Read The Charlton Affair Online

Authors: MJ Doherty

The Charlton Affair (5 page)

Always sharp, Roman picked up immediately on Michael’s location even though Phoebe was too distraught to notice. Michael had told Phoebe he was at work in Papua New Guinea, not lounging around in Noosa.
This whole situation is starting to stink
, thought Roman.
Her life has gone from pleasantly boring to completely awful. What’s he doing in Noosa without her? I can guess. The dirty bastard.
He squeezed his friend’s shoulders reassuringly and said, “Come on sweets, let’s get out of here.”

With his arm around her, he escorted her outside and into his waiting Range Rover. Carefully and considerately, he drove her to his perfectly restored old Queenslander home in New Farm.

 

Chapter Four

 

A sudden tropical rain fell heavily on Michael’s sporty Audi as he sped southwards back to Brisbane through the night. The torrential rain was so heavy he had to slow down, as he was unable to see very far ahead. The two-hour drive would become much longer if this continued. He hoped the rain didn’t get in and cause even more damage to his Hamilton home.

Frustrated with having to slow down, he called Phoebe to explain the delay. She was too disturbed to even speak about what had happened. In fact her speech was slurred, something he had never previously encountered in his always well-behaved and careful wife. Roman eventually took the phone from her and explained to Michael that Phoebe had taken a calmative and need to go off to get some sleep. While Roman did not sound outright hostile, Michael could hear the challenge in his tone.

“I understand, Roman. I’ll keep an eye on the house tonight and come get her in the morning. I’ll take her to the police station, too.” Michael replied firmly, “Thanks for looking after her.” He ended the call and focused on the road ahead.

 

*****

 

Phoebe woke with a pounding headache. Her head throbbing, she looked blankly around the gorgeous but unfamiliar room. Suddenly it all came back to her, the attack, and Roman’s assistance.
She shook with horror at the memory.

After rising slowly, she headed for the en suite where she found the bag containing her toiletries. She fished around for some headache tablets. Swallowing two, she washed her face with cold water, pressing a cool washcloth against her throbbing forehead to gain momentary relief. Several minutes later the pills began to work and she was able to have a quick shower and make herself presentable.

Roman was in his large gourmet kitchen, sipping coffee at the breakfast bar. Smiling, he rose to hug her when she entered. Roman’s silent, muscle-bound partner, Mark, poured her a freshly brewed coffee and sympathetically offered her some toast and cereal.

“Oh, you poor love,” Roman said, “what a night!”

Phoebe looked at him, shaking her head. “I can’t believe it,” she replied, “I suppose I’d better get ready to speak to the police.”

“Michael said he’d come over this morning to take you.”

Phoebe was instantly conflicted. On one hand she was grateful he cared and relieved to have the safe harbor of her husband back again. On the other hand she felt slightly dishonest letting him look after her, unsure that she wanted his attention. Shrugging it off, she tried to think about something else, anything else. The situation was too painful to contemplate.

 

*****

 

The Nundah Police Station was a large and daunting concrete-grey multi-story complex. Only a short distance from Hamilton, it didn’t take long to get there from New Farm either. Michael and Phoebe sat together in the waiting room at the front entrance. After about ten minutes, a Detective Constable appeared and Phoebe began the arduous process of making a full statement in a small cramped interview room.

Michael, sitting next to her, was silently appalled as he listened to what she had suffered. Squeezing her hand in sympathy, he tried to comfort her as she described her fear to the Detective Constable. He blanched when she detailed how the heavyset man had chased her. Triggered by her attack, his memories took him back to a place he’d sooner forget. After struggling to change his thought pattern, he focused on an image of his raunchy Spanish beauty in his mind as he solicitously handed his distraught wife another tissue.

 

*****

 

Amanda placed two freshly brewed coffees on the coasters on Charlie’s large old-fashioned wooden bureau. Sitting down, she sipped hers while she waited excitedly for Charlie to finish perusing her spreadsheet and notes. 

