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Authors: Alex Connor

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BOOK: Memory of Bones
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‘What’s going on?’

‘You know what’s going on—’

She shook her head. ‘No, I know
some
of it, but not all. Talk to me.’

‘I can’t.
I daren’t
,’ he said, turning away from her and walking into his study. Alarmed, she followed him. ‘I want you to go back to France, Abi. Go back there until all this is sorted out.’


All what?
’ she queried. ‘I’ve only got half the story, Ben. You have to talk to me. Don’t cut me out.’


Talk to you?
’ he said simply. ‘Jesus! That’s the last thing I’d do. Francis is dead because I involved him. I can’t risk you. You have to go back to France—’

‘And if I refuse?’

‘Don’t do that,’ he said anxiously, touching her face. ‘Please, don’t do that.’

Pulling her to him, he rested his lips against her hair, breathing in the scent of her. He knew that in rejecting her he was exiling his last ally, but he had no choice. From the moment Leon had been given the Goya skull all their lives had changed. A malignancy had begun which was now spreading hourly. Knowing that his own safety was in question, Ben was aware that he might not be able to stop its progress, but he wasn’t going to sacrifice anyone else.

‘Go back to France,’ he repeated, kissing her cheek. Then he drew back, touching her skin and feeling the slight swelling underneath. ‘Abi, what’s this?’

She smiled lightly. ‘Nothing. I’m having it checked out.’

‘Let me look,’ he replied, turning her to the light and staring at her face. The doctor again. ‘You’ve got to have that seen to. It might be nothing, but—’

‘Stop worrying,’ she said, hurrying to reassure him. ‘It’s
all organised. I’m having a biopsy. I’m going into the Whitechapel tomorrow.’

‘Without telling me?’

‘Ben, stop it! I was going to tell you, but other things have happened before I could. Don’t look at me like that – it’s nothing to worry about. You’re not my doctor any more – Mr North is doing it. He was going to talk to you about it this afternoon.’ Her voice softened. ‘Relax, darling. This is me, Abigail. I’ll be fine and everything will work out in the end.’ She led him to the sofa, sitting down beside him and resting her head on his shoulder. ‘You have to get some rest.’

‘Malcolm North’s a good doctor,’ Ben said, preoccupied. ‘He knows his stuff. You’ll be in safe hands.’

‘And what about you? Whose safe hands are you in?’

‘Not yours, Abi.’

She smiled, almost regretfully. ‘I know you’re trying to protect me – and I love you for it – but you have to trust someone.’

‘Not you. I won’t put you in danger.’

‘What danger?’ she pressed him, sitting up and looking into his drawn face. ‘Is there a connection between the deaths of Leon and Francis Asturias?’

‘Let it rest—’

‘I’m not a fool, Ben!’ she snapped. ‘I know about Leon and the skull. And I know you gave it to Francis to authenticate—’

He gripped her hands so tightly she winced. ‘You’re hurting me!’

‘Forget everything I told you, Abi. Please, leave it alone.’

‘Why? What are you going to do?’

‘I don’t know who killed Leon or Francis, so how can I
do
anything?’

‘You need to sleep—’

‘I can’t sleep!’ he snapped back. ‘I have to go to Madrid tomorrow, to Leon’s funeral—’

‘Then let me come with you.’

‘No!’ Turning away, he shook his head. ‘I wish my brother had never got hold of that bloody skull. I wish he’d never seen it. The moment Leon touched it, his life fell apart. It tipped him over the edge.’

‘He was always near the edge—’

‘And they pushed him over.’


For a skull?
Abigail asked incredulously.

‘We’re talking about
Goya’s
skull – what wouldn’t a collector do to own that? Dreams are made on lesser stuff. Leon used to talk about the competitiveness of the business. How a dealer or historian was desperate to find something valuable, or prove a theory. Poor bastard,’ Ben said gently. ‘Poor, sorry bastard …’

She took his hands in her own.

‘… Leon thought that the skull would make his name. And if he solved the Black Paintings, he’d be set for life. But he was competing with the likes of Bartolomé Ortega, and God knows who else.’

‘You don’t have the skull any more, do you?’

He was desperate to confide – to tell her about Francis’s
confession and about being threatened – but he held back, giving her the partial truth.

‘I don’t have the skull.’

