“I’m too tall for the camp bed and Sam wakes up at half past five.”
“See you then.”
Simon fetched the blanket and pillow from the playroom. He liked the kitchen. It was warm and it gave off a faint, comforting hum. The red light glowed from the dishwasher. After a couple of minutes, he heard the bump of the cat flap and felt Mephisto leap on to the sofa, curl into the small of his back, and settle down to purr.
The noise was the worst thing. She wasn’t bothered by the rest of it, only by the noise. Banging, rattling, shouting, clanging. Everything here was made of metal, everything made a racket. Plates and doors and staircases and corridors and keys. Nobody walked about without their footsteps sounding through your head, nobody spoke without their voice echoing round the iron stairwells. In the day it was bad but the nights were worse. Someone started shouting, another followed, someone else screamed, someone began to bang on a door. Then the footsteps and the keys and the shouting again. Ed had put her pillow over her head but it made no difference. She screwed toilet paper into plugs and stuffed them in her ears but the noises were still there, only hollow, like noises heard at the bottom of a well. Still heard though. Her breakfast had come. She’d eaten the toast and drunk the tea. Everything else was filth. Slime and filth and grease. But the toast was OK. More or less cold but OK.
Then the footsteps and the key.
That was one thing. They’d asked what she wanted to be called and she’d said Ed and that had been that.
This one’s name was Yvonne and she was like a sparrow, not much bigger than Ed. Her hair had a red streak down the side where she’d tried out a colour, she said, only thank God she had just done the one streak. “What was I thinking?”
“How are you?”
“Right, there’s been a contact through the Prison Location Service. Your mother sent in a visitor’s request.”
“I don’t want to see her. I don’t have to.”
“No. You don’t have to, you have that right. Only— think about it, Ed. How’s she feeling?”
“Haven’t a clue.”
“Do you not get on with your mother?”
Ed shrugged again.
“She’s your mother though, and you’ve just got the one. She’d be a support, wouldn’t she?”
“I don’t need a support.”
“You sure about that?”
“What do you keep asking me things like that for?”
“Because most people in your situation need support … they need all the support they can get, ask me.”
“She isn’t involved.”
“Looks like she wants to be.”
“Well, I’ve said, I don’t want her. So I don’t want to see her. Anyway, she’s got other fish to fry.”
“You got sisters and brothers?”
“Nothing to do with you.”
Yvonne sighed. “Gawd, you make life difficult.”
“Not difficult for me, Ed, difficult for yourself. What are you so proud for?”
“The sausages are disgusting. Tell them I said so.”
“Right. I mean, right, your mother will be told via the PLS that you don’t want contact, not right I’ll put your complaint to the kitchens. You should be so lucky. Thing is though, Ed, she can write to you. She can’t come and see you without your agreement, but wouldn’t it be good to get a letter?”
“Think about her.”
“You’ve said that once.”
“She’ll have things she wants to say. Questions maybe.”
“She won’t get answers. I told you, she’s got other stuff … she got married again. Leave it there.”
“You don’t get on with your stepfather then? Well, that’s nothing unusual. Matter of fact, I don’t much go for mine but he’s made my mum happy. Think about it, Ed.”
“Can I go to the library?”
“Sure. Open at ten. I’ll fetch you.”
“What do you have to fetch me for? Let me go on my own, for God’s sake. What do you have to nanny me for? Bloody hell.”
Yvonne leaned against the wall and looked Ed full in the face for some moments, in silence.
She’s OK, Ed thought. She’s not soft, she’s not clever, but she’s OK. I could do worse for a minder.
The cleaning stuff was dropped in three times a week, mop and bucket, broom, duster and polish. She looked forward to it. She liked cleaning, liked making the place as good as she could get it, though never as good as her own house.
She didn’t want to think of her own house but a picture was in her mind straight away and she couldn’t get rid of it. In the end, she gave up trying and went round, room by room, looked at the furniture, the wallpaper, the cupboards, what was in the cupboards, the windows, the front path, the back garden, looked and looked until she thought she’d go mad.
