Too hot to handle?
BURNING GREED by Diane Dickson. Up to 66% off the RRP! FREE with Kindle Unlimited.
Also in paperback and audio.
Too hot to handle?
BURNING GREED by Diane Dickson. Up to 66% off the RRP! FREE with Kindle Unlimited.
Also in paperback and audio.
Dylan is living with us. Of course, Frances’s family wanted him to go to them but we thought in the end that it would be better for him to stay at the same school and in the area his has known all his little life. I was the one who told him about his mum. The police and the medical people all offered but I knew it should be my job. I held him close as he cried and asked me why and then asked what was going to happen to him. I promised him that we’d take care of him, me and Suzie.
I wasn’t sure what to do for the best, whether to just bring him to share our house, but it was really a bit small. Of course, he had to have his own things. We couldn’t easily move to Frances’s it would break my heart to cook in her kitchen and work in her office, it was just too hard. In the end, I had my mum’s house redecorated and we moved in there. People thought I was mad as that was where it had happened and yet, it’s been fine. We brought all Dylan’s bedroom furniture and his toys, we moved stuff around between my home and Mum’s and – yes – it’s been okay. My house is on the market. I’m staying here. All the happy memories will obliterate that one dreadful day. I am determined. I feel as though I should do it for mum as much as anything. She wouldn’t have wanted that man in her place and so we will destroy any trace of him being there. We will drive him away with love and laughing.
I am fostering Dylan officially. You do get some money for that but it was nothing to do with cash. In fact, it’s going into his savings for if he goes to university or whatever he does after school. I just wanted it organised so I was his official guardian for school trip permissions and what have you. The whole family were in agreement. Of course, anything very major will be a joint decision between us all. He’s not mine, though I love him as if he is.
It’s been difficult at times, of course, it has. Fortunately, Suzie wasn’t too badly affected because all she remembered was John collecting her from school. Apparently, he told her that I was meeting them at Mum’s house. He gave her some juice and she doesn’t remember anything after that until she woke up at the hospital.
He’s back in jail. Well, he broke the terms of his licence so it was a foregone conclusion anyway; never mind the new charges that he is going to be tried for. At first, I didn’t want them to take him to court for the kidnapping as he was locked up anyway. I know people thought I was wrong but to be honest I didn’t want Suzie questioning and I felt, still feel, really guilty. But I have been convinced that he should pay and there is what happened to Frances.
It was my fault.
She had been right all along. I can blame grief, the counsellor I’ve seen has told me that losing my mum had made me vulnerable and I suppose he’s right. But, I’m a mum, I should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have let this man who was effectively a stranger get so close to us. I was totally taken in.
Yes, he is my biological father, there is no getting away from that. I hate the idea and have to just accept that it’s a fact. But, he had never been anything to me. He had only ever been a bad memory for mum and I should have refused to have anything to do with him. But I didn’t and I have to carry the guilt about what that led to, forever.
I watch Dylan and Suzie playing in the garden and I can hardly bear it. But, I have to. I have to be strong for both of them and for myself. We all have to be strong because Frances will be coming home from the hospital tomorrow. She is still very weak and they reckon it will be a long time before she is back to normal and it’s already been many, many weeks. There were several operations to repair the damage that the knife had done and for a while, they didn’t think that she would live. She was unconscious for what felt like forever. I didn’t understand all of the medical stuff but it was loss of blood and internal wounds that they had to repair; sometimes more than once because the damage was so bad. Parts of her were torn inside from where she did that macabre dance with him with the knife between them already thrust into her body. His solicitor says it was accidental and if the police hadn’t burst open the door it wouldn’t have happened. I just think that if he hadn’t taken my daughter; if he hadn’t broken into my mum’s house, and if he hadn’t been holding the knife it wouldn’t have happened. But he did and he was and my friend almost didn’t make it.
