CHRISTMAS MYSTERY by Sophie Weston: EPISODE 12 Conclusion
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The nurse lived a good way out and insisted on taking them in for a drink to celebrate the New Year. As it turned out, this included a substantial ham sandwich which Patrick snarfed down like a starving wolf.
“Wonderful,” he said. “Busy day. First chance to eat.”
The nurse beamed and waved them off with a care package of goodies from the meal she was preparing to see in the New Year.
In the car on the way back, Liv relaxed, even when Patrick said, “Why didn’t you tell me to drive you to the Food Bank?”
She was surprised. “You were completely immersed in your research. I didn’t want to break your concentration.”
She said dreamily, “You know, that day I came to see you in Cambridge, I’d been taking stock of my life. Rosa said I wanted to go back to my factory settings.”
He gave a choke of laughter. “Original.”
“Accurate too. I found the only thing I didn’t regret was learning to research properly.”
“I always thought I was going to be a teacher. But Francis wanted me to do something more glamorous. So he set Edwin up with his own advertising agency and a brief to mentor me. Edwin was brilliant and very kind. But my heart was never really in it.”
“You could have fooled me,” he muttered.
“The background research now, I was really good at that. It’s the only thing that Francis ever got me into that I was. Am.”
“I hope that means you’re giving up feeling sorry for him.”
She was too peaceful or too tired to rise to that challenge. “So you see, I know what it’s like to be interrupted when I’m on the point of a breakthrough. This morning, when I came to tell you Daniel had called me in, I could see you were really excited. You didn’t even hear me. So, I did as I would be done by.”
“I suppose I can understand that,” he said, a tad reluctantly, she thought. “But why didn’t you call me to come and collect you when you left?”
“I didn’t think of it,” she confessed. “I’d done that journey so often in the past. Habit, I suppose. Anyway, it’s all turned out OK, in the end.”
“Has it?” he said dryly.
“Oh, I think so. Very.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. “Tell me about your research, then.”
“You’re too sleepy.”
“No, I’m not. I’m interested.”
“OK. I can’t tell you who sent you that USB stick. But I can tell you who took the photographs of all the building botches. He was really a freelance building inspector, but he’d got himself hired as some kind of site supervisor.”
She sat up, intrigued. “So we can talk to him?”
“Sadly, no. He died.”
She gasped. “Why? How?”
“It seems an unsafe bit of building fell on him,” he said levelly. “He was on-site after hours. Nobody knew he was there. He was found dead in the morning. Apparently an industrial accident. The local police didn’t like it, but they couldn’t find any evidence of foul play.”
“Foul play!” Liv shivered in spite of the car’s aristocratic heating system.
“Very foul. Because, you see, in the middle of all those endless hours of bad plumbing and wobbly walls, there was a video from the surveillance camera on site. The police say that it wasn’t working on the night. But you seem to have a copy of it. All eight hours of it. And it shows that he wasn’t alone. And he didn’t have an accident.”
“Oh, Patrick. Oh, no. Poor man. Poor, poor man.”
He put his arm round her shoulders. She was grateful for it.
“What are we going to do?”
“I’ve done it. Emailed the lot to the police authority concerned. This afternoon. You may have to explain to them how you got the thing in the first place at some point.”
He said tentatively, “You’re not annoyed about that? I maybe should have waited. Asked you before sending it?”
Liv was astonished. “Something like that? Of course not. You did the right thing.”
Patrick was silent for a couple of miles. Then he said softly, “I hope you still feel that at the end of all this.”
Liz was drifting off by then, drowsy. “I’m sure I will,” she murmured, stroking the back of his hand.
He flipped it over and seized her hand, holding it so tight that he almost crushed her fingers.
After that Liv must have fallen asleep because she did not wake up until the car slid silently off the ramp into the underground car park and horrible fluorescent lighting assaulted her eyelids. She woke herself up making snuffling noises of protest.
“You’re wiped,” said Patrick, amused. “You sound like a hedgehog.”
“Shall I get one of those luggage trolleys and wheel you into the building?”
“Don’t you dare.” Wrestling her way out of the warm cocoon of sleep was not easy, but she managed it. She leaned against the car while she readjusted her senses to the wakeful world. And noticed a problem. “Damn. The automatic gate hasn’t come down.”
He looked back towards the ramp. “Blast.”
“You have to press the override. Management get annoyed if we leave it up. Drunks find their way in and Make A Mess.”
Patrick sighed. “OK. Wait for me.” He jogged off across the empty car park.
But now she was upright, all Liv wanted to do was go to bed. She plodded off towards the lift. Patrick would catch her up soon enough. Only when she got there, she found a sign: “Lift Out of Order.” So she braced herself and started to climb the stairs.
One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Just one more step.
