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Authors: Mark Edwards

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BOOK: Follow You Home
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Part Seven
London
January 2014

Chapter Sixty-Three

I
rang the bell and waited to be buzzed in. It had been raining since Christmas and I stood here now during a rare lull in the downpour, watching ominous black clouds heave into view like battleships.

I didn’t care about the rain. I had my life back.

As soon as I entered the office, Sophie gave me a hug.

‘You’ve had the decorators in.’ The last time I had seen this office it was ablaze.

‘Yeah. The skinflint in there has even promised to let me buy some art for the walls.’ She stepped back and looked at me. ‘So, how are you doing?’

‘I’m OK,’ I said.

‘Great. And . . . how about Erin and Rob? I saw them the other day, actually, wheeling Oscar in his pram around the park. I recognised them from the newspapers.’

‘They’re all right, I think. Still shaken by what happened, but obviously massively relieved.’ Sophie handed me a glass of water. ‘They’re not really talking to me. But I’ve got to go round there later, help Laura move her stuff out.’

‘Oh?’

It was my turn to smile. ‘She’s moving back in with me.’

Sophie clapped her hands together. ‘Thank fuck for that.’

‘Yeah, we’ve decided . . . well, she’s decided to give it another go. I never wanted us to be apart in the first place. But Laura and I have got so much history together, and we never stopped loving each other.’ I paused. ‘We’re seeing a therapist together now. He says we have to accept that what happened to us is part of our history. That it’s something we went through together. And now it’s over, we should be able to move on. Though I think if he says “closure” one more time I’m going to jump over his desk and thump him.’

She laughed.

‘So,’ I said. ‘How is he?’

Sophie didn’t get a chance to answer.

‘I’m fine. No thanks to you.’

Edward stood in the doorway of his office. I was relieved to see a small smile on his lips. He moved towards me, still moving tentatively. The shotgun blast had struck the left side of his chest but missed his heart, damaging the ligaments in his upper arm. He had stirred moments after I had shot the already-dead body of Nicolae Gabor and dropped the shotgun, having refused to grant Alina’s wish. I couldn’t kill her.

Then the police had arrived, two cars screeching into the courtyard, officers jumping out and trying to process the scene before them. The ambulances arrived minutes later. It was blurry in my memory: the journey to the hospital to be checked over, the questions from the police, seeing my own name flash on the TV screen in the ward as reporters tried to make sense of what had happened.

Over the coming days, the papers and news websites had been full of the story. Profiles of Nicolae Gabor, history lessons about ‘Romania’s dark past’, stories about Eastern European drug dealers on the streets of London, babies for sale, a heroic private detective who had uncovered what was going on and who was now recovering in hospital from a shotgun wound, the boyfriend of the kidnapped woman who had disregarded his own safety to save her and the missing baby . . . There was an operation going on in Romania right now, too: the police were excavating the grounds around Gabor’s house, digging up the bodies of women and babies. Plus they were trying to track down the babies who had been sold, using the list Alina had given Laura; a debate raged in the media, both local and international, about what to do. Some of these children were grown up now, and all of the natural mothers were dead. But the couples who’d bought them had broken the law . . . It was a mess.

But the police and the media didn’t know the whole story.

They didn’t know about Alina, who had slipped away into the forest as the police sirens grew near.

When we were questioned, Laura told the police that she had taken Oscar out for some fresh air and Gabor had grabbed them both. She told them what he had planned to do to her and the baby, how he planned the re-start his baby-farming operation here in England. And I took the ‘credit’ for killing Gabor, said that I had picked up the rock and struck him with it when he had pointed his shotgun at me. That I had hit him again, and again, and then picked up the shotgun and shot him, just to make sure he was dead.

I hired a lawyer and there was talk of criminal charges, arguments about whether I had used reasonable force with the rock, about what should be done about the wildly gratuitous shotgun blast. In the end, I think the Crown Prosecution Service took public opinion into account. It would be a waste of taxpayers’ money to charge me for the murder of a baby-abductor and mass rapist.

The police knew about Alina’s camp in Erin and Rob’s garden but Laura denied that Alina had been with her that night, said that she hadn’t seen her for days. I had been worried that the police might analyse the interior of Gabor’s car, or the room in which he’d chained Alina to the bed. But with the old man dead, with Oscar recovered, and with Laura sticking to her story, they had no real reason to dig deeper. The case was closed.

‘The phone’s been ringing off the hook since I came back to work,’ Edward said.

‘Well, you’re a hero.’

‘I don’t know about that.’ He gestured for me to join him in his office. I sat opposite him.

The clouds I’d seen outside drifted across the sun, dimming the room.

‘Have you heard what happened to Ion?’ I asked.

‘He’s gone home. Deported.’

I nodded slowly. ‘Good.’

