The right of Helen Ducal to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Copyright ©Helen Ducal 2014
All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Elizabeth Warden. Doctor Elizabeth Warden. She liked the sound of it, a lot. She wasn’t about to give it up. How could she have been so foolish? Yeah, Josh was good looking, had that certain charm but she could have had the pick of the crop and now they were stuck…together…for life.
She blamed him. He blamed her. Either way they had to dispose of their daughter’s body and fast.
The day before the holiday.
‘Why are we going away, daddy?’
‘We are going on holiday, Emma. It will be fun.’
Emma thought about that for a moment.
‘No it won’t. Are the twins coming?’
Josh leant over his three year old daughter and brushed a straggle of fine blonde hair from across her dark brown eyes and tucked it behind her left ear.
‘Of course, sweetie.’
‘Can’t grandma look after them?’
Elizabeth’s shrill voice, full of exasperation, rose up the stairs and interrupted Josh’s need to answer.
‘Are you coming? The taxi is waiting!’
Emma bit down hard on her bottom lip. The big brown eyes, just like her father’s, filled with tears as Josh absentmindedly pecked Emma on the top of her head, ruffled her hair, turned and left Emma’s bedroom.
He closed the door gently as if she were already asleep.
Emma stared at the back of the white painted door with pink roses scattered across it. She picked up her ragged-eared, blue rabbit and threw it at the closed door.
‘I mean, one miracle baby, but now three. So much for medical science, eh?’
Professor Hutton slapped Josh on the back as soon as he had safely placed the three flutes of champagne on the table. Josh looked uncomfortable and only partly because he was wearing the obligatory penguin suit, cummerbund and all.
‘And how are you holding up my dear? I must say you look simply stunning. Doesn’t she, Josh?’
Elizabeth was hoping that she would be attending the awards dinner alone tonight. There was someone she wanted to spend time with, without raising eyebrows. The babysitter had cancelled. She paid her extra not to come and to keep quiet. At the last moment Josh had produced his mother. She would babysit.
Josh merely beamed at Professor Hutton.
Elizabeth gritted her teeth. Her fine white, perfectly formed veneers, catching the light reflecting from the glitter ball that some bright spark had decided no awards dinner could do without.
She was undoubtedly the most elegant woman at the ball. Josh smiled across the round table at her and had to agree that his wife had regained her model figure in record time. She had to get Josh’s help to do up the zipper but now she was wearing her two thousand pound Versace dress, she didn’t care if she had to sleep in it. The hundreds of minute turquoise beads over a chiffon, figure hugging dress shimmered and made Elizabeth (never Liz) appear to be vibrating although she sat perfectly, ramrod, still.
Her father had taught her well. Self control. Complete, under any circumstances, self control. You cannot do this job properly without it. Emotions will cloud your judgement. You cannot afford mistakes. Lives, very young lives will depend upon your making the right decision. Sometimes in the blink of an eye. Got it?
She got it. He would have been so proud. Whether she would receive the award tonight; that was another matter. She wasn’t well liked amongst her peers. They didn’t doubt her abilities but they did question her speciality. A paediatrician with no bedside manner. And now she had three children under four. Rumours and speculation thrived. Hadn’t she made it quite clear soon after she married the smooth talking doctor Josh Barclay that they would focus on their careers, helping other children and never have their own? Josh had been vague about children but Elizabeth had been adamant.
‘Shall we?’ Professor Hutton was standing at the side of Elizabeth’s chair, resting his left arm on the back of her chair and running his right hand around his collar to loosen his bright red and black polka dot bow tie.
‘Oh forgive me, Josh. May I?’
Josh laughed and nodded as the dapper, white haired professor often mistaken for, Dick Van Dyke, led Elizabeth on to the dance floor.
‘Be my guest, John.’
‘So what is really going on?’ John Hutton had known Beth since she was born. He had studied medicine with her father and often spent weekends in the country with what he considered his extended family.
Elizabeth’s glorious long red hair was secured, up, with two large silver and green combs.
The smooth pale skin on her neck belied her thirty plus years. If she wasn’t almost family…John admonished himself even though it was only a thought…
Elizabeth smiled as they both swayed to the hypnotic rhythm of the music. Was she telepathic? No, probably just used to receiving admiring glances from all ages and even when wearing her whites.
‘Beth? Penny for them.’
‘Please don’t call me that. I am not a child anymore!’ Elizabeth chided John but was desperate to avoid his knowing gaze.
John decided to change tack. ‘So, how’s that lovely Emma rascal?’
‘A child. A very determined child. She doesn’t want to go on holiday!’
John stroked his newly sprouted beard. Just as white as the hair on his head but coarser. His lady-friend was getting used to it but he may well have to start shaving again if she really complained.
‘My, how things have changed. In my day…no wait…I vowed never to say that!’
Elizabeth laughed, properly laughed, for the first time in ages when John dipped her backwards as the song, Moon River, came to an end.
‘Lovely. Just lovely.’
‘Not you, the tune!’
Josh looked on as his wife seemed to relax into the older man’s embrace. The way she used to with him when they first met.
How had so much changed in the last five years?
Josh had joked that he was known for being careless with condoms. He had had more than a few mishaps but no unwanted pregnancies. Elizabeth had been taken with this straight talking new kid. Well, if you can call a twenty seven year old, a kid. Eight years younger than her and the usual taunting amongst the other mature students went on for a while.
Then it was obvious that Elizabeth was smitten and it was time to meet the parents. Josh had downplayed his family’s standing in the peaceful Somerset town of Taunton. The fact that they basically owned a large chunk of the surrounding countryside impressed Elizabeth no end. She went from smitten to infatuated in one weekend. From exclusive to engaged in six short weeks and then everyday was taken up with wedding plans and more wedding plans. Josh couldn’t be happier.
Elizabeth’s mother however was another matter entirely. He may have money darling but really, farming stock. Honestly!
He could hear her now. So disapproving. Of course thankfully for Josh this just made Elizabeth even more determined. And she wondered where Emma got her stubbornness from. Ah, Emma. What a surprise she had been. An extremely low sperm count. No, he hadn’t had mumps or anything else that could account for his lack of baby making ingredients. That’s what they had been told and Elizabeth had quite clearly needed to hold back from saying; whoopee, no contraception for me, right there in the consulting rooms. It was just, comme ca. Their fertility consultant, Jacques Mistry ( French/Indian) had been far more concerned about the test results but managed the customary shrug when he saw that neither Josh nor Elizabeth were about to burst into tears.
Beth ( as Josh occasionally called his wife in his mind) assured him that same evening that she really wanted to focus on her career and if anything, loved him more now that he had freed her of any contraception commitments. But, Josh felt sad. Lacking. He never told his parents. Which was just as well because when Beth discovered she was pregnant he had less explaining to do. The thing he couldn’t get his head around was the fact that she was furious. Accused him of misleading her. Trapping her into marriage. Lying about his test results. You knew I didn’t want children! She almost spat at him. She considered an abortion but too many people already knew. Well, you will have to look after it. It! And this from a newly qualified pediatrician. If her patients could see her now…
Josh wiped away a single tear as he recalled…
‘Gets you doesn’t it!’
John was placing a hand on Josh’s shoulder. Josh looked up, avoiding his wife’s eyes.
‘Oh yes. You’re right there, John.’
‘So is either of you going to tell me or do I have to keep probing?’
Both Elizabeth and John now seated, shifted uncomfortably, glancing at each other.