She had been climbing for ever, it seemed, when a doorway onto the half-landing opened and a man came out.
“Hello Liv,” said Francis. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
It was Francis. And yet it wasn’t. His eyes were different. Maybe because she was still only half awake, Liv seemed to see him more clearly. Smaller, further away— but more hard-edged, somehow.
And it was, she saw, a very hard edge. When was the last time she had seen Francis without a smile?
Pull youself together, Liv. You have to deal with this.
She stopped, two steps down from him. “What are you doing here?”
“Visiting my wife. Whose address I had to beg from a third party.”
A bit of her mind shuffled through the people who knew where she lived now. Patrick wouldn’t tell. Nor would her father. Ann hadn’t asked for the address, just wanted to go with her to buy cushions for it. So it had to be Rosa.
Somewhere in another universe, Liv felt a vast sadness for Rosa, who thought Francis was fundamentally a sweet guy, just a bit inconsiderate. Poor Rosa.
Francis, she saw now, in her spaced-out state, considered very carefully what he did. And he’d judged to the millimetre exactly how much pushing around Liv would take. At least he had, until Patrick Fell came into that over-decorated, ugly room and made her see it for what it was—the setting for Francis, the one man show.
Liv stood up straighter, pulled all her faculties into the here and now, and said crisply, “Ex-wife.”
Francis looked ugly, suddenly a brutal cartoon of the bouncing enthusiast the world knew. Their eyes locked. As if he said it aloud, his whole body said, You’re mine. I made you.
No, you didn’t, Francis. You didn’t even damage me much. You’re not that good. And I am free of you at last.
So that was what my Endings List was about all along.
She said very calmly, “You’re not welcome, Francis. Don’t come here again.”
He made a move towards her then, as if expecting her to run. As if he wanted her to. But she went up the two stairs towards him, like a martial artist turning the opponent’s momentum against himself. He backed away instinctively.
But he recovered fast. He’d always recovered fast, she thought suddenly. This wasn’t the first time she’d seen that golden Labrador charm slip. She’s simply let him charm her out of remembering. So Patrick had been right about that, too.
He said, “You’ve got something of mine. I want it back.”
She had no idea what he was talking about. “Don’t be ridiculous. I sent you everything I could find of yours. And I know you’ve been to the furniture depository to look.”
“Don’t play games with me, Liv. You’re no good at them.”
She frowned. The menace was ludicrous, like a pantomime villain. But there was no doubt he meant it.
The door behind Francis opened. “We’re in luck. The lift wasn’t out of order after all,” said Patrick with full-fat bonhomie.
Francis whipped round, suddenly at bay and maddened by it. No longer in control.
“You stole my silver memory stick,” he shouted. His voice was thick, unrecognisable.
Patrick looked past him to Liv. The blue eyes looked grey and sad. “I’m so sorry, Liv. I did warn you to assume the worst.” And then he wasn’t looking at her any more, but saying to Francis, “Now do you want to try to throw me down the stairs or will you go home and wait for the police to call you?”
Francis’s head went back as if Patrick had struck him.
“You see, your devoted assistant did what you told her to, Francis. She put a label on that memory stick, Francis. One of those free labels that charities send you at Christmas. Oh, it was your address all right. Your old address. But the name was Mrs O Rossignol. And that’s how Liv got it. By mistake.”
Francis screeched. There was no other word for it.
“You should have destroyed it,” said Patrick dispassionately. “Or did you think you could use it to blackmail Bratby again?”
Francis said thickly, “You’ve no proof.”
Patrick shrugged. “I don’t need proof. That’s the police’s business.” His voice hardened. “Now get out. And don’t come near Liv again.”
Francis turned on her then, with a look of such hatred that it burned her. She gasped.
But Francis was already pushing past her and stumbling down the stairs and away.
Patrick stayed the night, kind, even comforting, meticulously distant. The next day he moved out.
“You’ll be safe now,” he said.
“Yes,” said Liv, still numb. She remembered how nice it had been, driving back with him through the quiet streets, her head on his shoulder. Gone, now, that innocence.
You can’t unsee the ugliness, once you’ve opened your eyes to it. That marriage of mine was very ugly. Now I know it. And Patrick Fell knows it, too.
She struggled to find words. At first, all she managed was, “Thank you.”
He inclined his head. “Any time.”
As if I’m thanking him for last night’s hot chocolate and brandy.
He picked up his case.
She said abruptly, “Will I see you again?”
He turned, astonished.
“I mean, apart from the fallout from last night.”
I must sound like a complete idiot.
He said, “I think so, don’t you? I mean you still have your side of our Green Report to do.”
“Payment in kind,” he reminded her. And he smiled at her, into her, all the way across that over-designed sitting room which needed cushions to make it her own. “We still have unfinished business, Liv. But I can wait.”
And he was gone.