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Authors: Alex Connor

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BOOK: Memory of Bones
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‘Ben Golding’s back home,’ Duncan replied. ‘And I think he brought Abigail Harrop back with him.’


You think?

‘He was carrying a woman. I suppose it was her,’ Duncan replied. ‘You want me to find out?’

‘No, stay there. I’m on my way.’

When he heard the doorbell ring, Ben was tempted to ignore it. But when it kept on ringing he left Abigail and walked downstairs. Through the spyhole he could see Roma Jaffe, and waited a moment longer before opening the door.

Her expression was one of pure annoyance. ‘Can I come in?’

‘Of course,’ Ben replied, stepping back for her to enter. ‘I was just going to ring you—’

‘I’m sure you were.’

‘I’ve got Abigail back.’ He paused, handling his words
like rare china, terrified they might chip and shatter even as he said them.


Got her back?
’ Roma queried, following Ben as he moved into the sitting room. Refusing a seat, she glanced around. ‘Can I see her?’

‘She’s asleep.’

‘But she’s OK?’

He hesitated. ‘I’m not sure. I think she’s going to be OK … I did try to ring you—’

‘Who had her?’

‘The person who wanted the Goya skull—’

‘The skull that’s in the Feldenchrist Museum, New York?’

He skirted the question. ‘Abigail’s home – that’s all that matters.’

‘Oh, and that’s the end of it, is it?’ she said. ‘Aren’t you forgetting something? The deaths of Diego Martinez, your brother, Francis Asturias. You think
that’s
done with?’

‘I know who killed them.’

Her eyes narrowed. ‘Who?’

‘Jimmy Shaw.’ The name meant something to her, he could tell. ‘D’you know him?’

‘Shaw’s a criminal, a fixer. But he’s not a killer—’

‘He is now. He killed all three of them.’

‘He told you this?’

‘I was told, yes.’

‘Don’t bugger me about, Golding!’ she snapped. ‘I’ve been messed around long enough on this case. I need to know what happened.’

Ben hesitated, listening for some movement from above,
something to tell him that Abigail had finally woken.

‘Well?’ Roma snapped. ‘Get on with it!’

‘Jimmy Shaw was hired to find the Goya skull. In the process, he killed Diego Martinez, my brother and Francis Asturias—’

‘Why?’

‘They were in his way.’

‘So Shaw’s got the skull?’ She frowned. ‘How can he have it if it’s in New York?’

Ben hesitated. ‘There are two skulls.’

‘Two?’

‘One’s the genuine skull of Goya, the other’s a fake.’ He paused, then carried on, the lie prepared. ‘The skull I exchanged Abi for is now with the person who hired Jimmy Shaw.’

‘And who’s that?’

‘I can’t say.’

Infuriated, she studied him. ‘This case involves three murders. You do realise that I could charge you with withholding evidence?’

‘I’m not withholding evidence. I don’t know anything.’

She paused, unwilling to confide in him, then relented. ‘What if I were to tell you that Jimmy Shaw’s body was found this morning. He’d drowned – and he had Francis Asturias’s blood on his clothes.’

‘So that proves it.’

‘It only proves he was involved with Francis Asturias’s death. What else do you know?’

Ben shrugged, lying deftly. ‘I can’t tell you anything
else. The exchange was prearranged. I delivered the skull and Abigail was given back to me.’

He was punchy from lack of sleep, willing Abigail to wake, and knowing that to keep them both safe he
had
to stay silent about Emile Dwappa. The police could never know about him or Mama Gala. Because if they did, Ben would spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. If he led the police to Gardenia Street he would never sleep safely again. Every day he would be watched. Every night he would wait for the break-in. And constantly he would wonder how, or when, Abigail would be taken from him – this time permanently.

‘I saw no one,’ Ben insisted.

‘Not even Jimmy Shaw?’

‘No, no one.’

Roma let out a long, regretful sigh. ‘Did you kill him?’

‘No.’

‘So who did?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘You can’t tell me half a story and I’ll back off! People died—’

‘My brother included,’ Ben interrupted. ‘You think I’ll ever forget that? I’m telling you, it was Jimmy Shaw who killed them. He did it to get the skull. You’ve got his body – it’s over.’

‘But if you had the skull all along …’ she asked, her tone deadly, ‘why didn’t you give it to him at the beginning?’

