Chapter 52 – The Legacy

The call from the solicitors came through while Lily was on the train. The appointment they offered was in the early afternoon. Her nerves were jumping, but she managed to keep her voice firm and controlled

Apart from one pass along the street where the offices were located she kept away. The character that she was about to play wouldn’t wander back and forth, she would turn up in time for her appointment, and so she did.

She was offered coffee by a secretary, behind a work station in the dull waiting room, and declined with a small smile.

As she entered his office, leaning heavily on the cane, Andrew Stoner walked out from behind the desk to hold the chair while she took her seat, placed her bag, and the small document case on the floor beside her.

“Have you been offered coffee, tea?”

“I was thank you, and I think that now maybe a cup of tea would be nice.” He pressed a button on the phone keypad, ordered two cups of tea.

“So, Mrs erm, Bowers? I believe our name was passed along to you?”

“It’s Miss, Miss Lily Bowers. Yes, indeed. I heard about you, specifically you, in dealings with Colin Robertson. I believe he is a friend.”

The shock on the solicitor’s face was quickly hidden and he managed a question, “Did you know him well?”

“Not terribly well, no. Actually, it was my partner who had dealings with him.”

“Ah. Well, I’m afraid Colin is no longer with us.”

She lowered her brow, tipped her head. “I knew that he was ill.”

Stoner coughed, “I’m afraid Mr Robertson, Colin, died last week. It was quite sudden. He did seem to be improving but then,” Stoner shrugged, “I suppose these things happen. It was a shock. We had been friends for a long time.” He had taken out his handkerchief to blow his nose. She was surprised to see such visible grief.

“So, you were close?”

The solicitor nodded, and then turned as his assistant knocked and carried a tray into the room.

There was a hiatus while cups were moved, sugar and biscuits offered, napkins passed, by which time Andrew Stoner had regained his composure. “So, your own partner has recently passed?” In response Lily simply inclined her head. “You weren’t married?”

“No. We had never felt the need.”

“And from what I understand he had various holdings that you have inherited.”

“She.”

“I’m sorry?”

“My partner’s name was Charlotte Mary Stone.”

“Ah I see, a business partner.” He smiled and lifted his cup to cover his moment of confusion.

“No, indeed.” Lily found she was enjoying this little back and forth. She watched silently as he re-gathered his thoughts and struggled to find a suitable expression.

“I am sorry for your loss.” She had to bite back a smile as he reverted to the overused phrase. Again, she rewarded him with a small nod and allowed a sigh.

He obviously decided that the best idea was to move on with the business at hand. “How, do you think we will be able to help you? We offer, investment advice, property management services, Will writing services of course. Erm…”

Lily bent and lifted the document case onto her lap. She slid her hand inside and pulled out the small brown paper bag.

“My reason for coming to see you is possibly quite unusual. Some years ago, my partner made a purchase. I suppose it would be true to call it an investment.”

Andrew Stoner was frowning, he peered across his desk at the scruffy little bag in her hand and then raised his eyes to hers. He had no idea the way this was going, but she imagined he was wondering by now if this was all a waste of his time.

Lily leaned forward and tipped the contents of the bag onto the leather blotter. Stoner glanced at her, frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What are these?” He poked at the sad little collection of items. Lily half stood and picked up the flimsy blue card. She turned it in her hand until the writing was visible on the top, picked up the receipt and then she handed the two together into his outstretched hand. She regained her seat and lifted the china cup to her lips. She sipped, all the time keeping her eyes fixed on his face.

She knew immediately that she had him. It was clear by the way the colour drained from his face, leaving him grey and drawn. He glanced across at her. Grunted, and then discarded the papers with a flick. “What the hell is this? What are these things? I am not sure I understand exactly what is going on here Miss Bowers. How can I help you with – with, these?” He pointed at the items and Lily was delighted by the quiver in the blunt ended fingers.

He was panicked and falling apart in front of her eyes. It was better than she could have hoped for. Her nerves settled and she felt confidence flood her body. “Well, now. I can tell you exactly how you can help me. As for what’s going on I think you know only too well.”

 

 

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A Drive in the Mountains – Part 2

The smoke has gone, the wind took it, the last was just small puffs, afterthoughts drifting like helium balloons into the mountains.  I’m shivering now, it’s cold, the wind is searing but it’s more than that.  Great shudders shake through me, my teeth chatter and my knees wobble, jiggling up and down in a comical, ludicrous fashion.  I giggled, a few moments ago it made me giggle, but then I realised that  could be hysteria.  I know that I am sinking into shock.  If I allow it to take hold I will die.  I am not going to die of shock.

I have tried again to lean forward but the ledge is too narrow, as I bend, my behind pushes against the mountain and the centre of gravity shifts and threatens to throw me from the ledge.  I’ve tried to peer over by straining my neck but all I can see is far, far below me the green slopes and tree tops.  There is no way to tell how sheer is the drop under this ledge, it could be that there is nothing, like a gigantic step off the side of the mountain.  It could be that it would be possible to slide on it, maybe, steep yes but like a Black Run, slideable.  I can’t see.

I called out to him, Mario, over and over until again the terror, the hysteria almost overwhelmed me and I had to stop to calm myself.  I want to sit down, I can’t sit down.  I can’t move at all.  Oh God, I’m going to die here.  I’m going to tumble from this ledge, I can’t turn round.

The noise of the car burning has gone, it didn’t last very long, a roar, some pops and cracks and then not much.  I don’t know where the car is but I don’t think that it could be amongst the trees or it would have set fire to them.  Wouldn’t it?

Every few minutes I call out, the shouts echo back at me, the mountains mock me, sending my voice back over and over, fading, weakening.

