Read The Bones in the Attic Online
Authors: Robert Barnard
“That's what you intended to do anyway, wasn't it? That's why you brought the case up now.”
Charlie spoke slowly and carefully.
“Having a daughter of my own, whom I love to bits, makes me care a lot about a kid who apparently was killed, hidden away, and then forgotten. Having gone through the hideous agony of a formal church wedding for this beautiful little girlâ”
“You loved it.”
“ânot to mention three days in Morecombe for a honeymoon because you wanted to use it in this damn novel I'm not allowed to seeâ”
“That, I admit, was beyond the call of duty.”
“âI just feel that this is a little girl I've gone through a lot of suffering for. And there's this little bundle of bones shut away in an attic that apparently nobody cared for or compassionated at all. It's about time someone did.”
“So you're using me as some sort of sounding boardâ”
“I am using you as a moral touchstone. Having a father whose only morality is rampant egotism, you are especially sensitive on moral issues.”
“You always see my father off, no problem. Don't gloat. So you're using me to give you the moral backbone to bend police rules?”
“Something like that.”
“Go for it. You're just wanting me to confirm what you intend to do anyway. So do it.”
Three nights later Matt had a dream that was not quite
a dream. It came to him, like most dreams we remember, just before waking. It involved no action, no people, not even any faces. It was in fact nothing but a voice. It was a child's voice, one his mind must have conjured up from thirty years ago. The voice was just breaking, the voice of a boy edging into adulthood. It was shouting, with the flavor of a jeer strong in it.
“Lily Marsden, Lily Marsden,
Face like a bath bun.”
A silly, childish rhyme. With the name Lily in it. But Matt knew his mind was increasingly taking him back to the summer of sixty-nine.
“Lily Marsden, Lily Marsden,
You're not a very fast 'un.”
It was one of the younger boys, not Peter, who had praised his footballing skills the day before.
“The name is Elizabeth,” said the girl. “Nobody calls me Lily. It's a horrible name.”
The words were unwise.
“Horrible name, horrible girl,” muttered Peter, who began dribbling the ball down toward the laburnum at the end of the garden near the road.
Young Matt looked anxiously at Lily. He had not particularly noticed her in the football game the day before,
but he had in the one that had just been wound upâin which she had not played very well. Matt couldn't think of anything worse than being told you couldn't play football well, but on reflection he was not sure the rhyme had had anything to do with football. Lily's face was pudgy, with a small mouth and bright eyes that seemed to look through you, when they looked straight at you. That wasn't often, however, and then only the quick, sharp glance of someone who was weighing you before looking away again.
Otherwise she looked at the ground, or at the treetops, and gave the impression of thinking her own thoughts.
“Come on,” said Rory, a boy of about eleven, whose house Ashdene was. “Let's go and raid the fridge, see what we can find.”
A house with a fridge was something new for Matt. He knew of shops with refrigerators, but not houses. He trooped behind them through the front door with a pleasurable sense of anticipation. The inside of Ashdene struck him at first as not very different from his own home in Bermondsey, but then he realized that all the rooms were much bigger. The kitchen especially. That was where they all congregated, perching on the table or on the kitchen chairs, watching while Rory opened the fridge and took out big bottles of Coke. The next phase was even more interesting. Rory opened up a special little box in the top of the fridge and drew out a good-sized carton of ice cream. He put it in the middle of the table and fetched them each a spoon from a drawer in the kitchen cabinet. To the young Matt it was as good as being given the freedom of the kitchens at Buckingham Palace. He tucked in, driving his spoon deep in, and slowly eating the strawberry concoction. Heaven! He always liked relishing luxury. He had learned
young to space out his pleasures and little treats. All his life he was to eat his vegetables first, before the delights of going on to the meat or fish.
He was not the only one to be impressed.
“Your parents must be very rich,” said a girl called Sophie, about Rory's own age. “Having a fridge. And whenever we come here there's ice cream in the freezer box. And they don't care if we eat it all up.”
Rory shrugged. He had an early sense of his grandeur, though in other respects he seemed to lack confidence.
“No, they don't care. They just say, âHave you had friends in, then?'”
“Do you get lots of pocket money?” asked Matt. That was a bone of contention at home in the East End, and the supply had become very erratic since he came to lodge with Auntie Hettie.
“Not bad,” said Rory, preserving the mystery by not being too specific.
“Parents just don't know the cost of things,” said Peter.
“Ours don't, anyway,” agreed Sophie feelingly.
So Sophie was Peter's sister, was she? In Matt's drowsy memories she was blonde, curly-haired, and very forwardâor perhaps determined was a better word. She knew what she wanted. He remembered this because it contrasted so completely with Rory Pemberton, who seemed to have no idea what he wanted, beyond showing off about his parents' money.
