‘The minute I’m gone you’ll sneak into your workshop and start whittling that Deadhead away.’
Simon remained speechless for a moment. It had been months since he’d done any work on the wooden bust he’d started years and years ago. After the Old Mill murder, while he was recovering from concussion, he finished off the hair, the chin and the neckline. Muttering promises all the time, with each scrape of the blade. Promises to himself, to Pippa, to Chloe. To Adam and Eve and to Rudi. To the face emerging slowly and painfully from the yellowish, dry wood. To Emma. Even to Phil. Promises and resolutions. Big thoughts about honesty, love, guilt and absolution. Redemption. Salvation.
Soon, however, life took over. Life always takes over death.
But, spookily, on his way home he’d been trying to figure out how to go about the eyes. The few pictures he had of the original, all of them old newspaper cuttings, left the eyes in deep shade.
‘No,’ he said, ‘no,’ with a small pain in his stomach and pointed vaguely at the stack of paperwork.
* * *
He made himself a cup of coffee, turned the TV on in the sitting room, locked the patio door and pulled the curtains together, then went to the cloakroom because he thought he could hear the tap running.
Gingerly, furtively, and only because he was passing, he opened the door to his workroom and switched on the light.
Why did Pippa mention the unfinished bust tonight of all nights?
Because she’d always believed it to be a portrait of a former girlfriend, a love of his life, someone he’d never talked about. Well, she was right about the last one. He’d never talked about Nicola Finsbury. Not a word. Not a whisper. Not to anyone.
He was going to tell Emma about her, of course. Tell her everything, just as it happened, nothing left out, nothing embellished. That done, he was going to ask her to forgive, to understand, to leave Philip and marry him before the baby was born. If she would still have him.
It must have been Kevin Corrigan who had told Grant about Alex and Angel getting hitched. Kevin stayed on to do his LPC at Trinity, then got himself a training contract with Carroll and Carroll, Alex’s father and uncle. Soon to be Carroll, Carroll & Carroll, once Alex completed his own apprenticeship with a distinguished law firm in London. Only, Alex was thinking of going to the bar, and according to Kevin, doing most of his thinking at the bar. Great many bars. There had even been a small unpleasantness over some cheques, Kevin said in strictest confidence. Apparently, Alex had found one of the partners of the London firm dead at his desk. Dead as a doornail. From too long and too good living. As simple as that. So, remembering just how good that living used to be, Alex quickly helped himself to a couple of the old man’s cheques and, at least temporarily, resolved his current embarrassment over his rent bill and his credit card.
After a great deal of wringing of hands, sighing, pulling of strings and toing and froing, the Carroll brothers managed to save the young rascal’s skin and legal career, but only just, Kevin said.
He used to phone quite a lot in those days, Kevin did. From Spratton, of all places, as it happened. Carroll & Carroll had an office there, barely a mile or two away from Little Manor, their family residence at the time and Kevin wasn’t allowed to have Sean with him while lodging in the flat above the office. Carrolls’ sense of decorum wouldn’t allow such impropriety. But Alex’s misdemeanour worked to Kevin’s advantage. The reprobate was dragged home by his ear and Kevin, a surplus to requirements but too useful to lose, was moved to the Loughborough branch. The position came with a quaint little cottage and no restrictions on company he kept. Sean, who was taking a long and very expensive route to becoming a specialist in International Law, was immediately installed as a live-in partner. ‘Like a fairy tale,’ Kevin had been happily chuckling down the phone every now and then. ‘Isn’t it just like a fairy tale ending?’ Grant could hear Sean joining in the laugh at the other end.
Kevin had never asked him why, with the first from Trinity and the entire world at his feet, Grant chose to join the police only a week after graduation. No LPC, no bar exams. No lucrative practice of any sort. The others whispered and wondered among themselves, Grant gathered from Rudi’s occasional hints. There were unmistakable, roundabout signs of whispering and wondering. Of rumours so preposterous that they could have been amusing if they hadn’t been less preposterous than the truth.
To hell with caution! Grant’s anger churns painfully, sweeping over the stinging guilt, drowning the foreboding and reason. Following some half formed plan, quickly abandoned while he was still able to think rationally, he vaults himself half sideways half forward, his arms stretched out toward the only moveable object around, something big, heavy and hideous, a vase, a weapon. He’s there, he’s yanked it …
Dancer’s hands are up, shielding the face, or covering the eyes like someone who can’t bear to watch. The gun, forgotten, is pointed to the ceiling. ‘No! Stay!’
…he’s lifting it, his back muscles already straightening him upwards …
‘Stop it, you bloody idiot!’
… his hands are preparing for aim …
… the upward push from the forearms, the knees still bent …
‘You fucking jerk!’
… and casting him backwards, it’s off, soaring in a curve towards the chair and the gun, into a blast that swamps the cries, and the crash, the fireworks of earthenware pieces, the chair wheeling away through the acid stench, then the pain, withering, cutting through the side of the head.
‘Moron! You fucking moron!’ Dancer croaks in the silence.
Grant is sitting on the floor, his knees pulled up a little and apart, the soles turned inward. The pain is some dizziness and a sharp sting now, a cut from the terra-cotta debris, blood and sweat trickling slowly down his cheek. He wipes it off with the cuff of his sleeve and at the edge of the warm little light, the stain soaks darkly into the pale blue fabric.
The face of the killer is only a few feet away. Lit from the left, the visible eye is wide open and bright, glistening with tears running down the pain creased cheek.
‘I nearly shot you.’ Incoherent between the sobs, choking on the scare.
‘Why didn’t you?’ Grant averts his eyes from the anguish, as if mere watching is an indecent act of complicity and compassion. His anger is still rumbling, echoing emptily through him. ‘Why didn’t you? What makes me different?’
Gently now. ‘C’mon. Let’s go. There’s nothing for us here.’ The ‘us’ will tie them together, clasp their hands and their hearts closely while they walk out into a shared sunset. ‘C’mon.’
The weighted octopus moves still higher, still further out, longing to be caught and unburdened. ‘C’mon.’ Patience cuts sharply through Grant’s middle and hardens his calves and shins into a knot. But his warm, friendly hand is a steady, welcoming beacon.
‘I’m not ready.’ Checked by the whisper the movement stops in mid air.
‘You are. We both are. You’ve said so.’
‘I’m not ready!’ The cry thrusts the arm sharply forward into a blast of noise and sparks.
Grant steps back, quickly and sideways from habit. There is no pain. In the eye-watering acrid silence, worryingly, there is no pain and no sensation. He should have been hit. He was too close not to be hit.
‘I’m not ready. There are still things to be done, places to visit,’ comes ghostlike from the chair. ‘And neither are you, Inspector. You don’t deserve me yet. You’ll have to earn me first.’
Unbelievably, the miss was deliberate. Delivered to warn, to grab and assert. There is nothing Grant can do about the beads of sweat along the hairline, trickling down past his ear.