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Authors: Charlotte Link

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The Watcher (61 page)

BOOK: The Watcher
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John had heard the whole story from Gillian. That night in the Peak District, she had told him everything. She had been agitated, close to despair and – in spite of everything – full of sympathy for the woman who had been her best friend.

‘Tara Caine herself is a victim,’ he said to Christy. ‘She experienced some terrible things. The certainty that she will go to jail for the rest of her life doesn’t really make me feel good.’

Christy shrugged her shoulders. ‘That’s just how it is sometimes. When are things ever black and white? And don’t forget that three completely innocent people lost their lives. Carla Roberts and Anne Westley were two harmless elderly women who either failed to see or underestimated the terrible situation another woman was in, but apart from that they hadn’t done anything wrong. Thomas Ward never hurt a fly, but just happened to get in the way of a lunatic on her crusade for revenge. And as for Caine-Roslin: yes, she may have been a terrible mother, and she should have gone to jail years ago for what she did to her daughter, but Tara Caine’s way of solving the problem was not right. She should not just have killed her, however much we might understand the motive. It’s not acceptable in our society.’

‘I know. Of course I know that.’

He braked in front of Gillian’s house. With its big bay window and lattice windowpanes, it looked like a fairy-tale gingerbread house. He could understand that she no longer wanted to live there. Apart from the fact that she had found her husband shot dead in the dining room, which must make being in that room unbearable, the house no longer suited her. It had been an idyllic little nest for her family and herself with its gable roof, little turret and the fruit trees in the garden.

That was all in her past now. In a way that could hardly be more horrific, she had become another person.

He got out of his car and walked up the path to the front door, where he rang the bell. He hoped that she had not left earlier than she had planned. But the door opened.

Gillian.

It was just after two and he had expected to find her more or less ready to go on her trip. But she stood there in black leggings and a thick pullover, wearing slippers on her bare feet.

‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t expecting a visit.’

‘I’m sorry for arriving so unexpectedly. I just thought . . . well . . .’ He was annoyed with himself for suddenly being as tongue-tied as an eighteen-year-old boy. ‘I just wanted to see you again. And I can drive you to the station if you’d like.’

‘Come in,’ she said.

He stepped inside. The packing cases were still piled up in the hall. But he could not see a suitcase or travel bag.

‘I’m not going to Norwich,’ she explained.

‘No?’

‘No. I called my parents this morning. They’re bringing Becky and Chuck here at the weekend. At the start of February Becky really has to go back to school and we need some time to get used to one another again before then.’

He looked at her.

‘Would you like an espresso?’ she asked.

‘Yes please.’ He followed her into the kitchen. ‘What do you mean, Gillian? That Becky will go back to school
here
?’

‘For now, at any rate. Until I’ve sold the house and found somewhere else.’ She filled the machine with coffee beans. ‘I don’t want to move to Norwich.’

‘No?’

‘No. I had a good think about it last night. And tonight. It doesn’t feel right, you know. Back to my childhood home. Back to where my parents live. I thought I would find peace there, feel secure. But now I know I won’t find either anywhere. Not in the foreseeable future, anyway.’ She put the little espresso cups in position and turned on the machine. ‘I can’t run to my family for protection.’ She thought for a minute and then added, ‘It would be completely wrong. I didn’t act very grown-up before, and that has to change. I have to finally grow up.’

‘I can understand what you mean,’ said John. ‘But I think you’ve been very grown up these last few days. Whatever things were like before, and however hard on yourself you are about that, during this nightmare we’ve all just come out of you were strong every single minute. And very brave.’

That was why when he had seen her fairy-tale house he had had similar thoughts to what she was saying now. The house did not fit any more. After everything that had happened to Gillian, she had to move forward. She could not stay where she was, nor go backwards.

‘I’m in awe of you,’ he said.

She gave him his espresso. ‘I thought I’d look for a flat for Becky, Chuck and myself in London. I won’t sell the company. I’ll run it on my own. It will be hard work, so it’s important that I don’t have a long commute. After all, I’ll have Becky to look after too. But it will all work out. Other single mums manage it.’

