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Authors: Ruth Rendell

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BOOK: The Girl Next Door
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They looked at Quell pityingly. He spoke from the age of com
puters and online games, from e-books, DVDs, and CDs, Bluetooth and Skype, smartphones and iPads. They spoke from a distant past when everyone read books and most people had hobbies, made things, played cards and chess, dressed up and played charades, sewed and painted and wrote letters and sent postcards.

Alan had begun describing what they did, how they wrapped potatoes in clay and baked them on a fire they made in an old water tank, played sardines, a constant favourite, picnicked on cheese sandwiches, played cards, acted bits of history they liked, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Rizzio—the mystified Quell had seen
Mary Queen of Shops
on TV but never heard of the Scottish Queen—Henry the Eighth and his six wives, the death of Nelson. There was a fortune-teller, very popular this, who sat in a candlelit chamber of the tunnels and told everyone’s future, gazing into someone’s mother’s upturned mixing bowl. Alan faltered a little when he came to the fortune-teller but scarcely heard the doorbell until a low, somehow thrilling voice interrupted and Daphne Furness, followed by a man who had to be Michael Winwood, came into the room.

Had he seen her in the street, he wouldn’t have known her. Of course he wouldn’t after sixty years. He only knew her now because who else could it be? She was elegant in a black suit, white silk shirt, and very high-heeled shoes. Rosemary always said that elderly women couldn’t wear high heels, their balance was no longer good enough, but she could. Daphne could. Sometimes he glanced at those Saturday or Sunday supplements the newspapers included and it was the trend now to show pictures of grey-haired models in their sixties and seventies along with the young ones. Daphne reminded him of one of those graceful elderly women, long necked and slender. He got slowly to his feet.

She and Stanley kissed, on the cheek, quick pecks and no hugs. Alan held out his hand and Daphne took it. Her fingers were thin and cool. All his memories of her were coming back, but it was the least significant of them that he now referred to.

“I don’t suppose you remember, but you told my fortune.”

She smiled, showing perfect teeth that were probably crowns on implants. “And what was your fortune?”

“You predicted a long and happy life.”

“It’s been long obviously. And happy?”

It was Rosemary who answered, with a touch of asperity, “Very happy, thank you.”

Made impatient by the interruption and subsequent delay, Quell said, “I’d like to hear what Mrs. Furness and Mr. Winwood have to say about these tunnels of yours.” He turned to Daphne. “Were there any grown-ups—adults, I should say—there with you.”

“They didn’t know we were there. They didn’t know the tunnels were there, as far as we knew.”

“Until my father kicked us out,” said Michael Winwood.

Alan said, “I remember one grown-up coming. Just the once, I think.” He looked from one to another of the now old children. “It was Lewis Newman’s uncle. I don’t know what he was called. Lewis called him Uncle James.”

“He was young,” said Rosemary. “I mean they said he was young. I couldn’t tell whether someone was, say, twenty-three or forty. Lewis said, ‘Dad says he’s young to be an uncle.’ I knew my dad was forty and my mum was thirty-eight, so he must have been a lot younger than that.” She looked doubtfully at Quell. “Maybe it’s not important.”

Quell was looking as if nothing he had heard came into that category. Even so he asked everyone for his or her memories of the tunnels, and one by one they gave him what they remembered. He neither made notes nor recorded what they said. Perhaps he had a good memory. When it was done and he had heard about the air-raid warnings, the bombs they’d expected but which never came to Loughton, the shrapnel from gunfire that lay in the streets for them to collect, the food they ate and hated but got used to, the sanctuary of the tunnels they called, for some reason he never fath
omed, “qanats,” he asked for mobile numbers or addresses from all of them. He might want to get in touch. He said he’d like to know if they knew of anyone going missing when they were children, anyone disappearing. Please to let him know if they could remember. Rosemary wrote down her home phone number and Maureen produced from a drawer a compliments slip with the name of George and Stanley’s firm on it.

Stanley had taken Spot out into the garden as he was in danger of having an accident on the carpet. Michael Winwood said that as they lived not far from each other, she in St. John’s Wood and he in West Hampstead, Daphne was going to drive him home. Daphne produced a card from her handbag, and then a strange thing happened. Two cards must have been stuck together, for as she leant across the table to pass one of them to Quell, its fellow detached itself and fell on the floor. While Rosemary was fetching her coat from the hallway, Alan quickly put his foot over the card. He was pretty sure no one but Daphne saw him. She met his eyes and gave him a tiny smile with closed lips. By the time Rosemary came back, he had retrieved the card by dropping his handkerchief and contriving to pick up card and handkerchief together.

