Read Almost a Crime Online

Authors: Penny Vincenzi

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Almost a Crime (115 page)

“Bye, Pattie, it’s been a lovely day. So lucky with the

weather. Well done. What a success. Goodness, we’re the

last. I’m so sorry.’

‘Don’t be sorry,’ said Pattie. ‘I’m sorry it’s over.’ She

went down to the gate, waved them off

Dickon rushed after them, shouting, ‘See you soon,’ and

then rushed back to Megan. They were working their way

through the leftovers.

‘He seems quite different,’ said Sandy to Pattie. ‘I saw

you talking to him, whatever did you say?’

‘Oh,’ she said quickly, ‘just cuddled him and talked to

him for a bit. He’s very afraid of people dying, isn’t he?

Thinks if they’re ill, they’re going to die.’

‘Yes, I’m afraid so. He’s observed that happening rather a

lot lately. But what else can I say about — about Louise? It’s

better than he should think she’s a criminal.’

‘Of course. Anyway, I said — oh, it’s all so silly. You

don’t want to hear.’

‘Yes, I do. He was so upset earlier, I can’t imagine how

you could have done that.’

‘Well, I said there were different sorts of illness. And that

his mummy was ill in her mind, that nobody ever died of

that. I hope that’s all right. It seemed to — make sense to

him.’

‘I’m very grateful,’ said Sandy. ‘I hadn’t thought of trying

to explain that. It’s quite a difficult concept. For someone of

five.’

‘I know. But I’ve always talked to Megan as if she was much older than she is. They do seem to be able to cope with it.’

‘Yes. I can’t thank you enough, Pattie, really.’

‘Don’t try,’ she said quickly. There was a rather strained

silence. Then, ‘Well, I’d better go and retrieve what’s left of

that wine,’ said Sandy. ‘Not a lot, I think: Gabriel Bingham

and that partner of Octavia’s were making huge inroads into

it. Not to mention my father-in-law. I hope he’ll get home

safely.’

‘He’s gone back to Battles House,’ said Pattie. ‘Lucilla’s

invited him to look at her Indian scrapbooks.’

‘Oh, how nice,’ said Sandy. ‘Well, if you’ll excuse me a

moment, I’ll just get the wine.’

Pattie suddenly felt very bleak. The lovely day was over:

turned from warm Indian summer to chilly autumn. Clouds

were filling the clear sky, a dramatic sunset heralded a

stormy night. The party was over; and the house would

now return to its quiet, half-empty self. No more campaign,

no more Bartles House; she would miss it. Of course there

was still Foothold, she’d been neglecting that lately, but—

‘I’ll give you a hand with the clearing up,’ said Sandy.

‘No, it’s all right,’ she said quickly. ‘You have a long way

to go.’

‘But I’d like to,’ he said.

‘No, really. I’ll do it in my own time. I wouldn’t want to

keep you.”

‘You’re not keeping me,’ said Sandy. ‘Well, not from

anything important.’

She was silent. Then she said, ‘You must let me know

what I owe you for that wine.’

‘Pattie, you don’t owe me anything.’

‘Of course I do. I can’t accept that.’

‘Well - Pattie, is anything the matter?’

‘No. No, of course not. Why should there be?’

‘You seem — upset.’

‘I’m not in the least upset,’ she said. ‘Just a bit tired.

Obviously.’

‘Yes. Of course. Well, if you’d really rather I went …’

‘I would. Yes. And thank you for all your help.’

‘My pleasure.’ He called Dickon. ‘Come on. Time to go

home.’

‘Oh, Daddy. Megan wants us to stay for a bit.’

‘Well, we can’t,’ said Sandy, ‘it’s getting late. Come on.

Say goodbye to Megan and Pattie.’

‘It isn’t late, it isn’t even dark.’

‘No, but we want to get home before it’s dark.’

‘But why?’

‘Come on, Dickon. ‘Bye, Megan, ‘bye, Pattie. See you

soon.’

No suggestion they might meet again; no further

conversation of any kind. The car disappeared down the

lane. She’d been right; she must have embarrassed him

dreadfully. He obviously couldn’t wait to get away.

