Shadows Extract

Chapter 1

I was sitting in an interrogation room when Leo Mardell hanged himself.

He died alone, but I shared it with him. I didn’t realise I was doing so, because I was busy being questioned by D.I. Overly.

‘So, just to go over this again, Mrs. Lawrence, you knew nothing at all about the handling of these funds.’

If Overly had been anything but a policeman, I might have found him droll and likeable. But he was a policeman, so I refused to melt. I was furious with my boss Leo for involving me in his mess, furious that I hadn’t walked away from the company the moment I realised something was fishy. Now I was furious with D.I.Overly for his questions.

‘Yes, let’s go over it again. I repeat: I’ve worked for Leo Mardell for less than three months, I deal with clients and I deliver the service they pay for. Period. I have no idea what happens to their money once it reaches the accounts department. It never occurred to me to ask.’

Of course it had occurred to me. I’d nagged Leo about it from day one. The last time I’d spoken to him, two days before, I’d been so blunt, he was sweating and grey round the gills. Why on earth had the idiot chosen to mess up a perfectly good and thriving business? And worse, involve me.

For a moment, trapped in that alien police station, I was drowning in irrational despair, as if an endless succession of locks were snapping shut around me.

Don’t be so bloody ridiculous, Kate Lawrence. You’re not the one in the shit. This must be D.I.Overly’s interrogation technique getting to you.

‘All right, Mrs. Lawrence.’ Overly rocked back in his chair and pressed his thumbs together, grinning ‘Or can I call you Kate?’

‘No, you can call me Mrs. Lawrence.’ Damned if I was going to give him an inch. Again, I felt that rising tsunami of hopelessness.

‘Madam?’ he suggested.

‘You dare!’ I refused to smile.

Then it happened. For the smallest fraction of a second, the universe turned upside down, and when it righted itself, something was missing. The panic, the guilt, the trapped despair were gone, and with them Leo. As I sat there, facing D.I. Overly, Leo Mardell vanished from existence. The universe swung back round to hit me in the solar plexus. A familiar nausea swept through me. My hand shook on the coffee-stained interview table, though I fought to still it.

‘Mrs. Lawrence? Are you okay?’

The policewoman who was chaperoning us had her hand on the back of my neck, ready to force my head between my knees.

‘Mrs. Lawrence?’ Overly’s face was alarmingly close. I could see his consternation. ‘Are you feeling faint?’

‘What?’ I shook myself free of the policewoman. ‘No, I’m fine. Sorry. Just – it’s hot.’

‘I thought you were going to pass out.’ Overly sighed with relief. ‘All right, Mrs. Lawrence, I don’t think we need to continue this interview. Get yourself into the fresh air.’

I stood up, determined to regain control.

He opened the door for me. ‘We may need to speak to you again, after we’ve re-interviewed Mr. Mardell.’

‘Yes.’ Good luck with that, I thought. You can interview Leo all you like but he won’t reply. Because he’s dead.

I’d felt him die. That’s what I did: I felt Death. It’s not a party trick I’d recommend. Not remotely entertaining. All it had ever done was make my life a hell.

I walked out of the police station, my guts twisting themselves in knots, and I went home to wait for the news.

The police found him hanging. He left a suicide note. More of an extended essay than a note, excusing his own fall from grace, blaming his ex-wife, the Inland Revenue, over-litigious clients and an international conspiracy of bankers. I suppose I was expected to be pleased because it exonerated me.

Legal exoneration. It’s good in theory, but it never quite cuts through the smoke of innuendos and doubts that trail behind it. In the following days, I sat mourning the hopeless man and listlessly appraising my CV, wondering how to word the latest addition in something approaching a positive light.

I wasn’t rushing to look for something new, while I had Leo’s death to work through. Too late to realise that the despair I’d experienced at the police station had been his, echoing across the city to me in his last frantic moments. Could I have stopped him? I was sick to think that my harsh words might have helped push him to the edge. That was why I felt obliged to agree, when I was asked to go round to his home to sort out his things.

The fact that there was no one else, no family or close friend, just a temporary work colleague, to take on the duty, only increased the poignancy of his death. I was willing to do anything that might expunge a little of my guilt.

The moment I turned the key in the lock of Leo’s Pimlico apartment, I knew I’d made a mistake.
The chaos created by Leo or the police, hunting for incriminating papers, was lost on me. All I could focus on was the wall where he’d been hanging.

I didn’t need the police chalk marks, the stain on the floor, to tell me where it was. That coil of panic and screaming regret tightening around me in the police station had burst from his body the moment he’d died, to career round the room seeking dispersal on the wind. But there had been no escape, so it had turned back on itself and eaten like acid into the plaster and brick. It was enshrined now in the fabric of the building, waiting for me. No one else, just me. Because I was the one freak in the world who could feel it.

I didn’t want to feel it. I’d already shared Leo’s final pathetic spiral into the dark. I couldn’t face reliving it, stuck with it while he was dead and free. I turned and ran. Back to my clean, safe home, empty of shadows.

Empty of people, living or dead. All my life, I’d striven to keep my weird experiences buried so deep that no one else would guess what I was feeling, and the end result was this: I was alone in an empty house. I’d trained myself to keep quiet, but sometimes the need to share was so strong it left me sick with longing. Except that now there was no one left to share.

Not my husband Peter, because I’d frozen him out of my life by my silence and he’d found solace elsewhere.

Friends? Absolutely not. Friends never stayed friends once I’d let slip about my little peculiarities.
How about confessing to D.I Overly? ‘That day when you were interviewing me, when you thought I was going to faint? That was me feeling Leo Mardell die.’

‘Yes, Mrs. Lawrence, of course it was.’ An instant freezing of that flirtatious friendliness; Alert! Batty cow in the room. ‘How about you have a nice cup of tea and we’ll call a doctor.’

And what would a doctor say if I tried to explain? ‘I feel people die, Doctor, even if they’re a hundred miles away. Or I stand where they stood and I share their last horrors, even if they’re a hundred years dead.’ I could guess the reaction. Perhaps it would be the solution. Maybe I’d be better off lobotomised.

I wanted someone to tell me that all would be well, and I had no one.

Not true. I had Sylvia. Of course! No matter what, there would always be Sylvia. In my chill loneliness, I remembered her unquenchable optimism, and I ached for it.

I phoned and heard her voice, from a world away, in green and rural Pembrokeshire. ‘Kate! How lovely! Mike, it’s Kate. How are you, darling? How are you coping? I do wish—’

‘Sylvia, I’m fine,’ I cut my cousin off before she could drown me in her irrepressible chatter. ‘You and Michael are well?’

‘Oh we’re wonderful, aren’t we, Mike? Having a lovely time. It’s a dream here. We’ve got such plans—’

I interrupted again. ‘Is the job offer still open?’

‘Job? You mean the partnership? You’ll come here? Mike! Mike, she’s going to come here. Isn’t that wonderful? Kate’s coming to join us.’

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