Silent, A Disclosure (2)
Two Years Ago, Gavin
I skipped dinner, unable to face Dawn after last night. I managed to persuade Veronica to sell me a sandwich and some crisps from the light refreshment counter, and I ate the snacks alone in my room. I thought a bit more about the Lucy girl. It all seemed mad and over the top, although plausible to a point…the whole thing of the former Mayor chasing after her…not exactly normal. I slipped on some clothes that were less scruffy than the ones I'd been wearing. I had a shave. Prepped back my hair with gel. Nice one. Yes! I brushed my teeth. Imagined kissing Philippa. My Philippa. We're going to end up in bed together later.
Then I thought of Dawn again. The guilt. I'd really hurt her.
Steve, another problem. I'd better be careful.
At seven-forty, I set off for the fields and the old barn Philippa had described, trudging through mud, across slippery grass and a couple of stiles. The early evening smelt of wet grass and earth and rain. The storm had long finished, although the electrical mugginess from earlier persisted in the air, matched by a steady darkening of the sky and further threats of thunder. I could see the old barn further on…not really a barn at all but a dilapidated building surrounded by weeds and nettles that looked ready to collapse. A large outhouse or something, with boarded-up windows and rot and a door painted black with a padlock fitted. As I got closer, I heard rap blaring from inside the building.
'Hey?' I called. 'Anyone there?'
'In here,' Philippa shouted. 'Go through the window round the side and jump. It's safe. I've done it.'
I climbed through a window space, nearly slicing my little finger open on a nail, and leaped down into a thick haze of cigarette smoke and the unmistakable smell of cider. A semi-dark interior with a flickering lamp, floor littered with hay. I realised almost straightaway that Philippa wasn't alone, and my heart sank. The rap was particularly loud, and not really the sort of music Philippa would listen to.
'What's going on?'
'Hi,' she screeched, slurring her words. 'Oh, I didn't recognise you for a minute. You look lovely. All cuddly and sexy. Oh, come here and give me a kiss, baby.'
'You dare,' a voice growled nearby. Aidan. He looked deranged in the dark, menacing, even with his anaemic complexion and long Gothic t-shirt and dress and the ebony hair that went all the way down his back. Wary, I stepped back.
'Come here,' Philippa kept shouting. 'I need to speak to you about something.' She was clearly drunk or stoned, or both. 'It's about Agnes Harlesden,' Philippa went on. 'She's a relation of mine. And so's Brendon and Terence. They're all my family. All of them.'
'Why did you ask me here?'
'We need to talk about the Harlesden family. It's urgent. I need to tell you why I came back.'
'I'm not interested,' I said. 'I'm going now.'
'Yeah, you do that,' Aidan said.
I heard a giggle, but I couldn't see anyone. The place was ghostlike and deserted, apart from the three of us.
'Stay away from Philippa,' Aidan said. 'She's my girlfriend.'
'No,' Philippa wailed. 'Stop bullying me, Aidan. Leave me alone. You always wreck everything for me.'
'That's not true,' Aidan shouted back. 'Stop picking on me. I'm sick of being used.'
'Who's using you?'
'You are,' he screamed before letting out a strangled sob. 'You are,' he cried out again, dramatically. 'You got me to lie to the police for you when you nearly killed that bloke. Remember? When you nicked the car. I nearly got taken to court because of you.'
'Yes, and it was you who dared me to steal the car in the first place, so you are just as guilty as I am,' Philippa shot back.
'I'm going,' I said. 'This is so crap and pathetic. See you around.' I started towards the window space. This was just so typical of Philippa. One game after another. Plus, she'd lied about Aidan. And now, it seemed, she enjoyed breaking into cars and joyriding and driving cars at people. Dawn had mentioned a Social Worker.
'No, wait, Gavin,' Philippa called. 'You can't leave now. I need to tell you what happened. It was my father who died in the fire ten years ago. Douglas Harlesden.'
'No, it wasn't.'
'It was,' Philippa wailed. 'I told you this afternoon that my real father was dead and that my mother used to be a concert pianist. My mother had an affair with Douglas Harlesden eighteen years ago. I'm the long lost-daughter, the daughter the Harlesden family are too ashamed to admit exists. You only ever hear about poor little Lucy Harlesden but never about me. I'm a Harlesden too, even if I have a different surname. I'm Lucy's sister, half-sister, and I deserve to be treated with the same respect.'
She must have found out about my conversation with Lucy earlier and decided to adapt it to suit her own purposes. Selfish, so unbelievably cruel and twisted – assuming the girl really was Lucy. But how had Philippa found out? 'Shouldn't you be having this conversation with Agnes then?' I snapped. 'Or with Terence or Brendon? Or the former Mayor, Arthur Harlesden?'
'Oi,' I thought I heard someone say. 'Watch who you're talking about.'
That's when I became aware of others in a corner of the building, hiding behind a wheelbarrow. Making out…taking drugs…whatever. A figure in a hoodie, moving in time to the rap. The hoodie grinned at me and put up her thumb. A girl. She seemed high on something.
'Hey, you're Gavin, right,' an unseen male voice said, in a Scouse accent. 'Saw you earlier but you ran away. Boo-hoo!'
Two faces peered at me from behind the wheelbarrow, illuminated by torchlight.
Jace and Steve.
Steve, Arthur Harlesden's grandson and Terence's Harlesden's son.
'Hey, Gavin,' Jace said. 'Come and have a beer and sit with us.'
It was awful. I kept trying to leave, but each time I walked to the empty window space, Jace or Steve got me in a friendly headlock and sat me down again while the hoodie cackled in the corner, muttering before laughing out loud. I couldn't believe I'd tried to help Jace the previous night when he'd done his stupid walk along the sea railing. I should have let him fall into the water.