Read Shatter Online

Authors: Michael Robotham

Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Psychological Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Suicide, #Psychology Teachers, #O'Loughlin; Joe (Fictitious Character), #Bath (England)

Shatter (7 page)

BOOK: Shatter
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

‘What about your father?’

She shrugs.

‘Where’s he?’

‘No idea. He walked out on my mum before I was born. We didn’t hear from him after that.’

‘Not at al ?’


‘I need to cal your school.’

‘I’m not going back.’ The sudden steel in her voice surprises me.

‘We have to tel them where you are.’

‘Why? They don’t care. I’m sixteen. I can do what I want.’

Her defiance has al the hal marks of a childhood spent at boarding school. It has made her strong. Independent. Angry. Why is she here? What does she expect me to do?

‘It wasn’t suicide,’ she says again. ‘Mum hated heights. I mean real y hated them.’

‘When did you last talk to her?’

‘On Friday morning.’

‘How did she seem?’

‘Normal. Happy.’

‘What did you talk about?’

She stares into her mug, as if reading the contents. ‘We had a fight.’

‘What about?’

‘It’s not important.’

‘Tel me anyway.’

She hesitates and shakes her head. The sadness in her eyes tel s half the story. Her last words to her mother were ful of anger. She wants to take them back or to have them over again.

Trying to change the subject, she opens the fridge door and begins sniffing the contents of Tupperware containers and jars. ‘Got anything to eat?’

‘I can make you a sandwich.’

‘How about a Coke?’

‘We don’t have fizzy drinks in the house.’

‘Real y?’

‘Real y.’

She’s found a packet of biscuits in the pantry and picks apart the plastic wrapping with her fingernails.

‘Mum was supposed to phone the school on Friday afternoon. I wanted to come home for the weekend, but I needed her permission. I cal ed her al day— on her mobile and at home. I sent her text messages— dozens of them. I couldn’t get through.

‘I told my housemistress something must be wrong, but she said Mum was probably just busy and I shouldn’t worry, only I did worry, I worried al Friday night and Saturday morning. The housemistress said Mum had probably gone away for the weekend and forgotten to tel me, but I knew it wasn’t true.

‘I asked for permission to go home, but they wouldn’t let me. So I ran away on Saturday afternoon and went to the house. Mum wasn’t there. Her car was gone. Things were so random.

That’s when I cal ed the police.’

She holds herself perfectly stil .

‘The police showed me a photo. I told them it must be somebody else. Mum wouldn’t even go on the London Eye. Last summer we went to Paris and she panicked going up the Eiffel Tower. She hated heights.’

Darcy freezes. The packet of biscuits has broken open in her hands, spil ing crumbs between her fingers. She stares at the wreckage and rocks forward, curling her knees to her chest and uttering a long unbroken sob.

The professional part of me knows to avoid physical contact but the father in me is stronger. I put my arms around her, pul ing her head to my chest.

‘You were there,’ she whispers.


‘It wasn’t suicide. She’d never leave me.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Please help me.’

‘I don’t know if I can, Darcy.’


I wish I could take her pain away. I wish I could tel her that it won’t hurt like this forever or that one day she’l forget how this feels. I’ve heard childcare experts talk about how fast children forgive and forget. That’s bul shit! Children remember. Children hold grudges. Children keep secrets. Children can sometimes seem strong because their defences have never been breached or eroded by tragedy, but they are as light and fragile as spun glass.

Emma is awake and cal ing out for me. I climb the stairs to her room and lower one side of her cot, lifting her into my arms. Her fine dark hair is tousled by sleep.

I hear the toilet flush downstairs. Darcy has washed her face and brushed her hair, pinning it tightly in a bun that makes her neck appear impossibly long.

‘This is Emma,’ I explain as she returns to the kitchen.

‘Hi, gorgeous,’ says Darcy, finding a smile.

Emma plays hard to get, turning her face away. Suddenly, she spies the biscuits and reaches out for one. I set her down and, surprisingly, she goes straight to Darcy and crawls onto her lap.

‘She must like you,’ I say.

Emma toys with the buttons of Darcy’s jacket.

‘I need to ask you a few more questions.’

Darcy nods.

‘Was your mother upset about anything? Depressed?’


‘Was she having trouble sleeping?’

