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Authors: Philip Cox

She's Not Coming Home

BOOK: She's Not Coming Home
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Philip Cox is married with two children and lives near London. He pursued a career in banking and financial services until 2009, when he took a break to become a stay-at-home father.  In between numerous school runs, Philip wrote
After the Rain
, which appeared in  2011.
Dark Eyes of London
and
She’s Not Coming Home
followed in 2012.
A Secret To Die For
, which introduced the maverick LAPD detective Sam Leroy, was published in 2013.

Also by Philip Cox

After the Rain

Dark Eyes of London

A Secret to Die For

Don’t Go Out in the Dark

Wrong Time to Die

 

Version 3.1

 

SHE’S NOT COMING HOME

PHILIP COX

©Philip Cox 2012

Front cover image by sameliaz8

Back cover image (paperback version) by soelin/flickr

This book 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.

www.philipcox.moonfruit.com

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

All I did was write the book! Other people helped during the process. I’d like to thank Nicole Allen of the Boston Police Department, Chetan Parmar and Sagar Chauhan for their help with the cover titles, Anne Poole for help with the text, and finally the managements of the
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
and of the New York Downtown Hospital, New York City.

Plus of course, all those who have read
After the Rain
and
Dark Eyes of London
and have spread the word.

Chapter One

It was the
Day Before It Happened.

The third Tuesday in January.

The day after Martin Luther King Jr day, so to all intents and purposes it was the beginning of the working week.

‘Do you want eggs?’ Matthew Gibbons called out, his voice competing with the sound of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny on the television and the first batch of eggs cooking on the stove.

No answer. Matt shrugged and continued stirring the eggs.

‘More Coco Snaps, Daddy,’ called out a voice from the table behind him.

‘Hold on a second,’ said Matt, quickly turning some eggs over.

‘I’ll get them, Daddy,’ came the reply.

‘No, wait. I’ll -’ Matt moved the pan off the stove and turned round, just in time to see his five year old son lean over and knock the cereal box on the floor, spilling its contents everywhere.

‘Oh, Nathan, no,’ Matt wailed as he knelt down to pick up the box.

‘Sorry, Daddy,’ said Nathan quietly.

Leaning over, Matt reached under the sink and pulled out a small dustpan and brush. He swept up the mess and emptied the grains into a bin. Stood up and put the box back on the table.

‘More Snaps, then?’

Nathan thought for a few seconds, then said, ‘No. I don’t think so.’

‘Fine. Want some eggs then? Or just toast?’

‘Just toast please, Daddy.’

‘Okay. Let me just finish the eggs.’

Matt turned back to the pan of eggs.

‘Just toast please, Daddy.’

‘Yes, I heard, sport. Just hold a second.’

‘And jelly.’

Matt raised his eyes. Was just about to say something when he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. He looked up as his wife Ruth wandered into the kitchen.

‘Do you want eggs?’ he asked again.

Ruth started to pour herself a cup of coffee.

‘French toast?’ she asked, taking a sip.

Matt said nothing. Just stared at her.

‘Forget the French toast. Eggs will be fine,’ Ruth said, sitting down at the table. She sniffed. ‘Don’t burn the bacon.’

‘Shoot.’ Matt pulled the tray of bacon from the stove. Just in time.

He served two plates of bacon strips and eggs and sat down at the table with Ruth and Nathan.

‘Daddy, you forgot the toast,’ said Nathan insistently just as Matt picked up a piece of bacon.

‘I’ll get it,’ Ruth mumbled as she got up and put a slice of bread in the toaster.

‘Two slices,’ said Nathan.

‘Two?’ asked Ruth. ‘You sure?’

‘Sure, Mommy. One for me and one for Mr Rex.’ Nathan held up a rubber Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Matt looked up. ‘I thought Mr Rex was a meat eater.’

Nathan grinned.

‘Silly me. One piece of toast. And some bacon for Mr Rex.’

Matt picked up a strip of bacon and tossed it over to his son.

‘You taking the car today?’ Matt asked as Ruth sat back down again. ‘Or walking?’

Ruth looked up at the wall clock. ‘Oh, I’ll walk in today. Take advantage of the fresh air. Then you can have the car at least.’

‘Well, don’t go across the common tonight.’

‘Do I ever in the dark?’ Ruth asked as she got up and buttered Nathan’s toast.

‘Well, come back via Charles.’

‘No. I’ll use Tremont and Beacon.’

‘Charles is quicker.’

