Read The Bones in the Attic Online
Authors: Robert Barnard
Also from Robert Barnard
A Murder in Mayfair
The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori
No Place of Safety
The Habit of Widowhood
The Bad Samaritan
The Masters of the House
A Hovering of Vultures
A Fatal Attachment
A Scandal in Belgravia
A City of Strangers
Death of a Salesperson
Death and the Chaste Apprentice
At Death's Door
The Skeleton in the Grass
The Cherry Blossom Corpse
Out of the Blackout
Corpse in a Gilded Cage
School for Murder
The Case of the Missing BrontÃ«
A Little Local Murder
Death and the Princess
Death by Sheer Torture
Death in a Cold Climate
Death of a Perfect Mother
Death of a Literary Widow
Death of a Mystery Writer
Death on the High C's
Death of an Old Goat
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead,
is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2001 by Robert Barnard
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole
or in part in any form.
First Scribner Edition 2002
Originally published in Great Britain in 2001 by Collins Crime, an imprint
of HarperCollins Publishers
and design are trademarks of Macmillan Library Reference USA, Inc.,
used under license by Simon & Schuster, the publisher of this work.
Visit us on the World Wide Web:
in the Attic
“Sunday,” said Matt. “And anytime there's something on offer the children particularly like.”
“How many you got?”
“Three. They're my partner's.”
The man nodded. He was used to all kinds of permutations and variations. In fact, he often reckoned the decline of the stable family had been wonderful for his business.
Matt stood in the center of the big room, unconscious for the moment of Tony, or of anything else except the house. It struck him that he and the house were at a crucial moment in their existence: the house had nothing of him, or of Aileen, but it did
him there, considering, determining its future. And his own.
He loved it. Standing outside in the lane waiting for Tony he had felt his heart contract at the mere sight of the stone. Stone. Solid, thick, permanent stone. Outside he had heard a radio, loud, from next door through an open window. Inside he heard nothing. And here it was, waiting, with its wood-burning fireplace, its bell push to summon the long-gone servant, its tentative moves in the direction of Art Deco. Eighty years old or more. Waiting for what he, Aileen, and the children were going to make of it. A strange thought struck him. He wondered if a stone house like this might have kept his marriage together.
Thank God it hadn't.
“What color were you thinking of?” Tony asked.
“I thought blueânot too strong. The windows aren't that large, and it's a long room, so we need something pleasant and airy.”
“Blue. You're thinking of paint, then?”
“I'll have wallpaper if I find something that I
is rightâsomething that grabs me round the throat.
Otherwise I'll have paint till I find something. Anyway, I like paint: clean colors and clean surfaces.”
Tony nodded, and as they went into the hallway he said, “I wish I could say I'd seen you play.”
“Why would you? You'd be a Leeds United man. There was no great reason seven or eight years ago to make the effort to see Bradford City play.”
“Seven or eight years ago there was no great reason to go and see Leeds United play. Dullest football* in the north was what they served up then.” He thought, and then
added, “Mind you, the new manager's making a world of difference.”
“He's good with the media too,” agreed Matt. “Does one of the best interviews of anyone in the Premier League.”
Tony shot him a quick look, then slapped his thigh.
“Got you! You're on Radio Leeds. Matthew Harper. I was thrown by the âMatt.'”
Matt smiled and nodded, used to the delayed reaction.
“That's right. I thought I'd take my full name, especially once they started using me for ordinary news-reading and chat shows.”
“I don't hear it that often, I must admit. I go more for music, me. And I never connected the name with the footballer. But I have seen you now and then on âLook North.'”
Matt noted that the man, who had shown since he had arrived the sort of casual deference usual to a customer, was now positively respectful. Matt knew from experience that anyone involved with the media, on however low a level, received the degree of deference formerly given to members of the professions. He had got beyond the phase of feeling flattered by unearned respect, so he said briskly, “Let's go upstairs, shall we? . . . I won't be getting the bedrooms done till we're well settled in. I may even try to do some of it myself, may be get the children to help.” They had gone round the bend in the staircase and were standing on the landing. Tony poked his head into the bedrooms, bathroom, and lavatory.
“Best leave the bathroom to professionals,” he said. “Too fiddly by half. The bedrooms won't present too many problems. Stick to paint there, if you want my advice: then if the children keep wanting theirs changed it won't come too expensive.”
“Yes, I'd already thought of that. Knowing my lot and their clothes and toys and reading matter and habits, they'll want them changed at least once a year.”
“By 'eck, they have it made, the young 'uns these days,” said Tony with feeling.
“Yes, I'd love to know who starts each new vogue. What infant genius suddenly decrees it's yellow this year, and Aussie soaps are out, and shoe soles are three inches high, and the whole childish world bows agreement and starts pestering parents.”
