Neve slammed the door behind her, still seething with anger. When finally she found that Raesan she would—she would—strangle him! Wasn’t that the only way to kill a Gold Asar, cut off the airways?
She leant against the door. “What am I thinking? Murder? No! See what you’ve done to me,” she shouted as if Raesan were there and could hear her. And now the alarm was blaring. She punched in the numbers, expecting Nerys to knock on the door any minute. That really would seal her day.
That morning she’d received her second written warning. “One more,” Ms Cox had warned as she slapped the typed slip into Neve’s hand – not even graced with an envelope. Beneath the thick coating of her makeup her employer’s face had looked flushed. “One more warning and you will be gone.”
“But I phoned you.”
“Yes, Miss Carpory, so you did. And I phoned you back to suggest you took today as well, to be over your belly bug. And what did I find? Hunmph? That the number I’d rung, using 1471, was a public phone box in Glastonbury. And I suppose you went to that Festival. This will not do, Miss Carpory, this will not do at all.”
“Bah,” Neve spat as if to be rid of the rotten day. “But silver linings, yea, as Grandma would say.” Raesan was gone. She was free of him. Free! She ought to be happy.
“I am happy,” she said. “And after I’ve eaten, I’ll vacuum his bedroom – my spare bedroom.” In the kitchen she turned on the music. Gothic B-Damned, because he hadn’t liked them. She sang along with them: Ho hey and nanny no!
But she woke again that night from the same nightmare. The gremlins that took her, paralysed and powerless, to their dark cave. In the dim light that spilled from the landing, her eyes searched the room. Her ears twitched as she listened intently to every small thing. A movement outside. Silently, she slipped from her bed. She peeped through the curtains, cautious not to be seen. Something moved down there in the garden, down in those bushes, the lilacs that now were full-leaf. Then a squeal and a cat and her heart jumped and then settled.
She sat on the bed, not wanting to sleep. What if the Watcher was down there and it had scared the cat? Though she’d tried to make friends with the Watcher, greeting it every morning, yet that was before, when Raesan was there. How long would it wait now she was alone? What if it was a grimmen, after her blood . . .?
Tiredness finally took her; eventually she slept. Wednesday, the weirdness began.
Loaded with groceries, she’d been too concerned to dump her bags and cut the alarm to notice the smell. It wasn’t until she was preparing the spaghetti bolognaise – allowed such food now Raesan was gone – that she noticed, and sniffed at the air. A man’s aftershave? Her first thought was Warren from next door, though that was impossible, the alarm had been set. Still, she wiped her hands of onion and garlic and went in search of anything missing.
In the front room the chair at the computer had been moved. She always left it facing the room. Perhaps she’d caught it with her bathrobe last night when she left it to go to bed. She’d not been in the room since.
She powered the computer and put in a search for any files altered between last night and now. It listed only the files required for start-up. Satisfied, she continued her search through the house. She all-but gagged when she entered the bathroom. That smell was overpowering here, no longer pleasant. Where was it coming from? She covered her mouth with a towel as she searched.
“Raesan!” At the back of the toilet, awkward to reach, was bottle of his body-splash. And the top wasn’t properly tightened. He must have left it behind and it had gradually leaked until . . . she spat to clear her mouth; she could taste it. She opened the window though the breeze that entered wasn’t refreshing. Late June and already the town was sizzling.
Friday it was her bedroom window found open when she returned home from work. She stared at it for several minutes. But she was sure that she’d closed it before leaving. It was part of her morning routine. Check all is safe, check the windows. What point in setting alarms if she then left something open.
Monday she came home from work to find she’d no bread. Yet that morning she’d had half a loaf left, multi-seeded, wheat and rye. She knew that she did. She checked the fridge and the freezer and the food cupboards. Maybe with her thoughts pre-occupied she’d misplaced it. She checked that nothing else was missing.
She tried to dismiss it. “I mean, who would break in and steal only a loaf?” So maybe she’d miss-remembered. Maybe she had used the last that morning and then had forgotten to make a mental note to buy another. It was as well that she kept a loaf in the freezer for emergencies.
Still, unsettled, she tested the alarm. Sensors covered all entry points: front and back doors, the kitchen and sitting room and upstairs windows. She entered. And waited. Strange, the device seemed to allow her no time when, returning tired in the evening, she fumbled to key-in the code to disarm it. Yet now it seemed an age before the system responded. Then the klaxon sounded painfully loud and she’d not the fingers to feed in the code fast enough to quieten it. Yet she was satisfied. The system was working.