But she did. My dearest friend fought her way back from the brink and now I am going to take care of her. I’ve reduced my work hours and I’ve converted the downstairs office into a lovely bedroom. It’s filled with flowers now, and books for her and all the special things from home that she said she wanted to have around her. She’ll be here this time tomorrow and though I can never make up for what happened to her I can start to repay her for her love and her bravery and we can try and rebuild our lives and forget him; forget my father’s name.
I hope you enjoyed this little novella – if you want to read it on your Kindle let me know and I’ll send you a copy.
Found this on amazon – Now the DI Tanya Miller series can be bought as a herd, or a flock or whatever.
I thought that was pretty nifty. Broken Angel is on Kindle Countdown at the moment and Brutal Pursuit is still at the introductory price – but hey, why not get all three and that’s your holiday reading right there. 🙂
In the meantime here’s a taster of Brutal Pursuit – newly available on Amazon and coming soon in paperback
‘When menacing clouds rolled across the open fields from Elsfield towards the Oxford Links Golf Club, Peter Baker wanted to abandon the game. Spencer Cartwright wasn’t that bothered. He was losing. Again.
As the first great spots of rain peppered the sand in the bunkers, they knew there wouldn’t be time to get back to the clubhouse safely. Already, the crash and roil of thunder was simultaneous with the lightning. Lights had flicked on in the blocks of flats near to the car park. The wind was up, trees whipped and swayed, leaves danced and raced across the greens. Suddenly it was wild.
They made a run for the nearest shelter. A small wooden building, out at the edge of the course; just on the border of the tree line. They could have huddled in the lee of the place, or under the small overhang of the roof, but the nearby trees were a danger. They had heard stories of electricity travelling along the ground, leaping from tree to man. It didn’t matter whether this stuff was true or urban myth, it was enough to drive them to find better cover.
If they hadn’t been so sensible, they could have avoided the image that would torment their dreams. The smell that stuck in the back of their throats. Spencer may even have avoided the heart attack, never fully recovering from the horror. But as for the rest of it, the wheel was already in motion.’
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I had bought the set of knives in a block for my mum. They were very sharp, that was why she loved them. John had the big one, the chef’s knife, in his hand; the hand that lay across my little girl’s stomach. It had been down by his side. Frances must have seen it and that is why she had held me back. Now he moved and twisted it. It caught the light through the window and the blade gleamed orange.
I felt Frances’s finger ends digging into my arms as she held me. I couldn’t speak because my throat had dried and all I was aware of was the screech in my head and then the screech had found its way out of my brain and I was pleading with him not to hurt my baby. My knees were jelly and I think if it hadn’t been for Frances I would have crumpled to the floor.
He moved the knife, trailing the sharp edge of the blade upwards across Suzie’s dress until it was laid over her chest the sharp point just below her chin. I couldn’t breathe.
He smiled at us. “Now you see, I don’t want to hurt this little one. She’s my granddaughter after all, isn’t she? I know you don’t want me to hurt her so let’s just all keep nice and calm. I’m sure I can trust you not to go telling people where we are. I’m sure that in the morning you’ll be off to the bank like a good girl. Oh, don’t worry I realise you’re not going to be able to get the proper money for a little while. I’m not stupid. But that’s okay. In the meantime I’ll just stay here, it’s nice and comfy and nobody needs to know. Though I’ll be turning the heating up. We don’t want little Suzie here getting cold, do we? She’s not going to be running around much is she after all. We’ll just let her snooze away nice and quiet.”
“You can’t. You mustn’t. Please don’t do that. Please don’t give her any more of whatever it is. I’ll stay here with her. I’ll keep her quiet.”
“Oh but that’s not going to work now, is it? How are you going to take care of business messing about here? No. I think we’ll just keep her nice and sleepy.”
I didn’t hear the cars outside in the road. I didn’t notice the sweep of lights as they played across the wall. I couldn’t take my eyes away from John and Suzie. But he had noticed and turned to look at the window. I felt Frances tense beside me and the grip on my arms loosened.