She’d go back there of course. When they got her off, which they would because she knew and they knew and her brief more or less knew, that there wasn’t the evidence. Not much evidence at all, except for taking the girl. She couldn’t get out of that one and she wouldn’t try. No point. “Pleading guilty,” she’d said at the first interview. One kidnapping. But they had nothing else. Just a few specks in the car. But no bodies to link them with.
Ed closed her eyes so she could see her house more clearly. The garden was looking nice but the edges wanted straightening. She had a little cutter on the end of a long handle to do them. It made a really neat job. Kyra liked watching her do that, though she would never ever let Kyra have a go. Too dangerous.
“I can do it, Ed, I can, go on, let me do it, I’ve watched you lots of times, I can do it.”
But she might slice off her toe or anything, it wasn’t safe. She wasn’t going to take any chances with Kyra. Kyra was special. Precious. She would do anything at all to make sure nothing ever hurt Kyra. Nothing. Ever.
She didn’t want to see anyone, not her mother, not Jan, not anyone. But if she could see Kyra, she’d jump at that. Would they let Kyra come with her mother? Ed didn’t see why not. People had their kids to visit, Ed had heard them enough times on visiting afternoons. Why couldn’t she ask to see Kyra? Natalie would have to bring her, that was why, and she wouldn’t see Natalie. There wasn’t anything wrong with Natalie, apart from being a sloppy mother, not good enough for Kyra. Natalie wasn’t bad. But Ed wouldn’t see her. Just Kyra.
She opened her eyes.
Of course they wouldn’t let Kyra come.
The noise began again, buckets being dropped off outside every door, clang, clang, clang, then the brushes, against every door, bang, bang, bang. They went all the way along one side of the corridor, then all the way back down the other, before Ed’s door was unlocked, and the fat woman shoved the bucket and mop and broom inside, without glancing in Ed’s direction.
Bloody cheek. She was a remand prisoner, she wasn’t someone they could treat like that, by ignoring her, by pretending she didn’t exist. Yvonne wasn’t like that. Yvonne knew her place OK. Ed thought she might have a word. They ought to speak to her, ought to be polite. She was on remand not convicted. She’d a right to be spoken to.
Later, she’d definitely complain about it. Definitely.
Last time round, frothy coffee had come in shallow see-through cups and tasted of nothing. Now it came in a tall glass with a tall spoon and tasted strong. Dougie Meelup sat at a table towards the back of the café with the tall glass and the newspapers. Three newspapers. He had read one and a half from cover to cover, aside from Business, and all the sport, apart from golf, and if he stayed another half-hour or so he’d finish them all. Then he might get another paper and come back for a bit.
In the past couple of weeks he had spent as much time in the café as he had at home, during the day at least. Eileen had barely noticed. He was worried about it and it was driving him mad, both together. At first, she had spent every hour there was on the computer, learning how to work it and then beginning to look everything up, every word that had been written, it seemed, first about Weeny’s case, then about the missing children. She had got Keith to buy her a printer and set it up, so then the printing-out had started, all day and into the night, chug chug churn churn, until the kitchen table was a white sea of paper and there were boxes of stuff printed out from the Internet all over the house.
“I have to do it, I have to find out and I have to understand, if I don’t do that then I can’t help sort it, Dougie.”
Then the papers had to be filed in the box files she had gone into town to buy. Then it had gone quiet while she had read them through, painstakingly, every single one, occasionally making him listen to some of it out loud, asking him what he thought. He found it hard to answer.
“I don’t know, Eileen, it sounds too legal, it’s all police talk, I don’t know.”
“You get used to it,” she had said, “legal things and the police talk. You get to see through it after a bit.”
Then she had started on the names and addresses, sheets of them. And then the letters had begun. She was writing a letter about Weeny to half the country, he thought, asking Lord this and Sir that and Mr Justice whoever. He’d looked at a few when she was in the bath. They were all the same, asking for help with the case, asking for letters to be written, asking how it could have happened that Weeny could have been arrested for dreadful, terrible crimes she could not have committed, asking for more names and addresses, more people who would join her campaign, asking, asking, asking. After a bit, the replies had started to come. Then she had begun to telephone people, newspapers, police stations, MPs, judges. Half the country. Half the world.