‘Of course it will. You’ll manage.’ He had to take care not to let too much happiness, relief, yes,
joy
, show in his voice. She was staying. She was even moving to London. He breathed in deeply. His heart was beating fast.

She could feel what he did not express. ‘John . . .’

And he knew what she wanted to say. ‘I know you need time, Gillian. But perhaps we can just go for a drink. Or a meal? We can get to know each other better. I mean, until now . . .’

‘. . . we’ve just slept together,’ completed Gillian, as he hesitated. ‘Yes, it would be nice to get to know you. But I can’t promise anything, John.’

‘Of course not. I just want a chance. Nothing more than that.’ He drank his espresso and put the cup down on the table. He hoped that meetings like this one and the one the week before would not be the only ones they had: meetings where he came by without an invitation and she was polite enough to offer him a coffee before he had to say goodbye. He wanted so much more. Right now he would have liked to hold her and bury his face in her hair, feel her heart beating. But he knew that the next step had to come from her. Nothing else would do.

‘You’ll definitely get a chance,’ said Gillian in a tender voice. She smiled warmly at him. ‘John, I owe my life to you. The police would have never found us in time. If you hadn’t—’

‘No!’ He put his finger to her lips briefly. ‘No more about it! You already thanked me a hundred times that night in the Peak District. It’s all right. I don’t want . . .’

‘What?’

‘Whatever the future holds for the two of us, I don’t want it to be based on gratitude. I mean, should you call me to agree to meet up, which I so hope you will, please don’t do it because you think you owe it to me. That would be terrible. Just do it if you’d really like to.’

She nodded. ‘I
can
promise you that.’

The two of them said nothing for a few moments, and then John said, ‘Well, I’d better go. You must have a lot to do.’

‘Any news about Tara?’

‘She’s in custody. She’s also confessed everything to the police.’

‘I feel so sorry for her. I know that she did unforgivable things, but I can’t help it, John: I see her as a victim, not a perpetrator.’

‘But she can’t be allowed to go free. She is seriously ill and she would be a danger to society. Now she can get the psychological help that she’s needed for years.’

‘If it’s possible, I’ll visit her. In the future.’

‘I’m sure it will be possible.’

‘What about the woman who triggered all this? Liza Stanford?’

John had talked to Christy about Liza too.

‘Liza has pressed charges against her husband,’ he told her. ‘The police took her to a refuge for abused women. Her son is with her. Of course it’s not easy. She has to prove that her accusations are true. Dr Westley, who would have been a good witness, is dead. And Caine, whose testimony would have carried weight too, is now in prison for four murders. Stanford will shield himself behind armies of top-notch lawyers. Unfortunately, the cards aren’t stacked against him. But we’ll have to see. The main thing is she’s not going back to him. I hope so, at least.’

‘She was just a pebble that set a whole chain of terrible things in motion.’

‘Yes, she was the trigger for it all,’ John said. ‘But the pressure building up over the decades in Tara Caine had reached such a level that it was bound to blow. If Liza Stanford hadn’t caused it, someone else would have. Things were going to get ugly. In my opinion, it was inevitable.’

He was right, Gillian knew. And she also knew that Tara would have carried on killing. She could still hear the shocking sentence that Tara had uttered that night in the Peak District:
I can’t stop killing my mother
.

It might have seemed like a good deed when she decided to help Liza Stanford in her desperate situation, but certainly by the time Tara murdered Lucy Caine, her crusade against failure to render assistance had become a personal thirst for vengeance. She had begun to go and look for victims. She had been happy to hear about Carla Roberts and Anne Westley. Regarding Gillian herself, Tara had needed to use rather obscure reasoning, claiming to be protecting Becky from her mother’s lover, a man who had never been convicted of anything. Probably she would have started bending logic more and more, declaring innocent people to be her personal enemies.

Gillian accompanied John to the door. It seemed to him like an act of self-denial to go, but he knew it was the right thing.

‘You’ll be in touch?’ he asked. ‘You’ll tell me where you’re moving to, won’t you?’

‘Yes,’ she promised.

He reached out his hand and stroked her cheek, then went down the path to his car.