‘She had pil s.’

‘Was she eating regularly?’


‘What did your mother do?’

‘She’s a wedding planner. She has her own company— Blissful. She and her friend Sylvia started it up. They did a wedding for Alexandra Phil ips.’

‘Who’s she?’

‘A celebrity. Haven’t you ever seen that show about the vet who looks after animals in Africa?’

I shake my head.

‘Wel , she got married and Mum and Sylvia did the whole thing. It made al the magazines.’

Darcy stil hasn’t referred to her mother in the past tense. It’s not unusual and has nothing to do with denial. Two days isn’t long enough for the reality to take hold and permeate her thinking.

I stil don’t understand what she’s doing here. I couldn’t save her mother and I can’t tel her any more than the police can. Christine Wheeler’s final words were addressed to me but she didn’t give me any clues.

‘What do you want me to do?’ I ask.

‘Come to the house. Then you’l see.’

‘See what?’

‘She didn’t kil herself.’

‘I watched her jump, Darcy.’

‘Wel , something must have made her do it.’ She kisses the top of Emma’s head. ‘She wouldn’t do it like that. She wouldn’t leave me.’


The eighteenth century cottage has gnarled and twisted wisteria climbing above the front door, reaching as high as the eaves. The adjacent garage was once a stable and is now part of the main house.

Darcy unlocks the front door and steps into the dimness of the entrance hal . She hesitates, jostling with emotions that retard her movements.

‘Is something wrong?’

She shakes her head unconvincingly.

‘You can stay outside if you like and look after Emma.’

She nods.

Emma is kicking up leaves on the path.

Crossing the slate floor of the entrance hal , I brush against an empty coat hook and notice an umbrel a propped beneath it. There is a kitchen on the right. Through the windows I see a rear garden and a wood railing fence separating neatly pruned rose bushes from adjacent gardens. A cup and cereal bowl rest in the draining rack. The sink is dry and wiped clean.

Inside the kitchen bin are vegetable scraps, curling orange peel and old teabags the colour of dog turds. The table is clear except for a smal pile of bil s and opened letters.

I yel over my shoulder. ‘How long have you lived here?’

Darcy answers through the open door. ‘Eight years. Mum had to take out a second mortgage when she started the company.’

The living room is tasteful y but tiredly furnished, with an aging sofa, armchairs and a large sideboard with cat-scratched corners. There are framed photographs on the mantelpiece.

Most of them show Darcy in various bal et costumes, either backstage or performing. Bal et trophies and medals are lined up in a display case, alongside more photographs.

‘You’re a dancer.’


It should have been obvious. She has the classic dancer’s body: lean and loose-limbed, with slightly out-turned feet.

My questions have brought Darcy inside.

‘Is this how you found the house?’


‘You haven’t moved anything?’


‘Or touched anything?’

She thinks about this.

‘I used the phone… to cal the police.’

‘Which phone?’

‘The one upstairs.’

‘Why not use this one?’ I motion to the handset of a cordless phone, sitting in a cradle on a side table.

‘The handset was on the floor. The battery was flat.’

A smal pile of women’s clothes lie discarded at the base of the table— a pair of machine-distressed jeans, a top and a cardigan. I kneel down. A flash of colour peeks from beneath the sofa— not hidden but tossed away in a hurry. My fingers close around the fabric. Underwear, a bra and matching panties.

‘Was your mother seeing anyone? A boyfriend?’

Darcy suppresses the urge to laugh. ‘No.’

‘What’s so funny?’

‘My mother is going to be one of those old women with a herd of cats and a wardrobe ful of cardigans.’ She smiles and then remembers she’s speaking of a mother without a future.

‘Would she have told you if she was seeing someone?’

Darcy isn’t sure.

I hold up the underwear. ‘Do these belong to your mother?’

She nods, frowning.


‘She was like real y obsessed about stuff like that, picking up things. I wasn’t al owed to borrow any of her clothes unless I hung them up or put them in the wash afterwards. “The floor is not a wardrobe,” she said.’

I climb the stairs to the main bedroom. The bed is untouched, without a crease on the duvet. Bottles are lined up neatly on her dresser. Towels are folded evenly on the towel rails in the en suite.

