They sat there for a moment, avoiding one another’s gaze, neither man possessed of the slightest idea of how to move the conversation onwards. Caine poured another belt of whisky into the tumbler and nailed about half of it as soon as he put down the bottle. He picked up the bottle again and waved it in Grayling’s line of sight;
Grayling thought about it for longer than was probably wise,
“No, Caine, thanks. I realise that it’s a cliché, but I am on duty. Are you ok to carry on?”
“Right, well for what it’s worth I believe you about your lack of involvement, and to be honest though spouses rarely admit that their partner may have been suicidal or self-destructive, at least not immediately, if it is going to be an issue in the end they are almost never as vehement as you were just then. So, can you think of anyone that would want to harm your wife, Caine?”
“Honestly the idea is almost enough to make me laugh, even considering the circumstances. She is a primary school teacher for crying out loud! I mean are you asking if a conspiracy of disgruntled seven year olds have abducted my wife?”
Grayling put the notebook away and started to stand.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant, I’ve been drinking, well I am still drinking as you can see, and I am frightened that my worst fears are not lucid enough to adequately describe what my wife is being put through, and I realise that you are just trying to do your job, but it’s hard to understand how this is helpful. Please can we start over?”
Caine reached up towards Grayling, but he could not bring himself to make eye contact. Grayling relented and sat down again.
“Please, call me Caine.”
“Ok, Caine, look I realise that there are probably things that seem unimportant in amongst these questions, but I promise you that all of my experience in CID tells me that the most mundane details, and one can never know in advance which ones, can often be the difference between solving a case and not so. Let’s move on, yeah? Have you noticed anything unusual in the street or anyone hanging around over the last few weeks?”
Caine, who was now cradling the whisky tumbler, stared into the amber liquid, like a mystic staring into a divining bowl seeking the answers to unknowable questions. Grayling realised that Caine was not stalling, but genuinely thinking about the question, so he relaxed back into the chair and used the time to light another cigarette. He tried to not stare at Caine while he waited, worried that he would pressure him into answering too quickly, so he looked around the room, not so much looking for clues as trying to read the space and understand a little more about both Caine and his missing wife. The clutter around the laptop on the dining table seemed to be the accumulation of a few days, at least, so clearly that was Caine’s writing spot. The rest of the room was neither cluttered nor pristine, as though the people who lived there were the kind of people that put things away but were not sticklers either. The decor was broadly vanilla, but the framed nude photographs were an uncommon choice. Grayling let his gaze settle on one in particular that was a three-quarter length profile of a slim and well defined, well endowed man holding his erect penis with one hand and a handgun in the other. It was a shocking image in many ways, but more importantly it was one that he found particularly arousing so he decided not to spend too long looking at it. He tried to muster up enough interest in some of the other works to muddy the waters, if Caine was even looking, but none of the others were of men, so that was a hiding to nothing. He was running out of things to look at casually when Caine finally spoke.
“I’ve thought about it and there was something, Sergeant. Every day last week when I went out running there was a green van parked in the same spot about a hundred yards up the road. I don’t know of anyone on the street that owns a vehicle like it and there was no livery on the side identifying it as belonging to a tradesman or anything. It was a Volkswagen, I don’t know the name of the model, but roughly the same size, though not as tall, as a Transit. The green was a deep and dark forest green.”
“That’s good, Caine, very good. Can you remember the registration by any chance?”
He concentrated, staring once more into his drink for a long moment.
“No, I don’t have it, I’m sorry.”
They talked for a short while longer, but there was nothing else that Caine could remember, so Sergeant Grayling thanked him, promised to call the next day, in person, not on the phone, and then he showed himself out. Caine poured the rest of the bottle of Auchentoshan into the glass and went back to cradling it.
Grayling had no idea when he left that day that Caine Foster had handed him the key fact that would help him solve the case, but then at that moment he was not completely certain that Mrs. Foster had not simply gone over the side, or out on a bender. He climbed into the beaten up Mondeo that despite his moaning to the DI he actually loved and set off back to the nick, calling in at McDonalds on the way to re-fuel.