My phone is in my bag, god knows where that ended up.  My legs hurt, my shoulders are sore, isn’t that a sign of internal bleeding, I’m sure I read that somewhere.  My head is pounding.  What should I do, what can I do.

“Mario, Mario.”

Tears sting my eyes and flood down my face, I catch them on my tongue, they moisten my mouth, I’m very thirsty, isn’t that another sign of bleeding.  I don’t want this.  I don’t want to die here on this ledge.

I could jump, simply let myself go, not really a jump, a step nothing more.  I could step over now and that would be the end.  The thought appalls me; a spurt of urine shames me.  If I could sit down I could think, If I could sit down I could live.

“Mario.”

I wonder what the time is.  It is an age since we left the hotel, just after breakfast and we drove for more than an hour to the mountains.  Then a stop at the little bar for a coffee before the whirling, spiralling, breakneck race that left us here.  How long is it since we crashed, I don’t think I lost consciousness, no, surely that would have seen me tumbling into oblivion.  I think, I wish I had gone down then, I wish it was over.  I wish this was not my decision to take.

How long will the sun last, it has moved a small way across the sky, not far, I have no knowledge of these things.  How long does it take to move across the sky.  It must be early afternoon, that’s good, early afternoon is good.  There is the chance that someone will come past; they will surely see the broken fencing, will stop.  Yes early afternoon.  That’s good…

I’m dizzy now, it comes and goes.  A tipping of the world, just a dip and then back again, nauseating, terrifying.  I’m so very cold; I’m shaking and quivering uncontrollably.  It stills now and again for long seconds, just long enough for me to remember how it feels to be normal and then it sweeps through me again. My teeth are chattering.  I can’t feel my feet properly now, they’re numb and the numbness is creeping up my legs.

I don’t think I’m bleeding much anymore.  I have a pain though, a deep, dark pain in my belly.  It’s heavy and dull, not sharp.  Is that good, would a sharp pain be better than this deep ache.

My world spins again.  A great bird flew over a while ago, screeching in the blue sky, it wheeled and turned, it was quite beautiful.  I don’t know what it was, did it see me pinned here on the side of the mountain.  Did it wonder about me?

I can’t stand much longer, my legs need to let me go, my belly is a great stone of pain.  There is nothing more for me, I can’t…

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Chapter 51 – The Legacy

Lily was angry. She was furious with Colin. How could he have done this selfish thing to his own son. After everything else, it was a final vicious act that had stolen from Terry the promise of being his own master, the thing that had given him hope for a better future. She was livid with Andrew Stoner for going along with it, and selfishly she was angry that they had spoiled her evening with Terry. In the face of the rest of it this was a minor thing, but the number of days left to enjoy his company were limited, each one was precious.

Terry had told her not to worry, that he would be working out the best way to deal with it and that, if it was at all possible, he would find a way to change it. He had been preoccupied and edgy and the evening was less than she had hoped for. So, it seemed that even now Colin was influencing their lives.

When he had spoken to her about the journey back to Hampshire the next day, she had told him ‘No’. She wouldn’t hear of him spending time running her back and forth when there was so much more important work for him to do. There was no denying the look of relief on his face.

It was tempting to stay here, in Bath but she had work of her own to do. She must change her Will; Charlotte Mary’s cousin was no longer the right option. She would leave him something, a small bequest out of respect for his past kindness. It was obvious that everything else must be left for Terry. After all he was Peter’s brother and the closest thing that she would ever have to a son. She would write to the solicitor so that they could prepare the altered document and she would go in next week, to sign it.

All this rushing back and forth was inconvenient. It crossed her mind that she could live happily in Bath. There was nothing to hold her in Southsea and the place wasn’t what it had been when they had first lived there. So many houses had been converted to small apartments and as a result the population was much more transient. Why not think about it, just an apartment for herself, something easy to run. A lovely new place. Somewhere better to end her days.

Moving would be difficult and she would need a great deal of help. Nowadays though, you could pay to have everything done for you. Terry would know most likely know people, he would have the right contacts. Perhaps when all this present unpleasantness was sorted out she should look into it.  For so long there had been no plans, just the plodding from day to day and the caring for Charlotte Mary and now, it was pleasant to daydream.

After their meal, he had walked with her to the hotel, seen her safely inside and promised to ring her the next day if possible and anyway, if there were any major developments.

“I wonder about coming to his funeral?”

“Colin’s?” Terry had frowned, “Why would you want to do that?”

“Support, you need support at that sort of thing.”

“No, really there’s no need. I’ve got a couple of mates who have already said they’ll come. Not because they liked him or anything but, well yes, as you say just so there’s somebody there for me. But it’s alright, I’ve got it covered. I don’t know yet how many people there’ll be. He had all his cronies, the Masons and what not but I’m leaving it all to Stoner. It’s a kind thought but it’s not worth it. Thanks though.”

She would come, she’d let him know when she was already here. She had the name of the funeral directors. It would be easy to find out the day and time of the ceremony.

She watched him walk through the car park towards the river. Soon, she expected that he was going to ask again about Peter and she had to decide how to handle that. She could go along with the pretence, let him put Charlotte Mary’s ashes with Carol Roberston, believing they were Peter’s remains, and then there would be nothing left to say. He would go back to his own life and she would be left alone with everything still unresolved and Peter still at risk. She would in effect have failed. Now on top of all of that there was this new problem. If he did indeed give up on his dreams and emigrate then there would be no chance of ever seeing him again. No point at all in moving from Southsea.

It was hard to sleep. The plans, some ridiculous and quickly dismissed, and others that seemed possible ran through her mind. She remembered the night at The Grange, it caused her stomach to turn. From what she knew, Andrew Stoner was no weak, old victim, but a man who was doubtless stronger than she, with all his faculties. She had already proved that she was capable of things far beyond anything imaginable, but that wasn’t an option this time. For this situation, she needed a new idea. A different tack.