After reading the notes, Charlie looked at her, eyebrows up, “Are you sure?”

Amanda nodded, “Pretty sure. Have a look at the old photos from the Boston newspaper archives and see what you think? It looks like him as a child, but it’s hard to absolutely certain. There could be another Michael Rawlins out there that fits the bill. But I really don’t think so.”

Charlie thoughtfully spread out the images and examined them.

“I can see why he lied. Actually, he didn’t outright lie, he was just economical with the truth. With good reason. If that was in my past, I wouldn’t want anyone to know about it.”

“Not even your wife?” Amanda replied.

Charlie thought for a moment before answering, “Good question. You’ve just reminded me how hard it is to truly put myself in someone else’s shoes. I’d hope to have someone in my life I didn’t have to keep such an awful secret from. But I don’t really know what’s it like to have lived through something like that. Maybe for Michael it’s so horrible he can’t bear for anyone at all to know?”

Amanda looked sadly at some of the old articles and excerpts she had gathered from the web. The Charltons were an old money Boston family, incredibly wealthy socialites who had suffered a catastrophic event nearly thirty years earlier.

Jefferson Charlton had shot and killed his wife Mary and their ten-year-old daughter, Honore, in their beds at night. He had stalked his two sons, who had managed to hide, one in a small attic space, and the other in a laundry cupboard. After he was unable to find them he turned the gun on himself, blowing his own brains out.

Stillman, aged thirteen, had emerged from his hiding place to get help. Jefferson Junior, aged six, was found cowering in a small cupboard in the attic the next day, still utterly terrified. Both boys told the Boston police a horror story of being stalked by their enraged drunken father and then hearing shots. None of the reports gave any explanation about why it had happened. The papers preferred to speculate on the millions Stillman and Jefferson Junior inherited as the only survivors.

Charlie shook her head gravely, “Extreme domestic violence. Perhaps mental illness?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find anything more specific about the family,” Amanda replied. “There’s plenty about their wealth, though.” Amanda pointed to a couple of printouts. “In a nutshell, the Charltons were old tobacco. They diversified into manufacturing early in the 1900s, eventually making a lot of money out of the two world war effort efforts. The companies were sold off after the scandal and the money invested in a trust for the two boys.”

Charlie followed on from Amanda’s summary, “Little Jefferson gets shipped out to a maternal uncle here in Queensland. His name is changed and he starts a new life. What happened to Stillman?”

“I don’t know.” Amanda replied, “I can follow it up if you like?”

“Don’t bother. We have enough here for our purposes.” Charlie replied.

Amanda didn’t bother hiding her disappointment. Not for the first time, she wondered if she should follow her father and join the police service. She reminded herself once again that her husband would hit the roof if she did that.

“This is going to make the advice a nightmare.” Charlie moaned, “I bet he didn’t tell his wife who he really is or how much money he had when he made the Financial Agreement with her. If that’s true, it’s going to be almost impossible to hold it up. I mean, how could it be valid when she didn’t know what she was agreeing to forego?” Charlie rubbed a tense spot in her neck and added, “He would never want a messy public trial either, not with that in his past. If she finds out about this, she could have him completely over a barrel. Not only that, but how do I even raise it with him?” Charlie shook her head, not requiring an answer from Amanda.

“Poor bugger,” Amanda said, her attitude towards Michael now completely reversed. She wondered how he felt about people knowing and if he hated the sort of sympathy they would automatically give him.
No amount of money can heal wounds like that
, she thought.

“And the only way you got this was because your Dad let slip that there’d been a name change?”

“Yup. They changed his name here in Queensland. He got into some trouble as a kid and that’s why his identifying information, including the alias, is in the police system. Nothing too serious, just joy riding with some other young boys. Still loves fast cars as you can see.” Amanda nodded at the list of assets including an Audi sports car.

