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Authors: Alex Connor

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BOOK: Memory of Bones
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After Leon had been moved to the mortuary Ben had insisted that the death was murder and demanded an autopsy. Something which would have happened automatically – if the police hadn’t investigated Leon’s life and uncovered his mental instability. From then on, they believed that Leon Golding had taken his own life. It had happened before, they told Ben. A depressed man hires a hotel room and then hangs himself …

‘He wouldn’t have done it,’ Ben said suddenly, looking over at Francis. ‘Leon was terrified that night. He was running for his life … I told the police about his phone call to me. And about Gina going missing.’

‘What did they say about that?’

‘That she was at the house when they went over later,’ Ben replied, his expression challenging. ‘But Leon told me she’d gone. He was insistent. He said that the bedroom had been wrecked, that her clothes had been taken. He thought they’d kidnapped her.’

‘They?’ Francis said softly.

‘The same people who were after him.’

‘And who were they?’

Slowly Ben turned to look his old friend straight in the face. ‘Leon
was
running away from someone. He phoned me. I heard his panic. I heard his fear—’

‘He wasn’t taking his medicine.’

‘He wasn’t crazy!’ Ben retorted sharply.

‘He wasn’t on his medication. You know how that affected your brother’s judgement,’ Francis went on, his tone calm. ‘Leon had become obsessed with the Goya business. You told me that yourself, Ben. You said he was out of his depth—’

‘That’s right,’ Ben agreed. ‘Leon
was
out of his depth. And that’s what killed him.’

Sighing, Francis pushed the glass again. Now it was pressing against Ben’s forearm, but he still didn’t pick it up.

‘My brother didn’t kill himself.’

‘Have you spoken to Gina?’

Ben nodded. ‘She’s distracted. Crying. Saying that she shouldn’t have gone to stay with her friend that night – that none of this would have happened if she’d stayed home … Apparently Leon had shut himself off, and she thought he wanted to be alone. She said she’d told him where she was going, that he knew her girlfriend and had the phone number. She said that her clothes hadn’t all gone – she’d just taken the ones she had with her that night.’

‘So Leon was wrong about that?’

‘I dunno,’ Ben said, shaking his head. ‘Their relationship was on and off. In the past Gina had left him for a while, then come back when Leon had calmed down. He loved her, but I don’t know how much she loved him. She didn’t take good enough care of him—’

Francis cut him off.

‘But she wasn’t kidnapped, was she? Leon was wrong.’

‘Meaning that if he was wrong about that, he was wrong about the rest?’ Ben asked, his tone challenging. ‘That there was no one in the house? No one after him?’

Francis paused before answering. ‘OK, if someone
was
after Leon, why?’

‘For the skull.’


What?

‘Goya’s skull.’

‘He didn’t have it!’

‘They thought he did,’ Ben said. ‘I told him to keep it quiet, but Leon couldn’t. He said he hadn’t told anyone, but Gabino Ortega knew about it and Leon said some Englishman had wanted to buy it from him.’ Ben paused, about to confide about Diego Martinez, but changed his mind. Francis was a friend. He didn’t need endangering.

‘Who’s Gabino …?’


Ortega
. He belongs to one of the richest and most infamous families in Spain. His grandfather was a murderer.’

‘Shit … And who was the Englishman?’

‘I don’t know,’ Ben said honestly.

Taking a long drink, Francis stared ahead for a while before continuing, ‘You really think Leon was murdered?’

‘God, how many times do I have to say it!’ Ben snapped, finally taking the brandy and downing it in one shot.

‘But how likely is it that someone killed your brother? And even if they did, why would they just to get a
skull?
I’ve got six in the fridge – they’re welcome to them … Oh, come on, Ben, it doesn’t make sense.’

‘Where is it?’


What?

‘Goya’s skull.’

Rising to his feet, Francis moved over to the end of the laboratory and unlocked the fridge, calling over his shoulder, ‘You want the original or the reconstructed head?’

‘Both,’ Ben replied, moving over to Francis’s workbench and watching as he put down the skull. ‘What’s it worth?’

‘Bugger all.’

‘Unless it’s famous,’ Ben went on, staring at it curiously. ‘Could it contain anything?’

Francis stuck his finger into the empty skull and wiggled it round. ‘Nope.’

‘What about inside the bone itself?’