‘You want more deaths?’ Ben countered. ‘Because if you
press me, that’s what you’ll get. My death and Abigail’s death. Two more murders to explain. And you won’t be able to stop it. Even if you put a policeman outside that door, the day will come when he’s caught off guard. Are you going to watch us day and night? Put someone on duty to trail us? How about at the hospital, Ms Jaffe? Francis was murdered there, Abigail was taken from there. You feel confident you can protect us there?’ He shook his head. ‘There will always be the one moment, the one street corner, the one night when there’s a slip – and then it happens. And you think I’ll risk that? You think I’ll take that chance when I have the means to keep her safe? Jimmy Shaw committed all three murders, and now Jimmy Shaw is dead. It’s over.’

Thoughtful, Roma walked over to the window, staring at Duncan in the car outside. She was trying to weigh up the advantage of arresting Golding, knowing that he would never give her any further information. He would deny knowing anything more than he had told her because she knew he was afraid. Something or
someone
had thrown a scare into him which would ensure his silence … But if she left it like this, then what? She fixed her gaze on Duncan intently, relieved that he had not been with her to hear what Ben Golding had said. Relieved that she could – if she
chose
– come up with a version of events which no one would question. Jimmy Shaw was dead. He wasn’t going to give his account.

It was her decision to make. If she chose, the case was solved. Jimmy Shaw had killed the three victims and
thrown himself in the Thames. It was neat. Tidy. And it would look good on her record.

Expressionless, she stared at Ben. ‘Where’s the skull now?’

‘The real one?’

She nodded. ‘Yes, the real one.’

‘Missing—’

‘That’s convenient.’

‘It’s the truth,’ Ben continued. ‘The one in New York’s a fake. The real one’s disappeared. I don’t know where it is. I
did
have it, but I don’t have it now.’

‘What’s to stop someone else looking for it?’

‘Why would they?’ Ben asked, his tone reasonable. ‘Bobbie Feldenchrist is hardly going to announce that she has a fake. As far as everyone knows, Goya’s skull is in New York. No one looks for something that’s already been found.’

‘D’you really think it’s that easy? D’you really expect me to go along with your story, and lie for you?’

‘Yes, I do,’ he said, exhausted and desperate. ‘I’m hoping Jimmy Shaw’s death will be the end of it. You have a solution, an ending. To all intents and purposes, you’ve solved the case. You’ve got Shaw’s body and the evidence that ties him to Francis Asturias’s death. Let it rest. I’m
begging
you to let it rest. Because if you pursue it, if you question me further or charge me, no one will believe I didn’t talk and Abigail will be the next victim.’ He held her gaze. ‘I know what I’m asking, believe me. But I’ve lost enough. Please don’t take anything else.’

72

‘We heard that your partner’s been found …’ Megan Griffiths said, dropping into step with Ben as he arrived the following morning. He was back at the Whitechapel, taking on his patients and his operations again. Trying to resume normality, although Abigail was still unconscious, a nurse looking after her at the house. ‘We’re …
I’m
so relieved.’

He reached his room and turned to look at her. And then, without a word, he slammed the door in her face.

Having heard nothing further from Roma Jaffe, Ben was hoping that she wasn’t going to pursue the case. Not where he was concerned anyway – but there were still unanswered questions. Where
was
Goya’s skull? And what was the resolution of Leon’s theory? The real meaning of the Black Paintings? Ben had promised himself that he would finish his brother’s notes that night. But before he did that, he had something else to do, which was why he had returned to the Whitechapel Hospital.

Thoughtful, Ben recalled every conversation he had ever had with Francis Asturias about the skull. He remembered
him describing the reconstruction, how he had hidden it in the box marked CAUTION – ANIMAL REMAINS. He recalled seeing the skull and examining it with Francis and could hear again, in all its blistering clarity, their last phone call.

I
swapped skulls. I have the Goya
.

I have the Goya
… But where the hell did you put it, Francis? Ben wondered. Where the hell did you hide it? Not at home, not in your workshop, and not in the laboratory. He paused, concentrating. No, that would have been too obvious for a man like you. You would have thought up something clever but whimsical … Sighing, Ben thought of his old friend and then considered Elizabeth Asturias.