It happened so very quickly and yet it seemed to play out in slow motion. It began with the bang on the door. At the same time, we saw a shape pass the window and then another, fast and urgent. Someone called out.
When she moved it was sudden and unexpected. One moment Frances was still holding on to me more gently although I hadn’t really been aware in the change of her position. The next moment she launched herself across the kitchen and pulled Suzie roughly out of John’s arms. I heard her hit the floor and cried out as I tried to get to them. My legs wouldn’t hold me and I tumbled to the ground. Crawling forward to where Suzie’s poor, drugged little body lay in a heap. I reached and grabbed her then scuttered backwards dragging her with me across the tiles. I knelt on all fours my body arched across hers and then looked back to where Frances was struggling with John. The knife slashed back and forth as he struggled to his feet and began to back away from her. As he reached it the door flew open hitting John square in the back. He was thrust forward across the room the knife held before him. Frances was still moving towards him and she cried out as they were pushed together. He stumbled. For a moment it seemed as if they were embracing each other. I heard another scream but it was lost in the shouts of police storming into the kitchen; the yells from John as they grabbed him and threw him to the floor with one of them pinning him bodily roaring at him to stay down and to stay still.
I pushed my daughter into the corner out of harm’s way and made sure that she was lying in the recovery position. I sat with my eyes closed for a moment collecting my thoughts. “Fran, thank you. Frances are you okay?”
My friend lay on her stomach in the middle of the kitchen. The knife had vanished but as I pushed to my feet and stepped towards her blood seeped out from beneath her body and began to spread across the tile.
Someone wrapped their arms around me and turned me away. A policeman in uniform was carrying my daughter into the lounge. Someone was calling for ambulances and doctors. When I tried to turn back and go to my friend they led me away with murmured words of comfort that didn’t make any sense. There were promises to make sure they looked after her, and me, and my little girl.
John was handcuffed and led out through the kitchen door and I heard the slam of car doors and the wail of sirens and my shattered nerves decided that it was all too much and the world greyed out and everything receded into the fog as I drifted into the darkness.
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There were lights programmed to turn on and off. A security measure recommended by the police. It meant that though the living room was bright behind the voile curtains it didn’t really tell us anything. There was one lit upstairs as well; on the landing. We knew immediately we stepped inside though. Someone was there. There was no beeping from the burglar alarm and the house didn’t ‘feel’ empty.
My heart began to thud and I thought I might be sick. Frances had reached out and taken hold of my hand and together we stepped into my mum’s hallway.
We couldn’t hear anything and we hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. I drew in a breath preparatory to calling out but Frances lifted a finger to her lips and shook her head. She leaned close to whisper. “We should call the police. It would be better if we went and waited outside.”
I couldn’t, of course, I couldn’t. There was the chance that Suzie was in there so nothing would make me turn and leave. I think Fran knew it even as she spoke because she took another couple of steps towards the living room door.
It was slightly ajar and we pushed it carefully inwards. I leaned to peer around. I had no idea what I might see and I couldn’t have said what I hoped for but the room was empty. I shook my head and we turned to the kitchen at the end of the narrow space. The door was closed and I was sure I had left them all open the last time I had been there. I couldn’t think clearly enough to decide whether the cleaner had been in since then. I tried to concentrate on what day it was and how long it had been since I came to check on things. My brain was a mess and I just couldn’t remember.
Frances pointed at the closed door and raised her eyebrows. I nodded and we moved on. Looking back I see now that there was no real point to it but we crept forwards. I put my hand on the knob and turned it slowly. I don’t know why. Slowly – quickly what difference did it make. He was there and he had been there all the time listening to us creeping about.
He sat on the bench seat near the window. The light wasn’t turned on but there was a glow from a streetlamp outside. He had my daughter on his lap. She appeared to be sleeping. At first, I wasn’t sure because she looked so limp the way she lolled in his arms. Her legs were across his thighs and her feet on the seat beside him. She didn’t stir when we walked in and for a moment, the worst moment of my life, I thought she was dead.
