Authors: John Marrs
Table of Contents
The Wronged Sons
By John Marrs
Text copyright ©2013 John Marrs
Cover art: ©depositphotos.com
Cover art: Lee Dalgleish
All rights reserved
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living, dead or who have simply disappeared, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
I offer my heartfelt gratitude to those friends who read early versions of this story and were then subject to my barrage of questions. Thanks to my mum, Pamela Marrs, the biggest reader I know and to Stuart Goodman for his constant encouragement. And in alphabetical order, Katie Begley; Tessa Brechin; Lorna Fitch; Fiona Goodman; Jenny Goodman; Sam Kelly; Rhian and Richard Molloy; John Russell, Sheila Stevens and Carole Watson. And finally thanks to Oscar, for sacrificing many a walk around the park for this book.
About the author
John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in Northampton and London, England. After 20 years of interviewing celebrities, writing about movies, books and television for national newspapers and magazines, this is his debut novel.
Northampton, Today, 8.20am
The thick tread of the Mercedes’ tyres barely made a sound as it slowly pulled over to the curb.
The passenger sat nervously in the rear, tapping his lips with his forefinger as his gaze met the cottage. The smoky tint of the window and the milky sky cast his face in conflicting shades of grey.
“That’s £22 mate,” muttered the driver in a regional dialect he couldn’t place. Most of the accents he’d heard in the last few years were those of commentators on the British sports channels his satellite dish picked up. He fumbled with his deerskin wallet, separating the Euros from the sterling that bunched together.
“Keep the change,” he replied as he offered a ten and twenty-pound note.
The driver responded, but his passenger wasn’t listening. He opened the door and carefully placed both feet on the pavement, steadying himself with his hand on the frame. He patted out the creases in his bespoke suit while the security blanket of the car disappeared as silently as it had arrived.
Minutes passed by but he remained rooted to the ground. He’d been hypnotised by the white cottage and allowed waves of memories he’d long buried to wash over him. It was their first and only home together, he recalled. A family home. A home and a family he’d relinquished twenty-five long years ago.
The pink rosebushes he’d planted for her beneath the kitchen window had gone, but for a second he imagined he could still smell their sweet scent in the air. Where once there lay a sandpit he’d dug for the children, now stood a shed, adorned with swirls and speckles of jade and white ivy, slowly changing its form.
Suddenly the front door opened and a young woman appeared, bringing him back to the present with a start. He’d not anticipated another visitor.
“See you later,” she shouted, closing it behind her. She threw the strap of her handbag over her shoulder and smiled as she passed him. It wasn’t
though; this girl could have only been in her late twenties, he thought. But her smile felt familiar and he reciprocated politely.
He began to wonder if he’d misunderstood what James had told him, and that she had moved home after all. But there was only one way to find out. His heart raced as he drew a deep breath that he didn’t release until he reached the end of the gravel path. He raised his head to look up at what had once been their bedroom.
‘That’s where you killed me,’ he thought, then he closed his eyes and knocked on the door.
Northampton, Twenty-Five Years Earlier
June 4, 6am
“Simon, tell your dog to bugger off!” I mumbled, and brushed away a wet tongue burrowing its way into my ear.
They both ignored me so I pushed Oscar’s wiry head to one side. Then he plonked his bum defiantly on the floorboards and whined until I gave in. Simon could have slept through World War Three, or worse, our kids jumping all over us like we were trampolines and demanding breakfast. I wasn’t so lucky. My once cherished lie-ins had become a luxury dependent on the needs of three under-sevens and a hungry mongrel.
Oscar’s stomach had a built-in alarm clock that woke him up at six on the dot every morning. Simon might have walked him and thrown tennis balls for him to fetch, but it was me he wanted to feed his greedy belly. I rolled towards my husband and realised his half of the bed was already empty.
“Oh do it yourself, Catherine,” I grumbled and cursed him for going on one of his insanely early morning runs. I dragged myself out of bed, threw on my dressing gown, shuffled across the landing and opened bedroom doors to make sure the bogeyman hadn’t taken the kids.
I went down to the kitchen and filled Oscar’s bowl with those hideous smelling tinned meats he’d wolf down in seconds. But when I turned to put it on the floor, I was alone.
“Oscar?” I whispered, not wanting to wake the kids just yet. “Oscar?”
I found him in the porch, pacing in an agitated fashion by the front door. I opened it to let him out for a wee, but he stayed by the doormat, staring out towards the woods down by the lane.
“Please yourself,” I sighed; annoyed he’d woken me up for nothing. And I traipsed back to bed to steal another precious hour for myself.
“Leave your brother alone and help me feed Emily,” I warned James; who roared as he chased an excited Robbie around the kitchen table with a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“Now!” I yelled. They knew they were treading a fine line when I used that tone. Moving the kids from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen was like chasing reluctant chickens back into a henhouse - as frustrating as hell. Some of my girlfriends claimed to love the chaos of family breakfasts together; I just wanted my rabble out of the house and into the classroom for some peace and quiet.
