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Authors: Graeme Cumming

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BOOK: Ravens Gathering
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Thirteen

 

 

“Take a deep breath,” Ian murmured to himself.  He had
stood well back from the window, but was watching Tanya and the stranger
covering the last few yards to the kitchen door, safe in the knowledge that they
couldn’t see him.  The last thing he wanted was to expose himself for the
coward he felt he was.  Tanya had little enough respect for him these
days.  Seeing him virtually hyperventilating wasn’t going to help matters.

He did as he’d instructed himself to do.  Inhaled
deeply through his nose, filling his lungs with air, before letting it all out
slowly.  He only managed it twice before the door opened.  It wasn’t
enough to mask his nerves, he knew.  But he hoped it would cover some of
them.

“Oh, Ian!” Tanya said as she stepped into the room and saw
him standing by the table.  “You made me jump!”  And she did look
startled.  Or was he being generous?  Was it guilt?

Swallowing, he opened his mouth to speak, but then the blond
man appeared behind her.  He smiled at Ian, but there was an underlying
shiftiness about him.  Again, it could be guilt.  Or was he trying to
hide something?  Maybe both.

Stepping past Tanya, the stranger came towards him, hand
outstretched, and nowhere near Tanya’s.  “Pleased to meet you, Ian.”

Without thinking, Ian raised his own hand in response. 
As he did, he realised what a fool he was about to make of himself.  But
he also realised that if he suddenly withdrew the hand, it would seem even more
foolish.  So they shook, the husband and the lover.  It made his
insides curl.

Having closed the door, Tanya was making her way to the
dining room.  “I need a drink,” she said sharply.

Ian glanced at the tumbler he’d put down on the table. 
She wasn’t the only one.  He felt an urge to snatch it up and drink it in
one swig.

“Where’ve you been?” he called after her as she
disappeared.  The other man had stepped back, but was still standing in
front of him.  Their eyes had locked briefly, but Ian didn’t feel he had
the strength to stare him down.

“Up in the woods.”  The reply was distracted. 
Much as Ian was.  Which was why it took him a second or two to register
what she’d just said.


Where?
” he said incredulously.  For a moment,
his fears about her infidelity were lost behind the near impossibility of what
he had just heard.

Footsteps could be heard coming from the wooden dining room
floor.  “The woods,” she said again before appearing in the doorway. 
The expression on her face was challenging, as if she wanted him to ask her why
she had gone to the woods, when she had refused to go with him at any time in
the last three years.  The very fact of that challenge was enough to
convince Ian he needed to avoid it for the time being.

She looked over at the stranger, and raised the tumbler she
held in her right hand.  It was filled with a clear liquid that he took to
be gin
.  She hadn’t had time to add any
tonic.  “Do you want a drink, Martin?”

Martin?  Martin? 
He didn’t recall a Martin
being mentioned before, so this wasn’t likely to be an old work colleague or
university friend who just happened to call in.

Martin was shaking his head.  “No thanks.”  He
gestured to the sink.  “Perhaps a glass of water, if that’s all
right.”  His questioning gaze passed between the two of them.

Well, he was polite, Ian thought.  He’d give him
that.  A handshake, a humble request for water and not a raid on the
drinks cabinet.  Was that meant to throw the cuckolded husband off the
scent?

“Help yourself,” Tanya told him.  “The glasses are in
the cupboard above the drainer.”

Ian didn’t know whether to commend him for making himself at
home so quickly, or rage at him.  His indecision took away his options.

“You won’t believe what we’ve just seen.” Tanya pulled a
chair out and sat at the table.  She looked at Ian expectantly.  He
wasn’t sure what she was expecting: for him to look at her wide-eyed and beg
her to impart her wondrous news, or for him to simply sit down.  He opted
for the latter, and she took it as the equivalent of him having done the
former.  “We’ve seen the reason for the village getting its name.”

It was fair to say that she still had the ability to
surprise him.  He acknowledged that to himself as he gazed back at her in
bewilderment.  Was this just an elaborate distraction technique, he
wondered.

As his brain fought to process this apparently off-the-wall
revelation, he was aware of Martin sitting down as well.  He sat with his
back to the hallway, while Tanya had hers to the dining room and he, Ian, was
facing her.