I reached out my arms and began to lurch forward and Francis grabbed at me and held me back. I think I struggled for a moment with her but she held me tighter. “Wait, just wait.” All I could see was my little girl, she filled my eyes.
I tried to twist away from Frances and she gripped me by the shoulders and turned me so that I was looking directly at her. “Wait, girl,” she hissed.
I peered through the gloom. He smiled at me. In spite of myself and the situation, I began to smile back. It was a natural reflex and then the anger began to boil.”What the hell, John?” Again I struggled to break free from Frances’s grip and she leaned a little backwards pulling me with her.
“Just let her go, eh?” she said. “Come on John this is silly. Just let her go and we can talk about what to do next.”
He shook his head, “I don’t need to talk to you, bitch. I need to speak to my daughter. You can go. You’re not part of this. Just go now.”
“I don’t think so. No. Just give us Suzie and then we’ll see what’s the right thing to do.”
I was looking back and forth between them and trying to make sense of the conversation. “What are you doing John. What the hell is this all about?” I said. Frances still held me and I had to twist in her embrace to speak to him.
“I think you know what this is about, stupid girl. Honestly, it was only a couple of quid. You didn’t need to call the bloody police. Why, did you do that? This could have all been so much easier but no, you had to screw things up. Just like your mother.” As he spoke he shook his head and frowned. It didn’t make sense at first and then I realised that he was talking about the money I’d loaned him.
“I didn’t. I didn’t call anyone,” I said.
“I saw them. I watched them come to your house. I knew them. I’m not going back to prison. No. I’m not. You really shouldn’t have done that.”
“But I didn’t, truly I didn’t” I was crying with frustration and fear and possibly a sort of relief because as awful as all this was I had found my daughter. It seemed it had all been a misunderstanding and so, of course, it could be fixed. I think I even laughed. “Really John, the money doesn’t matter. You can have it. I really don’t care about it. Just let me take Suzie home and then you can go.”
“As I say, this would all have been much simpler. But now I have to move quickly. I’ve broken the terms of that bloody licence and I’m not going back inside. So, you’re going to have to help me and quickly.
First of all, I need somewhere to stay. Somewhere they won’t look. So, I guess that means you are having a house guest.” He looked around as he spoke. “It’s very nice but of course I won’t be able to enjoy all the facilities. Not to worry it’s only for a day or two and you can make sure we have plenty to eat. Me and little Suzie here will be fine until you sort everything out.
“No, you can’t. You have to give her to me. Okay, okay, if you want to stay here you can do. I don’t care much about that. Just let me have my baby back.
He laughed, a mirthless, nasty sound. “I wasn’t born yesterday. How stupid do you think I am. No, no my little granddaughter here,” he leaned and kissed her, “she’s so very precious to me. She can stay here with John while mummy sorts out her little bit of business. We’re going to be just fine.”
“You’re mad if you think I am leaving her with you.”
“It’s not for long. Well, how long sort of depends on how quickly you can get me some money. Lots of money.”
“Okay, okay. You can take all I have in the bank. I don’t know how much it is but you can have it all, just let me take Suzie home.”
He laughed again. “You have got to be joking. I don’t want your measly little savings. No, I want much more than that.”
“And how am I supposed to do that?” I was boiling with fury now; shaking with it.
He just turned his head and let his gaze travel the room. “The bank will give you a very sizeable loan on this house. I know you’ve had it valued. You told me and so there we are. Just get me that and in the meantime, we’ll just stay here. Of course, if anyone finds out … …” he shrugged and looked down and my sleeping child. It was obvious that he had drugged her with something and the idea of leaving her with him was impossible to countenance.
“You’re crazy. They’ll find you anyway. The police will hunt you down and find you.”
“Oh well, in that case maybe little Suzie had better come with me.”