One way or another, the blight of Andrew Stoner must be removed from Terry’s future.

She gathered together thoughts of what she knew and let the ideas play out in her mind. The two men had been friends for a long time and Colin had called Stoner the day before his death. The old solicitor must know about the past. If he knew about Terry, about the other baby, her Peter, then what else was he aware of.

In recent cases of child abuse, the nets had been cast wide and had drawn in unimaginable numbers of criminals. Could it be, that both Stoner and Colin Robertson had been involved in the filthy business with a circle of others? Why had he left expensive property to friends? Even the kindest, most altruistic person would think twice about such bequests, especially if they formed part of a greater whole.

As the night wore she became convinced that Colin had been involved in the worst of all cruelty, not only with his own family but other’s besides. It seemed to her more than likely that he had not acted alone, and Andrew Stoner could be the thin edge of a much greater wedge.

The road outside began to stir with the earliest of the traffic, and the sun sent a gentle glow into the mists cloaking the hills around the city, Lily rolled over and fell asleep.

She slept late and by the time she left the hotel it was a bright, Spring day. She had missed breakfast and so, found a coffee shop where she ate teacakes, drank hot tea and phoned to arrange an appointment with the solicitor.

The answering machine promised that they would get back to her as soon as possible, assured her that she was important to them. She left a message, a little arrogant, rather pre-emptive. She told them she would be back in Bath on Monday afternoon, and her time was limited. She wanted to deal only with Andrew Stoner, he had been recommended to her, and she was considering instructing him to deal with her recently deceased partner’s extensive holdings. She left them her address and mobile number. She must be convincing and if they were moved to check the few facts she had said nothing untrue, she had exaggerated, but then it seemed to her that everyone did that these days. Wasn’t the world full of puff and self-aggrandisement.

She would travel as early as possible on Monday morning. She considered waiting out the weekend in the hotel but if she were to bump into Terry it would be very difficult to explain and she couldn’t sit in the room for two days. In any case, there was work for her to do in Southsea and she needed as much rest as possible, to be strong and ready for Monday.

Before she left she walked into town. She strolled along the busy roads, perused the shops. She bought a new outfit, something exclusive, something more like the sort of thing Charlotte Mary would have had, and she added some new shoes, the first for years. When she was tired, there were plenty of benches to rest and watch the world go by, and as the day wore on Lily felt calm and happy. She had someone to work for and a plan which was becoming ever clearer in her mind.

***

At first, when she closed the door behind her in Southsea she felt pleased that she had come back. And then, she looked around the familiar space. It had been her home for so long, but now, it held nothing but bitter memories, sorrow and boredom. She realised that, at her age and in poor health the sensible thing to do was to settle down and wait out her days quietly, but then, people of her age and in poor health didn’t have the secrets that she had, hadn’t done what she had done.

She rested and waited for Monday, wrote her letter, organised the train ticket, and she sorted through Charlotte Mary’s jewellery. The large Sapphire ring was a little gaudy for daywear but it was a statement piece and she would also wear the earrings. She dressed in her new outfit, gazed at herself in the mirror and was satisfied. She had lost a little weight, she looked older than her years now but her thinner figure was smarter. She had become a pastiche of her mother and Charlotte Mary. Of the dumpy, frowsy, Lily of more recent years, there was little trace. It made her smile. In the back of the wardrobe was a walking stick. It was one that her father had carried, dark shiny wood and a silver handle. It was a little long for her but manageable. It was the finishing touch. Yes, a dowager with a stick and rather more money than she needed. A new Lily.

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Chapter 50 – The Legacy

It was strange being back in the hotel. Lily had thought she would never see it again but so much had changed. She was stronger now, she had done something that most people would never dream of. And she had got away with it. Of course, she had done it because of Terry, and Peter, but mostly Terry. It had been a duty.  She could still help him, could make up for her failure last time.

There was no regret, there had been that dreadful fear, and shock but never any regret. Even when she allowed the memory to trickle in, the final moments, that strange last breath, the terrible aftermath, from just a couple of day’s distance, she felt strong, powerful. She hadn’t enjoyed doing it, of course not, but it had been necessary and it was time to put it behind her.

She couldn’t waste time dwelling on what had happened. There was still more work needed. It was what mums did wasn’t it. Alright, she wasn’t his mum, she knew that, of course, but, after all, he could have been her son. He was a little younger than Peter, it was only a question of timing wasn’t it, a couple of short years. Everything else was the same.

She took a hot shower and dressed in her black dress, he hadn’t said where they would go to eat but she wanted to look nice for him. It would be fine if he didn’t have time to take her back tomorrow. She had brought plenty of clothes and anyway, Bath was full of lovely shops. It would be an ideal time to spend some of the money that had been sitting in her account for an age. It would be fun, and now that there was a reason to look good, or at least to look better, it was worth the effort.

She took her medication and made sure the spray was in her bag. She felt better than for a while. Having something to do, someone else to think about apart from herself, was good. She pulled the chair in front of the window and gazed out at the view over the little pond and the busy road beyond.

The afternoon wore on and she took a nap. She looked for something to watch on the television. Daytime viewing wasn’t something that had ever appealed, and very quickly it became clear that there wouldn’t be much temptation to do it again. Seven o clock came and she began to worry. There was nothing on the phone’s missed call list. It was so tempting to ring, to pretend to have forgotten whether they had already arranged something. Anxiety built, perhaps there really had been a misunderstanding. She replayed the conversation in her head and was convinced that this was the agreement and so, there was nothing else to do but to wait.

It was after half past seven when the call came, “Lily, I’m sorry. I meant to ring earlier. Something’s come up.” Her heart thudded. He was going to cancel. The funeral directors had raised the alarm – she wasn’t sure they would do that, but it seemed possible.