‘Thank God,’ she said with feeling. ‘But surely whoever has it will have to explain how they came by it?’

He smiled bitterly. ‘No one will ever know that it was stolen from me. People would deny knowing how it came into their hands. The provenance would be blurred. Leon used to tell me all about it – the fudged backgrounds, the made-up histories. There would just be vague stories of the skull being found—’

‘That was Leon’s story.’

‘That wasn’t his
story
, it was the truth. The skull
was
found and passed over to my brother—’

‘But now it could be anywhere,’ Abi said, her head on one side. ‘Why don’t you let it be?’


What?

‘What can you do, Ben? Leave it to the police. Let them handle it. If there’s anything to find, let
them
find it.’

She was afraid for him, and for herself. Afraid of losing the man who had given her back her life. Afraid to lose the protector she had fallen in love with. To her shame Abigail realised that despite her sympathy for Ben, she was angry with Leon. Angry with the dead man who was threatening her security and the life she prized.

‘Just back off—’


My brother was murdered!

‘You’ve no proof of that. The Spanish coroner ruled it suicide. You’ve no evidence, and with Leon’s background
of mental instability no one would believe you.’ She leaned towards Ben, her mouth dry. ‘Leave it alone. Whoever wanted the skull has got it back. Forget about it, then you’ll be safe. They have no reason to come after you unless you give them a reason.’

Incredulous, Ben stared at her. ‘So I let my brother’s killer get away with it?’

‘What else can you do?’

‘Jesus! You just don’t get it, do you? I can’t walk away,’ Ben replied. To her amazement he seemed close to tears. ‘I was supposed to look after Leon. Everyone knew he was unstable, that he needed protection. I had a duty of care to him—’

‘He was
not
your patient.’


No, he was my brother!
’ Ben snapped back. ‘He was my home, my family. He was my sibling. For years there were only the two of us – the Golding brothers. I was meant to look out for him.
He needed me.

‘You did what you could—’

‘I wasn’t there!’ Ben shouted, almost beside himself. ‘I didn’t save him. I failed him … And I can’t live with that.’

Desperate, she pleaded with him. ‘Leave it alone, Ben, please. I love you—’

‘I know. And I love you.’

‘I don’t want to lose you—’

‘And I don’t want to lose you.’ And then he lied. ‘It’ll be all right, Abi. It’s just all been such a shock. It’ll take some time to come to terms with.’

His thoughts were running on and he realised that
having Abigail admitted into the Whitechapel Hospital was the perfect solution. At the Whitechapel, he could keep an eye on her. As a patient, she would be surrounded day and night, with nurses to keep watch over her when he wasn’t there. What better place to be protected than a hospital? It was, he thought with relief, even better than her returning to France.

Then he remembered what else Abi had said:
They have no reason to come after you unless you give them a reason
.

And that was
exactly
what he was going to do. He wasn’t going to be warned off. He wasn’t going to give in to threats. He was going to do the opposite and draw attention to himself. Ben Golding might not know who had killed his brother and his friend, but he knew how to find out.

He wasn’t going to run or hide. Instead he was going to make himself visible. And then they would come after
him
.

BOOK FOUR


I have painted these pictures to occupy my imagination, which is tormented by all the ills that afflict me

GOYA ON THE BLACK PAINTINGS

Quinta del Sordo, Spain, 1822

Her shadow fell across the whitewashed wall of the house as she carried the washing indoors. The heat had been so intense that the clothes were still hot under her fingers as she folded them. Leocardia had no interest in local gossip. She had no reason to explain why her marriage had failed, or why she had chosen to live with Francisco Goya
.

She leaned against the door jamb, full-hipped against the hard stone. The old man’s deafness was no impediment to her. He did not hear her frequent outbursts, her temper hot as dry sand. He remained painting while she cleaned the house; he remained painting while she cooked, eating everything she gave him gratefully. And he remained painting while she bathed and then stood, half-naked, in the doorway, letting the night air dry her
.

The bawdy libertine, the late Duchess of Alba’s lover, the painter kings had bowed to, was now a willing captive in the enclosed world of the Quinta del Sordo … Languorously, Leocardia moved upstairs, the heat rising with her. The old man was painting a
fresco in their bedroom, another of the garble of murals with which he was mapping the interior. She moved towards him, knowing he would sense her coming, and rested her chin on his shoulder, looking at the painted figures of
the Ministration:
one grimacing man in the foreground, one to the left, and a woman laughing behind. Not as disturbing as some of the images, Leocardia thought, then realised that the foremost figure was masturbating
.