‘Okay, okay but you know where I am if you…’ John glanced at each of them. ‘If either of you want to talk. Okay?’
Just smiles and nods were all Josh and his wife could manage.
Josh’s mother was dozing in front of the television when they got back. Her mass of soft grey curls peering over the top of the dark green leather recliner. Startled at the sound of the key in the front door she hastily pressed the chair remote and sat up. Her favourite pink furry slippers (a present from the three grandchildren) almost touching the floor. She needed her slippers since Elizabeth had replaced the carpet with wooden flooring in the living room. For it was Elizabeth’s choice, she had no doubt. Josh was much more into his creature comforts. Then Esther remembered the reason for her sudden babysitting stint.
‘How was it? Did you…?’
Esther’s voice trailed off as Josh shook his head and frowned at his mum.
Josh yanked at his bow tie, stuffing it in his pocket.
Elizabeth shimmered into view.
‘No, Esther, I didn’t get the award. Isn’t that what you wanted to hear?’
Josh reached up to ease Elizabeth’s long camel coat from her shoulders. She shrugged his hands away, grabbing at the faux fox fur collar.
Esther sighed. She could do no right by this one.
‘I am going to make hot chocolate before I go up. Either of you…?’ Esther had tried everything she could think of. Ever since the day her beloved son brought home this statuesque cold fish of a woman, Esther had tried but somehow her words never truly covered up her dismay at her son’s choice of life partner. Esther had been a good looking woman in her day but too many early mornings tending to the sheep had left her soft features careworn and sad. She was forty when she had Josh and never really expected to be a grandmother. Although she knew how much Josh loved kids. Josh’s father, Bill, had not fully recovered from his stroke and as much as Esther was willing she just wasn’t physically able to look after him and the farm, full time. Elizabeth had absolutely no patience with the whole scenario. Put Bill into a nursing home? Esther didn’t need to be hands on with the farm. They had enough money for full time help. There was talk of land and being property rich but cash poor. None of it made sense to her.
The two women were at loggerheads from the outset.
Josh loved them both. There had been a temporary truce when Emma was born. A motherly bond, Josh hoped, but it didn’t last.
And now Esther surveyed her son and daughter-in-law and felt a new fear. The arrival of the twins had broken any spell between the couple that might have remained. Esther seriously feared for their future.
‘Did you drive back or get a taxi, love?’
‘Oh, I drove back, mum. Why?’
‘I was just thinking as it is a weekday that perhaps, as you both have work tomorrow and the children will be at nursery…’
‘It’s okay, mum. I will take you home. That’s what you want?’
Esther nodded. What she wanted was to hug her only son and tell him that eternal lie, that everything was going to be okay but she had seen enough. He seemed to be getting taller but of course he wasn’t. He was just further from her reach and she was getting shorter. Her arthritis gave her gip, especially on these damp April mornings. She wished he was young again and she could run her hands through his thick strawberry blonde curls. His hair had always been the bane of his life. Girls loved it. Boys teased him about it. Josh had it well tamed these days. Regular haircuts saw to that. But she still wanted to ruffle his hair, just once in a while for old time’s sake. Josh’s dark brown eyes rested on his mother’s pale face. He searched her light grey eyes and found understanding. He knew she wouldn’t ask but she would always be there for him no matter what.
‘So what did you tell her?’
Beth was upright in their kingsize bed reading something on her kindle. Her face had the iridescent glow of the latest night cream. The one advertisers were boasting replaced a good night’s sleep. Josh had refrained from commenting when he saw the latest acquisition in the bathroom. There were three glass shelves to the right of the vanity basin. All were jammed with lotions and potions. Glass and plastic. Day creams, eye contour creams, exfoliating something or other…He had once commented on the array of products only to be given the standard. Are you paying for any of them? Answer. He, of course, was not. In fact Elizabeth had made it quite clear from the beginning that they would continue to have separate accounts. They even paid half of the mortgage from their separate accounts. She had kept her maiden name after they married. Josh had tried to convince her that everyone was doing the double barrel thing these days but Beth was having none of it.
I am Dr Warden. End of conversation.
The children had both names on their birth certificates.
Ah, the children.
‘About what?’ Josh didn’t want this conversation.
‘Good. Let’s leave it that way.’ Beth turned her attention back to her reading material.
As Josh was about to climb into bed beside his wife he wondered just how it could have gone so wrong.
Beth was wearing a grey silk negligee. The one he had bought her for their third anniversary. It clung to the contours of her slim body. The body he knew so well but was now destined to remember only. No touching allowed. Josh knew that the simple tying the tubes, in layman’s terms was a simple operation but he still wondered why Beth had insisted that she have the op, almost as soon as the twins were weaned and not him. His snip would have been even easier. It wasn’t like his wife, if he was honest, to do something if she didn’t have to. So, she wasn’t considering him.
He’d have to get back into playing rugby. He was losing his toned physique. Josh caught his reflection in the wardrobe mirror and flexed his pecks. Beth was engrossed behind her kindle. He was wasting his time. Surely at age thirty two, he wasn’t finished. No more sex. Just in case. And then it hit him. It was obvious. He would make an appointment tomorrow. He would have the snip too. Show he was man enough (he laughed at his own sad pun) to endure a little pain to restore their future happiness. It was time for belt and braces.
If only they had done all this after Emma was born but despite their serious doubts, friends insisted that a little brother or sister for Emma would make all their lives so much easier down the line.
Almost with military precision, Beth had agreed to have one more. By the time the twins were revealed on the scan it was deemed too risky to do anything but carry on.
As John, Professor Hutton had quite rightly said earlier, Emma was totally unexpected, a miracle even but the twins. Who could possibly have predicted that?
Elizabeth snapped shut her kindle and reached across to turn out her reading light.
‘Goodnight, honey.’ Josh said.
‘Yeah…’ was Beth’s reply.
Josh lay still beneath the peach silk duvet and thought he heard one of the twins whimpering. He roused all his senses for a moment propping himself up on one elbow, but there was nothing, so he slid back down and hoped that sleep would come sooner rather than later.
Emma was wide awake wondering how she could get out of going on this holiday everybody was so excited about. She thought grandma might understand but it was probably too risky. She was after all another grown up.
The day of the holiday.
The wonderful aroma of freshly ground coffee tanatlised Josh’s nostrils. Beth was already up, showered and dressed in her no nonsense but still somehow sexy, grey Armani suit. The one with the pencil slim skirt. She was undoubabtly the envy of many of the medical team at St Barths.
Women ten years younger and after just one child had figures that never quite met with Elizabeth’s exacting standards. The men quietly lusted after the subtle dominatrix persona that she exuded. Josh had joked with her early on about how many of the male staff imagined her in black silk, seamed stockings, a basque and a whip…at the weekends. Beth, naturally had taken umbrage and threatened to sue anyone who spread such rumours. She had looked, without any amusement at Josh, when she had said this. How had he fallen for a woman with so little sense of humour? If he had been filling out (well, he did once) a dating website questionnaire, GSOH would have been number two on the list, at least. Fortunately, Beth initially had met requirement number one and how!
Once she knew that there was no risk of getting pregnant she was like a…Josh tried to modify his next thought…as if Beth walking into the bedroom with a large mug of coffee could read his thoughts.
‘Ah, thanks love.’ Josh reached up to take the mug from his wife.
‘Oh, I didn’t know you were awake. It’s in the pot.’