Andrea was visibly shaken when I stopped talking; I assumed that she had not expected me to be so free with details about Fran’s death, or with the tale of my first interaction with Detective Sergeant Grayling. She reached into her bag and retrieved a pack of cigarettes, menthols, and made a gesture as if to ask permission. I nodded to her and she proceeded to light up. After a couple of deep drags she met my gaze;
“You’re not ok, are you? I mean you can tell the tale, but you are not even begun with getting over losing her, or dealing with how she died. I’m right, aren’t I?”
I nodded and picked up her cigarettes, taking one for myself and lighting it before I answered.
“You are not wrong, let’s put it like that. Day to day I experience an amount of happiness and I am broadly content. I am writing again and I am pleased with what I am writing, rather than simply doing it to fill the time. It’s true that I still miss her every day and if I do dwell on her I sink a back a little into the mire of self-loathing and melancholy that I laboured through for the first nine months or so after she died. In my stronger moments I remember that she would want me to live my life, to find love again even and I do my best to stay positive. I don’t think that I will ever get over her, I don’t think it would be possible for me to ever have another partner fully in my life ever again, but I am able to enjoy my life, so it’s not as bad as you might think.”
Andrea nodded, her eyes filled with sadness but at the same time she was smiling at him; it was clearly a mixed experience being able to meet him and hear the tragic tale of her half-sister.
“I know it’s late, but can we get out of here, just for one drink? I need some air and to be around noise and people; do you know what I am talking about?”
I knew exactly what she was talking about and so within five minutes we were wandering down the street to the Red Lion, the nearest of Cromer’s pubs to my loft, and already the sounds of merriment and the lights of the pub were lifting both our moods. Neither of us saw it coming.
Out of the darkness of an alleyway, all of a hundred feet from the pub’s saloon door, just out of the corner of my eye, a dark shape flitted out and closed the distance to me. Before I had the slightest idea what was happening I felt the unmistakeable sensation of being stabbed, there were three penetrations, and then as I fell to the floor with surprise I saw the shape wheel on Andrea. I tried to call out, but the second strike had severed my windpipe and I could not make a noise. I imagine that I was a terrifying sight for Andrea, lying in the street, looking up at her, blood pouring out of my neck and chest and forming bubbles around my mouth as I tried to speak. There was that, and then there was the greater horror that she was now facing, an unknown and completely unexpected attacker armed with what I could now see was a large and unpleasant looking blade. Her mouth formed a noiseless “O” as she opened her mouth to scream but nothing came. I could see her eyes darting between my bleeding form and the attacker and the knife and the tears welling up in them, and I could see that she was shaking uncontrollably. I saw a stream of urine appear between her legs as her body took over and made ready to run and then I passed out from the pain and the shock.
You are wondering how it is that I am writing this account.
You are probably also wondering whether or nor Andrea was ok.
Well, Andrea was alright. Moments after I passed out, just as the attacker was moving towards her, a gaggle of people fell out of the saloon door we had been heading towards and the attacker melted in the shadows and Andrea’s screams finally became audible.
I did not die. I should have done, there is no real doubt about that, but by the time the ambulance arrived – one of the revellers was not so drunk as the rest and had immediately dialled 999 on his mobile – I was struggling back into consciousness and the wound in my throat and chest were gone. There was blood all over me, nonetheless, and I was bruised from the fall and the less serious, though serious looking, wound in my abdomen was still an issue, but the actual state of my injuries was nowhere near as serious as it should have been.
I know, this does not make sense. It certainly did not make sense to Andrea either, and in the end I needed to explain everything to her, but in the heat of the moment I managed to persuade her that she must have been imagining what she thought that she had seen.
It all comes back to how I was and had been dealing with Fran’s loss. It was raw and painful and hard and yet I was prepared to do my damnedest to find happiness, to live my life; was this not a clue? Much as I had loved her dearly and still loved the memory of her then and now, Fran was not the first woman that I had tried to share my life with and subsequently lost. Most of the Wanderering Ones that I have met over the years shied away from emotional entanglements, but I love to love and so I had tried many times in my long life, always knowing that this weakness would one day lead me to a greater store of pain and regret and that there was nothing that I could do about it. If you cannot die, you watch anyone that you love die in front of you, whether it happens quickly or because they do age.