He got his own meals. She ate a banana or a packet of biscuits or cut a chunk of cheese, and made tea. There were tea mugs on every shelf, every window ledge. The sink was full of empty tea mugs. He washed them up and put them away and tidied the kitchen and went to the supermarket and cooked and tried to get her to come to the table for a meal and in the end gave up and sat down on his own. But after a bit, he had taken to coming into the café and drinking the tall glasses of frothy coffee, stirring three spoons of sugar in each one with the tall spoons. He read the papers, tried the crosswords, marked the racing columns, learned how to do Word Wheels so that his score moved up from Fair to Good and, once, Very Good.
His life had been turned upside down and he couldn’t get a purchase on what to do about it, how to get it back upright again, how to help, how to bring Eileen to her senses. How. How. He knew one thing. He wouldn’t have said it aloud, not to Eileen, not to anyone at all. But he knew. They didn’t arrest a person for terrible things like this without being sure. It wasn’t like shoplifting, say, or pinching a purse. They didn’t take someone in and have it official if it was a maybe, a lookalike, an educated guess.
He didn’t know Weeny. She had been to see them once, called in, on her route, she’d said, brought a bunch of garage flowers, stopped for a cup of tea and a biscuit. A slip of a thing, dark hair, dark jacket, dark jeans. When she had gone, he had had the strange feeling that nobody had been there, no one he could pin down or remember, a nothing sort of person, a small, dark, fleeting shadow. She hadn’t said a lot to him but what she had was perfectly nice, perfectly pleasant. But he didn’t remember much of it. It was as though even her words hadn’t been there, hadn’t left any trace on the air, just breath which had evaporated, leaving no mark in his memory.
He looked down at the paper. Musselburgh 3.30. It was a choice between Empire Gold and Miljahh. Nothing to split the two. Perhaps he’d Dutch them, a fiver each. That would be around seven-pound profit whichever won. Was it worth walking to the bookies and standing in a queue for seven pounds, always assuming he was right and one of the two did win? The café was quiet. They had the back door behind the counter open on to the yard whch let in some air as well as the smell of dustbins.
The bookies would smell of sweat and smoke.
Eileen would be printing-out or click-clicking, her face close to the screen.
He felt a sudden drop down into despair. He wanted to ask someone what he could do, what he could say, how he could help, how he could support Eileen and at the same time get her out of this cage she was in, the cage of trying to prove what was unprovable, that Weeny’s arrest was all a terrible error. It wasn’t an error and he could never say that. She asked him over and over again what he thought, if he would write letters, and his tongue seemed to swell in his mouth because he could never answer, the right words were not there and the truth could not be spoken. He wished she hadn’t given up her job. She had said she needed all her time on what she had started to call her campaign. But he thought she might be afraid, too, afraid of someone knowing, pointing, whispering, telling, spreading words. He wandered out into the sunshine. The town was busy. He thought he would go to the bookies, place his bets, and then buy something for her, though he didn’t know what, or even if she would notice.
The price on Miljahh was a lot better than he’d expected, 100-30 instead of 7-4, so he had ten pounds instead of five and watched it win by a length on the bridle which ought to have cheered him but somehow didn’t. He went out and sat on a bollard in the sun and wondered what to buy Eileen. Flowers. Chocolates, which she’d always liked. But he knew she’d ignore the flowers and leave the chocolates unopened.
He went back to the car and began to drive towards the roundabout and home, but instead he took the first exit, almost without knowing he was doing it.
Leah was in the garden, rearranging the little lights she had planted, on the path, up the rockery, in the trees. Dougie had sometimes wondered if the lights were something to do with her religion but never liked to ask. She clambered down from rehanging one when she heard the gate.
Dougie Meelup would never have said he was a prejudiced man, never one so much as to notice the colour of anyone’s skin. Human was human, even if it wasn’t always easy to get on with everyone. But when Keith had said he was marrying a Filipino girl, he’d been concerned. Everything was different, wasn’t it, not just the colour of your skin, everything, the way she’d been brought up, her education, her family, her religion, food, weather, clothes, customs. Everything. “How’s she going to like it? That’s what worries me. It’s everything new, everything different, and a husband as well. What if she isn’t happy? You couldn’t blame her, but what would you do? Burning her boats, coming to live here, it’s a big step, and if it goes wrong, what will you do?”