Josh shrank down into the pillows as if he been quite literally deflated. He expected Beth to be in a foul mood this morning after losing out to her nemesis last night but this was a new low. Whoever was up first always brought coffee for the other. He had read somewhere that the opposite to love was not hate but indifference. He felt for the first time, truly, unloved and worse, much worse he was beginning to lose his passion for the woman he thought he could never live without…
‘What time do you start?’ Elizabeth asked as she put the finishing touches to her already perfect make up.
It was 7.45 a.m and the door bell rang.
‘Why don’t you let Tracey have a key?’ Josh didn’t expect an answer. A withering look was what he got.
Tracey lived opposite and was a trainee nursery nurse. They, well, Josh paid her hourly rates to get the twins to nursery, occasionally babysit and run the odd errand. It didn’t really matter what time Josh started, everything was under control. Elizabeth dashed downstairs to let Tracey in and remind her not say anything about last night.
‘You feeling better, Trace?’ Josh was coming downstairs wearing his old rugby, yellow and green track suit.
‘Yes, thank you very much, Mr Barclay.’
‘It’s the twins and Emma today, please, Tracey and can you pick them up at 3.p.m? We have a 6 p.m. flight.’ Beth was snapping shut the cover on her iphone when it rang.
Tracey waited as Elizabeth turned her back on her.
‘Is there a problem, Tracey? And do call me Josh for goodness sake, well here, I mean, not at the hospital.’ He smiled and Tracey nodded.
‘I am afraid I have an appraisal at 2.15 there is no guarantee I can be free by three o clock. Sorry.’
Checking that Elizabeth was still on the phone, she added. ‘How did it go last night?’
Josh just shook his head as Beth turned and closed her phone.
‘Problem?’ she looked from Tracey to Josh.
‘ Nope. I can pick up the brood. I am on a short shift today, barring emergencies…’
Josh was making a poor joke. He had been removed from the A&E rosta pending an inquiry, so he wouldn’t be called in even if the bubonic plague returned to London, anytime soon.
On that awkward note, Elizabeth spun on her new D&G heels and headed for the front door scooping up the keys to the BMW. Tracey started up the stairs. She could hear the twins whimpering. The front door slammed.
‘Well, I am off for a short run. Be back in 15. Before you leave. OK?’
‘Help yourself to coffee.’
‘Thanks but I already had some. See you…’
But Josh interrupted Tracey before she could continue.
‘Beth asked you, paid you, not to babysit last night, right?’
‘I, erm, sorry, I don’t know what you…’
‘It’s okay. I am sorry. Forget I asked. Tracey?’
‘Yes?’ She looked down at him from half way up the stairs.
‘You will still look after the Emma and the twins, won’t you?’
‘Of course Mr, erm, Josh.’
‘Only you shouldn’t be in the middle of this. Sorry.’
Tracey waved her hands at Josh and tried to smile.
‘Go,’ she said.
Emma was standing at the top of the stairs.
‘We still need you to complete those forms, Doctor Barclay.’
Josh hated admin. He was passing by the head honcho’s office when her personal assistant, Carole called out to him.
Josh raised his left arm by way of greeting and hurried on. He was late. As if he needed to make things worse. Did he have some kind of death wish that he hadn’t truly recognised.
The hearing would be held with or without his completed statement. He had managed to get through med school without tripping up, so why now?
He was a puzzle even to himself. He could hardly ask for Beth’s help. He had tried Googling his answers, using the spell check. Simple enough and sure to be foolproof, except it wasn’t. That was not how it worked. He could see the words clearly on the screen but the moment he started to transcribe them onto the page they danced around, the odd letter transposing itself. He was stuck.
They had offered him counselling and it would be confidential but how long would that last once they got to grips with Josh’s real problem. They would be duty bound to reveal it…wouldn’t they?
Was his self-diagnosis correct even? How could he be sure? He thought or more truthfully was convinced he could never be a father. Two independent fertility specialists had agreed. And now he was father to three. So maybe, conversely he wasn’t dyslexic but just reacted badly in stressful situations, which at the moment was pretty much all the time. He wasn’t looking forward to their holiday any more than Emma was but for different reasons.
He was going to have to stall. Buy some time. Postpone the hearing until after the holiday. They may even suspend him. They could live comfortably for a while off Elizabeth’s salary. She’d love that but if he was unfit for work… The more he thought about it the more he liked the idea. Spend more time with the children. Perhaps he could get to the bottom of why Emma didn’t want to go on holiday and try and reassure her that she was every bit as important to them as the twins. Things would get better, they had to.
Josh sauntered around the next corner of the interminably long corridor that led from the main entrance and onto the wards and bumped into a group of attendings.
‘Are you trying to get the sack?’ George Stephinoppilus, senior consultant was tapping his pen on his clipboard. ‘You are late, Dr Barclay.’
The consultant raised an eyebrow. No glint of amusement.
‘Sir,’ Josh added, to the thinly veiled amusement of the others.
Josh had been assigned to accompany consultant’s rounds until a decision could be made about his future at this hospital. Perhaps he really should consider getting the sack. Nothing too serious so he could still get paid, whilst he considered his future.
Six of them surrounded the poor unsuspecting patient. His robe now puled to one side. They all listened intently.
‘And your input into this discussion, Doctor Barclay, if you do indeed have one?’
Most of the junior doctors did little to hide their disdain and some, their amusement. Who was this jerk? He should have been dismissed pending inquiry immediately after the incident. No one seemed to have any real sympathy for Josh. You read labels. You check and double check. Yes, it was an emergency and yes he had made the right call but used the wrong dose. A basic mistake and it had cost the life of a seven year old boy. Most people put his lack of reaction, at the time, down to shock but now six weeks later and he seemed to be behaving as if nothing had happened. Even his wife had been scathing of his actions. Elizabeth was up before the board but for totally different reasons. She was ready for promotion and she was furious that Josh’s case could (although totally unrelated) possibly have some bearing on her hard earned stripes. She deserved a place on the board.
The board that would have to decide Josh’s future. Elizabeth was on her way to meet with the head honcho to suggest that Josh be transferred to another hospital. The best solution, when the alarm sounded. Someone had coded.
‘I know I was hoping he would stay home and look after the brood,’ Beth purred into the phone.
‘And then Esther turns up!’ she snarled.
‘Keep him occupied with his children…’ The voice from the other end.
Elizabeth laughed. The phone was on speaker and perched on the edge of the bath.
‘Look I can’t chat. We leave in four hours and Josh will be back soon.’
‘And you are only going for a week?’
‘Yep, back next Wednesday night.’
‘You sound a bit…echoey,’
‘I’m in the bath, that’s why.’
‘Christ, Liz, kick a man while he’s down why don’t you.’
Elizabeth merely chuckled and added. ‘Ten o clock next Thursday morning? Usual place?’
‘Come hell or high water!’
Liz smiled and carefully lay the phone down on the towel covered bath-side table.
The bubbles in the bath were catching the last rays of afternoon sunshine. Rainbow colours. Calming. Elizabeth had given herself the afternoon off. She needed some peace and quiet. Time to reflect. Time to make plans. She could not imagine the rest of her life with a boring husband and three children. Why on earth had she ever thought she could do this?
She wasn’t one for showing her emotion and she deplored self pity but right now she wanted to scream and cry in equal measure. Post partum depression, my arse. More like, oh fuck, how did I get myself into this mess, blues.
Daphne, her oldest confidante had been right. Love ya, but you aint cut out for the role of domestic goddess. And yeah, Josh is cute but you will be so bored with him before your fifth anniversary.
