The next day I dropped Mick off at school and waited in the park for Debbie. She arrived a little after me, so we strolled along for a while holding hands. It was a nice bright, sunny day and she said, “John told me last night that we are all going down to the lake for his birthday. What’s going on? I wouldn’t spend a day with him after all the shit he put us through.”
“It’s all part of the plan.”
“What plan? What’s happening?” We stopped.
“I can’t tell you yet,” I said. “You will still have to trust me.”
“Anyway, his boat was stolen last night off the drive, so that’s the end of that idea,” she said. It was hard for me not to tell Debbie everything, but for her own sake I had to keep quiet, at least for the time being.
“Have you reported it to the police?” I asked.
“No, I’m not interested.”
“You must report it and tell the insurance company. They will send you a claim form and you can give it to John, he can fill in the details. It must be worth a lot of money. Is it insured?” I asked casually.
“Yes, it’s insured for all sorts. He can’t take it on the lake unless he has full cover, in case of accidents.”
“Well, I would if I was you!”
“All right, if you think it’s best, I will do it when I get back,” she said. We walked and talked for a while, then Debbie went home and I went to the garage.
I was washing my hands to go home when the phone rang. It was Don. “Meet me on Monday at the Bull’s Head in Lapworth, around two o’clock. I’ve got to see a client at four and there’s a fair bit to talk about.” He said everything was OK and he would see me then.
Not much happened over the weekend. I had a drink on Sunday lunch-time with Andrew. He told me Denise was away and due back Wednesday that week, so I mentioned to him about taking John’s boat out next Sunday. “Great,” he said, then he told me he would ring round and get a few of the others interested.
On Monday morning, I met Debbie in the park and explained to her that I was going to see my friend today about John and that I would meet her on the following morning to explain. She told me she had been to see John in the hospital again over the weekend and how upset he was over his boat.
I left the garage at lunch-time and arrived just before two in the pub car park. There was no sign of Don’s car, so I went in and had a drink at the bar while I waited. Don walked in just after two o’clock. “I don’t have long, can we sit over there, out of the way?”
“Yes, do you want a drink?”
“No, thanks, I need a level head.” We walked over to a little table in the corner and sat down opposite each other. Don stubbed his cigar out in the ashtray and leaned forward.
“The boat will be placed on someone’s drive, not far from where he lives, the early hours of Thursday. The people that live there will be away and the house will be empty. John will be released ten o’clock Thursday morning. Can you or Debbie collect him and take him home past the house, so he’ll recognise the boat?”
“Debbie has got a tow-bar on her BMW.”
“Good, tell her to collect him from the hospital but you must make her go past the house, without telling her about the boat; that way he will see it and knock on the door. When there’s no answer, he’ll hook it onto the car and take it home.” I sat watching his lips, listening to every word he spoke without moving in case I missed something. “Tell Debbie to ring the police and tell them they found it in a car park and they won’t bother with it anymore. Is that all clear?”
“Yes,” I said, still concentrating.
“Now, on Sunday, let him go down to the lake on his own - you mentioned before he has a Land Rover.” I nodded. “Debbie has to pretend she has something to do before she meets him there later. Are there a few going?”
“Yes, it’s his birthday.”
“How unfortunate,” Don said with a grin. “Do you know anyone with a remote-controlled car?”
“Yes, we bought Mick one last Christmas.”
“Brilliant, can you make sure all the batteries are new and take it with you on Sunday?” My throat was dry by now and I was finding it hard to swallow, so I had a sip from my beer and put the glass back on the table. “In the boot of my car, there is another remote-controlled car and a handset with flat batteries. On Saturday night, can you charge the batteries that drive both cars and take everything with you? Don’t, under any circumstances, change the batteries in my handset for yours.”
“I’ll come to that in a moment.” Don glanced at his watch quickly. “Now, listen carefully, this is the important part: in the handset that I give you, there is a yellow chip. When the time is right, this means when he is in the boat on his own and on the water far away, someone in an orange anorak and green shorts will come along. He will act a bit simple, he will speak only to you and ask if he can have a go with the remote-controlled cars. You will obviously say yes. By this time, the battery that drives your lad’s car will be flat - make sure it is - if he doesn’t play with it, you do it, it has got to be flat. So that you both know who you are, there’s a code: he will suggest swapping the batteries from one handset to the other so he can play with the car I give you in the car park when we go outside. You will say, ‘Why don’t you swap the yellow chip?’ and he will answer, ‘I never thought of that’. This is the man that worked on the boat. He has fixed a remote-control unit to the engine and, when he pushes the lever on the handset forward, it will cut a groove out of the spark-plug lead, which will send an electric spark to the engine. Then, when he pulls the lever back, it will cut the petrol pipe and the boat will catch fire and explode. You will all be shocked and that will be the end of Doreen’s problems.”