‘Nothing.’

‘The teeth?’

‘Nothing.’

‘How d’you know?’

‘Because it underwent scans when I was trying to authenticate it, that’s how. Anyway, Goya hardly had any teeth left when he died.’

‘What about the bone itself? Anything unusual?’

‘There might have been. But after all these years most defects or diseases would be impossible to detect.’

Sighing, Ben reached for the powerful magnifying glass lying on the workbench beside him. Turning the skull around in his left hand, he peered at it from all angles.

‘What
are
you looking for?’

‘Anything.’

Disappointed, he put down the magnifying glass and then the skull. ‘There are no markings, just age damage. Nothing clever, no words or symbols.’

‘Not even a bar code.’

‘It’s valuable simply because it’s Goya …’ Ben went on, staring at the skull. ‘I know how coveted these relics are. Museums would love it. The Prado would certainly want it, to exhibit next to Goya’s paintings. I mean, no other museum has got anything like it. The best the Tate Gallery could come up with was Turner’s death mask.’

‘Did a museum or gallery approach Leon direct?’

‘The Prado gave him free rein. It was Leon’s find, it was his triumph.’

‘Maybe there was something else which had caught people’s interest, as well as the skull.’

‘There was. Leon was working on a theory about the Black Paintings. He was researching Goya’s life when he died.’ Ben paused. ‘Not that he needed to do a lot of that. We were brought up by a woman who was always talking about the painter, always filling Leon’s head with stories. Spooking him.’ He glanced over at Francis. ‘This was my brother’s big chance. Goya’s skull would have made him famous and solving the riddle of the Black Paintings would have compounded his success.’

‘How far had he got?’

‘He said he was nearly finished.’

Francis raised his eyebrows. ‘So what
do
the paintings mean?’

Ben shrugged.

‘I didn’t ask him. When he said he was talking to people involved with the occult I panicked. I warned him off because of what happened to …’ He trailed off, censoring himself, unwilling to talk about Diego Martinez. ‘I didn’t want Leon being so reckless.’

‘But he didn’t listen?’

‘No, he said people were approaching him via the internet. I know for a fact that he’d seen a medium—’

‘Bloody hell.’

‘He was grasping at straws. They had a seance, you know.’

‘Don’t tell me,’ Francis said drily. ‘They got through to Goya.’

‘I think my brother actually believed that they could.’ Ben sighed. ‘The medium’s a friend of Gina’s, a man called Frederick Lincoln. She told me he was trustworthy. But even if no one gossiped outright, people knew that Leon was researching the Black Paintings and had found a skull which he thought was Goya’s—’

‘It was.’

They both looked at the skull, Ben the first to speak. ‘Did
you
tell anyone?’

‘No,’ Francis replied, his tone injured.

‘I had to ask.’

‘No you fucking didn’t.’

Carefully, Ben picked up the skull again. ‘Can you put it into storage? Mark the box CAUTION – ANIMAL REMAINS so that no one will open it?’

Francis nodded. ‘Easy. But what are you going to do now?’

‘Clear my brother’s name. I know what people are saying about Leon – that he was unstable, that he killed himself. Why not? He’d tried before, it’s an obvious conclusion to jump to. If he hadn’t been my brother, maybe I would have said the same. But he
was
my brother, Francis, and I loved him and knew him better than anyone on earth.
And I know he was murdered.

‘If you’re right,’ Francis said quietly, ‘then you might be in danger too.’

‘I know … But someone killed my brother and they’re not getting away with it.’ He gestured to the skull. ‘Hide it, Francis, and then forget about it. Forget everything I’ve told you. Everything.’

27

Madrid, Spain

The following day dawned thick with the threat of a storm. Sapping heat clung heavy on the air, the breeze swamped, hardly able to move the dust. Composed, Gina walked into Leon’s study and sat at his desk, fingering the pen he had last used. In front of her some papers were torn, others piled high in no particular order, a few rough drawings tossed into the waste-paper basket. Idly, she reached into the bin and smoothed out a piece of paper, an amateur drawing of a bull staring inanely at her. Leon had never been a gifted artist. He had wanted – longed – to be able to paint, but it wasn’t his forte.

Holding the paper to her lips momentarily Gina turned as she heard footsteps behind her. ‘Are you all right?’