Amused, she stretched her arms above her head, then walked over to the window and relit a batch of candles. Sometimes, when she had the patience, she talked to Goya slowly so that he could read her lips; chastised him for working too long, in too poor a light. He would listen and shrug, grabbing at her backside in a memory of earlier desires
.

And, as always, Goya’s demon figures flickered in the lamplight, Leocardia’s own image in the room below them. Her image, huge as an icon, leaning on a mound of earth
.


What’s under the ground?’ she had asked
.

Again a shrug, a word scored impatiently into the wet paint underneath
.


Me.

Leocardia was no stranger to superstition. To her, dark forces were as much a part of life as sunlight. But in the few years since they had moved to the Quinta del Sordo she had seen Goya’s original paintings of the dancing figures obliterated under the
Pilgrimage of St Isidore,
the meadow turned to a rocky outcrop, as barren as the madmen who walked there
.

Still watching him, Leocardia thought of Dr Arrieta. He believed Goya was suffering from a breakdown and that his last illness
had taken a mental toll. He was afraid, Arrieta said sadly, that the old man might never recover … Leocardia’s eyes fixed on the painter, unblinking, her expression unfathomable. Knowing he was watching her, Goya turned and tilted his head to one side, regarding her
.

Many times he had thought of sending Leocardia away, but he knew he would not. He would let her stay. He needed her. He was afraid of her. He was afraid without her. The summer would capsize itself and the autumn would slip out of her greenery, but she would stay
.

Outside, Goya could sense a late wind picking up. It swung through the trees, taking the steamy heat from the river and creeping into the Quinta del Sordo unseen. Behind him stood a massive painted image of despair: a solitary dog in a desolate landscape, only its head showing as the quicksand dragged it under to something no one could see
.

For an instant Goya stared at the image and the dog’s head turned. It barked once, the sound unheard, its eyes full of terror and the fear of coming death
.

45

Richmond

Walking up the driveway to a secluded eighteenth-century house outside London, Ben ducked under some overgrown hydrangea bushes as he reached the front door. Wisteria, grown reckless, knotted about the windows and the porch, and a rose – long in the tooth – raked its thorny teeth against the brickwork.

Finding the bell, Ben rang it several times before footsteps approached the door, a young woman opening it and smiling.

‘Can I help you?’

‘I’ve come to see Mrs Asturias. My name’s Ben Golding. She’s expecting me.’

Elizabeth Asturias was sitting in the breakfast room, nursing a copy of the
Telegraph
and a cup of tea. As Ben walked in, she took off her reading glasses and jerked her head towards the dining chair next to her.

‘Nice obituary for Francis in the
Telegraph
,’ she said, tapping
the paper with her index finger. ‘Bastards didn’t have the same kind words for him in life.’

The comment, delivered in razor-sharp English, came as a shock. Over the years Francis had mentioned his wife in passing, but always with dry humour, suggesting that the classy Elizabeth had had little time for him and less affection. But the ageing woman Ben was now looking at had the telltale puffy eyes of grieving and an unexpectedly short temper.

‘I told him to retire – would have liked him home.’ She stopped, shouting at the young cleaner. ‘Careful! I can hear you clattering those dishes about. They chip, you know.’ She glanced back at Ben. ‘He liked you.’

‘I liked him.’

‘Hmm,’ she said simply, tossing the paper to one side. It landed on the floor like a shot bird. ‘They killed my poor lad. Francis … Of all people. It’s so … unnecessary.’ Her eyes filled and she wiped them briskly with the back of her hand. ‘Killed him. Who would do that?
Why
would anyone do that?’

‘I don’t know—’

‘Oh, don’t lie to me!’ she snapped fiercely. ‘I was married to him. I knew what was going on. Francis used to tell me everything. Of course I pretended that it bored me, but he knew I loved the gossip.’ She sighed, staring at her fingernails and wincing as the cleaner made another noise. ‘Go for the post, dear!’ she snapped. ‘Oh, and get some bread from the shop while you’re at it.’

BOOK: Memory of Bones
10.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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