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Authors: Corinna Edwards-Colledge

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BOOK: The Soul Room
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‘Hi John.’

‘It’s nothing major,’ he said quickly, sensing my anxiety, ‘but we’ve got
some information from Rome airport.’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m sorry but it doesn’t look like Dan’s in Italy. Danilo McCarten only
stayed for a few days then flew on to Slovenia.’

‘Do you know what he did while he was in Italy? Where he went?’

‘I’m sorry no, he must have been using the cash he took out before he
left the country so there’s no bank or payment trails to follow.’

‘Can’t you fly an officer over now? Get them to ask questions at the
airport – the taxi drivers, stuff like that?’

Dad was watching me intently. I shook my head and shrugged. He shrank
visibly into his chair.’

‘I’m sorry, we can’t sanction that. The evidence is that he pretty much flew
straight on to Slovenia and the trail goes dead there. Still no credit card
use, hotel booking, anything.’

‘But surely that can’t be it. You can’t just stop there?!’ I was getting
tearful then despite myself, the back of my throat started to burn.’

‘He’s an adult, he can go where he like when he likes, he doesn’t have to
get anyone’s agreement…’

‘I know that, don’t patronise me, you have no idea what we’re going
through…’

‘I’m not patronising you,’ John sounded impassioned, it was the first
time he’d lost his composure.  ‘please Maddie, you can’t think that. All I’m
saying is that if he wants to disappear,
really
wants to disappear,
there’s very little any of us can do about it.’

 

A week later in
the cold clear light of New Year’s Day, I headed into town to get a few things
for the house in the sales. When Mum died she left Dan and me some of her
savings, a modest amount, but enough to pay my mortgage while I was in Italy.
I’d even managed to save some money from my stay in Terranima. I don’t think I
spent more than about a hundred Euros the whole time I was there. Rent, food
and utilities had all been provided free. It had been the only time in my adult
life that money seemed to have looked after itself, but I couldn’t go on
forever without working. I would have to register for my statutory maternity
pay, and maybe have language students in the spare rooms in Dad’s house (or
rather
my
house as I needed to get used to thinking of it).

I looked round at the jaded faces of people on the street and realised it
was the first New Year’s Day of my adult life that I had embarked on without a
hangover. It was amazing to think that I now had a beautiful home for myself
and my son. I’d even told him about it the night before – the room he could
have with it’s pointed dormer window that looked out over the whole of
Brighton; the garden that was edged by a six-foot high flint wall, beyond which
was a playing field and then Downland – truly a house on the brink of the city.

As I walked up the path, laden with bags, Dad came out to help me. He
seemed a little agitated. I followed him with a growing sense of foreboding. He
flustered and fussed down the hall then coughed a little cough before nudging
the kitchen door open. As he did so there was a loud but convivial roar of
voices and a confused explosion of party poppers and corks. I froze,
slack-jawed and draped in paper streamers. I felt terrified, and completely
ill-equipped to deal with a big social situation. This wasn’t supposed to
happen. These people - even though I had known many of them for decades, shared
my most intimate secrets with – were from another world, another life. Couldn’t
they see that I was someone else now? Didn’t they know that I was gravely and
irrevocably changed? Many hadn’t seen me since my depression. Was this my
coming
out
party? The sulphurous smell of spent poppers was nauseating. An old
college friend, Abi, came over to me, frowning.

‘Sorry sweetheart,’ she said brusquely but not unkindly, ‘this must all
be a bit of a shock! Here, I’ve made you a bucks-fizz. Why don’t we take it
upstairs and you can change into some glad-rags. Put yourself in the party
mood!’ She ushered me smoothly and professionally up the stairs and into my old
bedroom. As soon as we were there she held me tightly, almost desperately,
breathing hotly into my neck. ‘It’s so good to see you Maddie, and looking so
well!’ I pushed her away gently and retreated.

‘This is a freak show, Abi.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Everyone hears that I’m OK now and hey presto it's party time. ‘It’s all
right everyone- she’s not crazy any more. Good old Maddie’s back. You can’t
just do that Chris, YOU CAN’T.’ I hadn’t meant to shout.

She blinked in surprise. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about Maddie.
We’re your friends, we wanted to celebrate your being home, and your wonderful
news. Everyone’s brought presents for the baby. Everyone.’

