When Will There Be Good News? (8 page)

The car and everyone in it was completely crushed. Because she was the smallest, slimmest person at the scene, Louise ('Can you try, boss?') had squeezed a hand through what had once been a window, trying to search for pulses, trying to count bodies, find some ID
. T
hey hadn't even known there were babies in the back until Louise's ~ngers had brushed against a tiny limp hand. Grown men wept, mcludmg the traffic cop who was the family liaison officer, and good old L' -har -'1 d' vlllegar -put an arm round him an
d
OUlse d b 01 e III . said, 'Well, Jesus, we're only human: and volunteered to be the one to tell the next of kin, which was, without doubt, the worst job in the world. She seemed to be more faint-hearted than she used to be. Bloodthirsty yet faint-hearted.

A week later she had attended the funeral. All four of them at once. It had been unbearable but it had to be borne because that's what people did, they went on. One foot after another, slogging it out day by day. If her own child died, Louise wouldn't keep on going, she would take herself out, something nice and neat, nothing messy for the emergency services to deal with afterwards.

Archie wanted driving lessons for his seventeenth birthday and Patrick said, 'Good idea, Archie. If you pass your test we'll get you a decent second-hand car.' Louise, meanwhile, was trying to think of ways of preventing Archie from ever sitting in the driving seat of a vehicle. She wondered if it was possible to gain access to the DVLA computer and put some kind of stop on his provisional licence. She was a chief inspector, it shouldn't be beyond her, being police was just the obverse of being criminal, after all.

The driver of the car in front had been badly injured as well and it had been Patrick who had spent hours in the operating theatre putting the man's leg back together. The truck driver, who didn't even have a bruise, was sentenced to three years in jail and was probably out by now. Louise would have removed his organs without anaesthetic and given them to more worthy people. Or so she told Patrick afterwards over a nasty cup of coffee in the hospital staff canteen. 'Life's random,' he said. 'The best you can do is pick up the pieces.' He wasn't police but it wasn't like marrying out. He understood.

He was Irish, which always helped. A man with an Irish accent could sound wise and poetic and interesting even when he wasn't. But Patrick was all of those things. 'Between wives at the moment,' he said and she had laughed. She hadn't wanted a diamond, big or otherwise, but she'd ended up with one anyway. 'You can cash it in when you divorce me,' he said. She liked the way he took over in that authoritative way, didn't stand for any of her shit yet was always amiable about it, as if she was precious and yet flawed and th
e
flaws could be fixed. Of course, he was a surgeon, he thought everyt
hing could be fixed. Flaws could never be fixed. She was the golde
n
bowl, sooner or later the crack would show. And who would pick u
p
the pieces then?

For the first time in her life she had relinquished control. An
d
what did that do to you? It sent you completely off-balance
,
that's what it did.

Or a centrepiece for the dining-room table. Something smallish
,
something red. For the red figure in the carpet. Not roses. Red rose
s
said the wrong thing. Louise wasn't sure what they said but whateve
r
it was, it was wrong.

'Don't try so hard,' Patrick laughed.

But she was no good at this stuff and if she didn't try she woul
d
fail. 'I can't do relationships,' she said, the first morning they woke u
p
in bed together.

'Can't or won't?' he said.

He had broken her in as if she was a high-strung, untamed horse.

(But what ifhe had just broken her?) One step at a time, softly, softly, until she was caught. The taming of the shrew. Shrews were small harmless furry things, they didn't deserve their bad reputation.

He knew how to do it. He had been happily married for fifteen years before a carload of teenage joyriders overtaking on a bit of single carriageway on the A9 had smashed head-on into his wife's Polo, ten years ago. Whoever invented the wheel had a lot to answer for. Samantha. Patrick and Samantha. He hadn't been able to fix her
,
had he? She still had enough time, time to buy the flowers, time to shop in Waitrose in Morningside, time to cook dinner. Sea bass on a bed of Puy lentils, twice-baked Roquefort souffles to start, a lemon tart to finish. Why make it easy when you could make it as difficult for yourself as possible? She was a woman so, technically speaking, she could do anything. The Roquefort souffles were a Delia Smith recipe. The rise and fall of the bourgeoisie. Ha, ha. Oh, God. What was happening to her, she was turning into a normal person. She was buzzing with tiredness, that was what was wrong with her. (Why? Why was she so tired?) In a former life, before her beaut
y
was measured in the size ofa diamond, she would have wound down with a (very large) drink, ordered in a pizza, taken out her contacts, put her feet up and watched some rubbish on television but now here she was running around like a blue-arsed fly worrying about delphiniums and cooking Delia recipes. Was there any way back from here?

'We can cancel,' Patrick said on the phone. 'It's no big deal, you're tired.' No big deal to him maybe, huge deal to her. Patrick's sister and her husband, up from Bournemouth or Eastbourne, somewhere like that. Irish diaspora. They were everywhere, like the Scots.

'They'll be happy with cheese on toast, or we'll get a takeaway,' Patrick said. He was so damned relaxed about everything. And what would they think if she didn't make an effort? They had missed the wedding but then everyone missed the wedding. The sister (Bridget) was obviously already put out by the whole wedding thing. 'Just the two ofus, in a registry office,' Louise said to Patrick, when she finally gave in and said yes.

'What about Archie?' Patrick said.

'Does he have to come?'

'Yes, he's your son, Louise.' Actually Archie had behaved well, looking after the ring, cheering in a mumed, self-conscious way when Louise said, 'I do.' Patrick's own son, Jamie, didn't come to the wedding. He was a post-grad on an archaeology dig in the middle of a godforsaken nowhere. He was one of those outdoor types -skiing, surfing, scuba-diving -'a real boy', Patrick said. In contrast to her own boy, her little Pinocchio.