That memory proved too much and tears began to flow. Plopping into the diminishing bubbles shattering the calm that she had tried to force herself into.
Angry now, Elizabeth stood up too quickly and slipped as one foot pushed the other towards the end of the bath and she sat down with a thud. The shock stopped her from feeling anything for a few seconds and then it began. The slow searing pain in her right hip. Had she broken something? Dear God, just what she needed. She was being punished was her first thought but even through the pain she managed a smile as she thought how true this was. She glanced at the phone and was relieved to find she could still reach it.
She could try pressing redial but he may be out of reach by now, preparing for this evening’s sermon. As much as Father Patrick was a wonderful family friend she didn’t think Josh would take too kindly to finding him helping his wife out of the bath.
And now she was even more annoyed to think that Josh had been right. If Tracey had a key she could pop in, give her a steadying hand. The pain was easing a little now, just short stabs. She should try to move. Like many of the medical profession Elizabeth was excellent at giving advice and admonishing anyone who said, Ooh the pain, I can’t move. Punishment, she thought again. Divine retribution.
And then she heard the key turn in the front door.
‘Hi honey, I’m home!’
Oh Josh, the relentless Mr Cheerful. She could strangle him.
‘The very same, my love.’
‘Josh can you come up please, I think I have…’
Before Elizabeth could finish her sentence Josh came skidding through the bathroom door.
See, she had just been tired last night. It’s that post baby blues. Had to be. Ooh, in the bath. Just like old times…
Josh was so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t registered the pained expression on his wife’s face but he did notice that she was holding a large lavender flannel over her boobs. Huh?
‘Josh, I slipped trying to get out. Will you help me please?’
‘Gosh, oh yes, here.’
Josh positioned himself at the end of the bath and behind Elizabeth’s shoulders. The free standing bath that his wife had insisted on now became a godsend.
Josh slipped an arm under each armpit and crossed his hands across Elizabeth’s chest careful to resist the urge grab at her boobs. They really had stayed quite magnificent since having the kids. What a skinny bird she had been before.
Josh released his grip as his wife stood up.
‘Fine, thanks. Just be a bit of a bruise I think.’
Josh handed her the huge white bath towel.
‘Shall I kiss it better…’
Elizabeth’s face was enveloped in a huge sigh.
‘Will you ever grow up?’
She still had the ability to make him feel like a naughty child. Pathetic. Get a grip, man.
‘And why are you home? It’s only…’
Elizabeth reached for her phone. The bathroom clock had stopped. It needed a new battery. Neither of them seemed capable of remembering to do it.
Now was definitely not the moment to tell his wife he had just been suspended.
Josh was relieved. He could spend more time with the kids. They would save a fortune on day care. They would need to. He had been suspended without pay until after the inquiry.
‘I’ll go and make some tea or something stronger?’
The taxi arrived five minutes early and the driver fast tracked them through security.
The departure lounge was buzzing with families and small children.
Elizabeth winced. She hoped they had made the right decision.
This was to be their first major holiday since having the twins. She could cope with A and E on a Saturday night. Organising triage with aplomb but cope with her own three children over a whole two weeks. 24/7.
She massaged the two pressure points either side of the bridge of her nose and sighed.
Still the resort boasted fabulous child care facilities. Special clubs for Emma and a crèche for the twins. She still struggled to use their names as if they may not be quite so permanent if she always called them the twins. A good generic term.
“And the holiday starts here!” Josh playing the holiday camp entertainer.
The twins were nodding sleepily in their double buggy and Emma was perched on the edge of her bright pink trolley case, scowling, arms folded.
“Time for a drink?”
Elizabeth had to give Josh points for perseverance.
“Tout suite, madame!”
“We are going to Spain not France…”
But Josh was already headed to the bar. They always marked the start of their holidays with a glass of champagne. But he could have asked. Her tastes had changed since being pregnant.
A carton of pure apple juice with a straw for Emma and two small glasses of bubbly for the grown ups.
Elizabeth wanted to be happy. Josh wanted them all to be happy. The perfect modern family with everything going for them. But all that was about to change.
The apartment was light and airy. The large windows were hinged to open only so far and there was an air conditioning unit high up on the wall but it was still only April so they shouldn’t need that. The bedrooms were separated by a small living area. The single bed and two cots had been moved around to allow access to all three. As arranged a welcome package was sitting on the extending table in the kitchenette. Fresh fruit covered with cellophane and a bottle of white wine. Not in the fridge, Elizabeth noted.
Josh opened the fridge and retrieved a carton of milk. The cupboard above the kettle housed tea bags and sugar and not much else.
Josh tried to make it sound inviting.
Elizabeth admired his effort but shook her head.
‘Shower and bed. I’m whacked.’
As the twins were under two years old they could travel for free as long as they were seated on an adult’s lap.
Only a two hour flight. Josh had convinced Elizabeth it would fly by. Yep, he actually said that.
How had his endearing silliness become annoying sarcasm, Elizabeth pondered.
Ah well, nothing else to do but make the most of it. At least Emma had worn herself out walking up and down the aisle, chatting to anyone who would respond. Elizabeth had tried to stop her at first but the crew were very accommodating even when the trolley nearly collided with Emma who was busy demonstrating the moves she had learned at ballet class the day before.
Elizabeth had to smile as the hot water pounded onto her shoulders. It was going to make the holiday a lot easier if Emma made friends as quickly on the complex. They may not even need to pay the extortionate rates for the child minders with a bit of luck.
By the time Elizabeth appeared in the living room, wrapped in a white towelling robe Josh had the twins in their cots but Emma was hovering and wide awake.
‘Need something to help you sleep, honey?’
Emma shook her head. She wanted to know what was going on. She didn’t like being in a strange place. She would stay awake but pretend to go to sleep. She learned a lot that way.
It was very dark in her bedroom but she could see the outline of the cots so she knew where the twins were.
‘Where are you sleeping daddy?’
‘Right next to mommy.’
‘Silly daddy. I mean where is your bed?’
‘Come and see.’
Josh took his daughter by her hand and led her through the living area, past the bathroom and into the bedroom with a double bed.
‘We’ll leave all these doors open so if you need to you can come and find us, okay?’
‘Okay, daddy. Night, night, mommy.’
Elizabeth gave Emma a lopsided smile. That meant she was tired and Emma knew to say nothing more.
‘Want me to come tuck you in?’
‘No thanks, mommy I’m fine.’
‘We are going to have so much fun. You wait and see.’
‘I hope so, daddy. Sweet dreams.’
Who knew I would be writing my autobiography and I’m not even four years old yet!
In fact I will never be four years old because I am already six feet under.
Naturally I am getting help writing this. Hey, I was very bright but couldn’t do much in the way of reading and writing yet. I was very good with colours though.
I remember the label on the bottle was bluey-green with some pink lettering on it. Daddy called it sleepy juice. He gave it to my brother and sister all the time and they have passed their fourth birthdays now.
We’d had a lovely day swimming in the pool. Daddy being daddy, making us laugh. Mommy being mommy, playing with her new phone. She said it was like a tiny computer. I wasn’t allowed to touch it. Things had changed since my brother and sister arrived. They weren’t naughty but they needed a lot of attention. Babies do. I got that. I liked being a big sister most of the time but I missed being the special one.
At nursery school my friends talked about going on holiday like it was a good thing. This puzzled me. At home I had my own bedroom and could have a light on and play for a while after bedtime. On holiday, my brother and sister shared my room and we had to have the lights out straightaway. Holidays seemed like a kind of punishment.