He continued, “I’ll pick you up in about ten minutes if that’s alright. Do you think you could manage a little walk? There are a couple of pubs just near to where you are, they are both very nice. If that suits I’ll call and book a table.”

“Lovely. I’m feeling fine Terry, you really mustn’t worry about me so much, truly.” He was such a kind boy, so thoughtful. She was so lucky.

Immediately they met, Lily knew that there was something very wrong. He offered her his arm, he kissed her cheek but there was no smile, and the short walk to the pub was silent. “What would you like to drink, Lily?”

“A glass of red wine please, something heavy.” He smiled as she repeated the words from their first meeting.

They ordered and she took her first sip of the Bordeaux, “Oh lovely, that’s perfect, thank you.” He responded with a short nod and drank half of his pint of lager in a couple of deep gulps. It was a replay of the first time and even the atmosphere was a mirror, he was distracted, edgy and he let out a huge sigh. She could wait no longer.

“What’s the matter?”  He shook his head, but then lifted his eyes to look directly across the table at her. Her mind was racing, this must be about Colin, they had found out. It was her own fault, she had let down her guard, been too sure of herself, smug even, and now, here came the comeuppance. Tempting providence, was never a good idea.

“I had a meeting earlier, with Andrew Stoner. That’s what kept me. It was supposed to be a short thing. Just to talk about the funeral, but it took longer than expected. That’s why I was late.”

Lily took a sip of her drink. Her hands shook but he didn’t seem to notice. “Was there something wrong?”

“Yes, you could say that.” She was afraid to speak, afraid of his next words.

“So, Colin.” He paused again, he was struggling to format what he wanted to tell her.

“Yes?”

“He’s screwed me. Even from beyond the bloody grave. Well, not in the grave yet, but you know what I mean. Even though he’s dead, he’s screwed me over. Sorry for the language Lily but I am so bloody mad.”

This wasn’t what she had been expecting. She would have felt relief if it hadn’t been for the furious fire in Terry’s eyes, the way he picked up the drink, drained the glass and slammed it back on the table.

“What on earth has happened Terry? Tell me what’s happened?”

“I’m sorry, Lily this isn’t anything for you to worry about. Look let’s just have our meal and talk about something else.”

“Well, I came here to help you, Terry. If you need to talk about something, get something off your chest then I don’t mind you using me. I’d like it.” He gave her an odd look but then he tried to smile. It was a poor effort, just an upward movement of his lips but it was enough to let her know that he wasn’t angry with her.

“Okay, well, you know I always said that I reckoned it would all be mine one day? The properties, the business? I said I stuck with it, worked for him, even though I despised him, because I told myself I was really working for myself, my future?”

Lily nodded, but it was obvious the way the conversation was going and she whispered a response. “Is this about the will?”

“It is.”

“Has he not left it to you then? Oh, Terry!”

He shook his head as he answered, “It’s not quite that bad. Although in a way it’s worse. He’s left it to me, most of it anyway. There are a couple of places that he has left to friends, their own homes and I guess that’s fair enough. A bit over generous in a way I guess,” he shrugged his shoulders, “but…”

“Yes.”

“Oh, hang on here comes the food. I need another drink as well. Shall I get you one.” Lily was about to refuse but she nodded. Why not, she wanted another drink and why shouldn’t she have what she wanted.

As they ate he explained about the meeting. How Andrew Stoner had gloated as he had relayed the terms of Terry’s inheritance. How for the next ten years he, the solicitor, would manage a trust that would dictate most of how the business was run.”

“But it’s still yours?” Lily was puzzled and confused by the terms he was using.

“Yes, in name it’s mine. I’ll still have the day to day running. The donkey work. Dealing with agents, contractors, all of that but nothing else. None of the ongoing expansion or development of the business, none of the stuff that he, Colin, used to do. For the next ten years, anything at all to do with that, will have to be approved by Andrew bloody Stoner. Even my own flat. If I want to sell that I’ll have to go to him and he’ll have input. It wouldn’t have mattered if we’d been on the same page about this stuff, but he’s the same as Colin was. Stuck in the mud, ticking along. He just wants things to stay the way they’ve always been. No expansion, no new investment – oh all sorts of ideas I had, stuff I’ve tried to get Colin to do for years. Now, now the old bugger is dead I still have to wait. Another ten bloody years before I have control. It’s so unfair Lily. I’ll be too old by then to do what I want. You have to get this stuff going as soon as you can, build up your money, organise pensions. I just feel like giving up, I just feel like throwing in the towel.”

“Is that why he rang then, after we’d been to see Colin, is that why he called the solicitor?”

“No. God no – ha – if only. If it had been, then there was no way they would have time to make it legal. No, this is something they cooked up between themselves months ago.

When Colin started to get better from his stroke. I guess he’d had a glimpse of his own mortality. I was trying to get him to sign things over and, well it just backfired didn’t it.  He wanted to make sure that, even if he wasn’t here, he was still controlling things. The old swine.”

But, Terry, you can’t give up, what would you do then?”

“I’d just go. I’ve thought about it before, when things have been getting me down. I’d just leave the whole bloody lot and emigrate, go to America maybe, Australia, somewhere I could make a new start and leave all of this stuff behind.”

“No.”

“Sorry?”

The word had leapt unbidden from her mouth, and now she was embarrassed and needed to cover her panic at the thought of him leaving her. “Well, what I mean is, you shouldn’t let him win. It’s your right, he owes you. You know that, more than an ordinary Grandfather, Father – he owes you Terry. You can’t let him win. You mustn’t.”

He smiled at her, it was warmer than before. The revelation had helped. “Oh look, Lily. This isn’t your problem. Don’t let it upset you. I need to think about it all and see what my options are. But quite honestly right now, I just feel as though I want done with it all.”