D
APHNE’S CAR WAS
not the expensive, subtly coloured, high-powered Italian vehicle Michael would have expected, but a silver Toyota Prius and by no means new. The road through the forest was much the same as it had been when he was young, but the old names seemed to have gone. Would anyone now have known what he meant by the Wake roundabout or the Epping New Road? Daphne drove them with ease and speed onto the M25 going anti-clockwise. He had expected her to change her shoes before getting into the car, but she still wore the high heels, her driving unimpeded.

“What did you think of all that?” he said.

“Pretty useless, I should think.” They passed smoothly through
the Bell Common tunnel, heading for Waltham Abbey. “Your mother had just died, hadn’t she? I mean, while we were going to the tunnels. That must have been hard for you.”

Michael hesitated. “Everyone thought she’d died. My father put it about that she had, but she hadn’t. She’d gone off with someone. A man, I mean. They’d had an awful marriage. I was only nine but I remember the way they screamed and shouted at each other like it was yesterday. My dad told me she wasn’t dead but I’d never see her again. It’s stayed with me, what he said, all these years. ‘She doesn’t want either of us,’ he said. ‘Just wants to see the back of us.’ ”

“But you saw her again?”

“No, I never did. I was left with my father. He had some sort of heart condition so he couldn’t go into the forces. He didn’t want me either. I was sent to live with my aunt Zoe. She wasn’t really my aunt but my dad’s cousin. Mind you, Zoe was a lovely woman, she was very good to me, and I was all right there with her. I loved her very much. Still do, she’s still alive.”

Daphne nodded but said nothing for a while. They were passing into the sort of countryside Michael thought was probably Green Belt, the edge of Hertfordshire, and the signs were coming up for the A1. “Were they divorced, your parents?”

“Grown-ups didn’t tell children things like that. Not then. Don’t you remember?”

“I suppose I do. What became of your father?”

“He’s in an old people’s home. A care home. I never lived with him after I went to Zoe. My parents must have divorced because he married again. I didn’t have a happy childhood up to the time we used to go into the tunnels, but I did after that, near perfect after that.”

“I haven’t any children,” said Daphne. “Have you?”

“Two. One of them is mostly in America and the other one is usually in Hong Kong.”

There was nothing much to say to that unless “You must miss them” was something, but Daphne didn’t go in for truisms and clichés. She turned off the Hendon Way and took Fortune Green Road so that she could turn into Michael’s street, where he lived in a tall, narrow redbrick house.

“This has been very nice of you, Daphne.”

“It was on my way.”

“Will you come in for a moment?”

“I don’t think I will. Not this time. But now I know where you live. Doesn’t that sound ominous? I mean that now I know it, we can perhaps keep in touch.” She handed him a card identical to the one she had given Inspector Quell. “Good-bye, Michael.” She waited until he was in the house. Then she backed out of his garage drive and drove down the hill until she could turn into Hamilton Terrace. There, obliged to park the car in the street, she walked through the glass-roofed way and let herself into the house by the glossy-black front door. As she sometimes did when coming home, she stood in the wide hallway and, addressing her generous third husband, who had left her all he possessed, said to the walls and the staircase as she often did, “Thank you for everything, Martin.”

Up the hill in Ingham Road, Michael was also paying a sort of tribute to a dead spouse. This necessitated climbing three quite steep flights of stairs but seldom made him short of breath. He was used to it and sure the stairs were good for his heart as he did it every day. Not to sleep in this bedroom that covered the whole third floor—it was years since he had done that—but to sit there for a while in one of the little pink armchairs and to check that the room was just as it should be, just as it had been when it was Vivien’s. Mrs. Bailey had been in to clean the house while he was in Loughton, and it was not unknown for her to disarrange things. The pictures, for instance, were sometimes left hanging not quite straight, the cut-glass scent bottles with their silver stoppers pushed too close together, and the
brooches and pins in the pink satin pincushion on the dressing table so replaced after the surface had been dusted as to overbalance on the edge and threaten to fall onto the carpet.

He sometimes wondered what Mrs. Bailey thought of this idiosyncrasy of his, keeping Vivien’s bedroom as it had been when she was alive, but he didn’t really care. For some years now he had thought of himself as too old to bother with how the things he did looked to other people. What did it matter? He could do as he liked at his age. His children probably thought he was senile, but his children were hardly ever here, and when they were, they never went up to the third floor. He didn’t think about his father.

