Chapter 3 - Rigging screws, size 1⅜, galvanised by A.J. Hall
Thank God. Thank God.
Shaky with relief, she let the office door click shut behind her. Gillian, the club secretary (not, of course, the Hon. Sec. but the person who did his work) looked up from her salad. Marjorie pushed the office key towards her across the polished counter top.
“Lime and soda, please, Harry,” she said, wriggling onto a bar stool beside Gillian. “And a cheese and pickle toastie.”
“Well? How did it go?”
Marjorie picked her words with care. After all, as far as Gillian and Harry were concerned, she’d just been giving the charter company hell, not pouring a melodramatic tale of fraud and murder into the – unexpectedly receptive – ear of a “consulting detective” she only knew from a website and a handful of Google mentions.
“About as well as could be expected, really. I’m not sure what can be done, but it was such a relief to be able to get it all off my chest.”
And isn’t that true?
The first few syllables from the lush baritone on the other end of the line had provoked a relief so profound she felt almost ashamed. Doubtless it said something awful about her that her first thought was an unspoken prayer of relief that this Sherlock Holmes sounded as if he’d gone to a decent school.
One of us.
Yes, that thought was snobbish nonsense; Adrian and Foggy – Jeremy, dammit – had gone to the same school as their father and uncle and she felt no such confidence in them. But – still – even so –
Someone who understands where I’m coming from. What a relief.
Gillian smiled at her. “I can imagine. God, what a mess, eh?”
Marjorie nodded, sipping her lime and soda, savouring, still, that unexpected comfort.
God, how long has it been since I was last taken seriously? And how did I let that happen?
At which moment Harry looked up from polishing a glass and said, “Oh, Marjorie? Your husband looked in for a minute earlier. He’s gone over to Basingstoke and when he gets back he’s taking the committee boat out – something about dropping marker buoys for the Bembridge Rally? Anyway, he said he’ll probably run late, so he’s going to sleep over at Jonners’s flat and not to worry.”
He concentrated on getting the glass to a shine which would hardly have disgraced Waterford crystal. Besides her Gillian stared down at her salad, as if daring a slug to creep out from the lettuce.
Both, Marjorie realised, were looking anywhere but at her.
Bursledon. They both know about Bursledon. And they aren’t sure if I do.
Not the ice-water shock it would have been on any normal day; she felt a brief surge of grim, oddly detached amusement, as if she had become the omniscient narrator of her own life story.
A wife can, at least, enjoy this consolation: once she has formed the opinion that her husband is a murderer, the fact that the whole of her acquaintance know him to be an adulterer becomes a matter of vanishingly small consequence.
She pushed the half-full glass of lime and soda back across the bar to Harry.
“If Julian’s away, I don’t have to drive for a couple of hours. Pour me a double gin and go easy on the tonic.”
Gillian squeezed her arm. “Day like yours, I’d say you’ve earned it.”
There was, self-evidently, more than a corroded foredeck fitting on Gillian’s mind; equally, there was more than a corroded foredeck fitting in Marjorie’s when she breathed, “Yes. I think I have” and leaned, gratefully, into the touch for just a second or so longer than the situation warranted.
Friends. When was it I stopped having friends, dammit?
Take Christine and Derek. She’d never recovered her old footing with them after the wedding, not once married life had begun to revolve exclusively round Julian’s ambitions in the sailing club. The same with all of her and Charles’s old set.
God, why had she let that happen?
Her mobile buzzed on the bar in front of her. Text. She glanced down and almost gasped.
APPOINTMENT CONFIRMED BEAULIEU WATER HOTEL SPA. 4.30 PM TODAY.
Blood roared in her ears. She had made no such appointment. But she knew who it came from, nonetheless.
“I’ll get a train down from Waterloo and meet you this afternoon,” he’d said. “I’ll text details of where to meet and what the cover story is. Your husband’s main slip so far was being caught in a place you didn’t expect to see him. Can’t risk making the same mistake.” Assured, confident tones, as if he used terms like “cover story” every day. Which, presumably, consulting detectives did.
“You look happy. Good news?” Gillian’s question startled her. By way of answer she passed across the phone. Presumably there was no point in having a cover story if you didn’t spread it around a bit. Also, if Julian chose to use the sailing club to bolster his alibi, it seemed only poetic justice she should do the same.
“Oh, they’re supposed to be brilliant,” Gillian enthused. “Been before?”
She shook her head. “Just fancied it. Spur of the moment. Not something I’ve tried before, but I thought, ‘What the hell?’”
“Wonderful idea. Just what you need, a bit of pampering. Sort of thing you should have done years ago.”
She nodded and raised her gin to her lips, in case her expression betrayed just how right Gillian was.