|Primary Characters:||Havers, Lynley, Peter|
|Spoilers:||Some (A Suitable Vengeance)|
|Warning:||m/m sex referred to, violence, some strong language|
|Description:||Peter, Lynley’s brother, is doing drugs again, and ends up in a very bad way. Barbara finds him and takes him home. Lynley is not pleased. And that’s before he realizes how his brother and his partner feel about each other.|
Work had kept Lynley busy, so he hadn’t made that call to his mother after all. One evening, when Helen was working late and for once he was alone, he remembered. Something about Barbara and a drug addict that Winston Nkata thought she knew something about. Some personal involvement. But he couldn’t imagine that there was anything in it. Still, he should have called mother ages ago.
His mother picked up on the first signal and sounded pleased to hear his voice. A stab of guilt shot through him. He ought to get in touch more often.
“Tommy? How are you and Helen doing?”
“We’re fine, mother. What about you?”
“Oh, I’m fine too. Tommy, have you -“
“What about Peter?”
“I was just going to ask you. Have you heard from him?”
“No. What do you mean? I thought he was with you.”
“He’s been gone for nearly a year. I told you he’d gone back to college.”
“Yes, but I thought it was just to take the final year again. That he would be back during the holidays and – Are you saying he didn’t?”
“I’m afraid so. I thought he was just keeping himself busy. And I must admit, I was hardly in a shape to -“
Lynley felt an attack of guilt again. If he hadn’t left Trenarrow alone that day –
“I’m so sorry, mother. I know that I’m partly to blame for Trenarrow -“
“No, Tommy, you mustn’t feel that way. He chose to do what he did and his death was also his choice. Anyway, about Peter – I should have been more observant after all his problems.”
“Are you saying that he hasn’t been in touch for nearly a year?”
“No. He’s been in touch now and then, but he wouldn’t tell me much. I know he was in London though and quite soon I realized that he was taking drugs again. I was going to tell you, but I didn’t want to worry you. Not after you and Helen -“
“But mother, you must tell me if anything’s the matter.”
“I discussed it with your sister and she felt the same way. You and Helen deserved this time alone.”
“Do you know where Peter is?”
“Somewhere in London, I suppose. He hasn’t been in touch for several months. I sent him a little money now and then, but after that, he hasn’t contacted me at all.”
“I’ll make enquiries and get back to you. Don’t worry, mother, I’ll find him.”
“Thank you, Tommy. Are you sure Helen and the baby are fine?”
“Yes. They’re both fine. She’s just being sick rather a lot and it’s very trying.”
“But Tommy, that’s part of being pregnant. Why, when I was carrying you -“
“Yes, yes, mother. Tell me another time. I have to make a few calls. About Peter. Are you sure you don’t have any idea of where he was?”
“He wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“I see. Well, I’ll do my best.”
Frowning worriedly, Lynley called the station, then narcotics. He already knew which parts of the city were home to the drug addicts, but he wanted an update on his information. Recalling Nkata’s implausible story about Havers and some drug addict, he called the file clerk at the station.
Within that time frame, there was really only one case it could have been. Lynley’s frown deepened as he read the name of the victim. Peter Robinson. But that last name might have been made up. And if it really had been his brother, wouldn’t that explain why Havers had been behaving so strangely?
He had to ask her. It never occurred to him to use the telephone. Instead, he got into his car, and drove over to Havers’ place. Impatiently, he rang the doorbell, forgetting momentarily both the lateness of the hour, and the fact that his pregnant wife might be missing him and worrying.
It was a while, until Havers answered the door. When she did, he got the disctinct impression that she didn’t want to see him. In fact, she looked like a woman who had something to hide.
“Hello, Barbara. Can I come in for a moment? I know it’s late but -“
“Hello, sir. Uh – actually, it’s a bad time.”
“Do you have a visitor?”
“Is your friend Azhar there?”
Again, that calculating pause. Not waiting for a reply, Lynley decided to push on anyway.
“I’m sure he’ll understand. It’s just that I need to have a quick word with you.”
“About work, sir?”
“Yes, about a case you worked a while back.”
She couldn’t think of anything more to say, but she also knew that once Lynley stepped inside, he wouldn’t be able to miss his brother. The place was too small for that. And by now, Peter would have heard his brother’s voice and recognized it. She could only hope that Peter had put his shirt back on.