Nodding, Ben moved over to the desk, avoiding her eyes. ‘They’ve finally agreed to do an autopsy on Leon.’

Her voice was dull. ‘Why did they change their minds?’

‘I insisted – called on some of my medical contacts.’

‘Why an autopsy?’

He paused, staring past her into the hall beyond. Childhood memories came swinging back – Leon running down from the hot summer playroom into the hallway and slipping on the floor which Detita kept as shiny as a plate of black glass. Leon as a child, struggling like a netted fish against the suffocation of his instability. Leon as a young man, passionate but muted with medication. Happy at times … Ben kept staring, almost seeing his brother coming from the back garden with a handful of soil.

We have to keep this, Ben
.

What for?

If you keep the soil from the place you love most, you’ll never leave
.

And now Leon as Ben had last heard him on the phone, panicked, his voice urgent. Running down the same stairs, skidding on the same black-ice floor, racing for safety. And not finding it.

‘Ben?’ Timidly Gina reached out her hand and brushed his. ‘Ben, I’m sorry …’

He looked down at her, his voice puzzled. ‘What for?’

‘For not being here. For leaving Leon,’ she answered, tears beginning hot and slow like the Manzanares river beyond. ‘I should have stayed that night.’

‘So why
did
you go, Gina?’

‘He was angry with me for disturbing him. He wanted to be left alone to work.’

‘But he’d stopped taking his medication. Why didn’t you make him take it?’

‘You couldn’t make Leon do anything he didn’t want to!’ she snapped back. ‘You know that as well as I do.’

Her hand reached for his again, but again he didn’t take it. He couldn’t offer comfort because he wanted to blame her, punish her, even though it wasn’t her fault. And he knew that. Had always known that one day Leon would go too far, drop too fast, before any of them – parent, brother, lover – could catch him. His decline had been inevitable, as much a part of him as his expressions and habits. The rapid reflexes, the way he put his feet up on his desk and clasped his hands behind his head. The way he gobbled up information and then passed it on, his hands working with the words as though – if either paused – the whole conversation would evaporate.

‘I loved him, you know.’

Ben nodded but didn’t reply immediately, and when he did, his tone was incisive.

‘You should never have put him in danger—’

‘I didn’t hurt him! How did I endanger him?’ she hurled back.

‘You encouraged him with his book about the Black Paintings. You let him get involved in the occult, when you knew it would be bad for anyone as fragile as my brother. You shouldn’t have introduced him to people like Frederick Lincoln. You knew how vulnerable he was. Didn’t you realise he might be in danger?’

‘From whom? Frederick is a friend. I told you, I’ve known him since I was a kid. His family lived in America for a
while, near us. We used to play together, then they went back to Holland when Frederick was in his early teens.’ She took in a ragged breath. ‘I would trust him with my life—’

‘You certainly trusted him with Leon’s.’

Stunned, she leaned forward in her seat, her eyes hostile. ‘I would never have done anything to hurt your brother! If you were so worried about Leon, why didn’t you come over to Spain more often? I was always there for him—’

‘Except when you walked out.’

‘We had a fight! Couples do. We were no different.’ She was openly hostile. ‘You were certainly relieved when we got back together. It took some of the pressure off you, didn’t it, Ben?’ She kicked out at the chair in front of her. ‘Don’t try to attack me to cover up your own feelings of guilt!’

Shaken, Ben struggled to breathe, Gina’s words resonating in his head, their accuracy damning. It was true, he
had
been glad that Gina was back in his brother’s life. He
had
wanted a breathing space, time to work on his own relationship with Abigail. Time to catch up on his own life.

‘I’m sorry for what I just said,’ Gina murmured, shamefaced. ‘I shouldn’t have been so hard on you.’

‘Maybe we should both have looked after him better.’

She took a breath, choosing her next words carefully. ‘I have to know something … Will you tell me the truth?’

‘If I can.’

‘Why was Leon in danger?’

‘There was someone in the house. Leon heard them. He thought he was going to be killed.’

Incredulous, she shook her head. ‘
Killed?
Why?’

‘You know why.’

‘No, I don’t!’

‘Didn’t Leon tell you what had been happening lately?’

‘Like what?’

He couldn’t tell if she was lying and continued warily. ‘D’you know someone called Diego Martinez?’

BOOK: Memory of Bones
2.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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