I had a big piece of fish for tea and round sort of chips but they still tasted like chips because I put ketchup on them. Mommy frowned and daddy shrugged. I wondered if they were being punished for something too.
My brother and sister had an ice cream each. They love that. Chocolate for my brother and vanilla for my sister.
I like the taste but it makes my teeth hurt for a while. I have to brush my teeth properly every night before getting into bed. My toothbrush makes a funny noise when I do it. Mommy says it is good practice for when I have my big teeth. Mommy explained that the tooth fairy is just a silly story some adults tell children. Mommy can be quite serious sometimes. Daddy says it is because she has a very important job.
More important than yours I once asked him. He went quiet for a long time then said. No, not really.
Aren’t grown-ups funny. Still, as I will never be one, no need for me to worry about that.
After tea, mommy got us all undressed and into our beds. I asked if daddy was going to come and read us a story. Mommy said, no it was too late and we must go straight to sleep. Then it would soon be time to get up and we could go swimming again.
Mommy came out of the bathroom with the sleepy juice bottle but my brother was already snuffling in a sleepy way and my sister was sucking her thumb and her eyelids were fluttering.
So mommy just said. Open wide. And I drank the sticky stuff from the pink plastic spoon.
I heard mommy in the bathroom rinsing the spoon in the sink. She left the bathroom door open a little so she could see us better. I was lying on my side, snuggling my long eared bunny and pretending to be asleep. Good. I heard the light click off and the door close.
A car went past very near our door but I couldn’t see it. The only windows were high up and had big lacy curtains on them so you couldn’t see out and I wasn’t tall enough to open them.
We always had bed time stories at home. I don’t like holidays.
Daddy said a change of routine was a good thing. I didn’t know what he meant.
He didn’t even come and kiss us goodnight tonight. I wanted my bed…at home. I started to cry a little bit. But only quietly. I would be in trouble if I woke my brother or sister.
You’re the big sister. You have to set a good example. I tried.
Suddenly the door opened and a man was standing there. I blinked a lot trying to see if it was daddy.
‘Daddy?’ I called out.
‘Sshh, honey. Don’t wake the twins!’
‘Okay daddy,’ I said.
‘I wanted a bedtime story!’ I whimpered.
‘I know, I know but we were busy. You know that happens sometimes. Sorry. We’ll have double tomorrow. Okay?’
I nodded and grabbed at daddy’s sleeve but he was wearing short sleeves and I grabbed his arm instead.
‘Ouch,’ he mocked me.
‘I need some cream,’ he said. ‘Silly daddy got sunburned today.’
‘That’s not good,’ I said seriously.
‘And why are you still wide awake?’
I wanted to tell him how I hated sharing my bedroom and wanted to go home. I didn’t think that would please him so I said. ‘Not tired, daddy.’
‘Want some sleepy juice?’
I nodded. At least the morning would come quicker and we could all be together again. I didn’t like it here. I wanted the time to go faster. We could go on the airplane again. I liked that bit. Whoosh up into the sky. The twins had cried, holding their ears. Mommy gave them a drink each and they had settled down.
‘Open wide,’ said daddy. And I did.
It wasn’t the pink spoon this time. It was metal and cold and hard. It clunked on my teeth.
‘Did you clean your teeth tonight?’
‘I did daddy, yes.’
‘Okay well, snuggle down and go to sleep.’
‘Who me?’ I said cheekily.
‘Yes you, princess. Sweet dreams.’
And that is the last thing he ever said to me.
Looking back now I see what happened.
I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time.
Some people die and their time is right and off they go but if like me you are unlucky and go too soon, it’s hell.
It’s been so long now and still no one knows where I am.
It’s why I am writing this book, with help, as I said before. It’s true what they say. Your soul, my soul cannot rest until the story is out.
So after the second dose of sleepy juice I did go to sleep…
I had been gone over a week before I was able to remember the full story.
Two hours after daddy had said sweet dreams, mommy came tiptoeing into the bedroom. The twins were snuffling and I was totally still and silent. I had dropped my bunny and the pink blanket from my bed when I had sat up suddenly to be sick. I didn’t know it then but it was too much sleepy juice. It made me sick. I bit my lip as I vomited over the side of the bed. I couldn’t help it. I knew mommy would be cross but it wouldn’t stop. Brown bits came out of my mouth and hit the blanket on the floor. I hoped I didn’t wake the twins. I started to cry a little and that made my nose all bunged up. I was having a horrible time. Then a pain in my tummy made me double over and then it all went blank.
The next part comes back to me in little bits. I don’t really want to remember it but I need to.
Mommy was screaming something and daddy came rushing into the bedroom. The twins began to cry.
Mommy said, ‘Oh no, dear God no.’
Then daddy was in the bathroom and I heard him howl like a wounded animal.
Mommy picked me up in my pink blanket. She didn’t shout at me because of the mess.
I wondered where we were going. It was still dark. Mommy carried me inside a big building. It echoed when she talked. Daddy was crying. Another man’s voice was getting all jumbled up. I couldn’t understand what was happening.
Then was a funny smell. Something burning. I had smelled it before. And I could see candles. Not little ones. Not like on a birthday cake. Bigger than that and round and white.
Everyone was so sad but the pain in my tummy had stopped and I wanted to wake up and go swimming. I spoke to daddy but he didn’t hear me.
I tried again, only louder. He didn’t even look at me.
He couldn’t hear me. I was so sad.
The man in the dress was still talking to mommy when he scooped me up and told her he would see to everything. Daddy nodded and began to walk away. I tried to stretch out my arm to him but it wouldn’t move.
In the distance I heard that noise that police cars make and wondered if there had been an accident. I hoped no one had drowned. I was a good swimmer but mommy and daddy said some children could not swim and we all had to be extra careful to notice if anyone was in trouble in the water. You could die very quickly they warned us. I shuddered. Then I realised I couldn’t feel anything. Nothing at all.
I was alone in the dark. I cried. Really loudly this time. I couldn’t see the twins or the windows or anything.
Then I realised I couldn’t hear myself crying. I knew about deaf people but I wasn’t deaf.
What I was; was trapped. I am used to it now but I hate it. I want to go home. I don’t like it here.
I suppose they had to make a snap decision. Their wholes lives must have flashed before them. Their renown in the medical profession, and what would happen to the twins?
I don’t know who persuaded whom but it must have been quick. What an absolute faith they must have to have trusted the doctrine of the Catholic church, even in matters of life and death.
I can only imagine the next part but it will all make sense.
They must have been frantic.
‘You gave her what? How much?!’
‘She was wide awake, I thought you…’
‘You thought…you thought.’
‘But even a double dose shouldn’t have been enough to…’
‘I know but now we will never know will we?’
‘What do you mean? There will have to be an autopsy and…’
‘Are you out of your mind?!!’
‘We admit to leaving our three children under 4 unattended in a strange place whilst we chill by the pool…’
‘So. What? We say she was…’
‘Kidnapped. It’s the only way out.’
Mommy and daddy stare at each other. I remember that bit.
‘We’d both lose our medical licenses.’
‘Negligence, neglect, malpractice, prison…’
‘What would happen to the twins?’
‘That’s not going to happen. Look at me! We decide and we stick to our story…whatever happens.’
‘Lock the door. The twins are asleep again now and we can be back before they wake up.
‘I know but we have to act, NOW!’
Mommy bundled me into the back seat of the car, then climbed into the driver’s seat.
‘You okay to drive?’
