Read The Bones in the Attic Online
Authors: Robert Barnard
“Who am I to pass judgment?”
“Anyway, the deal was that we'd be out of the house and out of Leeds by nightfall. They handed the money over in cashâwould you believe it, they'd been to the bank in Town Street and got it out before coming to talk to me? The exact sum. She was a smart cookie, that woman: she knew how much it might cost, and if I'd tried to go higher she'd have stuck at what she had in cash. I packed up the few things we had in the squat, roused Sandra to some species of awareness, and got her onto a bus going to the station. We went to my parents in Grantham. They were pretty straitlaced, but I reckoned telling my mother of the baby's death would bring her round a bit.”
“And did it?”
“In the short term. In the longer it couldn't work out. Sandra was devastated by the loss of the baby, never really understood it. How could she? I didn't understand it myself. She took off after a few weeks, and the last I heard she was with a new bloke. Hope he was better for her than I was. I wouldn't know now whether she's alive or dead.”
“And you became an accountant?”
“I suppose that's the long and short of it. That was the end of hippiedom for me, anyway. Within a year I was at college, and working for my certificate. I didn't marry for yearsâfelt I'd done all that. But when I did I got a cracker. Maureen's a wonderful mum to the kids, and she makes sure she has a bit of herself left over for me.”
I bet she does, thought Matt. I bet she has to. He was conceiving a dislike for this man: his complacency, his self-importance, his casualness with other people's fates. He had sold justice for his baby for one thousand pounds, and not because he didn't believe in human justice, but to lay his hands on the loot. Matt was willing to bet that his parents financed his studies, and also that they were never given a hint of the existence of Nesta Farson's blood money.
“Well, that's my sad little story,” said Dougie, wiping marsala gravy off his chin. “Tell me about this promotion that's in the offing. Nice little hike in salary, you said.”
Matt was already drafting in his mind a letter explaining that his promotion did not after all involve moving away from Leeds, and that he was forced to look for an accountant closer to homeâa letter he actually sent three weeks later. For the rest of the meal he talked about the BBC in its regional manifestation, the techniques and dangers of radio phone-ins, and the off-pitch life of a professional footballer. He believed in paying for what he had eaten.
As the summer wore on Aileen went back to work, and the school holidays started. In August Matt's promotion to a linkman's job on “Look North” was confirmed, Aileen discovered she was pregnant, and the police released the
body of the little girl found in Elderholm. Charlie said, apologetically, that there was no one to release it to, and he wondered whether Matt would take responsibility. Matt said he didn't need to be apologetic, and didn't need to ask. That night he talked over with Aileen what to do.
In the end they decided on a simple cremation service conducted by the local Church of England vicar, with prayers and lessons. There was no publicity, nothing on “Look North” or in the West Yorkshire Chronicle. It got round among the people in the stone houses in Houghton Avenue, many of whom had secretly enjoyed the publicity surrounding the body. Several of them (but not the Cazalets) said they would come to the funeral service, and Aileen asked them to sandwiches and coffee afterward. Isabella refused to have anything to do with the catering, being now well into her investigative journalist phase, but all three children went to the funeral, and even brought some of their more ghoulish friends. It was a beautiful day, and in the afternoon neighbors, children, and others, including Carl Farson and Charlie, Felicity, and Carola, were quietly happy inside Elderholm and out in its front garden, now coming out of its wilderness phase.
Almost everyone at one time or another asked Matt what had come out about the dead baby, and Matt found himself saying, “It turned out to be a tragic accident. The children who lived here at the time unwisely tried to cover it up. The police have now closed the case.”
Charlie, who knew Matt well by then, heard him say this more than once, and observed his face.
“It hurts, doesn't it?” he said to him quietly, the two of them standing away from the throng under the laburnum. “Rankles.”
“Yes, it does,” said Matt without hesitation. He had been thinking a lot about the death in the days leading up to the funeral. “The little bones crying out for vengeance, like we once said. The little bones are still crying.”
“It doesn't help that Lily Fitch is a pretty unhappy person?”
“Lots of people are pretty unhappy, through no particular fault of their own. Lily Fitch deserves worse than that in her life.”
“Being a policeman, you give up expecting justice in this world,” said Charlie.
“May be. . . . Has it ever occurred to you,” asked Matt, looking at Charlie closely, “that Lily Marsden's nearest and dearest have a habit of vanishing off the face of the earth?”
“No, it hasn't.”
“Her parents die in a car accident.”
“Immediately afterward she marries, and the bloke is a car mechanic.”
“I don't think you told me that.”
“They have a son. Then first the husband and then the son take off out of Lily's life.”
“Perhaps she's the sort no one wants to live with.”
“May be. And may be she's someone who studied in a school for murder at the feet of a passionate and committed teacher with refresher courses thrown in. In fact, there's no may be about that: we know she did.”
Charlie's eyes glinted for a moment. Then he pondered.
“It's a thought,” he said at last.
“Yes, it's a thought.”
“A pretty thin one, though. Not a scrap of evidence. For a start there're no bodies.”
“You could try the attic.”
Charlie stayed decidedly pensive for the rest of the party.
Robert Barnard (1936-2013) was awarded the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Nero Wolfe Award, as well as the Agatha and Macavity awards. An eight-time Edgar nominee, he was a member of Britain's distinguished Detection Club, and, in May 2003, he received the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement in mystery writing. His most recent novel,
, was published by Scribner in 2012.