‘He and I were in the same hospital. A different ward, but . . . he came to see me. He’d seen the reports on TV, wanted to talk to me about it. He’s either a great actor or he was genuinely regretful about what happened. He said it was just about money, about trying to create a better life. I think he comes from a pretty impoverished background. And he’s not the brightest spark.’

I made a noise in my throat. I found it very hard to be forgiving, poor upbringing or not.

‘Anyway, he did tell me one interesting thing. He said that he’s pretty sure Camelia was in league with Gabor. He thinks the old man persuaded her that he would be able to find the drugs.’

‘And she gave him the keys to my flat?’

‘That’s what Ion thinks. And it makes sense.’ He stared at the surface of his desk. ‘And then Gabor killed her.’ He looked towards the window. ‘Alina’s still out there somewhere, isn’t she?’

‘Maybe.’

He gave me a curious look. ‘Do you think she’s gone home too?’

I had thought about this a lot. There was part of me that thought she was still in England, could feel someone watching me sometimes. But when I turned around, there was no one there. Then I imagined her going back home, to work on her graphic novel, to try to live a normal life again. Or maybe she had gone
travelling
, had reinvented herself. After all, she was free to start again. Nobody knew about her involvement, nobody knew where she was.

When Alina had handed me the gun and ordered me to kill her, I had pictured Jake’s face, had felt the anger and hatred fill me up. I’d almost pulled the trigger.

But there had been so much death already. And, despite what she’d done, even though I hated her for killing my best friend, Alina had suffered more than most of us could imagine. And she’d just saved my life. So I’d aimed the gun at the person who truly deserved to die. In the moment I pulled the trigger, I imagined he was still alive, begging for mercy. And I had unloaded the shotgun in h
is face.

Why did I let Alina vanish afterwards? Why not tell the p
olice abou
t her? Because of Laura. She begged me not to tell t
he polic
e about Alina. She said she didn’t want her to be punished. But it was also because Alina knew exactly what had happened in that house. If Alina was questioned by the police, there was a chance it would all come out, become public knowledge. Neither of us wanted that. So even though I wanted Alina to be punished for stealing Jake’s life, I acquiesced. But I made it clear to Laura that if Alina ever turned up again, I would have to tell the police. There could be no more secrets, no more lies.

‘I really don’t know where Alina’s gone,’ I said, answering Edward’s question.

We sat in contemplative silence for a minute.

‘So you and Laura, eh?’ he said eventually. ‘That’s great news.’

‘Thanks.’

‘You’re lucky, Daniel. But make sure you look after her, all right? Here’s my advice: She wants to travel first class, pay for first class.’

I laughed. ‘Don’t worry.’

He laughed too and winced, holding his upper chest. ‘God, it still hurts.’

‘You need a holiday.’ I checked my watch. ‘I’d better get going. It’s been great to see you. I still . . . You need to let me know how much I owe you.’

‘A million pounds.’

‘Well, if I sell this new app I’ve started working on . . .’

He smiled. ‘Honestly, you don’t owe me anything. Buy Laura a present or something.’

‘Thanks, Edward.’

I could tell he had something on his mind, something else he wanted to say.

‘What is it?’

‘Just . . . This whole thing with Gabor, what he did. You know, I used to think when people talked about evil, about how some human beings have that inside them, that it couldn’t be true. That it was just a way of describing behaviour most of us don’t want to analyse too hard. You know, it’s kind of an easy way of explaining things. He’s evil. She’s evil. Like that nurse who’s been in all the papers, the one who was convicted of killing all those old people, who’s been released because of a mix-up with the DNA. I used to roll my eyes when the media said she did it because she was evil. But now . . .’

‘You believe some people are born that way.’

He grimaced. ‘I don’t know. But it’s keeping me awake at night.’

We shook hands and I went out into the rain.

Chapter Sixty-Four

I
walked to Erin and Rob’s, oblivious to the weather, thinking about what lay ahead. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and straightforward with Laura. We weren’t going to skip into the future, holding hands with a Disney soundtrack swelling around us. We were going to have to work at rebuilding our relationship, to get back to a point where What Had Happened didn’t sit in the room with us like a snarling demon. I knew people whose relationships had been rocked by an affair and they had never been able to get over it fully. The cheater tried too hard; the cheated couldn’t forget. We couldn’t be like that.

Rob greeted me at the door and nodded tersely.

‘How’s Laura?’ he asked.

‘She’s OK, thanks. Her dad seems to be making a swift
recovery
.’

‘That’s good.’

We stood awkwardly in the hallway. Last time I’d been here, this space had been full of bodies and fear.

‘Where’s Erin?’ I asked.

‘Taken Oscar out to the shops. She’s still . . . affected deeply by what happened. She won’t let Oscar out of her sight for a second. He sleeps with us in our bed now, and she wakes up four times a night to check he’s still there.’

