Authors: Michael Robotham
Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Psychological Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Suicide, #Psychology Teachers, #O'Loughlin; Joe (Fictitious Character), #Bath (England)
Veronica Cray is staring at my left arm which has begun to twitch, sending a shudder through my shoulder. I hold it stil .
‘What makes you think Mrs Wheeler was afraid of heights?’
‘Darcy told me.’
‘And you believe her— a teenage girl who’s in shock; who’s grieving; who can’t understand how the most important person in her life could abandon her…’
‘Did the police search her car?’
‘It was recovered.’
That’s not the same thing. She knows it.
‘Where is the car now?’ I ask.
‘In the police lock-up.’
‘Can I see it?’
She doesn’t know where I’m going with this, but whatever happens I’m creating more work for the police. I’m questioning the official investigation.
‘This isn’t my case, Professor. I’ve got
crimes to solve. This was a suicide. Death by gravity. We both saw it happen. Suicides aren’t supposed to make sense because they’re pointless. I tel you something else, most people don’t leave a note. They just snap and leave everyone wondering.’
‘She showed no signs—’
‘Let me finish,’ she barks, making it sound like an order. Embarrassment prickles beneath my skin.
‘Look at you, Professor. You got an il ness. Do you wake up every day thinking, Wow, isn’t it great to be alive? Or some days do you look at those shaking limbs and contemplate what lies ahead and, just for a moment, a fleeting second, consider a way out?’
She leans back in her chair and stares at the ceiling. ‘We al do.
We carry our past with us— the mistakes, the sadness. You say Christine Wheeler was an optimist. She loved her daughter. She loved her job. But you don’t real y know her. Maybe it was something about the weddings that got to her. Al those fairytales. The white dresses and flowers; the exchanging of vows. Maybe they reminded her of her own wedding and how it didn’t match up to the fantasy. Her husband walked out. She raised a child alone. I don’t know. No one does.’
The DI rocks her head from side to side, stretching her neck muscles. She isn’t finished.
‘You’re feeling guilty, I understand that. You think you should have saved her, but what happened on the bridge wasn’t your fault. You did what you could. People appreciate that. But now you’re making a bad situation worse. Take Darcy back to school. Go home. It’s not your concern any more.’
‘What if I told you I heard something,’ I say.
She pauses, eyeing me suspiciously.
‘On the bridge when I was trying to talk to Christine Wheeler, I thought I heard something being said to her— over the mobile.’
‘What did you hear?’
I watch the subtle change in the detective, a little shrinking created by a single word. She glances at her large square hands and back to me, meeting my eyes without embarrassment.
This is not a case she wants to carry forward.
you heard it?’
Her uncertainty is transient. Already she has rationalised the possible outcomes and weighed only the downside.
‘Wel , I think you should tel that to the coroner. I’m sure he’l be pleased as punch to hear it. Who knows— maybe you’l convince him, but I seriously doubt it. I don’t care if God himself was on the other end of that phone, you can’t
someone jump— not like that.’
On-coming headlights sweep over the inside of the car and pass into darkness.
Darcy lifts her eyes to the windscreen.
‘That detective isn’t going to help, is she?’
‘So you’re giving up.’
‘What do you expect me to do, Darcy? I’m not a policeman. I can’t make them investigate.’
She turns her face away. Her shoulders rise as though protecting her ears from hearing any more. We drive in silence for another mile.
‘Where are we going?’
‘I’m taking you back to school.’
The aggression in her voice surprises me. Emma flinches and looks at us from the back seat of the car.
‘I’m not going back.’
‘Listen, Darcy, I know you’re very sure of yourself, but I don’t think you ful y realise what’s happened. Your mother isn’t coming back. And you don’t suddenly become an adult simply because she’s not here.’
‘I’m old enough to make my own decisions.’
‘You can’t go home— not alone.’
‘I’l stay in a hotel.’
‘And how wil you pay for that?’
‘I have money.’
‘You must have other family.’
She shakes her head.
‘What about grandparents?’
‘I have a shortage.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘I have one left and he drools. He lives in a nursing home.’