Lynley’s visit had caught them at a particularly inconvenient time. At least, she was still dressed, though she suspected her hair was a mess. Of course, it often was anyway, so perhaps that wouldn’t give her away.
Wordlessly, she stepped aside and let him in. The moment she had dreaded all this time had come. She felt a tight knot form at the pit of her stomach.
As soon as Lynley stepped inside, he realized that he had been correct in his guess that Havers had something to hide. His brother was walking towards him, looking a bit healthier than he had been led to believe, if of course the Peter Robinson of the report had been him.
Peter didn’t appear to be at all embarrassed to be found in Havers’ home. But if all the report had to say was true, then – And Havers had deliberately kept it all to herself.
Whatever he had intended to say, died unsaid on his lips. He kept staring at his brother. His little brother. At least he was alright. The shirt hid the needlemarks he knew had to be on his arms and he was still abnormally thin. Despite all that, he looked better than he’d seen him – since he was a child.
“Peter, I made a call down to the station. They had a report about a case of domestic violence. The victim’s name was Peter Robinson.”
Now Peter’s gaze dropped. Apparently, he hadn’t been prepared for that. So it had to be true. Lynley felt his knees shaking. His little brother – a prostitute. A prostitute, for crying out loud? And beaten to within an inch of his life by – his pimp? This just couldn’t be real.
“Is it true? Peter.”
And when his brother wouldn’t answer him, Lynley closed the distance between them and began to shake him.
“Sir. Let him go.”
A look froze Barbara to the spot.
“Peter. Answer me.”
“Yes. It’s true.”
“But why? You should have come to me. I would have -“
“You would have what? Taken as good care of me as you have been the last 20 years?”
“I would have taken better care of you than that -“
“At least he wanted me. You never did.”
Unable to bear the emotional pain any longer, Lynley searched for an outlet and finding it his former sergeant, Havers, he whirled around, pinning her to the spot, with a look.
“How dare you keep something like this to yourself?”
“Sir, I’m sorry. I just thought -“
“You thought what?”
“I thought -“
“Leave Barbara alone. She didn’t tell you because I begged her not to. Can’t you understand why?”
Lynley didn’t want to understand. Especially not why Havers had taken it upon herself to spare his feelings. Despite that, it was only too plain to see, why poor Peter had reacted that way, and perhaps, why Havers had taken pity on him. But he didn’t want to let the matter go entirely.
“It wasn’t your decision to make. He’s my brother. How on earth could you keep this to yourself?”
“I thought – I mean, be fair, sir, how could I tell you this?”
No, he was beginning to see that perhaps it would have been impossible. And certainly Havers would have found it difficult if not impossible to deny Peter’s request, as he lay battered and broken in a hospital bed. Despite himself, Lynley could feel himself relenting.
“Alright. I suppose I understand that. But you’re coming with me now, Peter, this very minute. You’ll spend the night with me then I’ll take you home. Mother is beside herself with worry and -“
“No. Have you ever stopped to ask me what I want?”
“But you have to come home.”
“I don’t have to do anything. I want to stay here. With Barbara.”
“But we’ve imposed more than enough on her hospitality. Havers, I – I apologize for coming on so strong. It was just a shock to find out what Peter had been through.”
“You don’t get it, do you, Tommy? I don’t need you anymore. I’ve found someone who actually cares about me. So you see, I’m not going anywhere.”
“What are you talking about?”
Lynley looked at Havers, who was being unusually tense, even allowing for his behaviour, then at Peter, then back at Havers again, to finally end up staring at his brother once more.
Havers’ voice was pleading now. Surely they couldn’t be –
“Peter, are you and Havers -“
“Why not? I don’t see that it’s any of your concern.”
“But it’s impossible. You can’t be – Havers -“
Again, he was furious, though he wasn’t quite sure at whom, or over what.
“Sir, I -“
Havers was looking miserable, and at any other time, Lynley would be ashamed of himself for using such a harsh tone with her. But this was – simply impossible.
At a loss for words, he ended up storming out again, right back to his car, and without stopping to consider, he drove off, back home again.
By that time, Helen had returned and stood anxiously at the top of the stairs.
“Tommy? Is anything wrong? Have you been at work until now?”
She could tell something was wrong and she descended the stairs to take a closer look.
“What’s the matter?”
“Come and sit down and tell me about it.”