I screamed at him, “No!”
“Enough. I’ve had enough of this. Off you go home now. You’ve got a big day ahead of you tomorrow. Say goodnight to your daughter.” He shifted her limp body slightly and hoisted her more upright against his chest.
I felt Frances loosen her grip a little and I began to move towards him but she grabbed at me again. “Don’t Mel, don’t.”
And then I saw what he had in his hand.
I didn’t want to leave without Suzie because it felt like abandoning her but there was no point in staying at the school. Eventually, though, I saw that the sensible thing was to go home. They asked me to find something she played with a lot and I didn’t understand, not until the dog handler came into the kitchen and took away the little plush unicorn. He brought it back after a short while but I couldn’t touch it. It was part of something I couldn’t bear to let into my mind.
Of course, someone made tea and it stayed on the table in front of me until it was cold and they took it away. Frances poured me a small brandy and the fire felt good in my throat but it did nothing to dull the edges of emotion. She sat beside me holding my hand; she was quiet and stoic, and calm.
For what seemed an age nothing much happened. They asked if I wanted a doctor. They asked if I wanted to call someone. There was no-one. The only person I could have needed sat beside me, her beautiful eyes wet with unshed tears.
The Detective, Lily, came back. I have no idea how much time had past but it was dark. It was dark and my daughter was out there somewhere with a man who had murdered my grandparents. She told us they had been to his flat and, of course, didn’t find him. She said that they were still looking at the CCTV but they already knew that he had been watching the school and my home every day for the last couple of weeks. They had watched him follow us back and forth and they knew that he’d been there that morning. They had seen him leading Suzie away but he had taken her down a side street away from the main road and then they lost them. They were still looking she said but for now, that was all and so she went away.
That just left me, Frances, and a young policewoman, June Price, who they said was a Family Liaison Officer. She offered tea and asked repeatedly if there was anything I needed. I didn’t bother to say that the only thing I needed was Suzie at home snuggled under her duvet. She was doing her best and until anything happened she was, like us, just waiting. Whenever June’s phone rang I sensed Frances tense beside me but she would shake her head and then leave the room and we would hear the low mutter of her voice in the hall. I wished she would go away but it seemed churlish and unkind to say that.
Eventually, it was all too much. It was after nine o clock. I knew there was going to be an article on the television. They had taken away Suzie’s school photograph for the feature but I couldn’t bear to watch it. “I should, shouldn’t I?” I asked Fran and she shook her head.
“You just do what your heart tells you. Nobody can say what is the right thing. In this, there is no right way.”
They had talked about me appearing and making an appeal but not yet they said. I supposed they had a routine for this stuff and a timetable. I know they had done this sort of thing before. I had not and I was rendered helpless with ignorance about what was best.
I paced the house; driven mad by the inactivity. I went into Suzie’s room and sobbed; touching her nightdress, her little slippers and her pillow until Frances came and ushered me back downstairs.
“I can’t sit here any longer, Frances. I have to go and do something. I have to go and try to find her.” I knew that I sounded on the edge of hysteria but I had taken all I could of the waiting and surely anything was better than nothing.
“But, when they find her you need to be here,” she said.
“They have my number. That police officer can wait here. I have to go and look. I can’t do nothing.”
By the time I had finished speaking Frances was on her feet and fetching our coats. I heard her shout through to the kitchen where Constable Price was washing cups. When she heard our plan she shot into the room; shaking her head and insisting that we stay in the house.
She couldn’t force us and she couldn’t come with us and really, at that point, I didn’t care that I was putting her in a difficult position and so we left. It was cold and there was damp in the air but movement and action sent blood coursing through my veins and for a moment I was disgusted with myself that I had allowed them to make me sit and wait when what I needed was to get out and look for my girl.
“Where?” Frances asked.
“I suppose we should start at the flats.”
“The police have looked there already and they have left someone waiting in case he turns up.”