Clearly not happy with the response she was getting from her
husband, Tanya turned to Martin.  “Tell him,” she urged.  “Tell him
what we saw.”  Ian realised that there was something different about the
way she was talking.  One of the great attractions Tanya had always held
for him was her energy and enthusiasm.  It had waned in recent months,
though he could understand that.  Even so, she seemed to have a natural
inclination to be forceful in her words, voice and actions.  Some of that
was coming across now, but Ian recognised that there was an edge to it
somehow.  He couldn’t put his finger on it but, for the first time since
he had spotted the pair of them in the yard, he stopped thinking about himself
and how he was reacting, and began to consider her.

“It was probably nothing,” Martin said dismissively.

“That’s not what you said on the way back.”

“I’ve had a bit more time to think.  I probably
over-reacted.”  There was something about the way he spoke that Ian found
unconvincing.

The look on Tanya’s face suggested she was thinking along
the same lines.  But instead of arguing with him, she turned to Ian. 

I’ll
tell you then.”

He wasn’t sure whether she was too wrapped up in her
experiences in the woods, or if he was managing to hide his feelings better
than he thought.  Whatever the truth, she seemed to be oblivious to any
concerns he might have been showing about her turning up with this stranger in
tow.  Oddly enough, as she related her story, the concerns about Martin’s
designs on his wife – or, more importantly, hers on him – started to
fade.  And as she explained in vivid detail about the appearance of the
ravens, he became so engrossed in her words that any jealousy or suspicion
rapidly disappeared.

It was certainly very strange.  Ian had spent many
hours – probably the equivalent of weeks over time – roaming through the
woods.  It was one of the great pleasures he’d gained from moving up
here.  The knowledge that it was his own land, and he could walk for miles
on it was a great satisfaction to him.  When Tanya described the clearing,
he knew exactly where she meant.  He’d seen the tyre swing himself several
weeks ago, and the remains of the fire.  His initial reaction had been one
of annoyance, though he recognised that it was fuelled in part by concern for
the kids that had lit the fire.  What if it had got out of hand? 
What if it had spread and they’d been hurt?  He’d had a strong urge to cut
the tyre down.  That’d let them know he was on to them.  Hopefully it
would make them wary of coming back and doing something stupid again.

When he’d calmed down, he’d realised he was
over-reacting.  He was thinking like a father – something he wasn’t used
to.  But he thrust that idea away, afraid of where it might take
him.  Instead he focused on the positives.  Hadn’t he lit fires in
woods when he was a boy?  No one had died then.  They hadn’t even
burnt their fingers on the matches.  It was all part of growing up. 
And if there was an accident...  Well, things like that happened in life. 
And if it didn’t happen here, it could just as easily happen somewhere
else.  In centuries past, it had been part of Sherwood Forest.  The
forest might be a fraction of the size it had been, but there was still plenty
of woodland in these parts.

So he’d left things as they were, and hoped the kids would
come back and enjoy themselves out in the fresh air instead of sitting at home
watching TV.  He’d also mentioned his findings to anyone he bumped into in
the village.  It wouldn’t do any harm for the word to get around, and for
parents to be a little more attentive.  Then he’d made a point of walking
up that way at least once a week in the mean time.

So he’d been up at the clearing only a few days ago. 
No sign of ravens, though.  It did briefly cross his mind that Tanya might
be making it up.  Especially when she went on to explain that she had felt
so frightened she’d needed to hold Martin’s hand for comfort as they walked
back.  Was that just an excuse?  Her face suggested not, and he clung
to that hope, pushing all thoughts of her infidelity from his mind.

Getting to his feet, he went round the table and sat at her
side, his arm around her shoulder, holding her tightly.  “I’m sure
Martin’s right.  It was probably just one of those quirky things that
happen.  When you’ve had some time away from it, the chances are you’ll
wonder what the fuss was about.”

She looked up at him, and he knew his words could have been
misinterpreted.  She was still processing them, so he had time yet. 
He leaned in, pressing his lips to the side of her head.  They were just
above her ear, close enough for her to hear him clearly.