4

C
OLIN
Q
UELL HAD
little interest in people, what they might think, how they might act in the future. If he had any opinion of those gathered in George and Maureen Batchelor’s living-room, it was to marvel that they had lived so long and apparently (with the exception of George) without handicap or disease.

Quell proceeded with his inquiry on scientific fact alone and, during the week following his visit to Loughton, received various reports on what had been discovered as to the age and provenance of the hands.

That one was a woman’s and the other a man’s he already knew. It seemed that the woman had been in her late twenties and the man a few years younger. They had not died at the scene but some distance away, perhaps a hundred yards, since the soil with which the hands were filled was clay rather than loam. This satisfactorily confirmed Quell’s view that the hands’ original burial site had been in those tunnels the old people remembered. It was no proof, but it made his theory most probable.

As he read the report a second time—it came both on the Internet and as printed sheets of paper or hard copy—he thought once more, the way he had been thinking since he was first assigned to this case, that—well, who cared? These two hands that were being
investigated had lain in the clay for nearly seventy years. Someone no doubt long dead had killed the people whose hands they were and placed the hands in a biscuit tin for some unfathomable reason. Quell wasn’t shocked by this, he had seen too much of man’s iniquity to react in that way, but he was at the idea of the taxpayers’ money being wasted on an investigation. If nothing was discovered, so well and good, but if, after months of painstaking examination he found who had killed the two and buried their hands, Quell, recalling a smidgen of sixth-form college Latin, asked himself,
Cui bono?

A
N INVITATION HAD
come to Freya’s wedding, and it seemed to Alan that Rosemary could talk of nothing else. Like most men, he was not particularly interested in weddings, not even his granddaughter’s. No church or even town hall was mentioned on the pretty card, only the hotel by the river at Kew, where both Norrises assumed “the wedding breakfast,” as Rosemary called it, would take place.

“I suppose the ceremony will be there as well,” said Alan.

“I sincerely hope not.” Rosemary scrutinised the card again. “If it’s going to be one of those peculiar arrangements in a hotel lounge, I for one shan’t feel they’re married at all.”

“It’s their choice. Nothing to do with us. I’ve heard of this place by the river. It’s supposed to be very pretty.”

Rosemary said she had better get on with the dress she was making, this time for herself, and headed for her sewing room. Alan stopped her, saying that on a lovely day such as this one they should go out for a walk. He intended to go and he didn’t want to go alone. “Buy yourself a dress for once,” he said. “We can afford it. We can afford designer—isn’t that what they call it?”

She made no reply but agreed to the walk, and although neither of them felt up to their marathons of a few years ago, the round-trip of down the Hill and along Brook Road to the High Road and the cricket field, up Traps Hill, and home, was quite within their power.
Alan had told himself he didn’t want to go alone but in fact he did want to. To walk in the spring sunshine along these familiar streets, past these familiar houses and gardens, and to
think
was what he wanted. As it happened, Rosemary wasn’t saying much. She also was perhaps thinking, and in her case of the lamentable state society was in when it countenanced young couples getting married in hotels instead of St. Mary’s Church. But he mustn’t be disloyal even in thought.

He put his hand in his jacket pocket to touch the card which had been in there for the past ten days or so. Its presence troubled him a little because it shouldn’t be there, he should never have picked it up, or he should at least have destroyed it when he got home. Instead he had read it several times over:
Daphne Furness
, it said,
67A Hamilton Terrace, London NW8
. Then came an email address and a mobile phone number. He thought of her as she had been in George Batchelor’s living-room, looking years younger than any other woman there, her wonderful legs, those shoes. Don’t go there, he told himself, using an injunction Freya or maybe Fenella had taught him. Don’t.

Rosemary laid her hand on his arm, then closed her fingers on it. “You shivered. Are you all right?”

“Perfectly.”

“Look where we are. You didn’t know, did you? You’ve been in a dream.”

They were outside Warlock. The house looked deserted, all the blinds pulled down at the windows. The great pit, excavated to make a basement, was covered by sheets of tarpaulin in which the heavy rain of a few days before had made shallow puddles.

“Rather sad, isn’t it? Such a lovely home. Will it ever be the same again?”

Alan, who usually conditioned himself to agree with everything Rosemary said, found himself violently disagreeing. He wanted to say that with its white stucco and chocolate-coloured half timber
ing, it wasn’t lovely, it never had been, and if it wasn’t the same again, all the better. And when did she start calling a house a
home
? But he didn’t say any of that. He only wondered if this unspoken disloyalty was going to continue, if he could rid himself of it. He withdrew his arm from her hand and felt into the pocket, where the card seemed to move under his fingers as if it were alive. His fingers remembered the feel of hers when she put her hands into his.