“It came to me in a flash and it was so obvious. There was one place where he could take Suzie and she wouldn’t cause a fuss. One place that she wouldn’t question at all.
I grabbed hold of Frances’s arm. “My mum’s.” We set off running.
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Back to the serial tomorrow
I was in the head’s office. Someone had put a jacket around my shoulder but I was still shaking. The teaching assistant sat on another chair looking pale and upset. I didn’t have any room to feel sympathy for her. I didn’t have any room for anything except fear and panic. My arms were aching for the feel of my little girl held close to my body.
My first instinct had been to run out of the school. I had turned and started towards the door and then the girl had shouted, “Wait, wait. Where are you going?”
I didn’t have an answer for her. I couldn’t go home, not without my daughter. I couldn’t run to where John White lived it was too far and I couldn’t just run into the streets and run and run screaming her name. That is what I wanted to do. That is what I still wanted to do but they had brought me here and made me wait and someone had held my hand and someone else told me it was all going to be alright. It was just a misunderstanding. They were sure that my friend would come back when he found I wasn’t at home.
They told me to ring him. I rang him. Of course, there was no answer. I rang him again and again. There was no answer. I could tell that they didn’t really understand. The teaching assistant was upset because she had broken the rules. I suppose she was worried about her job. The others though did not have any idea why I was so panicked. The headmistress insisted on calling John ‘my mother’s friend’. I couldn’t blame her because it was what everyone thought. I couldn’t explain it because my thoughts wouldn’t settle long enough for me to have the conversation. I pulled the card from my jean’s pocket and rang the detective, Lily. I got her answering service. All I could manage was, “Ring me, please. It’s urgent.”
And then she was there. Her arms were around me and she was stroking my hair away from my face and rocking me back and forth as if I was her baby.
“Hush now, girl,” Frances said. “Hush now. It’s all going to be fine. Everything is fine.”
I shook my head and sobbed out a sort of story to her and because she knew something of what I was talking about she saw and understood.
“Okay. Have the police been called?” She asked, her voice urgent but calm.
I nodded. “I’ve got this number. It’s complicated; it’s the detective. But she’s not answering.”
“Well, we’ll just call them again.” And she did. She called the local station and they reacted immediately. The headmistress had tried to interfere and stop Frances from ‘causing a fuss’. She didn’t want police cars in the playground and officers in the street. “It’s not as if the child is missing,” she said. “You know who she is with.”
“Mrs Belfast,” Frances said, “Just keep out of this. Excuse me, but in this case, you really don’t know what’s happening.”
If it hadn’t been such a terrible situation I think the round-eyed, shock on the face of the prissy woman might have been funny. As it was she just gasped and tutted and shepherded people away, all the time barking instructions about keeping things calm, just carrying on, and not causing alarm. I was only vaguely aware of it all swirling around me. I clung to Frances. She was my anchor and the only steady thing in a world of shifting dread and fear.
The school was quiet now. Most of the children had gone home. There was an after-school club in the dining hall but all we could hear was a subdued hum and the occasional burst of laughter. The police arrived and I was able to give them a rundown of the situation. It was difficult to fit it all in and they kept making me stop and go back and repeat things. I didn’t blame them; it was all so very complicated. Finally, after what seemed hours Detectives Palmer and Griffiths were in the room. They ushered everyone else out but I wouldn’t let them send Frances away.
“Right. What we’ve done,” Lily started. “We’ve requested CCTV for all the roads around the school. We’ve initiated a Child Alert. Do you know what that is?”
I shook my head.
“It’s like the Amber Alert system in America. Your little girl’s name is everywhere and people all over the place will be watching out for her. We’ve been able to do this because of the history. But, that’s not all we’ve done. There are dozens of police officers are looking for her and we’ll find her. We will.”
I was overwhelmed. Everything was unreal. I could not believe that this had happened. This happened to other people. I wanted my mum and I wanted my child.