When he turned around once more, she had already closed the door.

Nevertheless, he was happy. He was so happy he could jump for joy.

He looked down the road and saw Samson walking up it towards him. Samson had pulled a woolly hat down over his eyes and was wearing a scarf wrapped several times around his neck. He was sauntering along as if he just happened to be passing by, but John thought immediately:
he’s doing it again. He’s hanging round Gillian’s house again
. As if that hadn’t got him in enough trouble already!

‘Hi, Samson,’ he said.

As always when someone talked to him, Samson seemed to be taken by surprise. ‘Oh, hi, John,’ he said. He nodded towards the house. ‘Everything OK w-with Gillian?’

‘Everything’s fine.’

‘It’s a shame she’s moving so far away.’

‘Yes . . .’ said John vaguely. He had no wish to let Samson know about Gillian’s new plans. Let Gillian, if she wanted to. Or let Samson try and find out.

‘I’m just out for a walk,’ said Samson. He looked anxious and worried. John looked down the road, to the shabbier end, where Samson lived.

‘How are things at home?’ he asked. ‘Your sister-in-law apologise to you, did she?’

Samson shook his head. ‘She wouldn’t do that. She just blamed me for running away. And she was annoyed because I’m back.’

‘She should be ashamed of herself.’

‘But actually it w-was good she did w-what she did,’ said Samson. ‘I mean, reporting me. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone into hiding. And I wouldn’t have driven to the Peak District with you. And who knows then how everything would have ended.’

‘When you put it like that, we really should be grateful to your sister-in-law,’ said John. He did not mention the fact that without Samson’s careless message on Gillian’s answering machine, Tara Caine might never have felt herself cornered and forced to try to escape north with a hostage. He was happy to let Samson feel like a hero.

‘Still,’ he continued. ‘How long are you going to put up with things as they are? With being an unwelcome guest in your own family and so dreaming your way into other lives, because your own reality is so hard to bear?’

In the next moment he regretted his words. ‘Excuse me. It’s none of my business actually.’

‘It is. I mean, don’t worry,’ Samson said. ‘You’re right.’

John looked at him and thought of the night in the Peak District. It was very strange to imagine this awkward, stuttering, insecure man as a knight in shining armour, but luckily John did not have to imagine it; he knew what had happened. Samson had acted bravely and intelligently, with his head and his heart. He deserved another chance.

‘You know what, I’ve been thinking,’ John said. Which was not true. He had just had the thought. ‘Last Friday, one of my staff resigned. That means I’ve got a vacancy. What do you think?’

Samson’s jaw dropped. ‘You mean that I . . . ?’

‘You’ve just proven that in moments of great pressure you keep calm and do just what is needed,’ said John. ‘And I can promise you that the situations my staff face are generally much less dangerous. Would you like to give it a go?’

Samson could still scarcely believe his ears. ‘That would be . . . that would be . . .’

‘You need work,’ said John. ‘And if I can give you one piece of advice: move out from your brother’s place. Ask him to pay you your half of the inheritance. If he takes out a mortgage on the house, he can do that. And then find somewhere to live near where you’ll be working. A small flat where you can really feel at home. It’s time . . .’ He hesitated. He hated it when people intervened in his life, and that was just what he was doing in Samson’s.

‘What?’ asked Samson.

‘It’s time to start a new life,’ said John.

Silently he added:
For all of our sakes
.

‘You’re right,’ said Samson. He said it confidently, without hesitating or stuttering. Standing there in the bright light of a clear winter’s day, it was as if something had already changed inside him.

‘Yes, you really are right,’ he repeated.

All of a sudden he smiled, and John understood that he was witnessing a rare moment. Samson was happy.

Charlotte Link is one of Europe’s bestselling crime writers and has sold more than 16 million novels in Germany alone. Her atmospheric brand of psychological suspense made
The Watcher
and
The Other Child
massive No.1 bestsellers in Germany. Charlotte has been nominated for the Fiction Category of the German Book Prize and her work has been widely adapted for TV, most recently
The Other Child
.

Also By Charlotte Link
BOOK: The Watcher
2.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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