Later, with afternoon slipping into evening, and Rosemary, in spite of what he had said about a designer dress, back at her sewing machine, he told himself he must choose one of two options: throw the card away or call the phone number on it. Like a man who was choosing between faithfulness and infidelity—nothing could be further from his thoughts—he must decide. Of course he wouldn’t make that phone call. He looked back on his chaste and blameless life, reminded himself of his age and hers, then thought of the summer when on many occasions Daphne had borrowed her father’s car and parked it under the trees on Baldwin’s Hill, and they had made love on the backseat or in the forest itself.
Thou art fair, my love. Our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar and our rafters of fir.
Where had he remembered that from? He opened the sewing-room door an inch or two, said to Rosemary, “I’m going out for a bit of a walk.”

She didn’t lift her foot from the treadle. “You’ve already had a walk.”

“I know, but I need another. Don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course I don’t mind, darling. Remember it’s supper at seven, though, won’t you?”

There were only the two of them, it would only be cold meat and salad, yet it had to be at seven? Why? Because it always was. He knew he couldn’t change it. Down the hill, across the High Road and up York Hill past the bungalow called Carisbrooke and along Baldwin’s Hill to that paved apron of land that jutted into the greensward bordered by the forest. Here had been where young
couples parked their borrowed cars. But no longer, Alan thought, not these days when a teenage boy or girl brought a lover home to spend the night under the parental roof. In his day parents wouldn’t even have considered allowing that. No son or daughter would have dreamt of asking. Thirty years later his own son, Owen, had asked and been briskly turned down by Rosemary. Alan would have said yes, remembering the secret meetings with Daphne in her father’s car and the drive up here. The forest had been dark, car headlights going out one by one.

There were no cars here now. He remembered exactly where Daphne had parked hers, tucking it in under overhanging branches.
Our bed is green
. . . . She was afraid of nothing, or if she was, she didn’t show it; he, believing stories of boys and girls being arrested and had up in court for indecent behaviour in a public place, was always fearful. But he was young and his nervousness wasn’t enough to impede him when he was in the back with Daphne. He was passionate and greedy and so was she, even when the moon came out from behind clouds and he thought the light was from a policeman’s torch. There had been maybe a dozen occasions. Unlike other users of Baldwin’s Hill, who were afraid of pregnancy or, in the case of the girls, of not being virgins when they married, he and Daphne went “all the way,” as the phrase had it. She didn’t get pregnant, though he had done nothing to prevent it.

He wrote to her and she wrote to him, but they were a long way apart, and though her family still lived in Loughton, three months is a long time when you’re only twenty. Their letters ceased, though once, two years later, he had a Christmas card from her. Now, standing on the small treeless expanse and looking across the darkening woodland, he wondered what would have happened if he had sent her a card back. But by this time he was going out with Rosemary, his “childhood sweetheart,” as his mother embarrassingly called her, and there was no back of a car on Baldwin’s Hill for them, for Rosemary was saving herself for marriage.

He turned away and began to make his way back down Stony Path and Harwater Drive. Tiredness hit him as he crossed Church Hill. For an old man he had walked a lot that day, several miles. He was in his seventies. What had he been doing, mooning back to a long-lost youth and a woman who had had three husbands? When he got home, he would get the scissors and cut up the evidence the way you did with an out-of-date credit card and drop the pieces in the bin. Episode Daphne over, he thought. As he unlocked his front door, he heard the soft buzz of the sewing machine and felt a quite unwarranted anger rising in his throat like bile. But he opened the sewing-room door to tell Rosemary he was back.

“All right,” she said, getting up, “I’ll get supper.”

Daphne’s card was still in his pocket. Of course it was. Rosemary was the soul of honour, the last woman to forage through his clothes in search of incriminating evidence. What was happening to him that he was thinking of the possibility of deceiving his wife? But he was deceiving her already. That visit to Baldwin’s Hill with its attendant reminiscing was itself deceiving her. His thoughts now were a kind of deceit. Suddenly they deflected to the excavation he and Rosemary had gone to look at and to the hands found there. A man and a woman. Had they been lovers, placed there in their grave, by a vengeful husband or, come to that, a vengeful wife? So long ago, perhaps so long that the reason for their burial would never be known.

He was still holding Daphne’s card. Instead of cutting it into pieces or otherwise disposing of it, he put it back in his pocket.

BOOK: The Girl Next Door
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