“I don’t want to sit down. I -“
“Oh, come on, Tommy. Don’t be a such a child. Let’s go into the living room and talk properly.”
For a moment, her husband looked as if he was about to strike her, then he appeared to reconsider.
“Sorry. You have no idea what I’ve found out.”
“Then tell me.”
She poured him a drink and joined him over by the fireplace.
“What about him? I thought he was with your mother.”
“So did I. But apparently he’s been gone for a long time. First to university, then to London. But he hasn’t been in touch with mother for months. Tonight I found out why.”
A thought seemed to strike her and Helen put her hand to her mouth. Her eyes widened at the implication of Tommy’s words.
“He hasn’t started taking drugs again?”
“Yes. Heroin again. But it was far worse this time. He -“
Lynley closed his eyes against the image that was forming in his mind, of his brother, his little brother, turning tricks. Of some vile man pimping him out to anyone who would have him. On the street. Dirty, filthy sex with men. Peter. Violently, he pressed a hand to his eyes to rid himself of the image.
He could feel Helen’s hands moving to pull his hand away, and heard her voice making soothing noises. With an effort, he controlled himself.
“He became a prostitute. Some man – some monster – calling himself his pimp – finally beat him so badly it was touch and go according to the doctors. Broken ribs, his face all bruised and -“
“But then, apparently Havers found him. In the hospital. And she didn’t tell me. She kept it to herself. You’d think she’d realize that this was something I needed to know.”
“I’m sure she was only trying to spare your feelings.”
“She didn’t have the right to make that decision. Yes, she was trying to spare my feelings, but if she wanted to do that, then how could she -“
Here Lynley had to stop to take a breath.
“Tonight, I also learned that she and Peter are – She took him into her home and helped him get rid of his drug addiction and -“
“But that’s fantastic. Good for her. Are you saying Peter is doing much better now?”
“Yes, but you don’t understand. They’re -“
He couldn’t bring himself to say the words. It was difficult even to imagine it. Havers and his brother.
“They’re what? Tommy, try to calm down. This is wonderful news. You really must try to pull yourself together.”
“They’re sleeping together. They claim they’re having a relationship.”
Helen failed to see what was so truly awful about that. She realized that being involved with a drug addict was a highly risky undertaking, emotionally, and she pitied Barbara for having to deal with that. But from every other point of view, she still felt this was the most fantastic news.
“Oh, but, Tommy, that’s good news as well. Why are you so upset?”
“Why? But can’t you see that it’s impossible. They can’t just – I won’t allow it.”
By now, Helen had just about had it with her husband’s hysterics. She had been willing to grant him the right to be upset after finding out what had become of his brother. But his brother was alright now. When you considered what he had been through, he had come out of it all, surprisingly well, according to Tommy. So why on earth was he being such pain?
She was getting heavier and heavier, and the symptoms of pregnancy weren’t getting any easier to bear. But her husband hardly seemed to notice. And now this outburst. If anyone had a right to go into hysterics it was her. A thought struck her. Surely she had to be wrong. But why else would Tommy react in such a way?
“What’s wrong with you, Tommy? Is this some ridiculous snobbism? Answer me. Are you upset because of Barbara’s background?”
“Of course not. But don’t you see that it’s impossible -“
“Why? I never thought I’d have to say this about you, Tommy, but you’re a snob. Doesn’t the fact that Barbara clearly saved his life mean anything to you? And that I might add, is a bit more than you’ve ever done for your brother.”
“How dare you? Didn’t you hear what I just said? Havers kept it to herself. I never got a chance to do anything.”
“From what I understand, Peter must have begged her not to tell you. Can you blame him for that? Have you told me all about your little affairs when you were at school?”
That was a shot in the dark, but she was fed up with Tommy’s behaviour. She had the satisfaction of seeing Tommy’s face turn a dark brick red. In the sudden silence, Helen was beginning to wonder what it might imply. And her husband’s next words did nothing to reassure her.
“That – That has nothing to do with any of this. And besides – it’s not fair of you to ask about that.”
“Fair? You know all about my affairs, and you’ve been tearing all my former boyfriends apart, back in those days when I wanted you, but you didn’t even see me, not as a woman.”