‘Yes. Absolutely. Our twin’s future relies on this. We can’t do anything for…’
But mommy couldn’t finish the sentence.
Daddy stroked her back as she drove.
Daddy made a phone call on his mobile and said, ‘Yes extremely urgent. Yes, five minutes.’
‘This is a huge risk.’
‘And the other option is?’
‘We drive to the coast and…’
‘NO! Absolutely not. I can’t…’
‘No, okay. We couldn’t… but to involve a third person?’
‘It’s not a third person, this is the Catholic church. He will help us.’
‘It is asking a lot…’
The young priest rushed forward to greet mommy and daddy.
‘Oh, you didn’t say! Have you rung for an ambulance?’
The priest starts to move back towards the vestry door.
Mommy grabs him by his robes and stares at him.
Daddy tells him that it is too late.
The priest looks from one to the other, helplessly. Then down at me.
A tear starts to trickle down his right cheek.
‘Are you sure? Really. The ambulance can be here in…’
‘No! It can’t.’ Mommy glared at him.
‘We are both doctors and we know it is too late.’
The shocked priest nodded.
‘I’ll get the holy oil…’
‘Look, we have two other children and we need to leave…’
Daddy couldn’t say my name.
Mommy went on. ‘We need to leave her in the chapel of rest just until the morning then we will come back and explain everything.’
More glaring from mommy.
‘But you can’t…I mean I can’t…’
‘What give a little girl her last rights! How long have you been a priest?’
‘No, I mean yes of course I can but have you informed the police?’
‘We come here because we are both Catholic and you must respect our confidentiality.’
Daddy said as firmly as he could manage.
Mommy nodded and glanced at her watch.
‘We must get back,’ she hissed.
‘Please. Please do this for our other two children. Their lives would be ruined.’
Daddy begged the young priest.
‘You must be back by eight o clock. Before Father O’Neil gets here. You are absolutely sure there is nothing to be done?’
‘Absolutely, yes. Thank you.’
Mommy and daddy both made the sign of the cross as they dashed out of the building.
The young priest leant over me and touched my forehead.
There was someone else in the room but I couldn’t see who.
The only breathing I could hear was from the priest who prayed between tears.
‘Oh father, please forgive me…’
We had all been to this church the Sunday before and the priest vaguely remembered us but he didn’t know our names then and he didn’t know them now. In a state of shock he hadn’t even thought to ask where we were staying. He definitely couldn’t explain that to Father O’ Neil.
He had become totally incompetent under stress.
He wept quietly for the next hour.
He had covered me with a white sheet. He had no idea what else to do.
He had performed christenings, one wedding and two funerals since he started in this holiday haven but never actually been confronted with a dead body before.
Especially one so young and in such bizarre circumstances.
At 7.45a.m. Mommy was back. She looked as drained as any living person could.
She finally introduced herself and explained to the priest just what had happened.
‘But I heard police cars not long after you left.’
‘We had to report the kidnapping.’
Mommy’s eyes implored the priest to try and understand.
‘I have already covered up a crime and now you want me to commit another!’
The vestry door creaked open and in walked Father O’Neil.
Mommy swallowed hard and the young priest asked to be excused and ran for the loo.
Father O’Neil extended his hand. ‘These youngsters…’
‘No, really, he has every reason to run away, I’m afraid I, we, have involved him in something unspeakable.’
Whilst police and SOC officers with dogs searched the holiday apartment I was being prepared for burial. A Catholic burial. The only thing left that mattered, both mommy and daddy had agreed.
Mommy and daddy faced reporters and police in equal measure. The twins were being cared for by some friends in the apartment block. I am glad they were too young to really understand what happened but I am angry that they still live in lost hope of seeing me again one day. That is cruel.
Another reason to end this charade.
The young priest was given the day off and Father O’Neil officiated at a young girl’s funeral.
Such a lovely talented, gifted, young girl. Spanish by birth and had lived in the town for 18 months but she wanted a funeral in English or at least her family did. At just 10 years old she was becoming an accomplished cello player and a recording of her playing, resonated around the graveside.
It was a freak accident three days earlier. She had been riding her pony when he suddenly reared up as a scooter sped across their path. Gemonie had been wearing her helmet but the fall caught the base of her skull and her neck broke in an instant.
The family had viewed their beautiful protégé in her casket the day before the funeral but it was sealed for the service.
She was a slender girl with long black hair.
There was plenty of room for me.
They lay us side by side as if for company.
At least Gemonie looked peaceful, accepting of her lot.
I hoped I would wake up to find all this had been a terrible nightmare and in a way it was.
The young priest went into a monastery and Father O’Neil didn’t see mommy or daddy again until a week later when they arrived for Sunday mass.
I always knew mommy had nerves of steel, I heard her sister once say but she was impossible to read. The twins were left back in the holiday village. Village of the damned, I call it now.
The media attention was relentless.
If only they knew I had been hidden in plain sight.
Incredible to think that after all these years mommy and daddy are still sticking to their story but what choice do they have? It was a road once chosen; there was no going back, ever.
Gemonie wasn’t so bad in the end, even though she wished they had buried her with her cello instead of me. She’s moved on a long time ago whereas I keep hoping to be discovered. Have a proper burial of my own. Let the twins say goodbye. Who knows what will happen to mommy and daddy but they of all people should have known better.
Of course they didn’t mean to kill me; that would have been murder.
Six months later.
‘Come in love. It is lovely to see you!’
‘Thanks, you too, Esther. How are the twins?’
‘They’re fine most of the time. Young enough…not to understand, thank goodness.’
‘Well that’s true but when they do find out…’
‘I know and I‘m not sure either of them have prepared for that?’
‘How could they…?’
‘Oh sorry no, I meant Josh and her ladyship, when I said either of them.’
‘Pop your jacket on that coat hook, Tracey. I can’t reach it anymore.’
Esther gave a resigned chuckle.
‘The arthritis giving you gip?’
‘No more than usual. At least I can still look after the twins…for the time being.’
‘Josh playing golf?’
Esther’s voice trailed off.
‘Never saw him as the golfing type.’
‘Me neither but he has changed, Tracey. Some days I hardly recognise him.’
A small voice had suddenly echoed around the hallway as Harriet poked her nose round the door jamb.
‘Hey little miss! I missed you.’ Tracey scooped Harriet up into her arms.
‘Your brother still asleep?’
Harriet nodded and grabbed hold of Tracey’s neck, nuzzling her face into the collar of her pale blue fleece jacket.
‘My wabbit’ she cooed.
Esther and Tracey exchanged sad glances.
‘Explanations may be needed sooner than we thought. I’ll make some tea. Oh no sorry, coffee for you Tracey isn’t it?’
Tracey smiled as she let Harriet lead her into the dining room where Esther had set up two camp beds for her day visitors.
Harriet and Alex were happily ensconced in their makeshift tent which Tracey had rigged up out of some old sheets that Esther produced as if she was anticipating the need. A teddy bear and dolls’ tea party was in full flow and so the grown-ups could talk.
‘Still no news?’
‘No. Well unless they are not telling me.’
‘Surely…’ Tracey didn’t have to try very hard to read Esther’s expression.
‘I only know what you know through the media. At least they have left the twins alone.’
‘And Josh still not back at work?’
‘No, that really is puzzling. I thought he would want the distraction.’
‘I’m not sure…’
‘What Tracey? What?’
‘You didn’t know that Josh had been suspended?’