‘I’m sorry, Rob . . .’

‘But I suppose I should thank you for finding him. And the police told us Laura looked after him, kept him warm.’

‘She did.’

He sighed. ‘We don’t hate you, Dan. It’s just . . .’

I put a hand on his arm. ‘It’s all right, mate. You don’t need to say it.’

He cleared his throat. ‘Right. Well, you know where Laura’s room is. How are you going to get the stuff home? Do you need a lift?’

‘No, I’m going to call a cab. There’s not much.’

‘I’ll leave you to it, then.’

I went up the stairs and into Laura’s room. The bed was unmade because Laura had left in a hurry yesterday after hearing that her dad had suffered a heart attack on the golf course. It was a minor cardiac arrest, but Laura had immediately decided that she needed to go and see him.

‘They’re still my parents,’ she said. ‘And maybe it’s not too late to try to make them understand how badly they treat me, the way it makes me feel. Plus I’m going to quite enjoy lecturing him about changing his bad habits, eating better, giving up the cigars and taking up proper exercise.’

As she was leaving for the train, I told her that I would come here and pack up her stuff. ‘So you’ll be moved in when you get back.’

‘You can’t . . . You don’t have to do that.’

‘I want to.’

‘But I’m not sure I want you going through all my stuff.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You know, like my underwear and everything. And you’re really bad at packing . . . It will be totally disorganised and messy.’

I kissed her. ‘I’m not that bad! I promise not to rifle through your undies. I’ll just chuck everything in bags and you can sort it out when you get back. OK?’

She still looked worried, but her train was due in an hour and she didn’t have time to argue any more. As she was leaving, she put her arms around me.

‘I love you,’ she said. ‘And . . . thank you.’

‘What for?’

‘For not telling Edward the truth about what happened at that house.’

I pulled her against me. ‘You don’t need to thank me, Laura. Anyone would have done the same.’

She touched me face. ‘They wouldn’t. And that’s why I l
ove you.’

‘Your secrets are safe with me, Laura,’ I said. ‘All of them.’

She frowned and pulled away, leaving me a little confused. But I had let it go.

There wasn’t that much stuff to pack up, mostly clothes and cosmetics, a few books, a hair dryer and her iPad and its charger. There were a couple of bottles of wine which I decided to leave behind. I wasn’t drinking at the moment, was giving my liver a chance to recover after all the abuse it had suffered. It was proving to be easier than I’d thought.

Laura had brought everything here in holdalls, which were folded up under the bed. I took them out, placed them on the bed and began to fill them, putting the heavy items in first, then the clothes. I found a photo of the two of us Blu-tacked onto the back of the wardrobe, which made me smile. We had our cheeks pressed together and were squinting a little at the sun. I untacked it from the wood and set it aside and sat on the bed for a moment, remembering our drunken encounter in this room.

We had first slept together again after Jake’s funeral, back at my flat—which would soon, again, be our flat—the kind of sex in which you cling to each other, the room shaking from the release of emotion and stress and pain. Intense, powerful sex that lasted all night, the kind we’d had when we first met and fell in love.

The cremation had been, in one way, wonderful. Full of people who loved Jake, music playing, a huge turnout. A celebration of his life. At the same time, though, it was terrible, one of the worst
experiences
of my life. I sobbed as his body slid beyond those velvet curtains while Laura sat white-faced beside me. Since then it had been announced that Universal were going to release an album of tracks he’d already recorded. ‘It’s what he would have wanted,’ everyone said. But that was bullshit. What he’d wanted was to be alive, to sing those songs to audiences, to feel the applause. What was the point in posthumous glory? But I didn’t say this. I kept quiet.

I forced myself to stop thinking about Jake. Today was meant to be a happy day. A day for positive thoughts.

I emptied the chest of drawers from the bottom up: T-shirts and vests, then tights and leggings and jeans. Finally, I came to her underwear drawer. I laughed at the thought of her saying she didn’t want me to rifle through it. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen it all before. Still, Laura was a private person. She wasn’t the kind of person who sits on the toilet while her partner is in the room.

I scooped up an armful of bras and knickers and, as I carried it over to the bed, something dropped to the floor. It thudded on the carpet and bounced under the chest of drawers. I stooped to pick it up. It was an iPhone.

That was weird. Laura had never had an iPhone. She didn’t like Apple products, had lectured me about how their treatment of workers in China was abhorrent. Why did she have one?

I put the phone into a holdall and carried on packing up. Halfway through, Laura called me to tell me she was heading home early, that she was already on the train. Her dad was fine. And she wanted to be at home, with me.

I was about to ask her about the phone when we got cut off. I guessed her train had gone into a tunnel. I shrugged. It wasn’t a big issue. I would ask her about it when she got home.

I smiled to myself. Home. Our home.

The very best place to be.

BOOK: Follow You Home
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