“He’s old, Andrew Stoner, isn’t he?”

“Same age as Colin was, yes.”

“Well there we are. Maybe he won’t live another ten years. What happens if he dies?”

“Oh well, I’m not a hundred percent certain, but I’m pretty sure that in that case I get complete control. There were no other conditions, no-one else mentioned. Ha, that’s the answer, perhaps I should push him under a bus or something eh?”

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Chapter 49 – The Legacy

Milsom Street in Bath city centre, had been trimmed, there were multi-coloured umbrellas strung between the buildings. It was faintly ridiculous, but Lily couldn’t help but smile. When she discovered it was to acknowledge the idea of ‘Rainbow Love’ she felt a lump in her throat.

She had been a part of that war hadn’t she. But then, they hadn’t really fought, hadn’t been warriors for the cause. All that she and Charlotte Mary had done was to live their own lives in their own way but quietly, sneakily if she was honest. Whenever it became uncomfortable they had fallen back on the ‘Friends since school and it just made sense to pool our resources’ story or even, pretended to be sisters.

Looking at the rainbow flags, the bright domes floating above the street, she felt shame, not because of their choices, but because they had been cowardly in the face of truth. Still, that had been then, it had been dangerous and the publishing, rather ‘arty’ world, that they had inhabited had been accepting, and so the issue of their sexuality hadn’t loomed as large as it would have done if they had gone into other professions. And of course, Charlotte Mary had been the stronger one and she had enjoyed being on the outside of the mainstream. There had been times, quickly pushed aside when Lily had wondered just how much of their relationship was built on true affection and how much was bravado and daring. On her part, she had been completely enamoured of Charlotte Mary but there had always been an element of fear.  She knew that her partner could be shallow and insincere and there had been a low grade but constant worry that she would become bored and decide to try something new. She flirted with men and really it was hard to believe that she had ever felt anything deeply. Bi-sexual probably and simply out to enjoy any and all experiences that were available to her. How Lily wished she had been so daring.

What would Charlotte Mary have made of Lily’s new secret. She nodded to herself, she would probably have been excited by it. She would have thought it the greatest thrill. At last Lily, would have impressed her.

She pushed aside the musings. She was old, it was too late now for her to make any difference to things that had happened in the past or indeed, the young people that she saw around her. There was no point in pretending. When they looked at her they wouldn’t even consider her sexuality, she was a rather dowdy, unimportant woman. They didn’t know her secret, and now she had a second one, a greater one, and as she moved along with the crowd she felt isolated, but also, she was amazed to find that she felt superior. It was an unfamiliar sensation.

***

Terry waved at her through the window of the tea shop, and as he pulled out a chair at the small round table, he bent to give her a peck on the cheek. How quickly they had become familiar, the thought warmed her. He looked tired, there were dark rings under his eyes and two tiny grooves between his eyebrows that she had never noticed before.

“You didn’t need to come Lily. I don’t like to put you out like this. To be honest I don’t know what you can do.”

The final sentence hurt, it seemed dismissive, but of course he didn’t know how much she had already been able to do. “I thought I might be able to help. You’ll have a lot to do and it’ll help if you have someone to talk to. I wasn’t doing anything else and I kept thinking about you.”

“That’s good of you, thanks. Really, thanks, but…” He pursed his lips and glanced around, awkward and ill at ease. “Thing is that, well, maybe I can just get through it quicker if I just zoom around, you know. I have to keep things ticking over with the business, there are meetings and what have you. Stoner is taking care of funeral arrangements right now, there’s not much to do on that front. Honestly, Lily, it’s kind of you but, well really there’s no need.”

Her throat burned, she bit back the quick flash of emotion, “You said that I was the only one you could talk to. I just thought it might help for me to be here.” She was shocked and embarrassed when her voice cracked on the final word. She lowered her eyes to the table, picked up a spoon and stirred her cooling drink.

There was an awkward silence and Terry leaned and laid his hand over hers. “Lily, I don’t want to appear ungrateful, I truly do appreciate you coming all this way. But, I really think it would be better if you just went home. Later, when things have settled down a bit, when things are clearer in my own mind. Well, then I’ll come through to Southsea, we’ll get those ashes and then bring them back and we’ll have some sort of little thing, a ceremony, and put Peter with his mum. I know that’s what you wanted, I know that’s why you came in the first place. Is that okay, shall we do that? Actually, that’s something I’m dealing with today. No way is Colin going in the grave with Mum and Gran, I’m just not having it, so I’m arranging for a plot somewhere else. Stoner’s trying to interfere but I’m determined about this. So, there we are, Peter can go with them, in the family plot.”

“And what about all the other things. What about the abuse, the baby selling all of that?”

He shook his head and sighed deeply. “I don’t know. I just don’t know any more. It’s too late isn’t it. Colin’s dead, there’s no way to make him pay, not really, and to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve got the heart for it. When you said yesterday that maybe Andrew Stoner had known about it…” he paused and she turned her hand under his to squeeze his fingers. He drew it away and lay it on his knee under the table before continuing, “Well, it made me see how embarrassing all this will be. If I pursue it and really, is there any point anymore.”

“But, you can’t – you can’t just stop. Not now, not now we’ve gone this far.” He looked at her, a question in the tip of his head, the lowered brow. “How do you mean? All we did was tell Colin, and look what happened, he’s bloody dead.” He raised a hand as Lily opened her mouth to speak, “No, no it’s okay, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me not to blame myself. Well, to be honest, I’ve thought about it all night, and really, if he did die because of me showing him that report, and telling him that I knew all about his dirty secrets, well, do you see? That is a sort of revenge. In a way, he has paid. So, it’s not about me blaming myself. If that was what did it, well yes, I can live with that. I can happily live with that. It wasn’t deliberate, not as if I murdered him, or even hoped for it to happen – but…” He nodded and shrugged. “I suppose it could just be over.”

