Authors: Alison Taylor
‘Can’t you spare your husband a little charity?’ McKenna asked. ‘If nothing else, he was right in his assessment of the Hoggs. Their last act of malice was to tell the benefits agency Mandy’s placement with her grandmother wasn’t sanctioned by social services, so that poor woman’s been refused any money to keep the child.’ Lighting a cigarette, he added, ‘You’re not without fault yourself, and neither are your former colleagues on the council. You all happily conspired in your inactivity.’
‘Don’t you think I’m aware of that?’ She flushed. ‘What gives you the right to judge?’
‘You feel you have the right to judge your husband, and find him wholly wanting. I’m simply apportioning some of the responsibility people are always so disinclined to accept.’
‘Is that your excuse for telling Mari she was keeping secrets? Was there any need to make her feel guilty too?’
‘Unlike you, I think Arwel shared at least some things with her, so unlike your husband, she might learn something useful from this unhappiness.’
‘Another judgement?’ Rhiannon’s voice was bitter. ‘You told my husband suffering is one of life’s great structural lines. Was he supposed to claw his way up and find enlightenment? Don’t you know he’s terrified of heights?’
Watching her through a haze of smoke, McKenna asked, ‘Have you come across the term
in your self-education, Mrs Elis? When two people feed each other’s outrageous behaviour?’
‘Of course.’ She frowned. ‘Are you trying to excuse the Hoggs’ behaviour?’
‘As you understand the phenomenon, you should be able to see its relevance to yourself.’ Ignoring the outrage on her face, he added, ‘Isn’t it quite likely you simply colluded with your husband in clothing the banal tedium of an unhappy marriage with a lot of nonsense?’
She leaned forward, eyes glittering. ‘So what do you suggest I do about it? Your responsibility doesn’t cease when you make your judgement, Mr McKenna, even though you might think it does!’
‘You must make your own decision. Half your husband’s
trouble stems from decisions imposed on him when he was a child, does it not? His deviousness, his lack of resolve.’
‘And his failure to achieve anything beyond harming others? Have I colluded with him in that, too?’
‘I don’t know,’ McKenna said. ‘Only you can know that.’
‘You’re a cruel man.’ Rhiannon sighed. ‘But you’re a man, and men are another country, aren’t they? A primitive, dangerous land.’
He sighed. ‘You’re doing it again, Mrs Elis. Please don’t importune me to any folly because your husband’s not here.’
She rubbed her face viciously. ‘I should have you thrown out!’
‘I’ll happily leave whenever you wish. I only came to tell Mr Elis he’s no longer suspected of involvement in Arwel’s death.’
‘Did you? How kind! I’ll make sure he knows as soon as he comes back.’
McKenna stood up. ‘I understand there’s a letter on its way from the chief constable’s office.’
She followed him out of the room and into the hall, where damp parallel tracks on the floor betrayed the passage of her hapless child.
‘Have you taken your son permanently out of residential care?’ McKenna asked.
‘Bringing him home is one of the good intentions my husband spawns in shoals.’ She smiled bitterly. ‘It’s a pity they all end up beached. It’s an even greater pity he doesn’t understand they have consequences, and change other people’s intentions and expectations.’ She paused. ‘Most of us see stranded hopes as lost opportunities, don’t we? He sees them as stolen opportunites, the grounds for endless resentment, and their fate is always someone else’s responsibility, someone else’s fault.’
Standing on the front doorstep, she in his shadow, McKenna watched the groom being dragged once more by the chestnut mare, as he put her out to graze. ‘And what hopes does he have for your thoroughbred foal?’
She shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea. I doubt if he’s given a moment’s thought to the reality at the end of the idea. It’s the same with our son.’ She watched the groom tramping back towards the stables. ‘I might call the animal Devil’s Highway. Or perhaps Harsh Reality. Which would you choose?’
‘You’re not obliged to net his aspirations at random,’ McKenna said. ‘Did you deliberately marry a weak man to have him under your control?’