They had brought in two people from the next wedding to be witnesses and gave them each a good bottle of malt as a thank you. Louise had worn a dress in raw silk, in what the personal shopper in Harvey Nichols had referred to as 'oyster' although to Louise it just looked grey. But it was pretty without being fussy and it showed off her good legs. Patrick had arranged flowers or she wouldn't have bothered -an old-fashioned posy of pink roses for her and pink rosebuds for the buttonholes for himself and Archie.

A couple of years ago, not long after she met Patrick and when Archie's behaviour was at its most worrying, she had gone for therapy, something she had always sworn she would never do. Neve
r
say never. She did it for Archie, thinking that his problems must be
a
result of hers, that if she could be a better mother his life woul
d
improve. And she did it for Patrick too because he seemed to repres
ent a chance for change, to become like other people.

It was cognitive behavioural stuff that didn't delve too deeply int
o
the murk of her psychopathology, thank God. The basic principl
e
was that she should learn to avoid negative thinking, freeing her t
o
have a more positive attitude to life. The therapist, a hippyish, welli
ntentioned woman called Jenny who looked as if she'd knitte
d
herself, told Louise to visualize a place where she could put all he
r
negative thoughts and Louise had chosen a chest at the bottom o
f
the sea, the kind that was beloved ofpirates in storybooks -hoope
d
and banded with metal, padlocked and hasped to keep safe, no
t
treasure, but Louise's unhelpful thoughts.

The more detailed the better,Jenny said, and so Louise added coral and shells to the gritty sand, barnacles clinging to the sides of the chest, curious fishes and sharks nosing it, lobsters and crabs crawling all over it, fronds ofseaweed waving in the tidal currents. She became an adept with the locks and the keys, could visit her underwater world at the flick ofa mental switch. The problem was that when she had safely locked up all the negative thoughts at the bottom of the sea there was nothing else left, no positive thoughts at all. 'Guess I'
m
just not a positive person,' she said to Jenny. She thoughtJenny would protest, pull her to her maternal, knitted bosom and tell her it was just a matter of time (and money) before she was fixed. But Jenny agreed with her and said, 'I guess not.'

She stopped going to Jenny and not long after she accepted Patrick's proposal.

Archie went to Fettes now. Two years ago at the age of fourteen he had been on the edge of something bad, it had only been some petty thieving, some bunking off school, trouble with the police (oh, the irony) but she could tell, because she'd seen it enough times in other teenagers, that ifit wasn't nipped in the bud it wouldn't just be a phase, it would be a way of life. He was ready for a change or it wouldn't have worked. She used her mother's life insurance to pay his exorbitant school fees, 'So the drunken old cow's good for something at last,' Louise said. The school was the kind ofplace that Louise had spent her red-flagged life railing against -privilege, the perpetuation of the ruling hegemony, yada, yada, yada. And now she was subscribing to it because the greater good wasn't an argument she was going to deploy when it came to her own flesh and blood. 'What about your principles?' someone said to her and she said, 'Archie is my principles.'

The gamble had paid off. Two years later and he had gone from Gothic to geek (his true metier all along) in one relatively easy move and now hung about with his geek confreres in the astronomy club, the chess club, the computer club and God knew what other activities that seemed entirely alien to Louise. Louise had an MA in literature and she was sure that if she'd had a daughter they would have had great chats about the Brontes and George Eliot. (While what? They baked cakes and did each other's make-up? Get real, Louise.)

'It's not too late,' Patrick said.

'For what?'

'A baby.'

A chill went through her. Someone had opened a door in her heart and let in the north wind. Did he want a baby? She couldn't ask him in case he said yes. Was he going to seduce her into it, like he'd seduced her into marriage? She already had a child, a child who was wrapped around her heart and she couldn't walk on that wild shore again.

All her life she had been fighting. 'Time to stop,' Patrick said, massaging her shoulders after a particularly gruelling day at work. 'Lay down your arms and surrender, take things how they come.'

'You should have been a Zen master,' she said.

'I am.'

She hadn't expected ever to hit forty and suddenly find herself in a two-car family, to be living in an expensive flat, to be wearing a rock the size of Gibraltar. Most people would see this as a goal or an improvement but Louise felt as if she might have taken the wrong road without even noticing the turning. Sometimes, in her mor
e
paranoid moments, she wondered if Patrick had somehow manage
d
to hypnotize her.

She had changed their insurance policy when they moved and th
e
woman on the other end of the phone went through all the standar
d
questions -age of the building, how many rooms, is there an alar
m
system in place -before asking, 'Do you keep any jewels, furs o
r
shotguns on the premises?' and for a moment Louise felt an une
xpected thrill at the idea of a life containing those elements. (She'
d
made a start -she had the jewel.) She had clearly missed her way
,
parcelled everything up, nice and neat, settled down, when the rea
l
Louise wanted to be out there somewhere living the outlaw life
,
wearing jewels and furs, toting a gun. Even the idea of furs didn'
t
worry her that much. She could shoot something and skin it and ea
t
it, better than the unfeeling distance between the abattoir and th
e
soft, pale packages at the Waitrose meat counter.

'No,' she said to the woman at the insurance company, returning to sobriety, 'only my engagement ring.' Twenty thousand pounds' worth ofsecond-hand bling. Sell it and run, Louise. Run fast. Joanna Hunter had been a runner (was she still?) , a university athletics champion. She had run once and it had saved her life, perhaps she had made sure that no one was ever going to catch her. Louise had read the noticeboard hanging in the Hunters' kitchen, the little everyday trophies and mementoes of a life -postcards, certificates, photographs, messages. Nothing of course about the event that must have shaped her entire existence, murder wasn't something you tended to pin up on your kitchen corkboard. Alison Needler, on the other hand, didn't run. She hid.

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