She was smart. Did
she
have it? He didn’t doubt for one moment that she had the intelligence to fool him, but then realised that Francis would not have directly endangered his wife. So what
had
happened? Ben wondered. As Francis heard of the deaths of Diego Martinez and Leon he was spooked – he had admitted as much, so unnerved that he had taken it on himself to protect the skull by hiding it.

Ben frowned, thinking of their last conversation. Of how alarmed Francis had become. But what had prompted him to change the skulls? Had someone threatened him? Had the blank email with the ominous address [email protected] come with a warning? And, most importantly, how long had Francis had to react? Perhaps that was the most important factor. Perhaps time had dictated
the hiding place. Think again, Ben willed himself. Suppose Francis had been under threat and had had to act quickly. He would have gone to the storage room and taken Goya’s skull, leaving another in its stead. With the real skull in his possession he would have looked for a hiding place in a hurry. Somewhere near. Somewhere accessible. Close by.

Hurrying out, Ben headed for the anatomy theatre. Over 250 years old, it was built in a semicircle so that the medical students could look down on the wooden stage in the centre and watch dissections or examinations. Now only used for lectures, it was still an impressive place.

Ben pushed open the heavy mahogany doors and walked towards the raised dais. At the back of the stage, on the right, was a human skeleton. Having been used for centuries, it stood like a macabre old soldier, baring its teeth at Ben as he moved towards it. His heart pulsing, he touched the collarbone, the skeleton shifting, then reached up and felt the top of the skull.

There were no holes in it.

Exhaling, Ben sat down. He had been sure he was on to something … His gaze moved round the anatomy theatre. Where is it, Francis? Why the hell didn’t you tell me where you put it? He looked around again, thinking, forcing himself to work it out. Francis knew everything about the structure of the human anatomy. He had studied it for years. No one understood the workings of a body like Francis Asturias.

No one understood the workings of a body like Francis Asturias

In a second Ben was on his feet, leaving the anatomy theatre and moving across the hospital towards the Medical Exhibition Hall. Nodding to the assistant curator, he walked through the entrance doors. For the purpose of study, bodies of all ages had been preserved. There were parts of bodies too, and organs – a whole motley collection of human pieces dried out and wired up, or bobbing for eternity in formalin. But they weren’t what Ben had come to see. He was aiming for the far room, where the earliest specimens were held. The bodies of man before he became man. The bodies of their ancestors, the apes.

As he entered he was faced with rows of stuffed chimpanzees and the skulls of assorted monkeys. Torsos which told of the journey from trees to towns surrounded him. But Ben didn’t stop to look at any of them – instead he aimed for the exhibit half hidden in the far left-hand corner. Pushing back the obscuring screen in front of the case, he was faced with an antiqued, weathered skeleton, humped over, the wires bending from its years of standing to attention, the bone and teeth yellowed. And crowning the body of the great ape was its skull.

No one would have noticed it. Tucked away in a badly lit corner, one of the least impressive exhibits, it could have remained undiscovered for weeks. But Ben noticed it. Slowly, almost in awe, he approached.

The torso was simian, but the skull was Goya’s.

73

New York

It had been a spectacular week for Bobbie Feldenchrist. Not only had the Goya exhibition been phenomenally successful, but the reviews for the Feldenchrist Collection were almost sycophantic. She had, the papers reported, pulled off an amazing coup in obtaining the skull of Goya. Trumping all her rivals, even the Prado, she had managed to secure an artistic legend.

Oh, yes, Bobbie thought, it had been a victory – one of many. She was now a mother, with an heir to carry on the Feldenchrist name. She was more successful than any of her peers. And, most triumphantly, she had Bartolomé Ortega back in her life. The man who had rejected her for Celina had returned. Their affair would soon be public – Bobbie would see to that, and add his head to Goya’s in her own personal memento mori.

The reasons for Bartolomé’s return did not overly concern her. Bobbie had little belief in love and less in integrity,
but she
did
believe in revenge and had been happy to consider Bartolomé’s offer. Apparently he had solved the riddle of the Black Paintings and had suggested that it would be in both their interests to join forces. The Ortega Collection working with the Feldenchrist Collection – one with the skull, one with the theory. And so came into existence twin towers of Babel, teetering on the precipice of their own deceit.

BOOK: Memory of Bones
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