“That’s not the same. Helen, please don’t ask me about what happened at school. Whatever might have happened there -“
An explosive snort from Helen interrupted him, and he felt himself shrinking inside. Her brother had gone to the same type of school as well. Foolish of him not to realize that she’d know or guess exactly what used to go on in places like that. It used to be an open secret shared by everyone, and even when he was there very little had changed. But he forced himself to go on, knowing that his grasp of the conversation was slipping. Worse still, he was losing control over the entire situation.
“Helen, let me explain. Whatever happened – and it didn’t have anything to do with love or relationships – it was an entirely different matter.”
“Don’t you think I know that? Don’t you? What do you think I am? An idiot? I have been wondering, you know. Oh, don’t look like that. Of course I wondered. I know three or four men who went to schools like that, who have come out of the closet in the past couple of years, and at least two more who should have a long time ago.”
Tommy’s cheeks continued to grow hotter. He hadn’t thought it was possible to feel more humiliated, but apparently he was wrong about that, as he was about so many other things. Did Helen seriously think that he was –
“You’re not saying that you think I -“
Without being aware of what he was doing, his hands began to tug nervously at his own hair.
“Can’t you tell how much I love you? And – even though I don’t usually say this out loud – how much I want you? In every way.”
“Perhaps you should do that a bit more often. Say it out loud, I mean. No, I don’t suppose you are, not altogether I mean.”
“Not in any way. You do understand that, don’t you?”
By now every trace of anger was gone from his voice. He was pleading openly with her, and Helen could feel herself relenting. Taking pity on him, she began to back down.
“I suppose I do. But you do have a serious problem about commitment. Am I wrong about that?”
“No. You’re absolutely spot on there. But that’s got nothing to do with school. Just my family and our messy past. That business about mother -“
Sighing, Helen decided to give Tommy a break. She couldn’t bear to argue with him. Not when he was sitting there, looking like a lost little boy, his drink forgotten, and eyes dark with emotion. The news about Peter must have been a bad shock. Not that thing about Barbara, of course. Funny, she had never taken Tommy for such a snob. Barbara had to be the best thing that ever happened to poor Peter.
“I’m sorry, Tommy.”
“No, I’m sorry. Whenever I feel myself losing control, I take it out on the people who mean the most to me. Forgive me. I have to go back and talk to them. How on earth could Havers do this to me? I thought we were friends.”
“But Tommy, that’s what she was doing. Being a friend. A friend would want to spare you the shock of seeing Peter like that.”
“I have to go. You do understand, don’t you?”
“Of course. But drive carefully – and don’t be too hard on them. Or yourself.”
But he was already striding off, always the same. Helen shook her head. When would he ever change? But she wasn’t sure she wanted him to. Part of his charm was this childish behaviour. Perhaps you had to be a psychologist to appreciate it.
He found his brother and Barbara the way he’d left them. Barbara in stunned silence and Peter angrily glaring straight ahead. Lynley suspected that he had just walked in on a heated discussion, no doubt caused by his own outburst.
Though he didn’t want to be reasonable about it, Helen’s words were beginning to make sense. Barbara had been trying to be a good friend in a situation where anything she could have chosen to do would have been equally wrong. Peter – But he got no further.
“I hope you’ve come to apologize to Barbara.”
“Peter, please -“
But for the time being, he didn’t seem to hear Barbara’s pleading.
“Do you know what a silly, pompous old fool you are? Those old ideas about class – Alright, I’ll admit that I don’t know you as well as I should, considering that you’re supposed to be my brother – but I never would have imagined that you’d be such a snob.”
“Peter, it’s alright. Perhaps he’s right. I can’t be what your parents would have wanted for you.”
Was that what they’d all been thinking of him? That he despised Barbara for her background? Preposterous. But why had he reacted so strongly? Suddenly, he knew. He was beginning to see what it was and he opened his mouth to say so.
“You’re wrong. That’s not why – Please let me explain. I know I’ve behaved badly, but please – listen to me.”
“Oh, please. What else would it be?”
Peter didn’t seem at all inclined to accept any apologies, and how could Lynley blame him for that? He’d failed him. All those years ago and last year too.
“When I first began working with Barbara, I can’t say I understood her, but we did get along. Well. Now I realize that it was all thanks to her. Then we got to know each other better, and – at least I think so – we became friends. And I needed a friend. Someone who wasn’t involved in our tangled family situation. When I realized what I had, I didn’t want to share her. Not with anyone. Not with Simon or Deborah or Helen, or mother or you, Peter. She was my friend.”