“Probably some future Richard Branson,” agreed Tony. “Anyway, you've got four very nice-sized rooms here. That's the advantage of these older houses: you're not squashed in like sardines. When was it built, did you say?”
“About 1920, the estate agent said, or may be a bit earlier. Did you see the bells downstairs to summon the servants? I suppose the First World War or its aftermath did away with all that.”
“Happen. Anyway, the kids who go into these new estates won't get bedrooms like theseâcubbyholes more like. And certainly not one each.”
“Hmm. I was hoping to keep one of the bedrooms for my study. You might not think it to listen to, but a lot of the things I do on Radio Leeds need preparation. It would be good to have somewhere I can shut myself away in.”
“So, two of the kids sharing a bedroom, and one having a bedroom to him- or herself. Sounds like a recipe for nonstop guerrilla warfare to me. And I speak from experience.”
“I was hoping to bribe them by promising them the attic as a games room.”
Tony still looked skeptical.
“Have you looked at it?”
“Just poked my head through the trapdoor.”
“Attics are fine for games rooms if you are thinking of things like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuitâthings you can play on the floor. They're pretty useless for snookerâ tables, or anything you have to stand up for, even supposing you could get a table up there. Want me to have a look?”
“Would you?” Matt took the pole with the hook on the end, clicked open the trapdoor, then pulled down the metal stairs and tugged at the light cord. He led the way up.
“There's proper flooring down, but it's pretty old, and I don't know that I'd trust it.”
He stood at the edge of the trapdoor, but Tony, coming up behind him, strode out onto the floor.
“Sound as a bell. They used good materials in them days. Hasn't been used much, by the look of it. You can see the problem with a games room, can't you? Put a snooker table in the middle and the kid might be all right potting the balls, but he'd hardly be able to straighten up.”
Matt saw his point.
“It was just an idea. I've never heard our lot express a wish for a snooker table. I might be able to persuade one of them it would be exciting to have one of the bedrooms up here.”
“You might. How old's the eldest?”
“You might have more luck with a boy. Still, teenagers like to get away from the others. The young ones may think it would be exciting, but when it comes to it, they get nervous.
You might be able to block a small part of this attic off. In fact, it's practically been done for you.”
Tony pointed back toward the trapdoor. Just beyond it was a low piece of brick walling, and when Matt's eyes penetrated the gloom, he could see another one beyond it. He hadn't noticed that section when he'd made a quick exploratory visit before.
“Roof supports,” explained the builder, putting his hand on the rough piece of brick walling. “They've just continued up with the walls from either side of the landing below.” He looked down across the roughly constructed brick wall and toward the far wall. “Hmm. They haven't bothered with flooring here. Plenty enough space in this half, I suppose.” He climbed carefully over, and walked along one of the beams, Matthew following behind him. “You could make a real cozy little bedroom in this far bit, if you put a window in the roof.” He and Matt came to a rest by the second brick wall. Matt looked to either side, where the wall was supporting the base of the roof. It and the other one they'd climbed over rose about eighteen inches for the whole breadth of the house.
“You could pull a few bricks out to make a door,” said Tony. “Wouldn't affect it as a roof support, or cause any other structural problems. . . . Hello! What's that?”
There was something against the far side of the wall, on the rough and dusty felting that had been laid over the ceiling below. It was dusty too, but a lighter color gleamed through, and as their eyes became accustomed to the gloom they thought that whatever it was, was assuming a definite shapeâa shape they were reluctant to acknowledge.
“It looks like . . . like a skeleton . . . a little skeleton,” said Matt at last. “It can't be.”
“Got a torch?”
“Sure. Downstairs. The electricity wasn't turned on until yesterday.”
He made his way back along the beams, down the metal ladder, then fetched his powerful torch from the kitchen. By the time he got back to the attic he thought he had got his ideas in order.
“You know, it's got to be some kind of animal,” he said. “May be a squirrelâgot in here and couldn't get out.”
He turned the torch on the little pile.
“Big squirrel,” said Tony disbelievingly. “The bones look human to me. Could be a child, quite a young one. But too large for any animal I could imagine finding its own way in here.”
His matter-of-fact tone brought it home to Matt. He gripped one of the beams in the ceiling, and turned away from the sight. The pathos of the little tableau had seized his mind. A dead child, brought up here and laid out where no one would find it. Or worse. . . . But here his mind refused to contemplate the more horrible possibility. He walked away, back to the floored area, back to the safety of proper lighting.
“You're right,” he said to Tony, who had followed him. “It looks like a human skeleton. Playing football you get to know about the human body. So much of you gets bruised or broken that you spend half your time under the doc or the physio, looking at X rays of one part or other of yourself. It looks like a little body, laid out there and left.”
“Not newly born, though,” said Tony. “Not a secret, unwanted baby.”
“No, not a baby.”
“What are you going to do?”