‘Yeah, but my route is more interesting.’

Matt shrugged and finished his eggs.

‘What’s your plan for the day?’ Ruth asked, wiping her mouth and straightening her clothing.

‘Well, after I’ve dropped little Mr G off at Bambinos, I’ll double back here. I’ll need to fix that broken guttering out back and the handrail down to the cellar needs fixing.’

‘Should keep you busy.’

‘Only got two days vacation.  Plan to make the most of it.’

‘You back to work Thursday, then?’

Matt finished his coffee. ‘U-huh.’

Ruth walked over to him. ‘Well, I’ll be off now.  See you tonight.’ She reached up and kissed Matt, then leaned over to kiss Nathan on the top of the head. ‘Bye, sweetie.’

‘Bye to Mr Rex!’ Nathan called out, spraying the table with toast and jelly.

‘Bye Mr Rex!’ Ruth called out from the front door.

‘Right, Mister,’ Matt said after he heard the door close. ‘Time to get you ready for Bambinos.’

Half an hour later, Matt and Nathan were walking slowly down the street.

‘Are you coming to pick me up tonight?’ asked Nathan. ‘Or is Mommy?’

‘Me tonight, sport. I’m not at work today, but Mommy is. So you drew the short straw.’

Nathan frowned.  ‘Short…?’

Matt laughed and ruffled his hair.

‘Forget it. I’ll pick you up tonight.’

Bambinos kindergarten was on Chestnut and Spruce, just three blocks away from Matt and Ruth’s. Matt kissed Nathan goodbye, said he would see him at four that afternoon, then walked back home, picking up that morning’s
Boston Herald
on the way back. Another cup of coffee while he scanned the newspaper and cleared away the breakfast things, then out to the garage for the stepladder to start his list of chores for the day. He had two days’ off from his job at the bank; or rather time off earned for working the last four Saturdays to cover absent colleagues. Either way, he intended to make the most of it.

He had lunch at twelve as he finished the
Herald
, then that cellar stair rail. At one o’clock precisely, his cell phone bleeped. As expected, it was a text from Ruth.

Hi, hows ur day? x

He replied:
v busy.
cu tonite x

He noticed the cellar walls needed a fresh coat of whitewash. A job for tomorrow.

It was beginning to get dark as he walked Nathan back home later. As they turned the corner into West Cedar Street he pulled his coat collar tighter and shivered. He looked over in the direction of Boston Common.  Ruth always enjoyed walking home, but on nights like this, he wished she had taken the car, or the bus.

‘Come on, sport,’ he said, ruffling Nathan’s hair.

Being off, it was Matt’s turn to prepare dinner. While Nathan sat on the couch watching Scooby-Doo, Matt made a start on the meal: fried chicken, green beans and mashed potato.

Just after five, his cell bleeped again.
Leaving now x
.

Ok x
he replied.

The digital clock on the stove read 5:42 as the front door opened and Ruth arrived home.

‘Welcome home,’ Matt said as they embraced.

‘Glad to be home. Mm, that smells nice. Where’s Nathan?’ Ruth replied.

‘In there watching TV.’

Ruth leaned into the other room.

‘Hi, honey. Have a good day?’

‘Yes, Mommy,’ Nathan replied, his gaze not leaving the television screen.

‘He’s so interested,’ Ruth said as she joined Matt in the kitchen.

‘Come on honey,’ said Matt as he handed her a glass of red wine. ‘How can you compete with Scooby, Shaggy, and co?’

*****

The rest of the evening proceeded as normal. Matt told Ruth what he had done that day; Ruth did the same. Neither could find out exactly what Nathan had done at kindergarten, as he was only interested in Mr Rex and Mrs Brontosaurus. Then it was bath time for Nathan. Ruth read his bedtime story: a tale of three dinosaurs searching for a missing egg; the twentieth night in a row that he had wanted that story. When she came downstairs, Matt had just finished loading the dishwasher. He poured them both another glass of wine and they collapsed on the sofa.

‘He asleep?’ Matt asked.

‘Went straight off.’

Matt smiled and leaned back on the sofa.

‘What?’ she asked.

‘What what?’

‘You were going to say something.’

Matt thought a second.

‘Whatever it was, it’s gone. What’s the time, anyway?’

‘Seven fifty.’

‘That late, eh?’

‘That late.’

They both took another mouthful of red wine and leaned back on the sofa. Matt slowly closed his eyes. By eight thirty they had both fallen asleep. Woke up around ten thirty and went to bed.

