Abigail: Chapter 39
I knocked on Abigail’s door with a certain amount of trepidation. When I’d left her the night before she’d been adamant she didn’t need anyone’s help. I wasn’t sure how kindly she’d take to the news that her in-laws wanted to visit. She smiled when she saw me.
“Come in, come in.” We went straight into the kitchen and sat at her table. “Did you speak to him?”
“Your friend the policeman. I thought that was why you’re here?”
“Oh sorry, yes I did. He’s happy to help. I left the letter with him and he’ll ring me with news when he has any.”
“That’s kind of him.”
“It is. How was your night? Did you sleep okay?”
“As well as can be expected. I don’t think I’ve had a full night’s sleep since June. I keep waking up thinking I hear him.”
“And today? How are you doing?” I needed to tell her about Carol and Saul and that would be easier if she wasn’t having a terrible day.
“Pretty good.” She gave me a funny look. “What’s going on Charlie?”
I felt my face flush. “What do you mean?”
“I mean you look incredibly guilty. What’s happened?”
“You’re far too good at reading people. You should have my job.” I was stalling and we both knew it. I took a deep breath. “Okay, my friend in the police didn’t just take the letter for analysis.”
“He also looked up some details from Toby’s file on the computer.”
“The police file?”
“And he gave me an address for Toby’s parents.” I watched her, waiting for any hint of how she might react. “I went to see them Abigail.”
“I see.” Her face looked blank. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“I wanted to find out if they knew any connection with Barnstaple.”
“I told you I didn’t want to speak to them.”
“You didn’t actually. I asked you, more than once, and all you did was close down.”
“Didn’t that tell you something? Like maybe I didn’t want to talk about them because they’re a pair of raving lunatics?”
A laugh accidentally slipped from my mouth. I knew all about scary mother-in-laws and was fully prepared to accept that theirs might be a hostile relationship but I’d met them, twice now, and they didn’t strike me as lunatics. A bit intense maybe, but raving? Doubtful.
“You don’t know them,” Abigail said, reading my mind. “Don’t be fooled by the act.”
“They said they want to help, they’ll do anything. Even talked about mortgaging their house for the ransom money.”
“They’re already doing the very best thing they can by keeping well away from me and my children. We’ve got enough problems. The last thing we need is them sticking their noses into our business.”
Nice one Charlie, this is going fabulously! All I needed now was for Abigail to announce that she’d changed her mind and that she was going to go to the police and that would be the icing on the cake.
The only thing worse than coming home to an empty house when you’re feeling guilty is coming home to a house with teenagers when you’re feeling guilty. They will think nothing of taking your guilt and heaping the burning ashes of their discontent on the top until you finish the day so full of self-loathing, you fear you might never get up again under the weight of the guilt. Needless to say, Grace and Louise were less than sympathetic when I arrived home and told them about my morning.
“If she sacks you, will you take me shopping for kit?” Grace asked. “Miss Lewis says I can borrow kit for now but it’s not a permanent solution.”
“She’s not going to sack me!” I pulled what I hoped was my best outraged face. “Why would she sack me?”
“I dunno, maybe because you went behind her back to the two people she hates most in the world and now they’re going to visit her and she doesn’t even know it yet?”
Louise laughed. “Leave Mum alone.” She turned to me. “What will you do?”
It was the first time either of the girls had ever asked about my work with anything resembling genuine interest. Usually it was about how my work might impact their plans for me giving them a lift somewhere or if I’d been paid, how much cash they could wheedle out of me. It had been an incredibly long day and I was touched that Louise cared enough to ask. It was also nice to have someone other than Rob to discuss the case with.
“Warn off the in-laws I suppose. There’s no way they can go round and see her now.”
“But what about the money? Won’t she be glad to know they want to help?”
“Right now I wouldn’t put money on Abigail being glad about anything. She’s gone into self-preservation mode. Always does when it comes to his parents.”
“I think it’s stupid!” said Grace.
I hadn’t known she’d been paying much attention. “How so Grace?”
“Gran’s a bit of a nightmare but it’s not like you say no to Christmas presents. They want to give her cash. Who says no to that?”
Mention of my mother caused a fresh wave of guilt. It was a week since I’d seen her and I hadn’t returned any of her calls. The girls had spoken to her, apologised for missing dinner last week, and promised they’d visit soon, but it was still left to me to arrange the actual visit.
“Speaking of Gran,” I said. “We need to go and see her.”
“Do we have to?”
“You promised, remember?” I looked from Grace to Louise. “Both of you!”
Louise sighed. “When? Not tomorrow?”
I smiled. “No, not tomorrow. We need to prepare ourselves and I’m not ready for a roasting right now. I’ll ring her tomorrow and invite her round for tea, at the weekend maybe?”
“We could make her a little picnic!” Louise looked genuinely excited. She loved to bake.
“Don’t get too excited, she might not come.” My mother hadn’t set foot in my house in over a decade, preferring to request our company at her home. The last time she’d been here was the girl’s sixth birthday. Every year we’d have a colour theme and that year it had been green. Little broccoli trees had sat alongside the green jelly river where green apple boats could be seen floating but when my mother was offered a green sandwich she’d politely refused, driven herself home, and refused to set foot in my house ever since. It was no great loss but it did mean we had to endure her hosting when duty called. Next week, I decided. It never paid to rush these things. Besides, I had far more important things to worry about, like what I was going to do about Abigail and her in-laws.