Barbara was moving about uneasily, and by now feeling totally overwhelmed by the situation.
“I’m sorry, Barbara, for making such a mess of things. You must have thought, just like Peter, that I – But you have to believe me, that’s not true at all. I’d be happy to have you become my sister-in-law. There’s no one I’d rather welcome to the family.”
“Thanks, I guess, sir. I know I’m not your kind -“
“If you’re not, you should bloody well be thankful for it, Barbara. We’re not the same as everyone else. We’re bloody scum.”
“Thanks, Peter, but many of us are scum too.”
“Nonsense, Barbara, no one would do better than you. I do hope you realize just how lucky you are, Peter. If you treat her badly, you’ll answer to me.”
“Uh – Tommy. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I can look after myself. You don’t need to protect me. You’re not my brother, even if I have to admit that sometimes I’ve -“
Coughing nervously, she managed to break off in time, before she embarrassed herself further. By now, Lynley was smiling. Brother, she said? They should jolly well make sure he became her brother, before someone else snatched her away. That reminded him of Azhar.
“What happened to Azhar?”
“Oh. He got a call from his family. They’ve agreed to take him back if he marries Shala. You remember the Malik family, don’t you? Some rumour got out, about Shala.”
Now Barbara realized what was being assumed and she hurried to set the record straight.
“But Azhar and I were never. I mean – He never said anything and I -“
“Oh. Well, since he’s out of the picture, we needn’t worry about him. But Peter, Barbara, even if I was completely out of line behaving like I did earlier, you do see that we’ll have to go back to Cornwall and reassure mother. Besides, I should think you’d want to give her the good news in person.”
Barbara was feeling weak at the knees. No. Not that. Being introduced to the family.
“But sir, I mean, Tommy. What would your mother say? I just couldn’t face being treated like some gold digger -“
She couldn’t understand why both men suddenly ganged up on her and began to laugh.
“Don’t be silly. Mother isn’t like that. And Judy isn’t either. No one will mind.”
“Tommy is a silly ass, but he’s right about that. It’s your family who will be appalled when they realize what you’ve got yourself involved in.”
“I don’t have a family.”
“Oh. Well, now you do. Perhaps more than you could wish for.”
“Don’t try to dissuade her, Tommy. Barbara, we can’t stand too much of the family as a group either. So you certainly won’t be expected to put up with all of them at once. Don’t worry about it. And Tommy, this is enough for tonight. Barbara and I are tired, even if you’re not. Can we talk more about this in the morning?”
“Oh, do forgive me. What was I thinking? And Helen will be wondering where I’ve gone off to. But couldn’t you two come over to our place tomorrow so we can discuss this further?”
“We’ll see about that.”
Peter had suddenly realized how overwhelming all this must seem to Barbara and the last thing he wanted was to scare her off.
In the end, the brothers were able to talk Barbara into coming down to Cornwall, but all the way there, all the things that could go wrong, kept repeating themselves, over and over again, in her head. She didn’t want to go, but on the other hand, Peter did and part of her wanted to get things over with. If Lynley’s mother strongly opposed the relationship, at least that would prove her right. She had been unable to get Peter or Lynley to admit that her background made a difference, so eventually, she had kept quiet.
As they got closer, she made one condition. Either Lynley called his mother and informed her of developments ahead of time, or he had to take Helen and see his mother while Barbara and Peter waited in town. She also insisted on being allowed to borrow the car, should the situation blow up in her face. The last thing she wanted was being stuck at the manor house, without any means of escape.
To her mixed relief and annoyance, she couldn’t detect any sign that the lady had reacted badly to the announcement. Quite the contrary, without in any way exaggerating, Lynley’s and Peter’s mother appeared to be genuinely pleased to see her. Barbara, rather grumpily, put this down to her being a stranger. A local girl would not have fared as well, she was certain.
She remained in that belief until she was invited to another manor house, this time in Devonshire, and found that the gentleman on her right was a miner’s son, who had married an Honorable Penelope something or other, and later that evening, she was introduced to a Doris Baker, who was, rather illogically, a farm worker’s daughter, now married to a young lord something or other. By that time, Barbara, rather unreasonably decided not to discuss her own background again. She knew she was right. At the moment, it was merely impossible to prove it.
