Discover more from Heaven & El
Abigail: Chapter 10
After our second cup of tea, it was time for us to visit the site where Toby had been working. There was a little back and forth about who should drive, Mr James being of the opinion that the man’s place was behind the wheel, but having explained how much I’d really appreciate the opportunity to drive so the route would stick better in my memory, he gave in. Being a terrible traveller prone to sickness on even the shortest of journeys, I was secretly relieved and soon had us headed back in the direction of the motorway.
I followed Mr James’s directions as he led us towards another town I’d never heard of somewhere deep in the South Wales valleys. We drove past row after row of squat terraced houses, the windows grimy from decades old soot. This was a town that had never quite recovered from the shock of the pits closing.
“They promised regeneration money but can’t see it myself.” Mr James gestured to the world outside. “Such a shame.” He shook his head but didn’t say any more.
Five miles on we turned down what might once have been a rough farm track but now, thanks to the housing development, sported a brand new tarmac road, complete with waste paper bins and trees planted at regularly spaced intervals. Council regulations followed to the letter. Mr James pointed to a clearing a couple hundred yards up and I parked the van.
“Don’t suppose you brought your wellies?” Mr James asked, pointing to my ballet flats. “Didn’t think so,” he said when I shook my head. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to some of the lads.”
I picked my way across the soggy grass, mentally congratulating myself for having at least worn black. If I’d worn my baby blue flats I wouldn’t have had a chance of hiding the mud. In the distance I could see what was presumably the show house, dotted alongside the half dug foundations of its neighbours. A couple of machines were in operation but there was also a lot of men standing around talking. If this site was anything to go by, it was no surprise building projects never completed on time.
One of the men looked over in our direction and waved. Mr James waved back. “That’s Bill, site manager.”
“Absolutely not.” Mr James sounded huffy. “Toby was, is, a site consultant. He certainly wouldn’t be expected to give account to Bill.” Mr James’s face softened. “Nice chap though.”
When we reached him, Bill held out his hand and smiled. His eyes crinkled at the corners. “Trevor, what a surprise! I didn’t know you were coming today.” He turned to me. “And in such fine company. Bill Winkleman. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He offered me his hand and I shook it.
“Charlie Diamond. Good to meet you.” I hesitated, not sure exactly how much of our arrangement I was to share with this stranger.
“Charlie’s helping our Abigail. She’s looking for Toby.”
Bill’s eyes widened. “Really? Oh that’s wonderful. About time someone did something. Poor girl. How is Abigail?”
Mr James shook his head. “As well as can be expected. It’s not easy for her though.” His voice took on the tone of one who has suffered great loss. It definitely didn’t match the picture I had of his daughter.
“I think she’s doing brilliantly!”
Both the men’s heads swivelled in my direction.
“I mean, under the circumstances, but she’s doing great. Really strong.” I turned to Mr James. “If she were my daughter I’d be incredibly proud of her.”
“Well yes I am, both her mother and I are, but …”
“So how about we stop with the poor baby rhetoric and actually start trying to find your son-in-law?” I could feel myself shaking slightly. I didn’t know where that had come from but something about the way the two of them had described Abigail riled me. I held my breath and looked from Bill to Mr James, wondering if I’d totally blown it.
“Right you are young lady.” Mr James smiled at me. “Where should we start?”
“What I’d really like to do is get a better picture of Toby’s movements on the days leading up to his disappearance. Was he here on site full time Bill?”
“How about we have a brew in my office and I can check the diary?” Bill pointed at a portakabin behind him. “I might even have some chocolate biscuits.”
“That sounds great, thank you. What do you think Mr James? Fancy a cuppa?” When I turned to look at him, Abigail’s father was staring into the distance, completely oblivious to Bill’s invitation.
Bill slapped him on the back. “Course he does. Never says no to a cuppa does our Trevor. Follow me.”
I was surprised to find the inside of the cabin was warm and almost plush. One wall had a huge white board with sketches of the site held in place by little magnets and the stack of hard hats in the corner were a dead giveaway but otherwise we could have easily been inside any regular office in town. I took a seat on one of the comfy chairs in what I imagined was meant to be a waiting area and pulled my phone from my bag.
“Do you mind if I record our conversation? So much easier than having to scribble notes.”
“Um, I don’t know.” Bill looked from me to Mr James. “I mean, I can’t really tell you much.”
I smiled, keen to put him at ease. He’d gone from jolly to drawn in the space of five seconds. “Don’t worry, I’m just building a picture of Toby’s movements. You mentioned a diary?”
“Yes, the work diary. Now where is it …” He started opening and closing desk drawers randomly. “These lads, they’re so messy. I’m not sure where they’ve put it. We use it to keep a record of who’s on site. Health and safety. But I can’t seem to find it.”
“Don’t worry about it for now. How about I leave you my card and when you find it you can give me a ring?”
“Okay. Sorry, I just don’t know.” He looked from me to Mr James again but the older man hadn’t appeared to notice.
“Do you maybe remember the last time you saw Toby? If not the date, the circumstances? What the two of you worked on?”
He shook his head. “I don’t I’m afraid.”
“Well how about Toby and the men on site? Did they get along? Do you think any of them might remember something that could help.”
“I really couldn’t say. It was such a long time ago. Staff change.” He shrugged. “Now if there’s nothing else, I really should get back to work. Nice to see you again Trevor.”
The two men shook hands and before I could say any more we were back in the van, heading towards the James’s house, all mention of tea and biscuits seemingly forgotten. I didn’t know what had just happened but one thing was certain, I would definitely be making a return visit without my client’s father. Not only did I need to speak to Bill again, there was a whole team on site. Who knew what they might be able to tell me. One thing was sure, Bill’s reaction made no sense at all and I was keen to find out why.