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Authors: Frances Fyfield


BOOK: Undercurrent
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Undercurrents by Frances Fyfield.




Henry Evans met Francesca Chisholm while backpacking around India. He loved her, but when her
father died, his refusal to change his travel plans caused her to leave without him. It is a decision that
has haunted his adult life and why twenty years later he has decided to find her. But what he discovers
is not what he expects.

Francesca is in prison for murdering her five-year-old son.

The verdict was never in doubt. Francesca confessed to the killing, to pushing her son off the pier
to drown in the dark undercurrents of the sea. Henry can't believe it, and so he decides to discover the
truth, even if it is only to understand why she did it; even if it aggravates those who have only just
come to terms with the atrocity . . .

'Fyfield at her best'


'Compelling -- disturbing -- but always elegant'


Frances Fyfield is a criminal lawyer, although she now only practices part-time. She lives in
London and in Deal, by the sea which, aside from her love of London, is her passion. Her
previous novels (most recently Staring at the Light) have garnered acclaim and awards, and
have been widely translated.

Little, Brown

First published in Great Britain in 2000

by Little, Brown and Company

Copyright ~ Frances Fyfield 2000

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise
circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a
similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


All characters in this publication are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this book

is available from the British Library.

Hardback ISBN 0 316 853860

C Format ISBN (}316 85387 9

Typeset in Plantin by M Rules

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pIc
Little, Brown and Company (UK)

Brettenham House

Lancaster Place

London WC2E 7EN

To Jill and Robin Stockwell,

With love from your Fyfield cousin


Thanks to Dr Ben Lloyd for information generously given on the subject of hemiplegia. All mistakes or inaccuracies are my own.

Thanks also to John Granville of the Prison Service for answering questions so fully, and to Stephen Marriott, George Woolford and Senta, for being there. And finally, thanks to Joyce, for the song.

Happy the man whom the truth instructs not through passing words and figures but in its own self, just as it is. Our opinions are often mistaken and our vision dim. What is the point of much hair splitting about the recondite and the obscure, our ignorance of which will not even be mentioned in the judgement?

Thomas a Kempis


SPLISH, SPLASHI can hear the sound of quiet waves. The water heaving gently and the
mewling of seagulls. A HOT summer on the beach.

Someone took the shawl and someone gave it back. There are strange courtesies in
this place and more tolerance than I could ever have believed, just as there are features of my own
behaviour I could never have believed either. Although I do have a certain status, I have had to give up
any illusion of being in control, and I have to limit talking, making this a substitute. It is my chance to
rationalize. At least I'm alone in my own room.

My father taught me a command of words but being articulate can be treacherous.

There is always the point when one might say too much.

If I told them everything, they would hear a noise of words, but they would not listen. I see
their point entirely; I can't even find it in myself to resent it. Why should anyone listen when guilt
makes us produce such a tissue of lies? Whatever we say in here is far more likely to be lies than truth.

we are bound to lie; it is almost a duty, to avoid the tyranny of conscience. But we rarely steal.

Someone brought back my shawl and I felt absurdly blessed. when I talk, I talk about nothing as if I
were at a party, minding my manners.


I miss the sea most of all~ which is a terrible reflection when I think about it. I should
miss the children most. I should have been far more exclusive in my affections in order to be a better
mother. There are no excuses; only guilt~ but I do~I do . . .

Miss the sea~ most of all. . .

Francesca Margaret Chisholm


SOMEONE should have advised him against a February arrival. He knew what winter was like at home; cold and sharp and dry, manageable even in eight degrees below, but somehow he had not associated an English coastline with any notion of a serious chill.

She had never described it like that. There had been mention of bonfires and brisk walks; of a breeze stinging the eyes when admiring the sea from the battlements of a castle, descriptions augmented by a memory of Dickens and picture postcards suggesting a modest covering of snow or a comfortable blanket of fog outside, all cleverly orchestrated for no other purpose than to make the fireside welcoming and the hot toast delicious. The sort of kindly cold which was a home designer's asset, purely to act as a contrast to a comfortable room.

Outside the station, the wind tore at his coat like a mauling dog.

The rain skittered in the eddies of wind to scratch at his face and hat. His suitcase was ballast, lifting from his shoulder and leading him in a sideways sloping sprint across the carpark. It defied the mild sense of triumph he had felt in alighting from the train at all, beating the challenge of the antiquated door as the carriage lurched to a halt in front of a sign so obscure he could scarcely read it. WARBLING,a name like a dowdy bird.

Doctor Henry Evans, poetry-loving scientist, with impeccable transatlantic credentials and comfortable North American lifestyle, felt himself unfairly fooled by the weather and did not enjoy the sensation of being outwitted. He congratulated himself briefly at the same time for that level of preparation which was his own hallmark. He had purchased a map; he had listened carefully to telephone instructions and he knew precisely where he was going.

Rain, spitting at him with renewed vigour. You can't miss it, squire. Straight down the road by the station until you reach the sea; turn left. Big hotel, squire. Nelson stayed there long before they built the pier. Henry had enjoyed the train, dirty though it was. At least he could open the window and breathe. He hated to be inside those capsules of transport where he had no control.