I slumped onto the bed and put my head in my hands.

‘Christ Maddie, for a warm person you can be such a fucking cold-fish at
times! You haven’t allowed
us to be part of your life for over a year
now. We didn’t even know you were in Italy until your Dad told Simon. Have you
not noticed how many messages I’ve left on your answer-machine, the emails, the
texts?’

I couldn’t look at her. I wanted to speak, to say sorry, but I was
frozen, a tsunami of conflicting emotions passing through me.

‘Do you honestly think we’ve all just flocked back because you’re over
your depression? Do you really think that we were embarrassed or ashamed of
you? Darren, who’s been secretly in love with you for years? Or Emma who pulled
you out of the path of a car once when you were drunk and staggered out into
the street? Or Lucy whose Mum died the same year as yours? Or Niall who got you
your first gardening job? Or me? Who…who…’ she sat next to me on the bed, I
managed to peel my head out of my hands and look at her, her small glossy blond
head was jerking with sobs. I reached out and put my hand on her back but felt
impotent with shame. Had my depression turned me into a monster? Didn’t I
realise how lucky I was to have such loyal and loving friends?

I willed myself to speak. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’ I started to cry
with her – I felt hot and mortified. ‘This is what depression does to you, it
turns you inside yourself, makes you unbearably self-centred. Like an
alcoholic. If you have an ounce of self-awareness you realise that every time
you’re with someone you love you make them miserable, because they know there’s
nothing they can really do to help. And yet they try – oh god they try and they
try.’ There was a small surging feeling in my abdomen. I imagined my baby
turning. It focussed me and helped me stop crying. ‘The guilt of being
depressed is almost as bad as the depression itself. That’s why I had to go
away. And then – coming back because of Dan, losing Sergio. It was the same
thing again – worrying that I had nothing to talk to people about other than
fear or loss; that I couldn’t have gone through the last year without totally
changing. That maybe no-one would recognise their friend any more.’

‘You idiot Maddie.’ She looked up; tears had collected in the delicate
lines around her eyes. Her face was clear and bright – like a landscape
refreshed by a storm. ‘Don’t you remember when I went in for my operation? I
was terrified. And you said something I’ll never forget. You said,
nothing
can change the essential you
. And you were right Maddie. However you think
you’ve changed, whatever you’ve been through - you’re still the Maddie we all
love. Now put on that dress and some lippy and get downstairs.’

It ended up being a magical night. Some kind of fear, or shadow, was
taken away by seeing my friends that evening. Their warmth, their loyalty,
their humour, their relief at seeing me OK, were the most wonderful sustenance
for my tired soul. I got slightly tipsy on three glasses of bucks-fizz, and
showed off my bump to anyone who would lay their warm hand upon it. My boy even
kicked for Abi – she said it felt like the turn of a little fish against her
skin. At one in the morning I finally gave up the ghost and fell asleep to the
happy and reassuring hum of their drunken laughter.

 

I woke up, hot
and unsettled at about 4am. The house was silent. I had that slightly haunted
feeling that you have after a bad dream and lay there for a while, trying to
stay awake long enough to break my mind’s connection with it. Then the baby
gave me a big jarring kick against the back of my hip. ‘Hush sweetheart.’ I
stroked my tightening belly slowly, rhythmically. Then my mobile, which was on
the floor by the side of my bed started to ring and vibrate against the
floorboards, the glow of its screen making a little pool of green-grey in the
darkness. I reached down to get it, my heart thumping hard, could it be him? I
didn’t recognise the number. I fumbled, trying to get my fingers awake and
swipe the screen, for a second I thought I’d accidentally hung up.

‘Maddie?’

‘Dan! Where are you? What’s going on?’

‘God Maddie!’ His voice was tight and hoarse. ‘I can’t believe I managed
to get a phone! They could come back any minute!’

‘Where are you? Why haven’t you come home?’

‘He’s got me Maddie, he’s so angry, sometimes I think he might kill me!’

‘Who Dan? Who?’ Then there were the sounds of a scuffle, and Dan’s
stifled voice saying ‘Get off me! You bastards!’