Of course, she hadn’t been going to say that at all, but the moment was past. She would try a different tack, “What about the solicitor though. He might have known, he probably knows everything now. Aren’t you going to do anything about that? Surely you should try and find out, if he knew he should pay as well, shouldn’t he? What about the other people, you haven’t even thought of them, the ones that might have suffered as well? Surely you owe them something?”

“I’m not some sort of crusader, Lily. Colin’s dead – I don’t know if this can go any further. Anyway, at the moment I can only take things a step at a time I think.”

“So, I’ll just go back then shall I. Just go back to Southsea.” She tried to bite down on her lips to stop them quivering but it was too late, he had seen.

“Oh, I’m sorry Lily. I’m being thoughtless. I dragged you into this didn’t I and now I’m being mean. You didn’t sign up for this mess, all you wanted to do was set mum’s mind at rest. Look, tell you what. Why don’t you stay tonight, we’ll go out and have a meal? We’ll sort out what to do about Peter and then tomorrow I’ll give you a lift back to Southsea. It’s not right you using the train when all you did was come to help.”

She nodded at him. “That would be lovely.”

She had known, she had been right to come, it was obvious that he needed her, and of course, he was embarrassed about it.

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Chapter 48 – The Legacy

Lily tried to concentrate on clearing her desk, she was brutal. Old photographs that she had treasured for years were dumped into the bin bag. Letters and postcards followed them. How pointless it all seemed, this hanging on to the past and wallowing in sentiment. Her mind strayed constantly to Bath, to Terry and his struggle. She would go. Even though he had said no, even though she wasn’t sure what help she could be, she would go. He needed her.

As the decision firmed in her mind she realised, there may not be the opportunity. If they had suspected, if the people at the home had called the police, even now they would be searching for her and she may be going nowhere ever again. She attempted to research the issue on-line, how long it might take for the alarm to be raised, the police involved. What the procedure would entail.

It was confusing and did nothing except wind up the tension.

It was late now, too late to call Terry back, too late to walk along the seafront, too late to call next door and let her mind be filled by Sandra’s inane chatter.

She went into the basement. For a while she sat in the candle-lit space in silence, tried to calm her rushing thoughts in the quiet, with her baby, their baby. The thought slipped through her mind that maybe this was just more wallowing, but what else could she do. He was here, the thought of him had ruled her life for so long and would continue until she made him safe. Terry, had much to decide, but then so did she, and if the police came and she had to act, to take her pills, she still had not protected Peter.

She wouldn’t be able to wait much longer. Time was running out and though it would be the end of this new delight that he had brought into her life, it would have to be done. She would have to speak to Terry. She would lose him, just as she had lost Peter.

As if the thought had caused the event, she heard her phone ringing out from where it sat on the table in the hall. She knew she wouldn’t reach it in time and so took another moment, touched a hand to the recently disturbed soil, and then climbed back to the kitchen.

“Lily, I hope it’s not too late. You weren’t in bed, were you?”

“No, I was in the basement.” Just saying the word, she felt a flare of something like excitement.

“Oh right, I didn’t know you had a basement. Is it habitable.” She smiled, the property manager had quickly come to the fore.

“No, it’s not.”

“Sorry, automatic response.” She heard him chuckle. It made her smile. “Anyway, I’m just letting you know that I’m back from The Grange. It didn’t take that long really. It was pretty much a formality. Final arrangements to collect his stuff, a bit about how sorry they were, the final bill of course, just what you’d expect.”

She waited, looked down at her hand and was surprised to see that she had crossed her fingers. A childish habit that had resurfaced in this moment of high tension. “Did they give you any details? You know about the actual, erm – the end?”

“They said that he was found by the nurse when she took in his morning tea. They had looked in during the night and he’d been sleeping.”

She knew that this couldn’t be true. If they had checked on him properly, they would have found him dead.

So, for all the quiet luxury maybe things were not quite as well managed as it seemed in the upmarket care home. No matter how much you paid, no matter how smart the furnishings and decorations, at the end of the day, people were people. They would take short cuts, particularly, she imagined when they saw no real cause for concern.

“Are you there, Lily?”

“Yes, sorry. I’m a bit tired.”

“Right, well I’ll let you go. I just thought you’d like to know.”

“I’m glad you rang. Tell me about the arrangements?”

“Arrangements.”

“Yes, the funeral and so on.”

“Oh right. Yes. Well, Colin had it pretty much organised apparently. When the home rang Andrew Stoner, he told them who to use and that all enquiries, God knows who he thinks would be enquiring, are to be directed to him. They said they would keep in touch with him, for timings, they intend to send someone. As I said all a formality really. But I do have some thoughts. He might not have it all his own way. But that’s for later, about the grave, and it’s not your problem.”

He had still not told her enough to set her mind at rest.

Yet again, she risked the question that was nagging at her mind, “So, no post mortem or anything?”

“No, they just called the doctor who was looking after him, this morning. He certified the death as a stroke, they stressed that they had been struggling a bit with his blood pressure, and that’s it. They did say that I could ask for a post mortem myself if I wanted, apparently, they are obliged to tell me that. Did you have one, when Charlotte died?”

“No. Of course her death was expected, a relief to be honest.”

“It’s just that you’ve asked about it a couple of times and I wondered if it was something I should be thinking about for some reason. It was very straight forward with mum, her being in the hospital. I am just letting Andrew Stoner look after it right now to be honest. He was so pleased with himself, so smug, let him do the running around. Look, I’m keeping you up, I’m going now. I’m going to have a massive brandy and then see if I can get to sleep. God, what a day it’s been.”