As he brushed his teeth, Matt started to feel amorous. It has been a busy day for both of them, but it was only ten forty-five…

He checked on Nathan, and walked back into his and Ruth’s bedroom.  Ruth was fast asleep. Matt got in beside her, leaned over, kissed her forehead, then lay down beside her.

He switched off the bedside lamps and was asleep in minutes.

Breakfast. Work. Dinner. Bed.

A normal day.

Their last normal day.

Chapter Two

At that time
of year sunrise was just after seven and sunset at four thirty.  It was still dark when Matt awoke the next morning. Still heavy eyed, he checked his watch. It was six forty. On a normal weekday, he would get up at just after seven. Ruth would follow twenty minutes or so later, as Matt always liked to be first in the shower. If Nathan had not woken by himself by seven thirty, then one of them would wake him. After a normally hurried breakfast Ruth would set off for her job in the Boston  offices of Cambridge Pharmaceuticals. She worked just under two miles from home and most days walked to and from the office. If the weather was too bad, and it was only heavy rain that affected her routine, she would take the bus. She could drive, but hated the regular gridlock on Boston’s streets. Her morning route would take her across Boston Common between Beacon Street and Tremont Street and would take her twenty-five minutes.  On the way home during the winter months when it was dark, mainly due to Matt’s insistence, she would in effect walk around the park, up Tremont as far as the Park Street subway station, up Park Street, then along Beacon as far as Spruce, to resume her normal route. This circumnavigation of the Common would add another ten to fifteen minutes to her journey.

Ruth tended to leave around eight fifteen, ten minutes or so earlier if it was her turn to drop Nathan off at Bambinos. Matt would leave ten minutes later, unless it was his turn to drop off Nathan. Matt worked as a Personal Banker for the Bank of New England in the bank’s branch in the Custom House District. He would generally drive, braving the traffic. As Personal Banker, he had the luxury of a parking space at the rear of the bank. The bank opened its doors at 9:30, and Matt would arrive a few minutes before nine.

This morning seemed to be starting differently. In the darkness of their bedroom, Matt turned over and felt for Ruth’s sleeping body. Maybe they could start the day doing what he was hoping to finish the previous day doing…

Instead of Ruth’s waist the first thing Matt could feel was the sheet. He moved his hand around searching for Ruth, but found nothing. Sleepily, he half sat up and looked across to her side. It was empty. He sat up further, blinking. He thought he could just make out the sound of the shower running. He pulled his hand out from under the covers. Ruth’s side felt cold to the touch; she must have been up for a while.

He checked the time again, groaned, and lay back down, rubbing his eyes. A few seconds later he reached over and switched on the small bedside light. The room was bathed in a faint yellow light.

At that moment the bedroom door opened and Ruth came in. She was wrapped in a black towel and rubbing her hair with a smaller matching towel.

‘How long have you been up for?’ Matt asked, still not fully awake.

Ruth looked over at the gold carriage clock on her dresser.

‘Half an hour or so, I guess,’ she answered, sitting down at the dresser. She picked up a brush and started to brush her wet hair.

‘Couldn’t you sleep then?’ Matt asked, now sitting up on the bed.

‘No.’

A little surprised at the brevity of his wife’s reply, Matt stood up, fumbled in his shorts, then shuffled over to the bedroom door.

‘Might as well get up myself,’ he said quietly, scratching the back of his head.

‘You don’t need to. It’s still early.’

‘Too late. I’m awake now.’

As he wandered down the hallway to the bathroom, he stuck his head round the half opened door to Nathan’s room. In the faint green glow of the night-light, he could see the top of Nathan’s head, sharing the pillow with a plastic stegosaurus. Nathan stirred slightly as Matt gently closed the door.

As he stepped into the shower, Matt could hear Ruth switch on the hair dryer. He showered himself, shampooed his hair – twice, as he normally did – then blindly reached out of the shower cubicle for the towel rail. Almost dry, he wrapped the towel around his waist, and returned to the bedroom. As he passed Nathan’s room, the door slowly opened, and his son was standing in the doorway, blinking and scratching the top of his head. Clinging onto Mr Stegosaurus, he was wearing blue and yellow pyjamas decorated with various dinosaurs.

‘Good morning, sport,’ Matt said, ruffling his son’s hair. ‘Sleep well?’

Nathan nodded, yawning.

‘You want to come in and watch some TV while Mommy and I get up?’ Matt asked.

Nathan nodded and shuffled after his father.