I felt so very alone. The two detectives had gone. Before they left they said that they’d arrange for me to meet with a Victim Support Officer. However, they didn’t know how long that might take and it probably wouldn’t be for a day or so.
I had their numbers and was under strict instructions to call them if John phoned me or turned up at the door – I promised I would. Pathetically I heard myself pleading with them to hurry and find him.
I couldn’t settle to do anything. There was no way that I was going to work. It was way too late for me to accomplish anything anyway and I knew that what had happened would fill my mind. Yes, I wanted to call Frances but how could I. Pride got in the way. She had been right all along but there was so much more than John just being ‘a bit off’.
The detectives had been with me for a couple of hours. I made a sandwich and took a pizza out of the freezer ready for dinner. Life had to go on, didn’t it?
I dragged out the albums of photographs. Me and mum; pictures of all our times together, at the beach, parties, Christmases and in all of them she had been carrying that huge secret.
But why? Okay, when I was little it would have been too much to tell me and all too horrific for a young brain to deal with. But why not later when I was old enough to understand good and evil? Was it because it was just too hard for her to talk about? I had thought we were close. I had believed that we told each other everything and now it was clear that had been an illusion. Maybe, she had worried I would let something slip. The detectives had said that when she was relocated it was like witness protection. She was advised to tell no-one about her past. She was given the option but chose not to change her name. That decision was possibly her biggest mistake. She was told to never talk to reporters if they did manage to find her. She knew, always, there would come a time when he would walk out of jail. She had lived with that hanging over her all of my life and never spoke of it.
I cried for her bravery and for her loneliness and I wanted to tell her it was alright. He wouldn’t hurt me and she had done everything she could to protect me and I loved her for her lies.
Eventually, it was time to go and collect Suzie. I set off early hoping I could be first and whisk her away before I had to speak to anyone.
We have a system at the school where you go into the small entrance and then you have to ring a bell. The teacher or teaching assistant on duty will open the door. After that you have to give them a password and once they have that they let your child out. It seems crazy, overdone but it works and the children are safe. I remember back when I was little, hairing across the playground with my friends and searching for my mum in the crowd of other parents. Sometimes I had to wait for her. I’d be climbing on the railings and laying on the grass in the summer. It’s not like that now.
I wasn’t first but I didn’t really know the couple of other parents and so I didn’t need to talk to them. A bloke had already rung the buzzer and we waited for the teaching assistant. She gave us a wave as she came along the corridor.
One little girl came out. She went off with her daddy.
The assistant looked at me and frowned. I just nodded at her and whispered the password. ‘Unicorns’. Suzie had chosen it.
The girl shook her head and frowned at me. There was a strange sort of silence. I know I smiled. “Suzie,” I said. Though I knew the girl and she knew us. She glanced back into the school and I felt my stomach clench. “Suzie,” I said again.
The girl came closer and spoke quietly. “Your friend collected Suzie a few minutes ago.” Well, I was livid. Frances and I often picked up each other’s children. It was a very regular thing in the days when we were talking. But now, how dare she. I knew Dylan and Suzie were puzzled about what was going on. I knew they were both pestering about why they weren’t playing together as much. But really, to pick up my little girl without my permission was shocking and unforgivable.
Then I saw him, Dylan, waving at me from his classroom doorway.
I could barely get the words out. “Who collected her? Who collected Suzie?”
“Your friend Mr Wright. Suzie said he was her granny’s friend but I know I’ve seen him with you before and he knew the password. She was happy to go with him and he said that you’d been delayed at work.”
“But, you’re not supposed to do that, not without prior notice. You’re not supposed to do that!” I was crying and now the teaching assistant was crying because we both knew. We knew right then that this was terribly wrong.
I hadn’t ever questioned Mum much because from the very beginning I had known the story of the fire that killed my grandparents. It was talked about in a matter of fact way “Oh it was a terrible thing – terrifying. But I survived because of what they did,” she would say, “and because of that we must be happy.” I thought she was so wise and it was just the way it was. Later when I asked about my father she had told me about the coward who left her when she was pregnant and I joined her in mutual scorn and disgust.