So far, though, she had been treated with respect, and even warmth, especially from Lynley’s family, but also from assorted friends and acquaintances. Lynley’s and Peter’s sister, Judy, was pleasant enough in a rather absentminded way. She appeared to be thoroughly wrapped up in her own affairs.
About nine months later, Lynley happened to run into Azhar. It appeared he had kept on his flat in London, though he had not been making his home there since he moved to fulfil his obligation to the Malik family. Though Azhar was no longer a part of Barbara’s life, Lynley had always found the man likable and stopped to say hello.
Rather stiffly, as always, but cordially enough, Azhar too, slowed down and exchanged a few words with his former neighbour’s colleague.
“And your little girl? Haddiyah?”
Azhar’s face was lit up by a rare smile.
“She is doing fine.”
“I thought -“
It occurred to Lynley, that perhaps Barbara might want to know the latest news, about Haddiyah, if not about her father, so he decided to express a little polite interest.
“You left to marry your cousin?”
“I did, yes.”
The Asian appeared reluctant to discuss his personal affairs, something Lynley could sympathise with and he prepared to back off, with a few polite phrases. However, after a moment’s pause, in which Azhar recalled just how much he owed to the policeman, he expanded on the topic.
“I’m afraid Shala is dead.”
“I’m terribly sorry to hear that. Was it very sudden?”
Lynley had an idea that perhaps the unfortunate young woman might have died in childbirth, though he was under the impression, having been led to believe so by his mother, sister and wife, that nowadays practically no woman succumbed to that tragic end.
“You might say so. Since you investigated the case of her fiancé’s death, you are no doubt familiar with the tragic family circumstances surrounding the matter -“
Which was Azhar’s delicate way of acknowledging that the Englishman knew far too much about his family’s personal affairs, but that under the circumstances, he was inclined to accept the situation.
“I’m afraid so. Dreadful. Are you telling me that -“
“Yes. Shala took her own life. We had only been married for about three months, when she failed to return home from work. On investigation, we learned that she had gone for a walk in a particularly steep stretch of the coastline, and apparently she jumped to her death. No body was found, but items of her clothing were left at the top of the cliff, and – later a note was found. At the office.”
“I’m terribly sorry. This must be very hard on both of you, especially since you and your daughter disrupted your lives here in London to make your home with Shala.”
And left Barbara distraught in the process, Lynley thought, but considering how things had turned out, he could not altogether resent Azhar’s choice.
“Quite. Haddiyah – We would have been even more bereaved if it hadn’t been for Shala’s dear friend Rachel. During our marriage, such as it was, Rachel was constantly at Shala’s side, and in time she became close to Haddiyah and myself -”
Azhar looked over Lynley’s shoulder as if expecting someone.
Lynley heard footsteps on the path behind him, and soon Azhar’s little girl was standing at his feet, smiling up at him.
“Hello. You’re a friend of Barbara’s, aren’t you?”
“Hello there. Yes, I am. We work together.”
“You’re a policeman? How exciting. Have you ever killed anyone?”
At the reprimand, Haddiyah was silenced, but Lynley could see that this in no way dampened her spirits.
“We try not to use weapons, unless we absolutely have to.”
“Oh. There’s Rachel now. Have you met Rachel, mr -“
“Call me Tommy.”
He looked inquiringly in the direction Haddiyah was indicating and caught sight of a rather large, ungraceful figure walking up to them. The woman was wearing Pakistani clothing, and Lynley had to admit they became her better than the clothes she had been wearing when he last saw her. Rachel. Shala’s devoted friend. This had to mean – Surely her presence and her clothing meant that – He turned back, facing Azhar, with an inquiring look on his face.
To his surprise, the normally imperturbable Asian appeared slightly embarrassed. Though the smile he was flashing at the young woman was anything but reluctant. Perhaps it was merely the haste with which they must have entered into marriage – because surely Azhar wouldn’t take a woman from her home without marrying her?
“Tommy. Do you know Barbara’s friend Peter?”
“What? Oh. You could say that. He’s my brother.”
This news appeared to delight Haddiyah.
“That’s wonderful. Did you have a pony as well?”
“A pony? Oh, yes. A long time ago.”
“What was his name?”
But by now, Lynley had turned his attention towards Rachel. She did seem to recognize him, and momentarily her smile faded, as she must have been remembering the circumstances of their last meeting.
“Hello. Rachel isn’t it?”
