When the phone rang Simon was puzzled to see Charles Clegg’s name on the screen. “Charlie, this is a surprise. I thought you’d still be out for the count.”
“No, no I’m sorry Mr Fulton, this is Beryl, Mrs Clegg.”
“Oh, is everything okay? He’s not worse is he?”
“He’s alright. They say he’s not in any danger now and it’s just a question of time. He’s tough so he’s going to be champing at the bit to get out of there as soon as he can stand up.”
“Well, that’s a relief. What can I do for you Mrs Clegg?”
“I want you to stop what you’re doing.”
“I’m sorry?” The woman took in a shuddering breath, when she spoke again her voice wavered.
“I know what Charlie has asked you to do and I want you to stop. Don’t stir things up.”
“Mrs Clegg, I don’t understand.” He had thought that Charles Clegg had been as keen as he was to keep his wife away from the enquiry. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you know. I haven’t been married to Charlie for all these years without knowing how his mind works. I’ve put two and two together and I understand what’s happening here. He means well, I know he does – God bless the man. But, I want you to make an excuse. Tell him there’s nothing you can do. Our Colin will be out of jail in a few years and we’ll look after him. It won’t be like with you, we’ll make sure he has work, his dignity, a place to live.”
“But your sister in law, Charlie’s sister? He said that they don’t think she’ll last.”
“Aye well sometimes things are best left as they are. Listen to me, the least said soonest mended. An old saying but in this case it couldn’t be more true. Leave it all be. Will you do that, for me and Colin and Maureen?”
“Mrs Clegg, I’ve taken the job on. I told him I’d do what I could.”
He heard her sigh, “I know. But, you’re not listening. Leave it be, that’s all. If it’s money you’re worried about I’ll pay you. What did he promise you?”
“Nothing, we didn’t talk about it. Except for expenses and there haven’t been any. No, it’s not about money. I haven’t got very far but – well, things have happened that lead me to think there’s something off about all of this and…” She didn’t let him finish.
“I’ll give you a cheque for five thousand pounds tomorrow if you tell Charlie you can’t find anything.”
“No, I’m sorry but –no I can’t. I promised”
“What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can – just do it.” Her tone became stronger now, hectoring and bullying. She was making him angry, he tamped it down, the woman was under stress. “I realise you’ve had a nasty shock, but really I think if you have a problem with me trying to find out about Colin and the accident you should talk to your husband. I gave him my word. I can’t let him down. Apart from that I need to do it because I think there’s something in what he thinks. I can’t turn my back on that. I just can’t.”
The quiet click told him that she’d cut the connection. He replaced the handset on his desk and stared at it for a minute. He pulled one of the little cards from the pile and wrote out a rough precis of the conversation. He muttered into the quiet room, “Well that’s bloody odd.”
It was wonderful to be back in Gloria’s living room. Although the empty hotel felt forlorn she had cleaned and tidied in the last couple of days and it was almost as he had first seen it, downstairs at least. She had cooked roast lamb for them and now there was her favourite jazz music, heavy with saxophones, playing quietly in the background and she’d turned on the fire. The atmosphere was cosy and relaxing. Simon sighed. “I thought I’d lost this forever. It made me sad.”
Gloria nodded, “I’ve had trouble remembering what life had been like. It felt as though I’d been catapulted to a whole different world. Now, here tonight that side of it is unreachable. Life is odd. I hope I’m better, but sometimes it sweeps over me, the whole bloody thing. Ah well.” She deliberately pushed the maudlin conversation aside, “Anyway, back to what you were telling me.”
“Yes, so at first she was really upset I think but then towards the end she sounded more, angry.”
“God, this gets more and more complicated every day. Will you tell Charlie?”
“I don’t think so, not right now anyway. I can’t see how it will help and it will probably cause trouble between them and I wouldn’t want to do that.”
“She must know something though, mustn’t she?”
“Yes, I reckon. But obviously Charlie doesn’t know she knows – well, whatever she knows.” They sat in silence for a while until Gloria moved forward in her chair and leaned towards the coffee table.
“Do you want another drink?”
“No, I’m fine thanks.” She raised the whisky bottle, uncorked it and then looked across the space between them.
“I’m just having another little one. I know, I know – I’m drinking too much, but this is nothing compared to a week ago even. I’ll cut back, I will, but not just now.” He shrugged, though he wanted to speak, to tell her that he had smelled the alcohol already on her breath when he arrived. He held his tongue. It was all too delicate, building this new bridge.
“For now I’m going to just carry on, trying to find the girls first of all. Oh yes and I’m going to go and see that woman who found Charlie. I’ve got her name from the paper – Michelle she is and an unusual surname, it sounds Italian or Spanish maybe, so it was easy to find her address in the phone book. She lives in Keighley. I just thought I’d ask her what she saw when she found him, though like with everything else I’m just working on instinct.”
“So for now, we’ll just keep on shall we?”
“Yup, that’s it. Cheers Gloria. Thanks for the meal. It was lovely but I think I’ll get back now. I’ll come down early tomorrow and we’ll go and find this Michelle – will that work for you?”
“Yep. Tension crackled between them but she moved and picked up his coat from the back of a chair, holding it out to him.”
“See you tomorrow, Simon. Maybe some of this will start to make sense in a while.”
“Well, I bloody hope so.” As he turned at the end of the drive he heard her lock the door and imagined her moving through the rooms, sliding under her duvet and laying there in the dark, alone. If he had pressed it she may have let him stay. He would have liked to stay. He picked up the pace until he was pounding up the hill his heart racing and his breathing quickened. By the time he let himself into the shop he was calm again.