‘Is there anyone else?’
‘An aunt. She lives in Spain. Mum’s older sister. She runs a donkey sanctuary. I think they’re donkeys. I guess they could be burros. I don’t know the difference. My mum said she was a poor man’s Brigitte Bardot, whoever that is.’
‘A film star.’
‘We’l cal your aunt.’
‘I’m not living with donkeys.’
There must be other possibilities… other names. Her mother had friends. Surely one of them could look after Darcy for a few days. Darcy doesn’t have their numbers. She’s not even trying to be helpful.
‘I could stay with you,’ she says, pressing her tongue to the inside of her cheek like she’s sucking a boiled sweet.
‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’
‘Why not? Your house is big enough. You’re looking for a nanny. I could help look after Emma. She likes me…’
‘I can’t let you stay.’
‘Because you’re sixteen and you should be at school.’
She reaches over the seat for her bag. ‘Stop the car. Let me out here.’
‘I can’t do that.’
The electric window glides down.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m going to yel rape or kidnapping or whatever else it takes for you to stop the car and let me out. I’m not going back to school.’
Emma’s voice interrupts from the back seat. ‘No fighting.’
She looks at us sternly.
‘We’re not fighting, sweetheart,’ I explain. ‘We’re having a serious talk.’
‘I don’t like fighting,’ she announces. ‘It’s bad.’
Darcy laughs. Her gaze is defiant. Where does she get such confidence? How did she become so fearless?
Circling the next roundabout, I turn back.
‘Where are we going now?’ she asks.
If Darcy were a grieving husband or a mate, we’d go to the pub and get rol ing drunk. Then we’d come staggering home, put on Sky Sports and watch some obscure ice-hockey game in Canada or that weird sport where they ski across country and shoot at targets. Men do that sort of thing. Alcohol isn’t a substitute for tears. It feeds them on the inside where it’s less public and the tissues don’t get soggy.
Teenage girls are trickier. I know from my consulting room. They’re more likely to fret, to stop eating, to become depressed or promiscuous. Darcy is a singular creature. She doesn’t prattle away like Charlie and Emma. She acts so grown up; smart mouthed and sassy, but beneath the bravado is a hurt child who knows less about the world than a blind girl at an art gal ery.
She took herself to bed in the spare room as soon as the dishes were packed away. I paused outside her door a few minutes ago, pressing my ear against the painted wood and thought I heard her crying. I may have imagined it.
What am I going to do? I can’t investigate her mother’s death. Maybe DI Cray is right and nobody wil ever know the truth.
Sitting in the study, I open my palms on the desk and watch them. My left hand is shaking uncontrol ably but I don’t want to take any more medication today. My doses are already too high and the drugs become less effective over time. Vincent Ruiz’s telephone number is on the desk blotter.
Ruiz is a former detective inspector with the London Metropolitan Police. Five years ago he arrested me on suspicion of murder after a former patient of mine had been found stabbed to death beside the Grand Union Canal in London. My name was in her diary. It’s a long story. Let’s cal it history.
Ever since then, Ruiz has been one of those peripheral characters that drift in and out of my life, adding brightness to the beige. Before he retired, he used to invite himself to dinner, flirt with Julianne and pick my brain about his latest murder investigation. He’d tickle the girls, drink too much wine and spend the night on our sofa.
Julianne’s soft spot for Ruiz is bigger than the man’s liver, which says something about his drinking and her ability to attract strays.
It takes me three attempts to punch Ruiz’s number on the phone. I hear it ringing.
‘Hey, hey, if it isn’t my favourite shrink.’
He has a voice that matches his body, hard on the inside and fleshy on the outside— gravel coated in phlegm.
‘I saw you on one of those reality TV shows the other night,’ he says. ‘I think they cal it the News at Ten. You were tossing a woman off a bridge.’
‘No shit,’ he laughs. ‘No wonder you have al those letters after your name. How is your gorgeous wife?’
‘She’s in Moscow.’
‘With her boss.’
‘Why can’t I be her boss?’
‘Because you know nothing about high finance and your idea of up-sizing is to buy a bigger pair of trousers.’
