Read The Will To Live Online

Authors: Tanya Landman

The Will To Live

BOOK: The Will To Live
11.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For the magnificent Tracy Owen, Stuart McConnachie and Barbara Thorns and all the wonderful Undercover Operatives of Purple Class: Kiera Asquith-Brown, Shakira Betts, Charlie Bishop, Kenny Bonwick, Connor Bradick, Lauren Bristow, Alisha Bullard, Alfie Clarke, Cameron Davidson, Olivia Dean, Lydia Fenton, Liam Guile, Kieran Harris, Ryan James, Akshaj Krishnan, Rosie Lee, Jennifer Mouland, Elsbeth Newland, Kane Parsons, Tyler Ransom, Jack Rutherford, Charley Saunders, Georgina Sutton, Cara Swayne, Ella Sweetman, Aidan Towner and Jessica Young

smile faded to a weary yawn. She wasn’t used to hiking, let alone over rough terrain. Every muscle ached, every sinew screamed. She was trying to put on a brave face to please her husband, but she had never been so exhausted: she felt dead on her feet

At heart, she was a city girl – the great outdoors scared her. The sky was too big, the open spaces too vast, the silence too overwhelming. Given a choice of honeymoon destination she’d have opted for a suite at the Paris Hilton, not a tent in the Arctic Circle. The polar bear safari had been Lancelot’s idea and she was so head over heels in love with him that she had been happy to go along with it. Camille was happy to go along with anything Lancelot suggested. She’d always imagined herself having a big church wedding – dazzling white dress, angelic-looking choirboys, pealing bells, huge tiered cake; the works – but he’d persuaded her it would be more romantic to do something spontaneous. “Just the two of us, darling. What an adventure!”

So they’d married in a registry office, the brief ceremony witnessed by strangers he’d plucked off the street. There had been no reception, no party afterwards – not even a small glass of champagne at the bar next door: he’d wanted to save every penny for their honeymoon. Lancelot had promised her the trip of a lifetime and she had to admit that she’d never, ever forget it. So far it had been horrible

They hadn’t even seen any bears yet and the flies were a nightmare. Great swarms of mosquitoes bred in every pool and puddle, rising in black clouds as the newlyweds walked across the tundra – circling, buzzing, whining hungrily. If it hadn’t been for her bug jacket and veiled hat, the creatures would have been up Camille’s nose, in her ears and her eyes, piercing her skin, eating her alive like something out of a horror movie. Urgh! It gave her the creeps!

“Tired, darling?” Her husband interrupted her train of thought. “Get some sleep. I’ll watch over you.”

Camille crawled into the tent. It was late but the sun hadn’t set. It didn’t at this time of year, which was another thing she found strange and disturbing. She gave another courageous smile before snuggling gratefully into her sleeping-bag. She was deeply asleep in seconds

Her husband watched her, recalling the wildlife documentary he’d once seen about the Arctic. The presenter had explained exactly what the voracious mosquitoes could do to exposed flesh. It was time to find out whether he’d been telling the truth. Unzipping Camille’s sleeping-bag and gently peeling back her layers of protective clothing, her husband murmured softly, “Good night. Sleep tight. Hope the bugs

His hope was fulfilled. In less than an hour Camille’s body was completely drained of blood


name is Poppy Fields. I don’t understand the point of big, expensive christening parties. All that food and drink and polite conversation: who’s it for? It’s not like the baby’s going to remember any of it. The kid doesn’t even get to enjoy the party while it’s happening. The guests are dressed in their best clothes so they spend the entire time treating it like a plague victim. No one wants to come within a hundred metres in case it dribbles on their designer dress, or vomits on their Savile Row suit, or – ultimate horror! – fills its nappy. As for the churchy bit: dangling a bawling infant over an ancient stone font just so you can drip freezing-cold water on its head seems a bit cruel to me. But then, according to Graham, the Strudwicks of Coldean Manor have always been a cruel family.

It was a wet weekend in late September. The new school year had started and depressing dollops of homework had already sploshed down on our heads. My thrillingly exciting plans for the next two days consisted of:

1) walking the next-door neighbour’s dog

2) making a model castle for my history project, and

3) getting Graham to help me with my algebra.

I was vaguely aware that Graham’s mum, Sally, was doing the catering at some posh christening. Graham, being Graham, had done some research when Sally landed the job and he’d informed me that baby Marmaduke was the latest addition to a very long line of stinking rich, aristocratic Strudwicks. He’d also thrown in some stuff about their family history but I hadn’t paid that much attention. I wasn’t ever going to meet any of them face to face so the fact that Marmaduke’s long-dead great-grandfather had been an evil, stuck-up fascist pig didn’t affect me personally. Or so I’d thought at the time. How wrong can you be?

Sally had everything planned and prepared, but just as she was loading her van at 6.37 a.m. on Saturday morning, she had a phone call saying that the two waiters she’d booked had gone down with flu. She made a whole load of increasingly desperate calls but by 7.08 she’d exhausted all her options. At 7.09 Graham rang me to ask if I’d like to earn some extra pocket money.

