|TIME TO WIN
Harry Brett (www.henrysutton.co.uk/harry-brett)
There was a time when the sound of rain was comforting, calming. Now it pissed her off. It was autumn already, she remembered. September 1. It was not her favourite month. She let the patter swirl around her head for another few minutes, realising she was listening out for something else. Breathing, snoring. But it wasn’t there. She lifted her head, opening her eyes. Propped herself on her elbows. Rich wasn’t there.
Tatty flung back her side of the duvet and climbed out onto the soft carpet, peering through the gloom for her dressing gown. She got to the blinds before spotting it in its own silky puddle, having slipped off the back of the chaise longue. Rich was forever castigating her for leaving her clothes lying around, clothes he’d spent a lot of money on.
She opened the blinds, taking in the wet grey slapping against the huge French doors. In only her nightie, short, also silk, she had an urge to open the doors, step out onto the balcony and feel the wet and cold on her skin. She needed to wake up, shake the Zimovane from her system. Looking out across the stretch of wide, dull grass that made up the top of Gorleston’s tired esplanade to a short stretch of gunmetal grey sea, which all too rapidly merged with sky, she thought better of it. She reached down for her dressing gown, stood, noticing a couple of figures, directly across Marine Parade.
They were not facing her way, not moving either, but hunched together on the pavement by the entrance to the last car park on the front, like the world they hated owed them everything. They were wearing scum gear, as Rich would call it. Hoodies, tracksuit bottoms, cheap trainers. None of which, she suspected, had ever been near a washing machine, or paid for. Smoke began swirling around their covered heads. A car, a long, light brown Lexus, rolled from the car park, seemingly nudging them out of the way, and they set off, in an absurd loping gait, towards Yarmouth, from where no doubt they had come.
Relieved, Tatty stepped back from the French doors and slipped her gown on, realising how dim the bedroom still was. Lights, she needed lights, warmth, on this most dull of early autumn mornings. She made her way straight to the en-suite, pressing the control panel as she entered. With a ceiling of halogen beating down on her she keyed the shower buttons, and caught herself in the mirror as the water gained heat. Her tan was fading fast. The air in this part of the world stripped you like sulphuric acid. Sun rarely happened.
Rich had said she shouldn’t bother coming back with him from Ibiza. She could spend another month by the pool. No, she couldn’t. There was the Smokehouse project nearing completion, her elder children to see, the house to get ready for Zach’s return, before he was off again. ‘You’ll not be seeing much of me, sweetheart,’ Rich had said. ‘We’re that close to getting the Americans on board. And I expect I’ll have to be in Athens at some point soon.’ He always wanted her out of the way. She never saw much of him. He hadn’t even come home last night. It wasn’t the first time.
Slowly the shower restored some feeling, some clarity. Stepping out, wrapping the towel around her paling body, she felt a tired, dull anger growing. He could have rung. He could have left a message. ‘I didn’t want to disturb you, sweetheart. Not in the middle of the night. I don’t know where the time went. But we made great progress. It’ll be signed within days.’ Those would be his shady words, when he did show up, she could imagine all too well. He rarely surprised her.
To check once more she walked back through to the bedroom, to her bedside table, the mobile on it. No texts or voicemails from Rich. Or email, not that that was his style. He never emailed her. He emailed his kids, but not her. She wasn’t sure he even knew her email address. Wrapped in a towel, she picked up the phone, shook it, as if that might somehow refresh the apps. Nothing changed. She wasn’t going to ring him.
Throwing it on the mound of duvet in the middle of the bed, she then picked up her watch, which until recently was his watch – a heavy white gold Rolex. He now had an Apple Watch, the 18-carat rose gold one, which he barely knew how to use. It was just past nine. Late for her, but she was still on holiday time. She put the chunky Rolex on and, edging towards the French window, she thought about what she was going to wear today. What could you wear to protect yourself against that? Not some shitty tracksuit, for sure. Oilskins. The word came to her, as if from another country. Another century anyway. Did people still wear oilskins? Did they still exist?
The scum were not in sight, anywhere up Marine Parade, but someone was at the door. The front door. She could hear the bell, ding-donging away downstairs. That sound was from another century, because the bell had been there when they’d bought the place, nearly thirty years ago now. It was the only thing they hadn’t changed. Rich thought it quaint.
Who the hell could be ringing it at this time? Her mind was now clear enough to process information, to think more rationally. It was too early for the post or a parcel delivery. It was not the kids, having forgotten their keys, which used to be such a common occurrence, because Sam and Ben were in London, where they’d been all summer, and Zach was in the Atlantic. Could Rich somehow have forgotten or lost his? It had never happened before. Besides, he wouldn’t use the bell, he’d thump on the door, and shout when no one came quick enough.
She was out of the bedroom and hurrying along the landing when she realised she was still wrapped in nothing more than a towel. But it was a far more modest piece of cloth than her dressing gown. She continued down the wide, softly carpeted stairs and along the hard oak floor of the hallway, lit only by the poor natural light seeping through the smoked security glass panel at the top of the door. She thought she could make out a head, in a hood. Just before she reached the door she felt something shift deep inside her. A small tremor.
She had a sudden, terrible urge to confront life, full on, sod any precautions that Rich was always so insistent upon. She flung open the door, not thinking whether the security chain was in place, anger and aggression coursing through. She knew it was not going to be good news. It never was when people visited them out of the blue. ‘Hello?’ she said, though faintly, short of breath.