Charlie sighed, examining the assets sheet. “I see his wife has an almost equal earning capacity to him, now and potentially in the future. She also brought some assets to the marriage. Except for his past, I’d say he was in a good position.” Looking at Amanda she said, “What a mess! But thanks. Without your work, we would never have known. Well done.”

Amanda packed up the information and quietly left Charlie’s office, letting her think about the advice she had to draft.

 

*****

 

Phoebe drove the hired Mazda sedan Roman had organized for her to the shops to pick up some groceries. Michael was at home supervising the tradesmen fixing the windows and the contract cleaning service.

He had been so kind and caring, taking her to the police station and staying with her. Now he was making sure the house was safe again, even beefing up the security system. The security company was going to do regular drive by checks during the night.

She did love him, she realized, but she didn’t feel as though she was in love with him. She didn’t have brothers, only one older sister, but she thought her relationship with Michael was almost brotherly. She felt protected when he was around and she trusted him.

Pushing her trolley absently around the store, she wondered if she should give the relationship another chance. After all, she reasoned,
why throw it all away on a stupid compulsion to meet a woman I don’t even know? A woman who has no idea I think about her?
Phoebe decided the sensible thing to do was to forget about her feelings for Charlie and concentrate on her marriage.

 

*****

 

Phoebe parked in the driveway, unable to drive into the garage under the wrecked roller door. She hoped she would not feel the stabbing sensations of fear and revulsion she had felt earlier when she came home. Carrying her groceries, she ducked carefully under the damaged door and entered the hall from the garage. Suddenly seized by a horrible memory of the sound of the man running to attack her, she paused, trying to catch her breath. It felt so real, like it was happening again. After struggling for a moment, she shrugged it off and continued to the kitchen, trying very hard to not to feel terrified in her own home.

Michael was on the telephone. His normally even voice sounded stressed and irritable as he organized more tradesmen. After he got off the phone, he came to help her put the groceries away.

“Are you OK, honey?”

She looked at him, trying not to cry. Lips trembling, she said, “I keep remembering. I can’t seem to stop it.”

He pulled her into his arms and held her comfortingly. He was quiet for a moment, and then said softly into her hair, “I know exactly what you mean. It just grabs you. You feel like you’re right back there. Right back in that horrible moment. You can hear, see and smell it. It’s awful.”

She nodded against his shoulder, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“It gets better. I promise. It just takes time,” He said soothingly as he rocked her gently.

She felt safe in his arms, amazed that he seemed to understand exactly what she felt.

 

*****

 

Detective Sergeant Sally Middleton sifted through the Scenes of Crimes results on the Rawlins burglary. The file was allocated to her when Linden’s long awaited transfer to the Water Police finally came through.

Sally Middleton had been in the police service for more than ten years. In her mid-thirties, she was of average height and build with pleasant features. Her slightly olive skin was offset by dark mid-length curly hair that she never managed to control very well. Her husband loved her wayward hair. She always thought that was lucky, as her children had both inherited her hair.

She examined the photographs, analyzing the crime.
It’s an odd one. Such a persistent and motivated attack, but also a lot of valuable items missing. Simple burglars don’t normally act so violently. The man actually went out of his way to attack her. He could have just retreated out the rear door with the goods when he heard her come home.
Sounds like a big guy. Maybe he was in a rage from steroid abuse?

The husband had given the police an accurate list of missing items including some expensive jewelry, electronics, and even a couple of small artworks.
Not a typical drug user then. Most druggies wouldn’t recognize valuable art pieces if they fell over them. Was he surprised in the act? Or was he waiting for her, only making it look like a burglary? No fingerprints, no hair, no blood, only some fiber caught on a window frame. And that could come from anything
, she thought.
A very professional job
.

The uniformed officers had done the standard door knock in the street without any results. Hamilton was not the sort of neighborhood where people were home all day watching what goes on in the street. Even if they were, the homes were often so secluded they wouldn’t see much. She would have to wait and see if any of the stolen goods surfaced in the pawnshops or elsewhere. After closing the file, she replaced it in her drawer and moved onto the next job.

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