I open the large walk-in wardrobe and step inside. I can smel Christine Wheeler. I touch her dresses, her skirts, her shirts. I put my hands in the pockets of her jackets. I find a taxi receipt, a dry cleaning tag, a pound coin, an after dinner mint. There are clothes she hasn’t worn in years. Clothes she is making last the distance. Here is a woman used to having money who suddenly doesn’t have enough.

An evening gown slips from a hanger and pools at my feet. I pick it up again, feeling the fabric slip between my fingers. There are racks of shoes, at least a dozen pairs, arranged in neat rows.

Darcy sits on the bed. ‘Mum liked shoes. She said it was her one extravagance.’

I remember the pair of bright red Jimmy Choos that Christine was wearing on the bridge. Party shoes. There is a gap for a missing pair at the end of the lower shelf.

‘Did your mother sleep naked?’


‘Did she ever wander around the house naked?’


‘Did she draw the curtains before she undressed?’

‘I’ve never taken much notice.’

I glance out the bedroom window, which overlooks an al otment with vegetable gardens and a greenhouse guarded by an elm tree. Spider webs are woven through the branches of the trees like fine muslin. Someone could easily watch the house and not be noticed.

‘If someone came to the door, would she have opened it or put on the security chain?’

‘I don’t know.’

My mind keeps going back to the clothes by the phone. Christine undressed, making no attempt to close the curtains. She didn’t fold her clothes or place them on a chair. The cordless phone handset was found on the floor.

Darcy could be wrong about a boyfriend or a lover, but there’s no sign of the bed being used. No condoms. No tissues. Similarly, there’s no trace of an intruder. Nothing appears to be disturbed or missing. There is no sign of a search or a struggle. The place is clean. Tidy. It’s not the house of someone who has given up hope or someone who doesn’t want to live any more.

‘Was the front door deadlocked?’

‘I don’t remember,’ says Darcy.

‘It’s important. When you came home, you put the key in the door. Did you need two keys?’

‘No. I don’t think so.’

‘Did your mother have a raincoat?’


‘What did it look like?’

‘It was a cheap plastic thing.’

‘What colour?’

‘Yel ow.’

‘Where is it now?’

She takes me to the entrance hal — an empty coat hook tel s the rest of the story. It was raining on Friday; bucketing down. She chose the raincoat but not an umbrel a.

Emma is sitting at the kitchen table, attacking a piece of paper with coloured pencils. I walk past her into the lounge, trying to create my own picture of what happened on Friday. I glimpse the ordinariness of the day, a woman doing her chores, washing a cup, wiping down the sink and then the phone rang. She answered it.

She took off her clothes. She didn’t draw the curtains. She walked naked from her house wearing only a plastic raincoat. She didn’t double lock the door. She was in a hurry. Her handbag is stil on the hal way table.

The thick glass top of the coffee table is supported on two ceramic elephants with tusks raised and flattened above their heads. Kneeling beside the table, I lower my head and peer along the smooth glass surface, noticing tiny shards of broken crayon or lipstick. This is where she wrote the word ‘slut’ across her torso.

There is something else on the glass, a series of opaque circles and truncated lines of lipstick. The circles are dried tears. She was crying. And the lines could be the edges of looping letters that departed from a page. Christine wrote something in lipstick. It can’t have been a phone number, she could have used a pen for that. More likely it was a message or a sign.

Forty-eight hours ago I watched this woman plunge to her death. Surely it had to be suicide, yet psychological y it doesn’t make sense. Everything about her actions suggested intent, yet she was a reluctant participant.

The last thing Christine Wheeler said to me was that I wouldn’t understand. She was right.


Sylvia Furness lives in a flat in Great Pulteney Street on the first floor of a Georgian row that has probably featured in every BBC period drama since the original
Forsyte Saga
. I half expect to see horse-drawn carriages outside and women parading in hats.

Sylvia Furness isn’t wearing a hat. Her short blonde hair is held off her face with a headband and she’s clad in black spandex shorts, a white sports bra and a light blue T-shirt with a looping neckline. A gym membership card dangles from a bulky set of keys that must help burn calories simply by being lugged around.

‘Excuse me, Mrs Furness. Do you have a moment?’

‘Whatever you’re sel ing, I’m not buying.’

BOOK: Shatter
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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