‘Mrs Goodwin?’ A woman stepped forward.
She was shorter than Tatty, rounder and far paler, and stuffed into a too-tight dark waterproof. That’s what people wore now, waterproofs, made from high-tech synthetic fabrics. Zach had loads. ‘Yes?’ Tatty said.
‘I’m Detective Sergeant Julie Spiros, family liaison officer for Norfolk Constabulary, West Yarmouth branch, and this is Detective Inspector Peter Leonard.’ She was holding out her ID. Scum of a different sort.
The man next to her nodded, his lips shut tight in a grimace. His waterproof was hanging off him by the hood. He was tall and skeletal. He was not holding out his ID. He didn’t need to.
‘May we come in?’ Spiros said, stepping closer. ‘Perhaps we can go somewhere where you can sit down. Is anyone else in the house?’
Tatty must have nodded a yes, and then shook a no, her confidence already shot, because she found herself walking backwards with the two police officers. A chunk of cold wet cloud came inside with them. Their wet shoes squeaked on the oak flooring, and Tatty was pleased Rich wasn’t there because he would have been livid with them for not wiping their feet properly.
‘Would you like to put some clothes on?’ Spiros said. ‘I can come with you.’
Tatty looked down at the white towel. She was still damp from her shower. The air in the hall was now damp too, and cold. She would like to get dressed. But it was never quick. She was not going to let someone she didn’t know come with her either. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m OK.’
At the end of the large hall, to the left of the staircase, tucking the towel tighter around her, she didn’t know which way to go, into the sitting room, or the kitchen. Would they want tea, coffee? Was she meant to make them a drink? Rich had always treated the police with as much courtesy as he could muster. She thought she needed a coffee at least. It was the right time in the morning, so she led them that way.
In the huge kitchen, which once upon a time had been a double garage, she made straight for the marble-topped island, reached out for its thick, firm edge, turned to face her unexpected visitors, realising she was not going to make any coffee until they told her why they were there. They knew it too.
‘Would you like to sit down?’ said Spiros, glancing around the cold airy place, at the acres of glass looking out onto thick drizzle.
There were bar stools around the island, and over in a corner the glass-topped dining table, around which stood some steel chairs. It was not a comfortable kitchen. It was rarely warm, despite the under-floor heating. ‘Why are you here?’ Tatty said, a voice, her voice coming back.
‘I’m sorry, but we have some bad news,’ said Spiros. ‘Please, sit down.’ The man, Leonard, had still to say a word.
‘No,’ Tatty said. Not sure whether she was saying no to the idea of bad news, or no to the order to sit down. Her mind flashed to her children. Ben would be at work, in the City. Sam would be at work, down the road in Holborn. Zach would be being tossed around in the Bay of Biscay. It could get very rough, so she’d been told. Even at this time of the year. Had the boat capsized? Sunk? How would anyone know, so soon? An emergency signal set off? A tiny beacon in monstrous waves, Zach clinging to a life raft. He was a strong, tough kid.
‘There’s been a fatal incident,’ said Leonard.
So he did speak, when it mattered. And Tatty felt like she was in a bad TV show. She shook her head, found she was still clinging, not to a life raft but the marble top of the kitchen island. His voice was as thin and grave as his stature.
‘A car, your husband’s car, went into the river by Fish Wharf, the back of his offices,’ Leonard continued.
‘I’m afraid your husband’s body was found in the car this morning, by police divers,’ said Spiros.
‘Oh,’ said Tatty. ‘Oh.’
‘An operation is underway to retrieve the vehicle,’ said Leonard.
‘What about him – Rich?’ said Tatty. ‘Where’s he?’
‘The body has been recovered from the water,’ said Spiros, her face colouring. ‘There was nothing anyone could do. I’m so sorry.’
‘How? How did it happen?’ Tatty said. She found she’d let go of the marble top. She also found she could breathe. Zach’s boat had not sunk. He had not drowned. Rich had drowned.
‘We don’t know yet,’ said Leonard. ‘Obviously we’ll be doing everything we can to get to the bottom of what happened. Have you found any notes?’
‘Notes?’ said Tatty, feeling her mouth move in ways she knew were not appropriate.
‘Explaining perhaps why he might wish to take his life?’
‘You think he committed suicide?’ She almost laughed.
‘We’ll need to look at everything,’ Leonard continued. ‘There’ll be a post-mortem.’
‘It’s definitely him, is it?’ Tatty said, quite calmly.
‘We believe so,’ said Spiros. ‘If you’d like to see the body, we can arrange that.’
‘Yes,’ said Tatty. That was the thing to do, wasn’t it? She looked down once more at her towel, at her shins, her feet poking out and now looking rather brown against the white marble. She tried harder not to smile. ‘When?’
‘We’ll make the arrangements, and let you know.’ Spiros again. ‘Is there anyone you’d like to call, who you’d like to be here with you, this morning? Can we call anyone for you?’
There was, but Tatty was not going to say who. She felt her heart rushing forward.
‘I’m afraid,’ said Leonard, ‘that given who your husband was, we’re not sure how long his death will remain out of the media.’
‘We urge you,’ chipped in Spiros, ‘to contact family members, friends, those people who need to know, as soon possible.’
There weren’t many. Ben, Sam, Megan perhaps, Nina too – she’d be upset. ‘But Zach’s in the middle of the Atlantic,’ she said. ‘His phone won’t be working.’
‘Can I make you a cup of tea?’ said Spiros.
Tatty hadn’t noticed her accent before.