Wednesday, and Thursday, she came home to find music playing, her iPod left on the round high-polished table. She usually took music to work but . . . Stress, she concluded. What with forgetting to turn things off, forgetting what she’d eaten, forgetting to close the windows.
Friday evening when she sorted the laundry into washes she found Raesan’s black silk boxers with the pink “Bunny Girl” motif. She smiled. He must have left them behind. But then she stopped midway in loading the machine.
“He’s been in.” There was no other explanation. She had cleared all the washing from that laundry-bin last Friday.
But how had he entered when she set the alarm every morning? She puzzled at it, the question weaving through her mind and not letting her be. Yet that was the answer. The bread, the body-splash, the moved chair by the computer, her bedroom window; she wondered what else she’d not yet noticed.
That Saturday night until late, and all day Sunday, she hit the internet, in the hope of distraction. She searched for Edmund Gunnhildsson. She didn’t believe him her grandfather, yet if she could find him he might know where Regin-yorl was. Then Regin-yorl might know where her mother was – Raesan had said the Bellinn kept tabs on their offspring. What if she weren’t in New Zealand after all? These nightmares weren’t helping her fear of flying; intensifying it, rather.
It was mid-evening Sunday with The Doors playing low in the background, Riders On The Storm, when she found what had to be him. Edmund de Richemont. By then her eyes were sore from staring at the screen and she’d vowed this was to be the last site for the night. She sat back and stared at it.
Edmund de Richemont, also known as Edmund the Red, a notorious corsair sailing out of St. Malo in the years around 1375.
He had sailed with Joanne de Flanders, also known as the Flame, wife of John de Montfort, Duke of Brittany. Joanne had taken to the seas – or at least to the Channel – to plunder French shipping in the Breton campaign for independence. And John de Montfort then was the holder of the Honour of Richmond, Count Alan’s old lands. It had to be him.
Brittany, a mere train-journey away, no flights needed. But 1375, that was still too far into the past. Where was he now?
Monday she was distracted all day, thinking of Raesan. She didn’t know how he was doing it, but he was returning by day while she was at work. At first that had freaked her, now it only annoyed her. “Why don’t you return when I’m there? We need to talk. Okay, so I need to talk. Listen to me, see? I’m talking to myself. All these years with only Grandma, and I’ve never done that.”
On the way to her bedroom to change her clothes, her work-wear sticky from the heat of the day, she checked in his room. Hoping? No, she told herself, just making sure everything was as it should be. She opened the window, so stuffy in there. Then she checked everywhere else: the bathroom, the kitchen-diner, opening windows. Global warming, though now they said cooling. And this was July and the roads were melting. Everything in Yalesham sweltered, furnace-like, with a lack of air.
“You’re missing him, aren’t you, Nevey?” she said, using her grandma’s pet-name for herself.
She’d fixed a salad though she didn’t want to eat it.
“Why doesn’t he just come knock at the door? Though I do like to have this house to myself.”
She sat at the table, shuffling the radishes on her plate. She sighed. “I’ve never noticed before how lonely alone can be.”
She prodded a potato, pushing it, hiding it behind the tomato.
“And this isn’t telling me the story of the Cesars.”
She played some more with her food.
“It’s not helping me find Regin-yorl either. Ah, but I have found Edmund. Possibly. Though 700 years ago.”
She pushed the plate away, barely touched.
Tuesday Uncle James phoned her, supposedly to update her on the sale of Arthurs Sleep. But then he said of a second local murder. Neve already knew of it. Her suspicions for a moment had raced. But Raesan had no motive to kill. And, anyway, even if he had, he’d make it look natural. Heart attack or such. And again she found her bedroom window open.
Friday afternoon the weather broke with a single crash of thunder. “Hell and damnation!” Neve swore as the heavens opened.
“Miss Carpory, the Good Lord didn’t give us a tongue to abuse it.”
“And nor do I usually, Ms Cox, but I’ve left washing on the line.” Her bedding and towels, and the rain was now pelting down. The road outside looked more like a river.
“It’ll soon pass.” Ms Cox had not been so crabby of late. “And a stiff sea-breeze and the heat, your washing will be dry by the time you’re home.”
It turned out Ms Cox was right. Though not for those reasons.