“I love you, Tanya.  I won’t let anything hurt
you.”  He squeezed her for emphasis, and was surprised to feel her hand
stroke the back of his.

“Thank you, Ian.”  She pulled back and smiled at
him.  “Now, I suppose you’re wondering who our guest is.”

The tenderness of the moment had passed, but Ian was
grateful for it all the same.  He looked expectantly at Martin, although
he knew it would be Tanya who explained things.  Which she did, of
course.  He felt himself torn again by his emotions.  Annoyance that
Tanya had made a decision to let the room without consulting him; relief that
they would receive some income from the transaction; surprise that Patrick had
another son; and gratitude when Martin offered to take them to the pub for
something to eat.

“It’s getting on a bit now,” he told them.  “It sounds
like you’ve both had a trying day.  You’ve been good enough to offer me a
place to stay, and it seems like the very least I can do.”  He looked Ian
in the eye.  “I really am very grateful for your hospitality.”

Perhaps, Ian thought to himself, I’ve misjudged him. 
There had been times recently when he’d wondered if he was becoming
paranoid.  He glanced at the clock on the wall.  It was almost seven
o’clock and he was feeling hungry.  Outside, it was growing very dark.

Fourteen

 

 

When Matthew returned from
The Major Oak
, he and
Patrick had tried to focus on their work, but it soon became clear that neither
of them could concentrate.  If they carried on as they were doing, they
realised they’d have to knock the wall back down and start from scratch. 
So they did the sensible thing: they packed up and went home.

Colin was excited.  An ambulance and the return of a
long-lost brother were almost too much for him.  Twice they had to steer
him to the bathroom before he had an accident.  It was like dealing with a
small child.  Frustrating.  And all the more so because you want them
to have the best life they can.  Unfortunately, the best life Colin could
have would fall way short of anything they could possibly hope for.

They learnt very little from him.  The vague references
to his meeting Martin at the pub gave no clues as to what had been said between
them.  Of more concern was what Colin might have told Martin.  The
chances were that he had said nothing of consequence, but they couldn’t be
sure.  There was no indication that Colin had experienced the verbal abuse
Martin had referred to.

That was to be expected.  Most of the time it went
straight over Colin’s head – and the rest of the time it was forgotten about
ten minutes later.  Just like a child that falls over and hurts
himself.  The shrieks of pain suggest a red hot blade has sliced into him,
and yet minutes later he can be playing happily with his Lego or Matchbox cars
as if nothing has happened.  So it was with Colin – whether the pain was
physical or emotional.  In a sense, it was to be welcomed.  The lad
didn’t suffer the anguish others might if they were subjected to the same
levels of regular abuse.  But it also meant that he didn’t know enough to
avoid it happening again.

“Do you think I should go down to
The Oak
and find
out what happened?” Matthew asked his father during one of Colin’s toilet
breaks.

Patrick shook his head.  “No.  You might bump into
Martin.”

“Norma said she’d tell him she had no rooms.”

“That doesn’t mean he won’t be there.  He might decide
to stay until the last bus, and the pub’s as good a place as any to stop.”

Technically, the licensing hours were such that the pub
should have closed between two-thirty and six, but Norma often kept it open
throughout the afternoon.  It was quiet, and the locals didn’t cause any
trouble.  The police turned a blind eye on the very odd occasion they
passed through the village.  Some coppers liked a pint outside of normal
hours, so it was useful to keep a few landlords and -ladies onside.

Norma had been happy to go along with Matthew’s
request.  She hadn’t been very happy about Martin’s behaviour at lunch
time.  Though she sympathised with his defence of Colin, she also
recognised that he wasn’t likely to stay around, whereas the people he had
upset in the pub were.  The most important thing was to keep the punters
happy.

But it was one thing to tell him he couldn’t have a bed for
the night.  Quite another to bar him from the pub altogether.  So
Matthew realised that it was possible his brother
could
be in the
pub.  He didn’t pursue that idea any further.

Anne and Janet came in from work just after six.  It
wasn’t unusual for Patrick and Matthew to be back before them.  They
started early in the morning, and they only worked down the road.  It was
unusual to find dinner on the table.  So they knew something was wrong.

BOOK: Ravens Gathering
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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