It was a simple enough job: all we had to do was carry trays of canapés around and help wash up afterwards. We’d be home by teatime, he said. Well, I’m fascinated by people and it seemed like a brilliant opportunity to study some genuine toffs in their natural habitat. I knew if we were “staff” we’d be practically invisible – observing their behaviour in microscopic detail would be a piece of cake, literally. I figured Mum could walk next-door’s dog for once. Algebra and castle-building could wait. By 7.38 I was washed and dressed in my school uniform – white shirt, black trousers, sensible shoes – suitable waiters’ gear according to Graham’s mum. Two minutes later the three of us were in Sally’s van, hurtling through the rain-lashed autumnal countryside towards Coldean Manor.

For the first hour all Graham and I did was doze in silence. But as we got closer to our destination I yawned and said, “Go on then, remind me. How old did you say the manor was?”

“Over five hundred years,” Graham answered promptly. “It was gifted to the family by Henry VIII.”

“What do you mean, ‘gifted’? Was it a present or something?”

“Exactly. A reward for services rendered.”

“Big thing to wrap up,” I said. Graham gave me one of his blink-and-you-miss-it grins. “What ‘services’ did they render to him then?”

“All sorts. Despatched his enemies. Spied on his friends. And provided so-called ‘evidence’ of witchcraft against Anne Boleyn when Henry got bored with her.”

“Didn’t she get her head chopped off?” I asked.

“That’s the one.”

“Nice family.”

“Very. They were even worse in the seventeenth century. Changed sides in the English Civil War as soon as they realized Charles I was going to lose.”

“Loyal too. How lovely.”

“It gets better. In the 1930s Lord Albert Strudwick – Marmaduke’s great-grandfather – was a Nazi sympathizer. Essentially their whole family history is riddled with dodgy dealings. And they’ve been persecuting the peasantry and slaughtering the local wildlife for centuries,” Graham concluded disapprovingly.

I looked at his mother who was hunched over the steering-wheel. The weather was appalling – gusts of wind buffeted the van and the rain was so heavy, the windscreen-wipers could barely cope. As a result we were running late, on top of which Sally had to negotiate the torturous twists of a winding lane while simultaneously studying the satnav’s screen. No wonder she looked stressed.

“Are you sure you want to work for these people, Mum?” asked Graham.

“In 100 metres, turn left,” commanded the satnav.

“It was all a long time ago,” Sally snapped. “I’m sure the present family are perfectly civilized.” She swung the van into a tree-lined drive.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” said Graham darkly. “From what I read, the estate was supposed to pass on to James, Lord Albert Strudwick’s eldest son, on his death.”

“And…?” I prompted.

“James’s wife was killed…”

My antennae started twitching. “Killed?”

“In a train crash about twenty years ago. Signal failure. There was a big collision – nasty but not suspicious. James couldn’t cope, apparently. He vanished one morning and hasn’t been seen since. James’s younger brother, Lawrence, is running the place now.”

Graham and I exchanged Significant Looks, which Sally couldn’t possibly have seen but nevertheless she growled, “Behave yourselves.” The satnav informed her that in 500 metres we would reach our destination. Needlessly Sally pointed out, “We’re nearly there. I want you to stick close to me the whole time. Keep a profile so low you wouldn’t see it through a magnifying glass. No poking about in people’s personal lives, no stumbling over dead bodies and
exposing of murder plots. In fact, I want there to be absolutely no accidental deaths of any kind, OK?”

It was ironic, really. Sally turned her head to give Graham and me a warning glare. Very Big Mistake.

She didn’t notice the old tramp stagger into the road until it was too late.


yelped, I screamed, Sally swerved and the van skidded sideways, missing the tramp by millimetres. The sudden squeal of tyres was followed by the thudding crunch of metal and tinkle of glass as we hit a tree. Then there was a long, shocked silence.

It was broken by the tramp.

He’d obviously strayed into Coldean Manor’s drive by accident, because he didn’t seem to know where he was or what he was doing. The fact that Sally had nearly run him over also seemed to have bypassed him completely. He staggered across the road from one verge to the other, turned around a couple of times, then eventually stumbled back towards us and came to rest on the bonnet of the van. We couldn’t see his face – he was wearing a very large, very tatty broad-brimmed hat – but he raised a filthy, grime-caked hand in a gesture of greeting. Then he pointed through the shattered windscreen at Sally and asked genially, “Who are you?”

BOOK: The Will To Live
11.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Timothy 01: Timothy by Mark Tufo
Blue Blood's Trifecta by Cheyenne Meadows
Guns [John Hardin 01] by Phil Bowie
El ocho by Katherine Neville
Hard Edge by Tess Oliver
The Caregiver by Shelley Shepard Gray
Right from the Gecko by Cynthia Baxter