“There's other ways of getting money than holding out your hands for more pocket money,” said Marjie. Matt pricked up his ears at this, but Marjie didn't volunteer any further information, and Matt was puzzled because she seemed to be looking at Lily Marsden. Lily, however, was
not returning her gaze, but was digging deep into the ice cream as if her spoon were a pickax.
“Here, greedy, you're taking more than your share!” said a boy called Colin. He looked at Rory.
“There's more in the freezer,” Rory said. He went into the scullery and, opening up another boxlike structure, took out a second carton.
It was the first time Matt ever saw a freezer.
While Beckham ran here and there in ecstasy, meeting up with old friends and cautiously making sniffy contact with stranger-dogs, Matt followed on, occasionally calling him if trouble seemed to be brewing, but mostly leaving him to his own devices. That meant his own mind was free too, and as he walked he went over the memories that the name Lily had triggered.
Peter and Marjie had been his friends from the first day. He had liked them, in his childish way, because they acknowledged so enthusiastically his footballing skills. Now he warned himself that the liking was based on ridiculous grounds. They had then both been in their early teens, Peter with deep-brown floppy hair, Marjie with fair hair tied behind in a rough sort of ponytail. He felt he could put faces to themâfaces
of course. Who could say what their faces were like
Rory, he ought to have been pals with, he being closer to his own age, but he knew he hadn't been. Was it
his parents had had moneyâmore money, apparently, than most of the parents in the terraces of stone houses, therefore much, much more than his own parents back in London? Probably that was it. And anyway, age seemed to have little to do with it: he was so far outside their age rangeâseven to their eleven to fourteenâthat he had just attached himself as a sort of mascot to whomever he liked most.
Lily Marsden's face he remembered quite clearly. Not at all a pleasant face: withdrawn, inward-looking, mean, perhaps. Was she the Lily Fitch who now lived in Lansdowne Rise? If so, and in spite of all her efforts, she had become Lily, not Elizabeth. Colin, he could just about put a size and a shape to: around twelve, he would guess.
There must have been more. Two teams of five-a-side meant there must have been more. Were the ones he remembered some kind of nucleus of the group, or was his memory a sort of random affair at the moment, which might swell out and clarify later on? Lily Fitch had apparently mentioned an Eddie Armitage, who was dead. That could be a red herring: he could have been part of the group at some stage of its existence other than the summer of sixty-nine. In any case, at the moment the name rang no bells of any kind.
He realized suddenly that there was
in his memories of that second day that rang warning bellsâsomething that could have led up to the feelings of unease or foreboding that he was later to take home with him when his mother was recovered. Going through those memories he realized it was the mention of money, of there
being other ways of getting it than demanding more pocket money. He had known footballers who had found interesting ways of making money, often involving Asian betting syndicates. He sensed behind Marjie's loaded remark an allusion to a figure, a person, someone in the shadows yet connected to, or presumably known to, the group.
That afternoon Isabella rang him at Radio Leeds. There was a film on they all wanted to go and see, and they could easily get their homework done before they had to take the bus into town. Matt gave them permission to take the money from the stock in the scullery cupboard, which they knew about and were to use in emergencies. Then he leaned over and took down the Leeds telephone directory. Fitch, L., was at number 8, Lansdowne Rise.
His television duties were finished by seven o'clock. It was twenty past when he cruised slowly down Lansdowne Rise, looking for number 8. The little street, on the border of Bramley and Kirkstall, was a mixture of turn-of-the-century houses very like the one his auntie Hettie had lived in two streets down, and the between-the-wars ones that had been fitted in between them. It was the latter sort that Lily Fitch inhabitedâlower and more cramped-looking than the earlier ones. Smaller families meant more cramped houses. He got out and locked the car: he intended staying awhile. Then he slipped through the little gate and rang the doorbell.
The woman who answered the door was not holding a glass, but that looked to Matt to be her natural stance. The impression was enhanced by a whiff of juniper berries that a draft from the hallway wafted out onto the evening air. She had switched on no light, so Matt could not get a look at her face.
“Mrs. Lily Fitch?”
“If you like.”
“Ah . . . My name is Matthew Harper, and I'mâ”
“Wait a minute.” She switched on the outside light, though the sun had not yet gone down. She peered at him. “I've just been watching you on the television.”
“That's right. I'm the sports correspondent and general dogsbody for Radio Leeds and âLook North.'”
“Well, I never! What can you want with me?”
There was no coyness in her words, though may be a desperate hope.