Of course, that had already been called into question and now there was another version of history. I had accepted it readily, too readily Frances insisted. I had forfeited our friendship because I wanted this new truth and because it filled a hole that I hadn’t realised existed until John arrived with his kind smile and his story of abiding affection for my darling mother.
On this day, with the clock on the mantlepiece ticking away the seconds and the radiators clicking as they cooled; my whole history was turned to dust. Everything I had ever known to be truth was obliterated and my new beliefs were squashed more quickly than they had taken to grow.
At first, I refused to believe them. I argued. I gave them a potted version of all that had happened. I took them step by step through my meeting with him, the days out, the presents he had brought for Suzie.
But they had brought their own proof. They had paperwork, court reports, images, and statements.
In the end, I had to acknowledged that for the whole of my life Mum had lied to me and about more than just the character of the man who was my father. Everything had been a veil drawn over facts. The police officer, Lily, insisted that it must have been done for the best. She said she was convinced that Mum had been trying to protect me and surely I could see that.
I didn’t know what to think. I wanted to believe that it had been kindness and a lioness’s instinct to protect her young. And what of the more recent lies? I had been misled all my life it seemed.
It was a terrible thing to listen to my past being shredded. I cried a little then, for the loss of truth, and in a way, it was like Mum dying all over again. The woman I had always known was being taken away bit by bit.
The worst part was still to come and none of us sitting there over cups of cooling coffee and some Scottish Shortbread could ever have dreamed where it would lead.
When they showed me the picture of John’s face, unsmiling against a plain background it was obvious that it was one of those ‘mug shots’; the ones that are a bit of a joke on the police programmes. Turn to the left. Turn to the right. But it was him. He looked much younger, of course, the same as the smiling picture he had shown me of him and my mum in front of Homewood.
It took a while for me to understand everything the police told me. They were patient and went over things repeatedly answering my rather stupid questions. At one point Joe went and made another drink. I think it was coffee. By that time we were calling each other by our first names and there were moments of lightness in spite of the struggle I was having.
They didn’t know where John was staying. They were trying to track him down because he had stopped reporting to his probation officer. He had moved away from his accommodation without leaving a forwarding address.
They knew where Mum lived, after the tragedy, and so that had been the obvious place to look. They had scanned the local news and seen the notification of her death which is how they had found me.
So there we were. I told them that, yes, he had been in touch. I told them all of it, the DNA tests, the outings, the dinners and picnics. I told them about the money and I could see by the look passing between them that they thought I’d been an idiot. Well, I had.
I was able to give them his address.
In return, they told me about a vicious and violent young man who had date raped a young woman. About the failed attempt to convict him of his crime and afterwards his constant harassment of her family, my grandparents. They told me as kindly as they could about the arson attack when he had been told that he would have no access to the child that he had fathered in violence. They explained about his conviction for the double murder and years and years spent in jail until, finally, he had served his sentence and was out on a licence that would last for the rest of his life.
When they locked him up, they had spirited the young woman, my pregnant mother, away, for her own protection and so my life had been shaped.
They said that he was forbidden to try and contact me and that he was not supposed to move to the area where I lived. It had all been that blasted death announcement. It had been done in innocence, it was something that the funeral directors organised as a matter of course and that I had barely thought about when I agreed to it. Why would I?
“What is going to happen now?” I asked them.
“He’s broken the terms of his licence. He will go back to prison. We’ll make sure that he’s never able to bother you again. I don’t think we’ll be able to do anything about the money. You did give it to him of your own free will and I expect it’s long gone – Sorry.” Lily reached across the coffee table and touched my hand.
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care about the money. I just want him gone. I need time to adjust to all of this but, please, just make sure he doesn’t come near us again.” I said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.” I know she meant it and truly believed it when she spoke.