And he craved his first sight of the sea. His was a land-locked heart, in love with gentle ocean sounds. He could see it in his mind's eye, calm and dark, moody with moonlight and full of inspiration. The shops on his route were small and, in the shuttered darkness, less than quaint. He noticed a deserted cinema with posters of films he thought he might have seen a decade since, a forlorn wine bar with single occupant, the closed premises of a post office apparently doubling as a pharmacy and a florist's without flowers, but apart from a couple of illuminated signs, the only significant lights were the Belisha beacons where the road dipped into a pedestrian crossing before rising towards the sea.

The yellow globes winked at a lone woman who waited as if needing some extra sign which would give her licence to cross an empty road. She was followed at a distance by a big, black dog, which did not seem to belong. Henry nodded and said hi. There was no response, reminding him of another feature about the natives he had encountered so far. They were not so much rude as preoccupied at any given time. They would not ignore the out-stretched hand if you waved it right in front of their faces, but any gesture not initiated by themselves required repetition before gaining acknowledgement. They were not unfriendly, he decided bravely, simply undemonstrative and destined to lead him into a deliberate and useful heartiness through the means of their natural reserve. You have to learn to come out of your shell, Henry. No one else is going to winkle you out.

He was trying to remember what a winkle was.

The road which had dipped by the crossing rose to meet the seafront and its attendant sounds. He had forgotten the mad gust of the station carpark on his way thus far, relatively sheltered from the wind and the rain which struck him now with a series of staggering punches so hard and mean he yelled and grabbed at a railing. The shout was shoved down his throat in a lungful of icy air; the wind struck at his arm; the railing was sticky wet to the touch. As he staggered back into a doorway, his nose collided with the glass and he was suddenly eye to eye with another poster on the far side, depicting ice cream piled high in a fluted glass, topped with a cherry and set against a summer blue background.

The wind howled round his head; he was glad of the hat and while on another kind of day he might have laughed at the ice-cream poster for its sheer incongruity, the wind was pummelling his back. The sea was an insane chorus of animal roars, followed by the vicious hiss of angry water clawing at stones, clattering and snarling in frustration; then the next crash, boom, hiss, a battle of sibilant fury, counterpoised by the deep bass of echo.

Henry pulled down the hat, levered himself out of the doorway remembering the directions. Turn left; he had done that. Cross the road; he would do that now. He saw the dog again, maybe a different dog, trotting along the opposite pavement. You can't miss it, squire, only building this side of the road. Nelson stayed here. He remembered his own frisson of excitement at the mere idea of staying in a place where Nelson had stayed with Lady Hamilton, no less. He could visualize a hip bath in the middle of the room, a screen with strewn clothing, the lady deshabille, the hero reclining on a chaise-longue with his glass of port, replete with conquests.

Thick curtains, blocking the moon. . . The wind had a fit of kindness and propelled him across the road, unscathed. The sky was luminous; spray hit his face. The bulk of the hotel loomed before him, unlit and forbidding and as he drew nearer, other sounds began to compete. Voices shouting, machinery humming.

There was candlelight in the reception area, lulling him into a sense of welcome. He sighed with relief; then the alien nature of the noise and the intensity of the draught chilled him again. A massive desk was the only furniture, old and solid above a rich red carpet which squelched beneath his feet like a claret-coloured bog.

He stepped forward carefully, the weight of his case suddenly unbearable. There was a bar down those stairs, described in the brochure as a select venue with views of the English Channel, currently occupied by persons wearing rubber boots, sloshing through inches of water.

One man detached himself from the rest, waded towards the narrow passage where Henry stood and proffered the pile of cushions he carried. It seemed an odd kind of offering.

'Get out of the way, will you? What do you want?'

'I have a reservation.

'You want a room? In here? Oh, that's rich, you know, really it is.

There's someone wants a room!' He shouted back down the stairs, to the sound of answering laughter.

'The Nelson suite, in fact,' Henry said apologetically. The sound of breaking glass came from beyond the stairs and the din of the sea seemed closer still. The man's laugh choked on itself.

There was a whiff of whisky on his breath, but nothing else about his face to show he was anything other than distressingly sober.

'Haven't you ever seen a fucking flood? Come back next week.'

'My suitcase. . . my room. . .'

'Next week.'

'But where should I go?'

As he spoke, Henry felt he was reciting the most regular and plaintive line of his life.

Jet lag was no excuse. He knew he had uttered these words many times before and he sounded, to his own ears, demanding and childish. He should be doing something - rolling up his sleeves, responding to the situation, making himself if not useful, at least acceptable - but he was suddenly overcome with exhaustion, rocked with a cataclysmic disappointment.

For twenty years he had postponed a visit to romantic England and he did not want disillusion now.

He wanted his own optimism, weakened in the long reaches of the night, tested in that damn train with its vandalized toilets, further damaged by a town which was shut at eight in the evening, for Chris sakes, deafened by the racket of that poisonous-looking sea. And wet feet and a suitcase with a life of its own, getting heavier by the minute but unputdownable on this filthy damp floor. . . how could he help? This was the end of the line and it was he who needed help.

BOOK: Undercurrent
13.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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