‘Look who I found outside,’ said Matt as he returned to the bedroom.

‘Morning sweetie,’ said Ruth, turning round as she dried her hair. Nathan jumped up onto his parents’ bed, reached over for the TV remote, switched it on, and tabbed down to a cartoon channel. Ruth turned round and continued with her hair.

Matt was the first to get dressed. ‘I’ll go put the coffee on,’ he said. ‘Come with me, sport; let’s get you dressed.’

After getting Nathan dressed, Matt went down to the kitchen and started the coffee. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ruth come in the kitchen.

‘You want eggs?’ he asked, pouring out two cups of coffee.

Ruth said nothing.

‘Well?’ Matt said, passing her a cup.

‘Well what?’ she asked.

‘Do you want eggs?’

Ruth sipped her coffee and looked at him blankly.

‘Eggs?’

‘Sorry, miles away.  No, no eggs thanks.  Think I’ll just have this.’

Matt shrugged.

‘Suit yourself. Where’s Nathan?’

‘He- oh, he’s still upstairs playing with the dinosaurs.’

‘He’d better come down for breakfast,’ said Matt walking to the foot of the stairs. ‘Or he’ll be late for Bambinos. Nathan! Breakfast!’ he called out. Shortly they could hear Nathan’s footsteps running down the stairs. Now clutching both a stegosaurus and a tyrannosaurus rex, he sat up at the table.

‘Cereal and toast?’ Matt asked.

‘Yes please, Daddy,’ answered Nathan, as the T Rex began to chase the stegosaurus around the table.

‘I’ll take Nathan to Bambinos today, if you like,’ said Ruth from the back of the kitchen.

‘No, it’s all right, I’m off today -’

‘I can walk in via Bambinos. Drop him off on the way.’

‘Fine by me. I can make an early start.’

‘Early start on what?’

‘Whatever I do today. Might start off by tidying up downstairs.’

‘Mm. Good idea.’ Ruth finished her coffee and stood up. ‘I’m just going upstairs to get ready for work. Nathan, ten minutes, okay?’

‘Okay, Mommy.’

Nathan finished his toast and ran upstairs to brush his teeth. Then he and Ruth reappeared in the doorway, ready to go. Matt went over to kiss his son goodbye.

‘Have a nice day, sport,’ he said, bending down. ‘Don’t be too hard on Mrs Hardy.’

‘Harding,’ corrected Nathan.

‘Harding. Right. I’ll pick you up this afternoon.’ More of a question, directed at Ruth.

Ruth nodded. Reached up and kissed Matt.

‘See you,’ she said, and led Nathan to the front door. Her hand stopped at the lock and she turned back and went over to Matt, who was still in the kitchen doorway. She reached up and kissed Matt again, more tenderly than before brushing her fingers down his cheek. She smiled and went back to the door, where Nathan was waiting.

‘See you both tonight,’ said Matt. ‘Pizza okay for you, sport?’

‘Yes please, Daddy.’

‘Pizza okay?’ he mouthed at Ruth.

‘Sure,’ she nodded, then opened the door and left with Nathan.

*****

Not having anything particular planned, Matt intended to have a leisurely day.  A few chores to attend to, but nothing major. Just to potter about in the house and the yard, pick up Nathan, then prepare dinner. As dinner was frozen pizza, the meal wouldn’t need much preparation.

Mid-afternoon, he strolled round to Bambinos, picking up a
Herald
on the way.

‘We still having pizza tonight?’ asked Nathan as they walked home.

‘Sure thing, sport.’

‘Cool,’ said Nathan, as he skipped along next to his father.

Just before five, Matt took some trash out to the garbage can. It had been dark for some time, a cold wind was picking up, and it was beginning to rain. Once back inside, he shivered and picked up his cell phone.

Beginning 2 rain, why not get bus?
he texted Ruth, knowing what her response would be. There needed to be at least twelve inches of snow before she gave up her walk home.

Sure enough, a couple of minutes later came the reply:
leaving now
.

Matt laughed, shook his head, and switched the oven on to cook the pizza. The clock on the stove read 5:05. Ruth should be home around 5:45. The pizzas should be ready about then.

At 5:50 he turned off the oven and pulled out the well-cooked pizzas.

‘I’m hungry,’ said Nathan, who had wandered in from watching TV in the den. ‘Where’s Mommy?’

‘Just running a bit late, sport,’ said Matt. ‘Should be home by six.’

But Ruth didn’t come home by six.

Or seven.

Or eight.

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