‘No. No I didn’t…but surely their behaviour in Spain didn’t affect his…’
‘Oh no, Esther, although please let’s not talk about that!’
‘I know, love. I can’t get my head around it either. Their granddad must be turning in his grave. We never left Josh alone for a minute…okay, I’ll stop. Sorry.’
Tracey stood up and leaned against the mantelpiece.
‘How could they, Esther, how could they!’
‘Tracey, love. You were right. Let’s not talk about it. But what about Josh, his job?’
‘He was suspended before the holiday.’
Esther frowned and glanced up the photo of the three of them. Her and Alf and Josh at his graduation. What the hell had gone so wrong?
‘I’m sure it was an accident, Esther. Josh could never…’
‘Now you’re scaring me Tracey. Tell me.’
Tracey told Esther about the little boy dying from the accidental overdose.
Those two words hung in the air between them. Neither of them wanting to make the first comment.
A thud, a thwack and a scream from the dining room prompted Tracey to speak first.
‘Tea party is over, I think’
Tracey hugged the twins and bit her bottom lip as she glanced at Esther.
‘Will you talk to him about it?’
‘I don’t know, love. I really don’t know what to do for the best.’
‘I am sure you will work it out but…’
‘Oh no, don’t worry I never reveal my source.’
Esther was eluding back to her days a cub reporter with the local paper, The Gazette. She had stopped work when she had married Alf. It was what you did back in the 60’s. She was not the bra burning type, although now she had a hankering to offer her services again. She still had the nose.
‘There is a lot I don’t know, isn’t there Tracey?’
Tracey wondered if she had started something she couldn’t finish.
‘What are you thinking, Esther?’
‘I know you have to run now but could you could back soon and help me with this?’
Esther moved towards the old oak bureau in the corner of the sitting room and let down the flap. Reaching down beside her armchair she pulled up a brand new laptop and placed it on the makeshift desk.
‘I didn’t know you used a computer, Esther?’
‘You don’t know a lot of things, my girl.’ Esther winked at Tracey.
‘I’m not sure I am the one to help you. My computer skills are not exactly…’
‘No problem. I know how to work it I just need to know how to get into the hospital’s database.’
It was Alex looking very indignant in the doorway with jam smeared around his mouth.
Both Esther and Tracey burst out laughing as Harriet appeared behind him with an opened jar of raspberry jam.
Esther took an arm each of her grandchildren and marched them into the kitchen. She turned back to see Tracey still smiling and open mouthed.
‘Catching flies, are we?’ Esther mocked.
‘Look, I’ll come back this evening about eight, after my yoga class but I’m not promising anything, ok?’
‘So that was easier than I thought!’
‘Now what are you going to do?’
‘Nothing. I can’t can I? My own son…’
‘So why did you want to get this information?’
‘I needed to know just how much he is capable of. Well, the two them.’
‘Lying you mean?’
‘Oh yes, through their teeth!’
‘And you blame Elizabeth for the way he behaved, well behaves?’
‘I know you think I don’t want it to be my son to take the blame but honestly Tracey he changed once he met her. I really don’t think he was capable of…well, you know, so much deceit before he met her. It is as if he has forgotten how to be himself. He doesn’t think any more Tracey. It’s always. Ooh, let me just ask Elizabeth, let me see what Elizabeth thinks. Drives me crazy. I have to stop myself from saying. Do you have to ask her permission to take a shit!’
‘Sorry, love, just needed to vent. I feel better now.’
‘And you are not going to mention that you know about his suspension to him?’
‘Absolutely not. But son or no son, I’m going to get to the bottom of this…for Emma.’
‘How can I help?’
‘That’s my girl.’
‘Would you get the door for me please? I expect it will be Josh.’
Caroline winked at Esther as she retreated into the hallway.
‘Oh, hi I’m, Josh.’
‘Yes I know. I recognise you…’
‘Oh yes, I suppose everyone does these days.’
Josh tried unsuccessfully to hide the fact that he was ‘famous’ for all the wrong reasons.
‘No I meant your photos are here on the mantelpiece.’
‘Oh, hi, mum. Yes well that was a long time ago.’
Caroline smiles as Josh rakes his right hand through his hair, just as Esther said he would.
‘I don’t think we have had the pleasure?’
Esther rolls her eyes at Caroline. Caroline pauses a moment wondering whether to proceed so quickly with their plan. Maybe she should play along with his ego a little longer.
As if reading her thoughts, Esther nodded at her.
‘Caroline has saved my life, she is my new best friend, forever!’
Josh frowns and looks from one to the other.
‘I introduced your mum to twitter,’ Caroline winked openly at Josh.
Esther had to put a hand up to her mouth to stop herself from LOL.
‘She’s a natural. Tweets for England.’
‘I now have friends all over the world and I haven’t moved from my armchair. See!’
Esther waves her hand towards the open bureau and the slim-line laptop that is momentarily sleeping. The small amber light flashes periodically indicating it is all ready to go.
‘So you two met on twitter?’
Josh was trying to take in all this new information. His mother had a new BFF. He was amazed she even knew the term. And twitter. He didn’t know she even owned a computer….What the… ?
‘Sorry, darling, let me introduce you properly.’
Darling? His mother had never used that term. Josh looked at his mother for explanation.
‘This is Caroline. And we are going on a little holiday together.’
Josh surveyed Caroline from head to toe. She was mid thirties, had the most gorgeous long legs encased in tight dark blue jeans, a white cropped t-shirt that barely covered her midriff and short cropped red hair. An elfin version of Elizabeth. Her green eyes danced with amusement as Josh struggled to tear his gaze away from her pouting-I know what you are thinking-lips.
‘I think I better sit down. Are the twins okay?’
‘Of course they are. Look.’
Esther pointed out through the French windows where Harriet and Alex were busy trying to shampoo the next neighbour’s dog. October had turned into an Indian summer and the paddling pool and hose had been in big demand.
‘But the water, mum…’
‘Sit down, Josh. You know I would never let any harm come to my grandchildren!’
Esther pointed again through the windows as Tracey came into view and waved.
‘Oh I didn’t know you were still in touch with her. Tracey, I mean.’
Josh shifted in his seat.
Caroline watched him carefully. Esther had primed her.
You just wait and see. Pavlov’s dogs. Good training. I will know when he is lying. From a small boy whenever I asked him a question, one I was pretty sure he was going to reply with a lie, I used to tap my nose.
He would always, without fail scratch his nose when he answered, even if he was only thinking about lying. Very useful.
I never got round to sharing that gem with Elizabeth, she had added thoughtfully.
‘So tell me. You two met on twitter?’
‘No, of course not, stupid boy.’
At least she had stopped calling him darling…
‘Caroline works for the Gazette. She wants to do a piece on Emma. You know she wasn’t abducted don’t you Josh?’
‘I… I what?!’
Josh rubbed his nose with his right hand and immediately allowed his left hand to follow as he met his mother’s horrified gaze.
Josh rubbed the whole of his face as if that would erase his action.
Elizabeth had warned him, over and over about his body language in public. But that was nearly seven months ago. Things were easier now or so he thought.
‘What did you say?’ he turned to his mother.
‘It’s you isn’t it? Haven’t you done enough meddling?’ said Josh, staring at Caroline.
Josh walked over to the French windows pushing them wide, banging them against the walls not realising they were already ajar.
‘I left them open so I could monitor everything.’
‘And, wait, you are going on holiday…together?’
Josh’s frown completely crumpled his face.
‘Why?’ he demanded.