“Alright. Good night, Terry. Sleep well.”

There was no risk of the police knocking on her door, there was to be no shame, no need to take the pills to escape the authorities. She could live a while longer, help Terry.  A smile crept across her face. She had literally got away with murder.

She felt energised, a little hysterical. The horror, dread and disgust had dissipated to be replaced with something that she could only describe as joy.

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Chapter 47 – The Legacy

Lily snatched up the phone when Terry’s i.d. showed on the screen. He had called her, he must surely have friends, but now, when he was coping with the unexpected, the difficult, he had called her, she was the one he had turned to. She listened to his report of the meeting with barely a comment. Only when he fell silent, did she speak.  “So, he just told you to leave?”

“Yes. After I asked him what Colin had spoken to him about, he just said that he didn’t have time and he had another appointment. Well, there was nothing much I could do short of making a scene. So, I had to leave.”

“Where are you now?”

“I’m at home. I need to go to The Grange in a little while, but I needed to come home first. I needed to calm down. You do see what this means don’t you Lily?”

“I think so.”

“Well, I don’t say that he knew all of it. I don’t know if he knew about me, he almost certainly does now though. Oh God, I’ll never be able to look him in the eye again.”

“Terry, you haven’t done anything wrong. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Huh, that’s easy to say Lily. It’s not what it feels like from here. They were so close, he must have known about Peter. He must have known Mum was pregnant, I see now that he must have known why there was no baby afterwards. I’ll bet he knew all of it. Everything. But more importantly, since yesterday, he knows that I know.”

She answered him as calmly as she could, “I suppose a lot of it depends on how close they were. Surely Colin wouldn’t tell him, about being Peter’s father. If he did, this solicitor would have to tell the authorities, he’d have to. In his position, surely, he’d have to? I expect there was some sort of story, something about an affair, a boyfriend.”

“I don’t know, I’m not convinced of that. They were close. Friends all the time I was growing up. Colin used to make me go with him, to the office, I hated it.  It frightened me, watching them together, being the butt of their jokes.

“Something odd though, now I think about it.  Andrew never visited, he never came to the house. We didn’t see many people it must be said, but you would have thought, wouldn’t you, that a close friend like that, he’d have come sometimes?  I wonder how much he knew and how much yesterday was a revelation. If Colin died from a stroke, was it anything to do with their conversation. Nothing to do with me going to The Grange at all. It’s bloody confusing.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I haven’t a clue. I think that was why I wanted to talk to you. You’re the only one who knows about all this. I can’t talk about it to anyone else. Not yet.”

She was the only one he could talk to. “Do you want me to come?”

“Come?”

“Yes, should I come to Bath?”

“No, no you mustn’t it’s too much for you.”

“I will if you want me to. If you want me to come with you to The Grange, if you want me to come with you, when you see him again, the solicitor.”

“I don’t know that I can Lily. I don’t know if I can go and see him again. Knowing that he knows. I never told anybody but you. All the time I’m in his office I’ll be wondering what he’s thinking. And wouldn’t it look a bit odd anyway?”

“Perhaps he’s always known, Terry. Perhaps he has always known all of it and Colin rang him to let him know the cat was out of the bag. Do you think that’s possible?”

“Oh shit. I don’t know what to do. I need to think this through.”

“The offer is there Terry. If you need me, I’ll come. I can stay in that hotel. Near the station.”

“Which one?”

She saw her error in time. “I noticed it when I came through, there’s a Travel Lodge just near the station. I know they are quite ordinary but it would be handy and enough for me.”

“That’s so kind of you, Lily. I really do appreciate it. Don’t put yourself out though. For now, let’s just leave it. I am going to The Grange in the next hour, see what the situation is there. I believe they’ve already taken Colin away. To the funeral director. Andrew arranged it.”

“So, no post mortem or anything then.”

“Well, no, I guess not. But, you asked that before. Do you think there should be?”

“No, no. I just wondered, that’s all.”

“I expect they’ll tell me when I see them.”

“Well don’t hesitate, just let me know if I can do anything.”

“I will, I’ll call you later anyway. I’m in turmoil Lily. You would think that him being dead would solve things but, it hasn’t. It just hasn’t, it’s opened up more stuff I think. I can’t just let this go, you do see that don’t you. If that old fart, Andrew Stoner knew about Peter, if I find out he had any idea about what was happening with my mum, or God forbid, with me, then it’s not over is it? Even though Colin is out of it, it’s not over. It’s only just begun.”

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Chapter 46 – The Legacy

The offices in the heart of Bath weren’t particularly imposing but Terry had always felt intimidated visiting Colin Robertson’s solicitors. When he was very young, confused and frightened by the things that were happening in his life, they made him sit on a hard chair in the corner, his feet swinging between the chair legs. He was bored, and constantly afraid that Colin would suddenly swing around and fire a question at him that he would be unable to answer and they would roar laughing at him. They drank whisky, they told jokes which he didn’t understand and afterwards back in the bustle of the town centre, his grandfather red-faced and a little unsteady, he would breathe a sigh of relief.

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Chapter 45 – The Legacy

The flap on the letter box rattled and she hurried into the hallway to see the shadow shrinking as the caller moved down the path, there was an advert for Ken’s Kebab House lying on the mat.

It was another ten minutes before she heard Terry ring the bell.

“Terry. “Come in, why are you here? In Southsea, I mean?” She didn’t want to lie, but he must be kept at arm’s length from the crime. Having no knowledge or suspicion was the only thing that would keep him safe. She was entering yet another world of subterfuge and she hated this one even more than the others. Colin had been evil, Terry was courageous and didn’t deserve dishonesty.

“I came to see you.”

“Oh. I got the impression it was something urgent. Sandra next door told me you’d called earlier.”

