Chapter 1 - Rigging screws, size 1⅜, galvanised by A.J. Hall
If some idiot charterer had known the first thing about galvanic corrosion, Marjorie Jameson would never have discovered her husband was a murderer.
She climbed stiffly down from the yacht – this getting old lark was no joke – and glared at the nervous young man from the charter management company.
“Well? Why didn’t you tell us about this earlier?”
She jabbed her thumb towards the corroded mess which had once been the forestay deck fitting (stainless steel) and a shackle attaching the roller reefing drum to it (galvanised iron). Two dissimilar metals clasped together for several weeks in a salt-water environment added up to an impromptu battery. Both the shackle (which didn’t matter) and the forestay fitting (which helped keep the mast up, and so mattered very much indeed) appeared beyond hope of resurrection.
“We called your husband’s mobile when we spotted it this morning, but he said you were coming down today anyway, and we should speak to you.”
Bloody Julian! Couldn’t even be arsed to come back and sort out this mess, just expected her to mop up while he amused himself with that smirking little bitch in Bursledon. Last night was the fifth time this month he hadn’t come home. He must think she was born yesterday.
The assistant shifted uneasily from foot to foot; her face had probably revealed a bit too much. She summoned up echoes of the school prefect she had once been.
“It shouldn’t have taken till now for you to spot it. We have a contract. We make our yacht available for chartering out eighteen weeks a year. You do all the maintenance. And that includes spotting what idiocies your customers have committed before they cause permanent damage. It’s not the first time; look at that pair of tights we found in the fuel tank last August. Anyway, we’re due off to Brittany in two days. We can’t leave with the deck fitting in that state. You’ll have to get it fixed, pronto.”
The assistant muttered something about “parts”.
“There are how many chandlers and riggers on the South Coast? Let me borrow your PC. Just get her lifted out and line someone up to do the repair, and I’ll find you the part, if I have to drive to Weymouth for it.”
She struck lucky; one of the Southampton chandlers had the fitting in stock. She took possession of it, paid, and headed off back to her car, parked near the ferry terminal. The hi-speed from Cowes had just arrived; the foot-passengers were disembarking. She caught a glimpse of a familiar figure – a walk she would have recognised anywhere –
She ducked into the shadows as Julian, wearing full oilskins, walked obliviously past her in the crowd.
There was a coffee shop inside the terminal; fake-French and plasticky. Sipping watery cappuccino gave her something to do, while letting Julian get well clear of the area. The thought of his knowing she had seen him made her tremble all over; something about his appearance shrieked, “Wrong!” on some fundamental level.
Halfway through her coffee she said aloud, “They were the wrong oilies.”
No-one in the coffee shop paid her the smallest attention.
A picture flashed into her mind; Rosemary riffling through the bargain rail at the Boat Show, happening on a last season’s Musto Offshore jacket; bearing it in triumph to the till, all self-congratulation on finding Phil’s perfect birthday present. And then, irritatingly, Julian insisting on having the same jacket, only by that time the bargain rail had been stripped. She’d had to pay over a hundred pounds more for this season’s model, though it differed from Phil’s only in the tiniest details.
Marjorie had always had an eye for details.
A white reflective peak on a yellow hood, not a yellow peaked hood with white cheek-pieces. Julian’s wearing Phil’s jacket.
Her hand shook as she replaced the teaspoon in the saucer, rose to her feet and stumbled out into the fragmented, between-showers sunlight of Town Quay.
Any other week of the year there might be a perfectly innocent explanation. The commodore and vice-commodore’s pegs at the sailing club were next to each other. People flinging off wet oilies before stampeding to the bar after a blustery Sunday morning’s inshore racing didn’t always find the right hook.
Today, though, she knew exactly where Julian’s own jacket was – piled up in one of the smaller spare bedrooms, where she’d stacked it with the other gear she’d have been taking down to the boat this afternoon if that idiot charterer had had the common sense to use a stainless steel shackle.
And Phil’s jacket should be round Phil’s shoulders, somewhere on the way to Ireland. Last night’s dinner had finished just after eight-thirty, nicely timed to give them the best of the tide through the Needles channel. Julian, as arranged, had driven Phil and Rosemary to the marina, so they didn’t have to leave their own car unattended there for a fortnight, not after what had happened last year.
“Don’t wait up,” he’d said on his way out of the door. “I might drop into the club on my way back. You know what that mob are like for making me lose track of time.”
In front of Phil and Rosemary there hadn’t been much she could say, apart from a tart wifely reminder about random breathalyser checks and being careful on the drive home. Her eyes had no doubt communicated volumes. And she hadn’t waited up and Julian hadn’t come home and she’d drawn the expected conclusion – one more small betrayal added to a mountain of weariness and deceit.
Except he hadn’t gone to Bursledon. And either he hadn’t taken the car or he’d left it over on the Isle of Wight. No – stupid – he’d been wearing complete oilies, not just the jacket. No-one would put on waterproof trousers to drive; he must have been on a yacht. And since those were Phil’s oilies, the obvious inference –
She came to a dead stop; someone cannoned into her and swore; she muttered an automatic, unfelt apology.