I was screaming down the phone by then ‘Leave him alone! Don’t hurt him!
Why are you doing this?’ And in between my screams I heard an Italian voice say
distinctly
‘Fretta! Fretta!’
And then the line went dead. I heard Jip
scrabbling and growling behind the door and Dad burst in.

‘Sweetheart, what on earth’s the matter?’

‘Oh God Dad! Someone’s got him! We’ve got to help him! How can we help
him?’

 

John still had
his pyjama top on under his Mac. He seemed even more tired than usual and the
lines under his bright green eyes looked as if they’d been chipped out with a
chisel. He turned the phone around gently then handed it over to a young
uniformed officer. ‘I just tried ringing back but it says it’s a dead number.
They must have destroyed the phone straight after he rang you.’

‘Thank you.’

He looked at me, puzzled. ‘What for?’

‘For believing me.’

‘Why wouldn’t I believe you?’

‘I don’t know… because according to the evidence he’s supposed to be in
Slovenia., or because in films the detective always humours the woman, but
secretly thinks she’s hysterical.’

 ‘
Are
you hysterical?’

‘No. But I can’t stop shaking.’ I smiled and he smiled back. It
transformed his face. It was a revelation.

‘We’ll give this to our tech guys.’ He said, handing the phone to a
uniformed officer. ‘iPhones are like little computers, and they’ll be able to
get information from it. We won’t need it for long, just a couple of hours to
copy the hard drive and SIM. We’ll talk to the networks too – they should be
able to tell us what local base stations his phone has transmitted to so we can
at least get an idea of the general area.’

Dad sat looking out of the window, watching the pink dawn strengthening
in the sky. He looked like an old wizard, with his tall frame folded into the
chair. ‘So has he been kidnapped?’

‘It looks that way Mr Armstrong,’

‘Duncan, please call me Duncan.’

‘…Duncan. That's the assumption we must make now.’

‘But what possible motive could there be? He’s not badly off, but he’s
not rich. Not by anyone’s estimation; and neither am I.’

‘Ironically, the majority of kidnappings aren’t based on money. They’re
crimes of passion. Estranged parents snatching children – jilted boyfriends
abducting their girlfriends.’

‘But this Italian connection, what on earth does it mean? What possible
link could he have? When we went to Italy he wasn’t even born.’

‘It’s what we’re here for,’ struck in the uniformed Constable slightly
pompously, ‘to take each piece of evidence as it comes, like a jigsaw, and look
at it and try and work out where all the pieces go. Then, usually, we get an
answer.’

‘Usually?’

‘Yes.’ Said John, shooting the Constable a cautionary look. ‘Usually. But
at least now I can get my team to give some serious time to his case.’

I went and sat on the arm of Dad’s chair and held his hand. ‘I can’t bear
it. I can’t bear thinking of him out there in danger. Mum loved him so much.
It's just too horrible.'  I squeezed Dad's hand harder and tried not to cry.
Dan had idolised Mum, I think there is a certain glamour about the opposite gender
parent, and it was definitely like that for Dan. Not in that apocryphal
over-mothered-boy-becomes-gay
way, but because they were soul mates. They had so much respect for each other.
He loved her easy elegance, her openness, and that was no doubt why he had so
little tolerance for dull, small-minded people.

John came over and faced us, leaning his shoulder against the French
window. Yet again, I was amazed by the bulk of him. He wasn’t particularly tall
and he wasn’t overweight but he seemed to block out most of the light.

‘He’s alive. If they had wanted to hurt him, they’ve had weeks to do so.
He’s alive for a reason, and we have to find out what that reason is.’

I stood up. ‘I’ll help. Anyway I can.’

John turned and looked out at the dawn then at me. ‘He’s very lucky to
have a sister who loves him as much as you do.’

‘Maybe I should go to Italy?’

‘No’! Dad turned round sharply. ‘You’re in no condition to do that.
You’re staying here, where it’s safe to have your baby.’

John nodded. ‘I think the most important thing now is to get back to bed
and get some sleep.’

I shook my head in irritation. ‘How can I possibly sleep?!’

 

We knelt
beside each other on a window seat, facing out to sea. I'd found him huddled in
a corner, crying, because there had been a big storm. It took him a while, but
finally he calmed down. Again I felt the agonising pain of not being able to
touch him or hold him.

BOOK: The Soul Room
4.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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