At that moment, the rain began: heavy, unrelenting,

dashing down on the garden, the tables, filling the empty

glasses, melting into the paper tablecloths. Sandwich crusts,

crisps, half-eaten sausages floated dismally on plates; Pattie

looked at it all and started to cry; sat down at the kitchen

table and buried her head in her arms.

‘Mum,’ said Megan, easing her chair closer to her,

putting her own arms round her, ‘Mum, what is it? What’s

the matter? Please, don’t cry … Oh, hallo, Sandy. I

thought you’d gone.’

‘We had,’ said Sandy, ‘but we couldn’t let you try and

clear up in this.’ He looked at Pattie. She was turned away

from him, blowing her nose.

Megan backed quietly out of the kitchen.

‘What is it?’ he said gently.

‘Nothing. I …”

‘Yes, there is something. Come on, tell me. I’m not

going to give up until you do.’

‘I’m - I’m sorry I embarrassed you earlier,’ she said stiffly.

‘Embarrassed me? What are you talking about?’

‘When I — that is, when I …’

‘When you kissed me, do you mean?’

‘Yes,’ said Pattie abruptly. ‘Stupid of me. Too much

wine.’

in that case,’ said Sandy gently, ‘I’d like you to have

some more. Immediately. I wasn’t embarrassed, Pattie. I

was overwhelmed. That’s all. I’ve wanted to - well, to tell

you how much I want to see more of you. For weeks. But

with the circumstances… Oh, damn! now the children are

coming back.’

Dickon and Megan came into the kitchen. Dickon went

up to Pattie, gave her a hug. ‘Next to my mummy, you’re

the loveliest lady in the world,’ he said, isn’t she, Daddy?’

‘Yes,’ said Sandy firmly. ‘Yes, she is.’ His eyes met

Pattie’s. He grinned. ‘Will that do for now?’ he said.

‘Yes,’ she said, smiling back at him. ‘Of course it will.

For now and for a long, long time.’

 

Octavia drove very carefully and slowly towards the

cottage. This had been one of the good days. They weren’t

all good; rather like someone convalescing from a long

illness, there were times when she still felt dreadful. Still

hurt, still bewildered, still afraid.

But it was getting better. And she knew it was going to

go on getting better.

Tom had refused to tell her what it was. What he had

done or said that had made her father change his mind so

dramatically.

‘Let’s just say it impressed him,’ he had said, ‘which was

not, I might say, the idea. Rather the reverse. Actually. But

I’m not going to tell you. Ever.’

‘But Tom, why not?’

‘Because,’ he had said, ‘it would do none of us any good.

Any good at all. And it would change your father’s opinion

again, if I did. He’d be back, like an avenging angel.’

‘So — I just have to go on wondering,’ she said.

‘Yes, you do. But he was right. Absolutely right. I do—’

‘Don’t,’ she had said gently, ‘don’t. Please. Not now.’

She wasn’t ready for it yet: not to hear him say it. And it

stood between them: a still-dark shadow.

She just couldn’t let him say it. That he loved her. She didn’t quite know why, she supposed she was afraid of it:

that she would hear it and not believe it. But everything

else was becoming all right.

She found it hard to explain, even to herself, how

everything had changed for her; how her father’s acceptance

and forgiveness of Tom had made her own possible.

But it had. If he could do it, from his position of fierce

hatred, then so surely could she. He couldn’t have been

wrong, her father; he never was. Her trust in him, in death

even as in life, was total; if he said Tom loved her, then

Tom must love her. Whatever he had done.

She could accept it. And having accepted it, she could do

other things. She could talk to him, smile at him, laugh

when he was being funny. She had stood with him, holding

his hand at her father’s funeral, had wanted him there, had

drawn strength from him.

She could make plans with him again, discuss work, the

children, the house; they were all going on holiday, skiing,

to Aspen at Christmas.

She could look at him across a room or a dinner table,

and be pleased at how he was being charming and amusing,

instead of angry and outraged, feel indulgently amused at

the absurd attention he gave to his clothes, admire his

business sense and skills, recognise how good a father he

was.

