Long Lost Page 26

She pulled up on her pink \'n\' purple leg warmers and winked at Win. ’’A bed,’’ she repeated. In case he wasn\'t getting the drift.

’’Sounds enchanting.’’

’’Want to see it?’’

’’Madam’’ Win faced her full ’’I would rather have my semen removed via a catheter.’’

Another wink. ’’That a fancy way of saying yes?’’

I said to Manderson, ’’Can you tell me about the accident?’’

’’Who the hell are you anyway?’’

’’A friend of the driver\'s.’’

’’That\'s a load of bull.’’

’’Why do you say that?’’

He took another deep sip. Bananarama ended. Duran Duran\'s classic ballad ’’Save a Prayer’’ came on. A hush fell over the bar. Someone turned down the lights as the clientele lifted lighters and started swaying as if they were at a concert.

Nigel held up his lighter too. ’’I\'m just supposed to take your word for it that she sent you?’’

He had a point.

’’And even if you were, so what? That accident was . . . how long ago did you say?’’

I had said it twice. He had heard it twice. ’’Ten years ago.’’

’’What would she need to know now?’’

I started to ask a follow-up question but he hushed me. The lights went lower. Everyone sang that we should not say a prayer right now, but for some reason we should save it till the morning after. The morning after what? They all rocked back and forth from drink and song with their lighters still raised, and I feared with all the big hair this had to be a major fire hazard. Most patrons, including Nigel Manderson, had tears in their eyes.

This was getting us nowhere. I decided to prod a bit. ’’The accident didn\'t happen the way your report says.’’

He barely glanced at me. ’’So now you\'re saying I made a mistake?’’

’’No, I\'m saying you lied and covered up the truth.’’

That made him stop. He lowered the lighter. So did others. He looked around, nodding at friends, looking for support. That wasn\'t my concern. I kept my eyes on him. Win was already checking out the competition. He was armed, I knew. He didn\'t show me the weapon and I know that they are supposed to be hard to come by in the UK. But Win had at least one firearm on him.

I didn\'t think we\'d need it.

’’Piss off,’’ he said.

’’If you lied about something, I\'m going to find out what.’’

’’Ten years later? Good luck. Besides, I didn\'t have anything to do with the report. It had all pretty much been taken care of when I got there.’’

’’What\'s that supposed to mean?’’

’’I wasn\'t called first, pally.’’

’’Who was?’’

He shook his head. ’’You said Mrs. Collins sent you?’’

Suddenly he remembers the name and that she was married. ’’Yes.’’

’’Well, she\'d know. Or maybe ask her friend who called it in.’’

I let that sink in. Then: ’’What was her friend\'s name?’’

’’Damned if I know. Look, you want to go tilting at windmills? I just signed the report. I don\'t give a crap anymore. I got my pitiful pension. Nothing they can do to me. Yeah, I remember it, okay? I got to the scene. Her friend, rich girl, I don\'t remember her name. She called it in to someone at the top. One of my superiors was already there, a pissant maggot named Reginald Stubbs, but don\'t bother calling him, cancer ate him up three years ago, thank Christ. They carted off the little girl\'s body. They rushed the mom to the hospital. That was all I know.’’

’’Did you see the girl?’’ I asked.

He looked up from his drink. ’’What?’’

’’You said they carted off the little girl\'s body. Did you actually see it?’’

’’It was in a bag, for chrissake,’’ he said. ’’But judging by the amount of blood, there wouldn\'t have been much to see even if I looked inside.’’

15

IN the morning Terese and I headed to Karen Tower\'s house while Win met with his ’’solicitors’’ to do some of the legal legwork, like getting the car accident\'s file and man, I didn\'t even want to think about this figuring out how to exhume Miriam\'s body.

We took a London black taxi, which compared to the rest of the world\'s cab services is one of life\'s simple pleasures. Terese looked surprisingly good and focused. I\'d filled her in on my conversation with Nigel Manderson at the pub.

’’You think the woman who called it in was Karen Tower?’’ she asked.

’’Who else?’’

She nodded but said no more. We drove in silence for a few minutes when Terese leaned forward and said, ’’Drop us off at the next corner.’’

The driver did. She started down the street. I\'ve been to London only a few times so it wasn\'t like I knew the area, but this wasn\'t Karen Tower\'s address. Terese stood on the corner. The sun was starting to get strong. She shaded her eyes. I waited.

’’This is where the accident happened,’’ Terese said.

The corner could not have been more nondescript.

’’I haven\'t been back here.’’

I saw no reason that she should have been, but I said nothing.

’’I came off of that exit ramp. I took it too fast. A truck floated into my lane right around there.’’ She pointed. ’’I tried to turn away but . . .’’

I looked around as if there might still be some telltale clue a decade later, strange skid marks or something. There was nothing. Terese started walking down the street. I caught up to her.

’’Karen\'s house well, I guess it\'s Rick and Karen\'s house, right? it\'s down the roundabout on the left,’’ she said.

’’How do you want to handle it?’’

’’What do you mean?’’

’’Do you want me to go alone?’’ I asked.

’’Why?’’

’’Maybe I can get more out of her.’’

Terese shook her head. ’’You won\'t. Just stay with me, okay?’’

’’Sure.’’

There were dozens of people already at the house on Royal Crescent. Mourners. I hadn\'t really considered that, but of course. Rick Collins was dead. People would come by to comfort the widow and pay their respects. Terese hesitated at the foot of the outside steps, but then she took my hand firmly.

When we first entered, I felt Terese stiffen. I followed her gaze to a dog a bearded collie;I know because Esperanza has the same kind curled up on a mat near the corner. The dog looked old and worn and wasn\'t moving. Terese let go of my hand and bent down to pet the dog.


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