‘Because Caroline is a freelance journalist who specialises in forensics and things like that. A real budding Kathy Reichs, aren’t you?’
‘We are going to see what we can dig up’
Caroline had been waiting to use that line. It had the desired effect.
Esther feigned innocence at his reaction. Josh had become pale, very pale.
He steadied himself on the doorframe.
For a moment he thought of Elizabeth and he managed to tune into her way of thinking. Josh, for fuck’s sake, they are merely suggesting that Emma might have been murdered instead of kidnapped. Get a grip!
‘Are you oaky love?’ Esther was wondering if they had gone too far but how far was too far if she could finally put her granddaughter to rest.
‘Yes, mum. It’s just the thought…of course we and the police have considered that she might have been…she may never come back but you can’t just come out with it like that, mum. And nobody knows what happened that night. Not for sure…’
Josh had regained his composure. His, I am talking to the police/press, face.
‘She’s doing what?’
Elizabeth almost spat out her toast.
‘I know. Hard to believe isn’t it.’
‘Hard to believe…Josh; tell me how you reacted? Exactly how you reacted.’
‘Well, Liz…sorry but you weren’t there. She had just thrown all the new best friend stuff at me then twitter and then that!’
‘So you panicked? Brilliant.’
‘And fancy mum still being in touch with Tracey.’
‘Changing the subject will not make this go away, Josh.’
‘I know but I did manage to regain some composure…I thought how you would handle it.’
‘Hah. Nice try. Look I’ve got a board meeting. We’ll talk about this later.’
With that, Elizabeth flounced out of the kitchen and slammed the front door shut.
‘You okay, Esther. I know you got the reaction you suspected…’
‘And dreaded, Caroline. His face!’
‘I know but think about it. Give him the benefit of the doubt. He would probably have reacted just like that, even by mentioning the idea that maybe Emma was, I mean, is dead. Sorry Esther. This is hard isn’t it? Sure you want to go through with this?’
‘Oh yes, certain. Look at it this way. If Emma is, I’m going to say gone, okay? From now on we say missing or gone.’
‘Fine. I’ll remember.’
‘If Emma is gone then no more harm can come to her and in my book that is worth knowing. And I hate the thought that the twins have to grow up wondering…not knowing. Agreed?’
‘Absolutely. Shall we make plans?’
‘Don’t you trust me Beth, even now, after all this time?’
‘Of course I do but you are really better off not knowing. You will have to trust me on this.’
‘Something to do with Emma?’
Beth nodded and then turned away from Professor Hutton.
‘And Josh isn’t being supportive?’
‘John, will you please drop it! I cannot tell you.’
‘Okay, okay but…’
The professor put his hands on his heart and shrugged.
‘Are you ready for the meeting? I think we have found a solution about Josh.’
‘Good. Something needs to be resolved.’
‘What was that?’
‘Nothing. Come on or we will be late.’
Esther and Caroline followed the directions from the airport terminal building to catch the bus into the town centre. They agreed that despite being on expenses they would not use a taxi unless it was really necessary.
‘It’s actually nicer than I imagined. What do you think, Caroline?’
‘Yep, it’s a lot cleaner than I remembered. Looks more cared for than when I was last here ten years ago.’
‘Hen party did you say?’
‘Well yes a long weekend really.’
‘I am so glad you speak Spanish. I would be absolutely lost.’
Caroline smiled as the bus jolted to a halt. A very long line of Japanese tourists were crossing the road, single file.
‘Next stop, Esther. Shall I get your bag?’
‘Yes please, love. I feel quite exhausted already.’
Esther was beginning to feel utterly foolish. What could they possibly hope to achieve that the police hadn’t already uncovered? But Caroline had convinced her, the locals would be much more likely to open up to a heartbroken elderly lady.
This had received the scowl that Caroline expected.
‘Cheeky madam.’ Esther had said.
‘Here we are. Pensione Ducat …’
‘Are you sure you qualify to stay here, young lady?’
‘What? Oh, Pensione…it means guest house!’
‘Come on, let’s find our room and then we can have a leisurely evening by the pool.’
‘Sounds good to me.’
‘So we are all agreed then?’
Professor Hutton looked around the table. Everyone nodded with the exception of Gerald. Gerald was head of the new accounts department. He felt strongly that some disciplinary action should be taken.
‘If this ever comes to light…’
‘Just what are you saying, Gerald? Surely under the circumstances…’
‘Yes, but these…’ he looked at Dr Warden before continuing, ‘circumstances hadn’t occurred when the incident took place, here.’ He stated flatly.
‘We really all need to be in agreement about this. I would like this to stay in this room. Is that possible?
Gerald sighed as all eyes in the room turned towards him. He was the new guy. They would all pull rank, he knew, so he might as well give in.
‘Okay, okay but I don’t like it.’
Gerald sank back into his black leather chair and folded his arms.
‘Good. Any other business?’
No one spoke.
‘Excellent. Then have a good day all of you.’
Chairs were pushed back and folders gathered up. The conference room emptied. Elizabeth sighed and rested her head on John’s shoulder.
‘Thank you but you know I almost agreed with Gerald.’
‘Things really are that bad then?’
‘Afraid so, ….’
‘Well, like I said…’
‘I know, anytime. I will but not yet.’
Elizabeth bent down to pick up her briefcase from the floor when the door suddenly sprung open.
‘Sorry, must have dropped…’
It was Gerald.
He bent down to search underneath table.
‘Ah there it is! My phone. Sorry must have dropped it’
His eyes met Elizabeth’s.
‘Sorry,’ he repeated.
As he picked up the phone, he smiled and appeared to switch it off.
‘So what do you fancy, Auntie, tapas or tapas?’
‘You sure this is the best tack?’
‘Yep, there is something about strangers being related that makes erm strangers feel more comfortable.’
‘Okay, if you say so.’
‘Right, tomorrow we hit the village itself. We are just here on holiday and I will be the nosey one. See how it goes. If we don’t get a bite we go the distraught grandma routine. Esther?’
‘It can’t be jet lag. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to make light of… You having second thoughts? I can easily do this alone you know. Treat this as a holiday. No one will mind as long as we don’t go overboard with the expense budget.’
‘It’s not that dear.’
‘Well, what? Esther you are beginning to worry me.’
‘I haven’t quite told you what I found out about Josh.’
Esther’s eyes started to fill with tears.
‘Oh Esther, what is it?’
Esther shook her head.
‘First of all you have to understand I can’t reveal my source.’
This got a wry smile from Caroline.
‘Spoken like a true…’
‘Let me finish dear, or I may never get it out.’
A waiter hovered. Caroline smiled at him and said something in Spanish.
He nodded and retreated.
‘Go on. I told him five minutes.’
Esther took a deep breath and leant back in her rattan poolside chair.
She stared for a moment at the horizon. She felt the sun setting and decided she had to confide in Caroline.
‘I found out why Josh was suspended from his job.’
‘And you are certain. Of the source I mean?’
‘Oh yes. Absolutely.
Caroline nodded, resting her left hand lightly on Esther’s right shoulder.
‘This can be off the record. You do know that?’
‘We could hardly stop her!’ Josh struggled to tie a perfect knot in his tie and yanked it off.
‘No of course not.’ Elizabeth sighed, plonking down on the bed.
‘But she’s not going to find out anything.’
‘Are you asking me or telling me?’
‘You’re sure he won’t crack?’
‘Never. I have absolute faith in him. Now what are we going to do about the twin’s birthday?’
TO BE CONTINUED…