James spoon-fed his baby sister soggy cornflakes as I cut the crusts off their marmite sandwiches and packed their lunch boxes ready for school. I slathered Simon’s in Branston Pickle, sliced the bread horizontally – as requested - wrapped them in cling film and left them on the fridge shelf.
“You’ve got fifteen minutes until we go,” I warned and stuffed their lunches into carelessly hung satchels on the coat rack.
I’d long given up leaving the house with a full face of make-up just to take the kids to school, but just to make sure I didn’t look like Worzel Gummidge, I scraped my hair into a ponytail and stepped back to check myself in the mirror. Oscar yelped as I trod on his paw - I hadn’t noticed that he’d been oblivious to the breakfast bedlam and hadn’t moved from the doormat.
“Are you feeling poorly, boy?” I asked and bent down to scratch under his beardy chin. I decided to give him until the afternoon to perk up, and then perhaps I’d call the vet, just to be on the safe side.
With James and Robbie at school and Emily quietly snoring on the sofa, I was up to my elbows ironing Simon’s work shirts and singing along to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ on Radio One when the phone rang.
“Simon’s not here,” I told Steven when he asked to speak to him. “Isn’t he with you?” I’d presumed you’d been back to shower and change before leaving for work while I was on the school run.
“No, he’s bloody not,” Steven snapped. “I’ve been trying to convince the client I’ve been stalling for half an hour that even though we’re a small company, we’re just as professional as the majors. How can he take me seriously when half of us can’t even turn up for a breakfast meeting on time?”
“He’s probably lost track of the time, you know what he’s like sometimes,” I replied, trying to calm Steven down.
“When you see him, tell him to get his arse down to the Hilton quickly before he bollockses this up.”
“I will, but if you see him first, could you ask him to call me please?”
Steven muttered something unintelligible and hung up without saying goodbye. I was glad I wasn’t in Simon’s shoes when he did turn up.
Seventeen ironed shirts and three cups of coffee passed by before I realised Steven hadn’t called me back.
I frowned and wondered if maybe Simon hadn’t returned to the house like I’d thought. So I popped my head around the garage door and saw his Volvo parked there. Back in the lounge, his house keys sat on the record player lid, under the montage of photos from our tenth wedding anniversary party.
I opened the fridge door but he hadn’t taken his sandwiches from the shelf either. So I wracked my brains as to where he could be and decided he must have taken a taxi to the railway station to meet another client out of town and had forgotten to tell us.
Yes, that made sense; it was going to be a long breakfast meeting he thought might eat into lunch, which is why he’d left mine. Actually he probably did mention it, but I’d been too busy mopping the kitchen floor or changing Emily’s soggy nappy to have taken it in. And Steven had either forgotten or got his days muddled, even though that wasn’t like him.
But as another hour went by, a niggling doubt began to irritate me. For the first time in almost twenty years, I couldn’t feel Simon’s presence around me. No matter where he was or how far we were apart, I’d always felt his presence.
I shook my head to make the doubts disappear and scolded myself for being daft. ‘Too much coffee, Kitty,’ I told myself and vowed decaf was the way forward. I put the coffee jar back in the cupboard and sighed at the mountain of washing up waiting for me.
Four and a half hours after Steven’s first phone call and I had butterflies in my stomach.
I’d called the office but when Steven admitted he still hadn’t heard anything, I began to panic. Before long I’d convinced myself Simon had been out for a run and had been hit by a car. He’d been carelessly tossed to the side of a road by a hunk of metal and a drunk driver without a conscience.
Without thinking, I strapped Emily into her pushchair, attached the lead to Oscar’s collar and dashed off to find him. I asked Barry in the newsagents if my husband had popped in earlier, but he hadn’t. Then I dropped in to the Fox & Hounds but Sheryl and Rob hadn’t seen him either. Neither had Jill next door, nor Mrs Jenkins from behind her twitching net curtains.
As we walked the route Simon normally ran, I made a game of it, explaining to Emily we were hunting for Snaggle Waggles – the mythical bedtime creatures he’d created to entertain the kids to get them to sleep. I told her they loved to hide in wet muddy ditches, so we’d have to look carefully in each one.
We covered a mile and a half and found nothing before we began walking towards Simon’s office. Steven calmed down when he realised there might be a genuine reason for his partner’s absence and tried to reassure me he was okay. He suggested Simon was on a site visit, but when we checked his meticulously organised diary, the only entry for the day was the breakfast meeting he’d failed to turn up to. My butterflies turned into large, dusty moths.
“He’ll come home tonight pissed as a fart and we’ll be laughing about this later,” added Steven. But with no definitive proof as to where he was, neither of us was really convinced.