive in either of the World Wars, although he was
never quite sure if this was from cowardice, or with the benefit of hindsight.

His disjointed
thoughts were interrupted when a Volvo V70 police car, with luminous blue and
yellow bodywork, parked outside his house and two officers climbed out and
knocked officiously on the front door.  Morton showed them into the lounge
where they peeled off their hats and introduced themselves as PC Glen Jones,
who gave Morton the stark impression of being on day-release from the SAS, and
WPC Alison Hawk, a feline-like creature with cold grey eyes.

‘Had you known
Peter Coldrick long?’ Jones asked, the very moment that they were seated.

‘No, I first
met him yesterday morning,’ Morton answered.

‘And he phoned
you last night?’ Hawk asked, scrunching up her face.  Morton met her
stare, fixed on him, unblinking, ardently scanning for inconsistencies. 
He nodded, went over to the answer-phone and duly pressed play. 
You
have one new message.  Message left yesterday at six twenty p.m. 
Morton, it’s Peter Coldrick.  Can you come over as soon as you get
this?  I’ve got into my dad’s copper box and found something.
 

‘Having seen
you yesterday morning, why do you think he was so desperate to see you again in
the afternoon, Mr Farrier?  What do you think he had found?’ she asked,
pen poised over a notepad in anticipation of his answer.

Morton
shrugged.  ‘I’ve no idea.  I wish I’d gone over there now – maybe
he’d still be alive if I had.’

‘And what was
the nature of your relationship with Peter Coldrick?’ Jones asked.

‘I was working
for him,’ he answered.

‘Doing what?’
Jones asked.

 
‘He paid me
to research his family tree, that’s all.  I'm a forensic genealogist.’

‘Can I ask how
much he paid you?’ Hawk asked.

Morton paused,
knowing that the figure would sound preposterous to them.  It sounded
preposterous to
him
.  He also knew that there was no way of
withholding the information: they would undoubtedly be able to produce a
breakdown of his bank account faster than he could.  ‘Fifty thousand.’

‘Fifty thousand
pounds?’ Hawk repeated.  ‘Peter Coldrick paid you
fifty
thousand
pounds
so that you could tell him who his family was?’  She cast an
ominous look to her colleague, and Morton felt sure that he was about to be
read his rights.

‘Yes, that’s
right,’ Morton answered, finally regaining his confidence and realising that he
hadn’t actually committed a crime.  Thank God he had a PCSO as an alibi
for last night.  ‘He paid me a lot more than I have ever been paid before
or ever will be again, I’m sure.  You’re right, it does sound
strange.  But if you are listening to me, you’ll also realise that I
received that money in good faith.’

Jones produced,
seemingly from nowhere, a small white envelope bearing Morton’s name. 
‘Open it,’ he directed.

Morton took the
proffered envelope and tentatively withdrew a short, typed letter.  He
felt strangely obliged to read it aloud, despite a rather large obstruction
unhelpfully lodged in his larynx.  ‘Morton, please stop the
research.  I’ve realised that it’s all irrelevant now my parents are
gone.  Please keep the money and enjoy it.  Peter.’

BOOK: Hiding the Past
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