Neve smelled the warmth of the tumble-dryer as she opened the door. And there on the Queen Anne table in the kitchen-diner was a neatly stacked pile of bedding and towels.
“He knows the code,” she concluded as, arms laden, she took the bedding upstairs. “That’s the only way he could do it. But why does he only come in when I’m out?”
And he’d been sitting at her computer again. “It’s as well he doesn’t know how to use it. Think of the chaos if he could . . . without even trying . . . just not knowing. Oh.”
She was in iTunes. And there was a new playlist. She couldn’t move, just looking at it. It was titled ‘Sorry’. But how? Raesan was IT illiterate; he’d even given his laptop to her.
The playlist contained just the one track. This Is Not A Love Song. But where it should have shown ‘Public Image Ltd’ as the artist, there was only a hyphen ‘–’.
She didn’t want to play it, hands curling one into the other and hugging. “What am I scared of? Disappointment?”
She clicked on ‘play’.
For what seemed an age nothing happened. Then, hellishly loud and without benefit of music: “This is not a love song. This is Raesan, yeh, saying sorry.” Silence a moment, then the music kicked in.
It wasn’t the track she’d expected. It was Foo Fighters, Stranger Things Have Happened. But Foo Fighters weren’t Raesan’s taste in music. Though she must have played this track a hundred times, now she listened as if for the first time. Was he saying that she wasn’t alone, or that he wasn’t? He would change, said the song, if she’d say how she wanted him to be. He’d change, if it meant he could share this loneliness with her.
“Oh Raesan. Come back. Come back when I’m here.”
~ ~ ~
Saturday, at two-thirty, a policewoman arrived at Cox’s Craft Corner. “Miss Carpory? Nineve Carpory?”
“Yea, that’s me,” Neve said, her back turned to Ms Cox’s evil eye. There must be hundreds of innocent reasons for a policewoman to call. It needn’t spell trouble.
“We need you to accompany us back to your house.”
“Why? I mean, what’s this . . .?”
“Your alarm. Neighbours complaining.”
“Oh.” She looked to Ms Cox for permission. Ms Cox nodded, lips disapprovingly pressed. “I’m sure I shan’t be long.”
The policewoman explained more once settled into the police car. “Your neighbour’s child is missing. She’s blaming your boyfriend.”
Neve felt suddenly cold. “Yea, well, she would blame him. She blames him if there’s a wasp in her house. And he’s not my boyfriend.”
“Lodger?” Neve could see the policeman driving was watching her in the rear-view mirror.
She shrugged. “Friend, I suppose. But he’s not been there these past three weeks.” She could see the rise of his eyebrows. “And he would not take a child.” He wouldn’t. Dratted woman, that Nerys, blaming her and Raesan for everything. If this earned her a third warning . . . She tried to relax, not wanting this police-couple to see her uptight.
As the car rounded the corner Neve could see what looked like every neighbour was out in the street, gathered into their gossiping groups. She felt their eyes on her as she got out of the car. But this wasn’t her fault. Though she could understand their complaints at the sound of her alarm. In the harsh summer heat, bouncing off walls, it was deafening. She too would have complained. She hurriedly key-in the disarm code. The resultant silence was blessed.
“May we?” the policewoman asked and before Neve could answer was already sliding past her, into the house. The policeman followed. Neve closed the door on the gawping neighbours.
Within minutes the policewoman was treading down the stairs, a dozy-eyed two year old held in her arms. The policeman held opened the door for her. Mother and child were reunited, the neighbours dispersed.
But Neve couldn’t grasp it. “I don’t understand how that child could’ve . . .”
“No, I don’t suppose . . .” the policeman said, his colleague still talking with Nerys outside. “I’m sorry, Miss, but I have to ask you to come to the station. There are questions need answering.”
Neve’s mouth fell. “Are you arresting me? But I’ve done nothing.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem then, should it, Miss.”
“What shouldn’t be a problem?” the policewoman said, helping herself back into the house.
“Miss Carpory here, answering some questions.”
“No, Cooper, we don’t need to question this woman. Come on, leave her alone.”
PC Cooper looked back at Neve. Then obediently tagged behind his colleague as if she were his superior. Maybe she was; Neve knew nothing of police ranks. Yet, “Most irregular,” she heard him mutter as he closed the car-door.
Neve closed her door, surprisingly cool for the heat of the day. Then she took a deep breath and let out a piercing yell. “Raesan!”
. _____ .
Next episode, 2nd July: One Day