‘That’s harsh but true.’
I hear ice clinking in a glass.
‘Fancy a few days in the West Country?’
‘Nope. I’m al ergic to sheep.’
‘I need your help.’
‘Say it like you mean it, baby.’
I tel him about Christine Wheeler and Darcy, describing the past twelve hours in a series of bul et points that ex-coppers regard as almost a second language. Ruiz knows how to fil in the gaps. Without my even mentioning DI Cray he predicts exactly how she reacted to my request.
‘Are you sure about this?’
‘As sure as I can be for now.’
‘What do you need?’
‘Christine Wheeler was talking to someone on her mobile before she fel . Is it possible to trace the cal ?’
‘They recover the phone?’
‘It’s at the bottom of the Avon Gorge.’
‘Do you know the lady’s number?’
He is silent for a moment. ‘I know a guy who works for British Telecom. He’s a security consultant. He was our go-to man when we were tapping phones or tracing cal s— al above board, of course.’
I can hear him taking notes. I can even picture the marbled notebook that he carries everywhere, bulging with business cards and scraps of paper, held together with a rubber band.
Another rattle of ice in a glass.
‘So if I do come down to Somerset can I sleep with your wife?’
‘I thought country folk were supposed to be hospitable.’
‘The house is sort of ful . You can stay in the pub.’
‘Wel , that’s almost as good.’
The cal ends and I slip Ruiz’s number into a drawer. There’s a tap on the door. Charlie wanders in and slumps sideways in a perfectly good armchair, dangling her legs over the armrest.
‘Nothing much, what’s up with you?’
‘I got a history test tomorrow.’
‘You been studying?’
‘Yep. Did you know when they embalmed pharaohs in ancient Egypt they used to take out their brains through their left nostril with a hook?’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘Then they used to put the body on a bed of salt to dry it out.’
‘Is that so?’
Charlie has a question, but needs a moment to frame it. She’s like that, very precise with no ums and ahs or long pauses.
‘Why is she here?’
She means Darcy.
‘She needed somewhere to stay.’
‘Does Mum know?’
‘What should I tel her if she cal s?’
‘Leave that to me.’
Charlie stares at her knees. She thinks about things far more deeply than I ever remember doing. Sometimes she wil mul over something for days, formulating a theory or an opinion and then deliver it out of the blue, long after everyone else has stopped thinking about it or forgotten the original discussion.
‘The woman on the news the other night: the one who jumped.’
‘What about her?’
‘It was Darcy’s mum.’
‘Should I say something to her? I mean, I don’t know whether to avoid the subject or pretend nothing’s wrong.’
‘If Darcy doesn’t want to talk about it, she’l tel you.’
Charlie nods in agreement. ‘Wil there be a funeral or something like that?’
‘In a few days.’
‘So where is her mum now?’
‘At the morgue— it’s a place where they…’
‘I know,’ she answers, sounding very grown up. There’s another long pause. ‘Did you see Darcy’s trainers?’
‘What about them?’
‘I want a pair just like them.’
‘OK. Anything else?’
Charlie tosses her ponytail over one shoulder and exits with a kick of her heels.
I am left alone. A pile of household bil s and invoices has to be sorted, paid or filed. Julianne has separated her work receipts and bundled them in an envelope.
As I close the drawer I notice a partial y crumpled receipt on the floor. I pick it up and flatten it on the blotter. The name of the hotel is written in elaborate script across the top. It is a room service bil for breakfast, including champagne, bacon, eggs, fruit and pastries. Julianne real y went to town. She normal y has just muesli or fruit salad.
I screw the bil into a bal and motion to throw it away. I don’t know what stops me— a question mark: a tinge of disquiet. The sensation scrambles and disappears. It’s too quiet outside. I don’t want to hear myself think.
To pick a lock requires a supreme sense of touch and sound. First I picture the inner mechanism in my mind and project my senses within. All the senses are important— not just
sound and touch. Sight to identify the make and model. Smell to tell if the lock has been lubricated recently. Taste to identify the lubricant.