Azhar appeared to feel that an explanation was in order.
“After – Shala’s tragic death, Rachel was such a comfort to us. Without her support – We were married about four months ago. After Shala’s death, my presence in the family was no longer wanted or required -“
“Oh. I see. I’m sorry. Though their loss is your gain, when it comes to this marriage.”
Slightly embarrassed, Lynley thought he had noticed something unusual about Rachel’s figure. No longer merely overweight, the girl’s midriff appeared to have swelled out more than an ordinary weight gain might cause – If so, Azhar had certainly wasted no time.
Rachel smiled happily. Apparently, the marriage was a happy one.
Haddiyah was still prattling on as enthusiastic as always. Poor child, having lost three maternal figures or would-be new mothers in just a few years, she still appeared as bouyantly happy as always.
“I’m going to have a baby brother or sister.”
Again, Azhar appeared a bit troubled by the conversation.
“I see congratulations are in order.”
In the rather forced conversation that followed Lynley omitted to mention his brother’s and Barbara’s relationship, out of consideration for Azhar’s and Rachel’s feelings, and for whatever reason, he also neglected to mention his own family.
When the meeting was over, he knew he had to decide what to tell Barbara, or how to tell her. He fancied that the topic of Azhar was still as sensitive one. At least Azhar had not been able to bring himself to ask about Barbara, and perhaps Haddiyah had been too busy, at the moment, to think of any more questions to ask. But he knew the two couples would inevitably run into each other from now on.
The young bi-racial couple appeared to be very happy. Their new home was a very small and simple cottage, but that didn’t appear to bother them. Soon their neighbours learned that the young husband was a business man, in a small way, and that the young bride was a designer of jewelry. Since the young woman’s English was quite without accent, the nosier of their new neighbours had been unable to determine her country of origin, especially since the young woman always wore English clothes. But there were those who claimed to detect a distinctly southern accent in both their speech patterns.
Though where they were from, they never actually told anyone. In any case, the village was a small one, but not old-fashioned enough to resent newcomers. Most of the people who lived there were from the nearest town anyway, young people, or retirees who wished for a more rural setting.
“Are you sure you’re not homesick, Shala?”
Her face betrayed no emotion, and Theo was beginning to think she wouldn’t answer him as so many times before. Then her lips formed a smile.
“My home is here with you, Theo.”
He was careful not to move too closely to her, and unnerve her. Even if she did not wake up screaming from nightmares anymore, he had his share of dreams in which he confronted Muneer. The monster. At least he was now paying for his other crimes.
After a while, Theo deemed it safe to take her hand. It was ridiculous how happy the fact that she didn’t snatch hers away, made him. Where other newlyweds were rarely outside of the bedroom, he cherished the moments when he was allowed to hold her hand, or sit next to her on the sofa.
A thought appeared to strike her and her smile vanished.
“Are you sure you don’t regret anything? Your business -“
“I can do business anywhere, you know that. And even if I couldn’t, do you think I’d want to spend my life without you?”
“You could have had another wife, one who -“
“I don’t want any other wife. Shala, you make me happier than anyone ever could. So stop talking like that.”
“But don’t you want children?”
This was a familiar topic of their conversations. In Shala’s world, all men wanted sons. He wouldn’t have minded a child or two, but Shala was what mattered. She was all he needed.
“Children don’t necessarily make a happy marriage. Besides, we could adopt or -“
She stared at him in horror. A stranger’s child in their family? How could he even consider such a thing? If she weren’t such a miserable, broken up wreck of a woman, he could have sons, his own sons.
“Or something. Don’t worry about it. I don’t want to share you with anyone for a long time. We’ll talk about this later. Come on, let’s go for a walk. You know you love the woods out here.”
Again, the tentative smile appeared and fluttered around her lips for a while. Yes, she did love the woods and the birdsong and the flowers. The loss of her parents was after all a reasonable price to pay for this freedom, this peace of mind. One day, she might even learn to tolerate more of Theo’s touch. In the meantime, he was there, looking after her, as she was looking after him.
She refused to consider how she had repaid Azhar’s kindness. And poor little Haddiyah – But she would never have made him a good wife. At least now, he was free to marry someone of his own choice. That policewoman – what was her name? Hayes? Hadley? Or some other English girl, who would make him a good wife.
She held out her hand to Theo and they followed the path up into the woods behind their house.