You’ve come so far with me and the end is close. Continue to enjoy the ride.
For those who haven’t been following the free read, I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have featured here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search by chapter number. If you missed the start, you’ll find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends along. As an author, I want people to read my writing, simple as that.
Sunday 12th September
‘Sorry? Sorry? Does that bring back Netta’s laughter and joy? Does sorry make it better? Will sorry restore her to me? You think you’re sorry, you shit of shits; you will be when I’m done with you.’
‘Matilda! Leigh was out all night looking for her. It wasn’t his fault she ran off the way she did, she was always doing it.’
‘You would stick up for him. You’re as good as his mother, you’re bound to side with him.’
‘Want someone to blame, Matilda? And you do. Blame the devil who chased her across that fell and threw her into the pit.’
She looked at Old Hodge’s face and something reached her. He had a way of getting through to people with few words.
She broke down and wept without restraint and allowed me to comfort her this time. Ma made the ubiquitous pot of tea as I nodded my thanks at Old Hodge.
When she’d sobbed herself into exhaustion, she asked me to explain, to tell her exactly what had happened. It was a chance to explain to Ma and Old Hodge as well and they listened with few interruptions.
‘When’s Faith due back home?’
‘Week on Saturday.’
‘Netta’ll be long underground by then. I don’t know what…’
‘Not if there’s been foul play. They may not release her… her body, if there has to be a trial.’
But they did. The inquest followed on the Wednesday and they found her to be the victim of unlawful killing by a person or persons unknown. She’d been brutally raped and one of the fractures to her skull had occurred before she’d been thrown into the pit. Conjecture was she’d been chased, caught, bound and raped. She’d then been knocked unconscious, and dumped in the pit, probably still alive until she hit the bottom. It sickened and enraged me but I was powerless to act in any way at all.
Heacham had been the obvious culprit except his own time of death coincided with Netta’s. Whilst the forensic and medical evidence allowed a short overlap between the two events, it was unlikely he could have made it back to his cottage and done away with himself in the time allowed. In any case, there was nothing at the cottage to indicate he’d been out in that rain. His clothes were dry. His note, confessing relatively minor sins other than the multiple rapes of Hope, made no mention of Netta’s death.
To our relief, the coroner released Netta’s body for burial, though not cremation, once all tests were done. There was little forensic evidence to help the case. The rapist had either used a condom or removed himself before ejaculation. The only semen found was mine. There were no foreign pubic hairs mingled with hers, no skin, raked from his back, beneath her fingernails. And the rain had washed her skin clean of any pollution from her murderer, no fibres, nothing on her that wasn’t her own. Only one thing puzzled them; the grit and tiny shreds of vegetation lodged within the flesh of her bruised vulva. The conclusion was she’d been kicked by a booted foot. But whether before or after the rape, no one could say.
The guilty rock he’d used to club her was belatedly discovered on the hillside where I’d waited for the dawn. Nearby, in the heather, lay the cup from my flask. I hadn’t even missed it. When they arrested me for the crime and I admitted my complicity, Ma’s strident denials were treated with indifference. But Matilda came to my rescue, explained to them in terms they understood and secured my release. She drove me home in time for me to change for the funeral.
She remained at Longhouse, as Faith was due back the next day and she wanted to be there. I spent the afternoon in a state of restlessness that drove Matilda and Zizi almost to despair. They sent me to the office with instructions to do something useful and to get out of their hair. Going through the backlog of mail on my desk, I came across Faith’s letter.
I read her words with growing disbelief and almost tore up her pastel sheets of pain. I almost took her things and threw them on the drive. I almost laughed at her amazing innocence and honesty and callous indifference about my feelings. How could she do that in cold blood and then write to me about it in such candid detail? How could she say she loved me and then go off and screw a stranger, just for some peculiar experience? How could she…?’
I was so confused and bitter, I gave the letter to Matilda and Zizi, asked them the questions, how?
‘How could she, in perfect innocence, do just once what you did all the time in full knowledge of the facts before you finally took her? How could she fulfil what she saw as a sacred duty to her dad? How could she not?’
‘How could Faith forgive you all the pain and rejection you heaped on her? How could she hang on to her love for you when all you gave her was hurt and dismissal? I know how, Leigh, because through all the hopelessness and pain I love you just as she does.’
‘Oh, Leigh, what’ve we done to them, to Netta and to Faith? What have we given them? What lessons have we taught? I hope they’ll forgive us.’
We went to separate beds and slept uneasily. Zizi, who’d come up, at Ma’s request, to support me for the funeral, spent the night in Faith’s bed and left first thing on Saturday morning. I’d slept alone since Faith had left.
I saw her car come up the lane. Matilda stood beside me, waiting in the office. Faith was getting out of her car when I went out to meet her. The smile of joy and expectation on her face died in concern as she looked into my face.
‘Leigh, what’s happened?’