“I think you should sit down, Lily.” She allowed herself to be ushered through to the living room. “Right, well,” His face was set, there was barely controlled emotion, tension, excitement, in every part of his body. In his face, in the way that he rubbed his hands together, glanced around the room before taking a deep breath, and speaking. His voice shook, “He’s dead.”

“What? Who?” More pretence, more lying.

“Colin is dead. They rang me early this morning from the home.”

“Well, that was sudden, wasn’t it?”  Acting wasn’t her forte and so she would keep the reaction cool.

“Yes, I guess so. You were there with me, you heard them, didn’t you? they said he was improving. He certainly didn’t seem any worse when we were with him. But, the thing is…”

She gave him time.

He spoke, quietly, “Well, I have to go and see them later of course, but they said that, it was most likely a second stroke. Lily…?”

Still she waited. The less she said the less chance there was that her tongue would trip her.

“Do you think that what we did, what I did, caused him to have another stroke? Do you think it was my fault?”

He was so troubled and Lily saw, belatedly, that she hadn’t foreseen this. Her instinct was to offer reassurance, something to help, to still his nerves. She drew her brows together, answered him with a frown of puzzlement painted on her face, “He didn’t seem that upset though. He was angry, but I rather got the impression that he was often angry.”

“Oh yes. There’s no denying that. You’re right, that’s the way he was, always. When I’ve done things, he hasn’t agreed with, ‘stepped out of line’ and ‘got above myself.” He laughed, “That was one of his favourites! But yes, he didn’t seem much more agitated than on other occasions. Do you think that, maybe afterwards, when we’d gone, maybe he got wound up?”

Lily tried again to calm him, “But if so, wouldn’t they know? they must have checked him, surely? You know, taken his blood pressure and what have you? And then if they were concerned they would give him treatment.” She was caught, between a chance of self-preservation and concern for Terry’s feelings of guilt. She must ease his conscience but then if they thought Colin had a stroke, did that mean there would be no questions. It seemed too good to be true, but she had to speak now, find something non-committal. “I think sometimes these things just happen. When it’s time for the end. Will there be a post mortem?” She had to ask.

“Don’t know. They didn’t say anything about that. Oh, I don’t know what to think just now. I’m all over the place with how I feel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pretend I’m sorry, never that. But it’s sudden, a shock. I wasn’t ready for this. My mind was on all the other stuff. Anyway, I have to go back now and see them. I must go and see the solicitor. He phoned me as well, they’d rung him to tell him. Him and Colin were always close and he visited The Grange, a lot. I just wanted to tell you. I don’t know what difference it makes to you really, knowing he’s gone.  Does it help? Does it make you feel any better?”

“Oh, I don’t know Terry. I haven’t had time to take it in.”

“No, of course you haven’t.” As he spoke he leaned and squeezed her hand. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know. I know we got off to a rocky start, I misjudged you and all that but I reckon you had a – well an interest and it was only right that I come and tell you personally.  After all we do have a sort of connection don’t’ we? it’s an odd, sad connection but – well it makes me think that we have a sort of shared past. Oh, listen to me, I think I’m feeling a bit wound up and making a fool of myself.”

“No, no. That’s a lovely thing to say Terry, and I know what you mean, I do. I have wondered many, many times over the years, what Peter would have been like, well you already know that. I’ve come to see, over the last few weeks, that, if he had been like you, his brother. I would have been very proud.”

He smiled at her, she thought he seemed a little abashed, he was sweet, not at all the person she had thought.

He stood, “I have to get back. I haven’t had time to process much of this yet. It’s going to make a difference to a lot of things. One of them is Peter’s ashes. How would you feel now about us taking them and putting them with Mum? You know it’s an end in a way so we could do that soon, if you like.”

Her mind spun. Again, she had been shown a glimpse of something wonderful only to have it snatched away instantly. He thought they had a connection but once he believed they had laid his brother to rest it would be over. There was of course the other thing, the truth. Surely, once he knew about the grave, so near to where they sat, how would he feel about her then?

She wanted to talk to him for longer, to keep him there with her. She asked him the obvious question, “What about all of that, Peter? You and him? Him and your mum? What are you going to do about that now?”

He looked down at his feet and shook his head, “I don’t know. Again, I haven’t had time yet. I said before that I didn’t want him to die before I had the chance to have my revenge, but now, well there’s not much I can do about the way it’s turned out and, I just don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. Once I get things sorted out a bit.”

Lily answered him quietly, “If there is anything I can do, let me know. Keep in touch won’t you Terry? Let me know what’s going on?”

“Of course, I will.” He glanced at his watch. His phone rang, he wagged it in the air, mouthed an apology. She nodded and walked from the room to give him space. She stood in the hall, just beyond the door. It was the solicitor, they discussed times. Terry raised his voice, snapping at whoever was at the other end of the call. “I’ll get there as soon as I can Andrew. I’m sure you realise there are things I’ve had to do. Yes, yes, I know you’re busy. I’m pretty bloody busy myself today. I’ll be a couple of hours.”

She heard him curse under his breath as he came to find her, “Look, I’ll have to go. I’ll ring you later if I get the chance.”

She stood in the doorway, waved to him as he strode away along the street, back to the car. She was overwhelmed by the confused and confusing emotions. Fear, relief, affection.

She thought of her stash of pills. Not yet, he still needed her, she couldn’t do it yet. She would know when it was time. For now, all she could do was continue with her preparations. First though she would go into the basement and tell Peter what had happened.

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Names

The names in this story will be changed. I mention this because it will be clear to anyone who has read any of my previous stuff that Colin and Lily feature quite large in other work – not as these characters but obviously I am a writer of little brain and only have a small lexicon of names at my fingertips. I will change the names, I know what they will be but for now we will leave them incognito.

As you were.

 

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