‘If so, I gravely overestimated my powers, didn’t I?’
‘Bitterness such as yours, Mrs Elis, is very corrosive, and ultimately futile.’
‘But perfectly reasonable, don’t you think?’
As he stepped on to the drive, and began to walk away, she said, ‘I don’t expect we’ll see you again, will we?’
McKenna turned. ‘No, I don’t imagine you will.’
‘My husband’s wanted to ask you to ride out with him, and now you know he didn’t kill Arwel, there’s no reason why you couldn’t.’ She smiled brightly. ‘Shall I tell him you’re looking forward to an invitation? You could dine with us afterwards.’
‘I’m not sure that would be a good idea,’ McKenna said.
‘No?’ She sighed. ‘Perhaps you’re right. After all, even though you know he’s not a killer, you’ll never know if he abused the boy, will you?’
‘And will you?’ McKenna asked quietly.
She turned her back and disappeared into the shadowy hall, closing the door with a muffled thud.
The mare watched as he walked up the drive, and he lingered by the fence, calling softly to her until she pranced within reach, tossing her beautiful head. He stroked her neck and shoulder, thinking of other flesh under other hands, and violations other than those wrought by lust and corruption. He instigated more violation of Gary Hughes, by police surgeons in pursuit of knowledge, and violated Gary’s loyalty to the dead boys, demanding to know the truth of Hogg’s plausible allegations. Gary wept and raged, and brushed the coquette’s hair from his eyes, making denial after denial in that lisping affected voice which spoke so surely of the way ahead for this boy, who would travel everywhere and nowhere in flight from himself.
Wrenching suddenly from his touch, the mare flung herself across the field, swollen belly taut and heavy, then came to a juddering stop, hind legs splayed. A torrent of yellowy liquid splashed from her body, and he thought of the dried urine staining Doris Hogg’s new carpet, matched by science to the urine which flowed from Arwel’s body; the other stains beneath the television set, matched to the fluids which seeped from his crushed brain and out through his ears. Other samples, other fluids, abstracted from the men betrayed by their cars, yielded other truths, but justice, McKenna feared, like honour, would fall prey to expediency and the self-interest of the powerful, as was the nature of such things. Brushing a
coarse golden hair from the sleeve of his coat, he thought of the fine golden hair torn from Arwel’s scalp and caught in the control panel of Hogg’s television, and the savage depression in the wall behind, where the energy of Arwel’s death wrenched the set from its mountings.
Sighing, he walked to his car, closing the gate to Bedd y Cor behind him. Alighting on the gate post with a flurry of plumage, a magpie watched, and he wondered if it might be the mate of the one he saw before, or simply the same bird, in pursuit of itself.
Guide to Welsh pronunciation
Welsh is a phonetic language i.e. pronounced as written, following certain rules.
A, E, I, O, U, Y are vowels. W may be a vowel or consonant, depending on the word. There is no J, K or Z in Welsh, and no equivalent soft consonant such as C in ‘advice’.
| ||DD:|| ||as in breaTHe rather than breaTH.|
| ||F:|| ||as in oF (sounds like V in English).|
| ||FF:|| ||as in oFF.|
| ||LL:|| ||the nearest equivalent sound is an aspirated L.|
| ||Rh:|| ||an aspirated R not occurring in English. The distinction between Rh and R is similar to the distinction between WH and W in WHen and Went.|
The term ‘ab’ or ‘ap’ means ‘son of’: ‘ab’ is used before a vowel, as in ‘ab Elis’; ‘ap’ before a consonant, as in ‘ap Gwilym’.
© Alison Taylor 1996
First published in Great Britain 1996
This edition 2012
ISBN 978 0 7090 9944 4 (epub)
ISBN 978 0 7090 9945 1 (mobi)
ISBN 978 0 7090 9946 8 (pdf)
ISBN 978 0 7090 5672 9 (print)
Robert Hale Limited
London EC1R 0HT
The right of Alison Taylor to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988