I had it all planned; how I would lead up to the events, skirt around the final tragedy, leave out the gruesome details and break it to her gently.
‘Netta’s been raped and murdered.’
She looked at me for the briefest of moments as if I’d uttered some meaningless foreign phrase, then she took me in her arms to comfort me. She, who’d lost the sister she loved, supported me in my grief.
She had to know it all and I felt compelled to tell her. Matilda was silent throughout and let me tell the tale in its entirety. At last I made my confession to the woman I loved. ‘It’s my fault. If I hadn’t taken advantage of you, she would never…’
‘If that makes it your fault, Leigh, it makes it mine as well. You took no advantage. I invited you. If our making love caused Netta’s rape and murder, then I’m as much to blame as you.’
‘No. No, you were an innocent party in all this.’
‘Leigh, you’re wrong. It must be both or neither of us. You did nothing to me Leigh. What we did we did together, with each other. I was no more innocent, or guilty, of our making love than you were. What we did was make love with each other, not you to me, nor me to you. If not making love, then what can be mutual between two people?’
‘You’re not to blame, Faith.’
‘Then neither are you. Did I run off to the hills to sulk every time you had sex with Netta?’
‘You found other ways to retaliate.’
‘Once, and under extreme provocation and for reasons far more complex than your display of mutual obsession.’
‘There’s no one else to blame.’
‘Except Netta herself.’
Matilda drew in breath sharply and looked at me. But, though I found it hard to think of Netta being culpable, I couldn’t argue with Faith’s logic and I was too drained to fight.
Faith understood the quandary she’d given me and softened her attack. ‘There’s only one person to blame, Leigh: the brutal bastard who did it.’
‘They don’t know who it was.’
I saw my own incredulity echoed on Matilda’s face.
‘Have they interviewed Mervyn?’
‘He’s got an alibi.’
‘With those brothers, I bet he has. It doesn’t mean he didn’t do it.’
‘No one can prove it.’
Matilda thought we needed time and space. She went home, her way of life under review, her head and heart full of ‘if only’ and ‘what if?’ and the joy in her eyes extinguished.
Faith and I went to our separate beds that night, until she came to me in the early hours seeking and offering comfort. We embraced and found some help in that, but for the first time ever, I was incapable of making love.
‘It’s not important. It isn’t what I came for, Leigh. I just wanted to hold you and be in your arms, be next to you, that’s all.’
But I didn’t sleep that night. When she woke, I tried again, but the image of Netta lying used and broken in that pit wouldn’t leave my mind and I couldn’t respond to Faith’s touch. All I could see was Netta’s cold abandoned body, hurt, abused and defiled. I left my bed, disturbed and anxious at this new torment.
‘Come back and hold me, Leigh.’
But I wanted more than that, I needed more. I feared each time I moved to touch her I would find that appalling image of Netta excluding all else from my mind. I went down to breakfast alone.
So, the days and nights went by and nothing changed except that the lack of sex grew like a cancer between us, cold and cruel in its isolating force.
Faith came to me later that week with pictures from her holiday, pictures of her at the cottage, in the sea, lying under the sun, all taken with me in mind and all wonderful but useless now. Netta, lifeless and defiled, invaded my mind every time I looked at her.
She undressed me one evening, in the sitting room, and removed her own clothes, simply and without ceremony, slowly unveiling her beauty for me. She knelt before me, and all I could see was the image of Netta, damaged and used in the pit.
So, at my unexplained request, we slept in separate beds and I avoided her touch for the pain of the memory. Netta lived on in my mind when I was alone. I printed the series of pictures I’d taken of her in the hills, intending to produce a book. But the prints became mine and I wouldn’t share them with others; I didn’t deserve the acclaim they would bring. As long as I kept her mine, she would still be around and untouched.
Faith did her work and daily tried reaching toward me, but I couldn’t bear the pain of her disappointment.
Four weeks after we buried Netta, Faith came to me with tears flowing unchecked down her cheeks. She was desolate and needed comfort only I could give.
‘Eric’s dead. The doctor’s just phoned me.’
It did something to her, that news. She seemed to withdraw into herself, seemed to lose her will to reach me. The funeral, another that year, brought Zizi faithfully back up, this time to offer support and comfort to Faith.
And that night I took Zizi to my bed and fucked her and fucked her and fucked her all night.
‘Bastard, aren’t you, Leigh? I came to comfort Faith and you take advantage of me, instead. I’m glad I’ve been some use to you. I can’t hate you; I still love you too much. But I don’t like you, Leigh, I don’t like you one little bit.’
‘It’s because I love her I can’t…’
‘It’s because you love yourself too much, you selfish shit.’ And Zizi returned to London.
Faith rescued Bruce from certain death at the local vet’s and brought him, with my grudging acceptance, to Longhouse. Later that week, she found she would inherit the cottage that Eric had shared with her father. She and Bruce moved out of Longhouse the following day.
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