And above all, she could see for herself now that Louise

had indeed been mad, that Tom had been most horribly

and swiftly trapped by that madness; and that although it

would be a long time before she properly forgave him, the

betrayal had not been as dreadful as at first it had seemed.

But she couldn’t hear him saying he loved her. Not yet.

And she couldn’t tell him she loved him.

 

The rain was awful; flooding down.

The main roads were all right, although slippery after the

long dry spell, but the side roads were flooding, mud sliding

across them. She had the windscreen wipers going at double rate, the lights on full beam. Summer was certainly over now.

The twins were arguing about the cricket match,

whether it had been fair: ‘We got all the girls,’ Gideon said

sulkily.

‘What’s wrong with that? What about Melanie? She was brilliant.’

‘She couldn’t bat.’

‘She could. Anyway, she could certainly bowl.’

‘It’s not batting.’

‘I never said it was.’

‘You did.’

‘I didn’t.’

‘Twins,’ said Octavia in exasperation, ‘please, please stop

it. It’s difficult enough driving through this, without that

going on behind me.’

By the time they reached the cottage, she was exhausted.

She sat there, hooting the horn.

Tom finally appeared. He looked irritable. ‘What was all

that about?’

‘I thought you might have noticed that it was raining.

That we might need help getting in.’

‘Sorry. I was reading.’

‘Well - and oh, God, Tom, you haven’t even lit the fire.

It’s freezing.’

‘Of course it’s not freezing. Here, give me Minty. I’ll

take her upstairs.’

‘What’s for supper?’

‘What?’

‘I said what’s for supper?’

‘Nothing. What should there be?’

‘Tom! You said you’d get supper ready.’

‘Did I?’

‘Yes, you bloody well did. It’s not much to ask.’

‘And I suppose you’ve had a really hard day,’ he said.

‘Well, yes, I have actually. I nearly got stopped for

speeding. Pattie was in a fearful state about the food, I had

to make a speech, we played an endless game of cricket, the rain driving over here was frightful…’

‘It all sounds terribly hard,’ he said. ‘I’ve actually been

working, Octavia, I’ve—’

‘Oh, you’re so bloody wonderful,’ she said. ‘Coming

today, joining in, would have been far more like work, I

can tell you. Writing a few memos, making a few

marketing documents …’

‘Damn,’ he said, looking down, ‘bloody child’s put

chocolate on my shirt.’

‘How terrible for you!’

‘This is new,’ he said, ‘I only got it yesterday, cost me a

fortune from Paul Smith, it’s—’

‘And don’t start going on about your wretched clothes,’

she said. ‘I am so tired of hearing about them. I don’t go on

about my clothes half as much as you do.’

‘Oh, shut up,’ he said, ‘just shut up, will you? You’re so

bloody sanctimonious, Octavia, you really are—’

And then he stopped. Stopped dead and stared at her.

‘Good God,’ he said.

‘Now what?’

‘We’re having a row.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We’re having a row, an ordinary row, like we used to

have, a proper married people’s row.’

‘So?’

‘So don’t you think that’s rather good?’

‘No,’ she said sulkily. ‘What’s good about it?’

‘It means we’re back to normal.’

‘Oh, great!’ she said. ‘We’re having a row and you think

that’s good. Tom …’

He put Minty down on the floor, came forward, pushed

her hair back, took her face in his. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t get the

supper ready,’ he said. ‘Sorry I didn’t light the fire. Sorry I

didn’t come out to help you in from the rain. Now, then.

Isn’t that nice?’

‘Tom, what is this? What’s nice?’

‘That I’m having to apologise for such ordinary things. It makes me feel really good. Like a normal bad husband.’ He grinned at her.

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, she grinned back. ‘I’m

sorry I was so cross about it,’ she said. She reached up and

kissed him. She suddenly felt very happy.

‘That’s all right. Now I’ll go and light the fire.’

‘Thank you,’ she said and turned to go upstairs. She

could hear Minty wailing, the twins arguing furiously about

what video they were going to watch. She turned; he was

staring up at her, his face very serious.

‘Octavia,’ he said.

‘Yes?’

‘Am I — am I allowed to say it now?’

‘Yes,’ she said finally, after quite a long silence, ‘yes,

Tom, you’re allowed to say it now.’

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