Wherever Phil is, he doesn’t need his oilies. Which means he isn’t on a cruise to Ireland. Or on any boat at all.
Fingers gone suddenly clumsy, she reached into her handbag for her mobile phone. Phil’s number was on speed dial, as was Rosemary’s. She tried Phil’s first. One ring. Two rings. Three.
Belatedly, she scrambled for something to say, some excuse for calling. Something about the foredeck fitting? That might do. If Phil and Rosemary hadn’t been at sea she’d have certainly called one of them when she discovered the mess – someone to rant at, someone who would understand.
Silence – a blessed, listening silence. Someone had picked up at the other end.
“Phil? That you?” She cleared her throat, about to launch into her prepared speech about the fitting.
Abruptly, the phone went dead. She fumbled, frantically; hit redial. This time, the ringing went on for ever. She found herself praying for it to default to the answering machine. It didn’t. She cut the link herself, in the end.
The car loomed in front of her; she walked straight past it. Not safe to drive, not with her hands shaking like this. She walked on, into the pedestrianised part of town, hardly knowing where she was going. The sign “Internet Café” brought her up short. There’d been that crime drama on TV last month –
Before she knew it, she was pushing the door open. Her gaze skittered over the unfamiliar scene. Shabby paint, covered with notice boards bearing scribbled, stained advertisements for flat shares and second-hand drum kits. Rows of desks, equipped with glowing terminals. Young people, in assorted stages of scruffiness, hunched before them. Biscuits and coffee cake under glass bell jars on a formica counter, coffee stewing bitterly on a machine.
“You OK?” The girl behind the counter, a friendly Pakistani with a rural Hampshire accent one could cut with a knife, smiled at her. “Need help?”
“I – need to check something. Can I –?”
Hardly knowing how to start, she paid for a hour’s time and tapped the code the girl gave her into the terminal.
She’d learned better than to ask even the most innocuous question about Julian’s business affairs; he treated her as if she couldn’t be expected to know one side of a balance sheet from the other. (Charles, who’d routinely dealt in tens of millions at his investment bank, had always left her to manage the household finances, claiming she got them in less of a muddle than he would.)
What a fool she’d been to let Julian get away with it all these years. Time things changed.
A Companies House check on Julian’s company left her pursing her lips; why had Julian suddenly granted all these charges over the business’s assets? And what was this about “directors’ personal guarantees”?
Typing Phil’s full name into the search engine hit gold. Not Phil himself but his cousin, a local councillor - something she hadn’t known. On the planning committee, which gave her an immediate twinge of nerves. Charles had always reserved a special contempt for councillors who chose to go into planning. And the sailing club had a planning application in prospect, too; selling off some of the hard-standing for development.
Indeed, the sailing club forum buzzed with speculation about the proposed sale – most of it, to her startled eyes, verging on the libellous. One poster’s tone of smooth arrogance mingled with broad hints of privileged knowledge seemed hauntingly familiar. He posted from a hotmail account; on impulse she found hotmail, entered his username and tried the password Julian used for Amazon.
The account logged on instantly. And then, as she scanned the in-box and the sent items, everything came together; Julian in Phil’s oilies on the Cowes hi-speed, Julian’s uncharacteristically generous offer to drive Phil and Rosemary to the marina in the first place – even Phil’s cousin and his planning committee.
Julian treated her as unable to add two and two but she could do this sum all right.
“Fraud,” she breathed at the screen, and then, because even that dread word wasn’t enough, not quite enough to account for everything, “Murder.”
What did a woman do when she thought her husband was a murderer?
“Police” was a thought raised only to be dismissed. Her hand caressed the wrinkled burn scar on her upper arm. No need to speculate whose story the police would rather believe. She already knew the answer.
Family? None of her own left, Julian’s obviously impossible. Charles’s relatives? They’d made it abundantly clear at the wedding that they considered her remarriage to be a mistake; too soon, disrespectful to Charles’s memory. If she could stand the barrage of “I told you sos” they’d be likely to support her against Julian, at least in theory.
But Bill – the only one of her own generation left – was becoming increasingly ga-ga. Neither of his kids – God, how had Adrian and Jeremy reached their middle thirties without her noticing? – had ever impressed her as having either sense or imagination. (Charles, she recalled with a pang, had had to be forcibly restrained from calling Jeremy “Foggy” to his face during family get-togethers.)
Those two would only refer her back to the police and, when the police did nothing, assume it proved there was nothing for them to do.
And then what? So dark, that twisting lane, three-quarters of a mile to the house at the end. Anyone could prowl along it at night, beneath the tight dark lattice of branches. How long would she have, if she accused Julian of murder and failed to make it stick?
She turned to the computer again, rubbing her fingers thoughtfully over the bridge of her nose.
Searching “Private detective” and similar terms produced legions of people willing to provide divorce evidence, trace assets and serve writs. And nothing else. Finally, in sheer exasperation, she typed, “How’s a woman supposed to prove her husband’s a murderer, dammit?” into Google and hit search.