“Sorry,” Don added. “So you won’t have to do it, OK?” I was so relieved. “While you’re all looking out at the boat, the man in the anorak will disappear,” Don said, as he looked at his watch again and stood up. “Is everything clear in your mind?”
“Yes, I’m so pleased I haven’t got to pull the trigger,” I said, almost smiling.
“Come out to the car with me, then, I must get off.” I drank the last of my beer and followed him into the car park. As he opened his boot, I could see the handset next to the car; it was a Ferrari like his. I smiled at him and he said, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist it.” As he closed the boot he said, “it would be a good idea to take out the chip and keep it somewhere safe, perhaps in your car.” I nodded. “Now are you sure you will remember everything?” he said.
“Yes, Debbie will collect him from the hospital, drive past the house, collect his boat. Then Sunday he will go on his own. We will all go in separate cars, Debbie will follow later and I will wait till a man in a green anorak appears.”
“No! It’s orange anorak, green shorts.”
“Sorry, orange anorak appears and swaps the chip, then boom.”
“Good, if you have any problems, let me know and I will meet you here on Friday.” Don looked at his watch again and said, “I must dash, I’ll speak with you soon,” and opened his door. “Oh, I almost forgot...” He gave me a small piece of paper; I looked at it and tucked it in my top pocket. “This is the address, the boat will be on this drive and tell Dorothy not to be late.”
“Sorry, I was never very good with names,” he said smiling. “One other thing, the tablets he gets from the doctor are strong sleeping tablets. Make sure Debbie - see I got it right in the end - make sure she gives him the exact amount, they will keep him asleep till Sunday.” He waved and drove off.
I placed the car in the boot and removed the chip from the handset. As I held it in my hand, a shiver went through me; I dropped it in the door pocket and made my way home.
Tuesday morning, after dropping Mick off at school, I waited in the park for Debbie to come. I didn’t see her in the playground and her car wasn’t on her drive as I drove past her house. I waited till 9.30 and left for work worried.
During the day I phoned her mobile phone a few times but there was no answer and I worried even more. I drove past her house on the way home and the car still wasn’t there at eight o’clock. I sat in the house wondering were she was, still concerned in case John had discharged himself from the hospital and gone home. At nine o’clock, I told Liz I was popping to the shops to get a bottle of whiskey and drove past the house - still nothing.
I sat watching the television till late, thinking about where she could be. I thought about ringing the house but if John was out of hospital he would answer the phone. All night I dozed and woke up worrying about her.
Wednesday morning, feeling very tired, I woke Mick and got him ready, hurrying him all the time. Eventually, we got to school and, as we pulled up, I could see her car by the gate. I was relieved but still worried. I walked Mick to the entrance as Debbie came out smiling and talking to another mother. I could see she hadn’t come to any harm, so I made my way back to the car, hoping Debbie would follow me to the park.
I waited at the entrance as usual and she followed me in. I was so pleased to see her, I leapt out of the car before she could open the door and asked, “Where have you been? I was so worried all day yesterday and last night, I haven’t slept.”
“I’m sorry, I had to go to Manchester to collect some papers for a very big case we are involved with. I’m sorry, I didn’t think, I’m not used to having anybody worry about me,” she said and kissed me on the cheek.
We walked across the park for ages. “We’ve not really talked about your job, have we?”
“No,” she said. “It’s quite interesting sometimes. We are working on a case at the moment: organised crime. That’s all hush-hush, that’s one of the reasons I had to fetch the papers yesterday and they’re very confidential.”
Slowly we walked back towards the cars, holding hands, laughing and joking. I’d completely forgotten about John until Debbie asked about him. “He’s coming out on Thursday morning. I need you to fetch him.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, it would look much better if you did it, as the dutiful wife.”
“And what then?”
“I want you to get him at ten o’clock and take him home. The doctor will give him some tablets to take. They’re sleeping tablets. Give him the exact amount as prescribed on the bottle and he will sleep all the time.”
“Can’t I give him the lot in one go?”
“ No! Just give him the right amount and leave the rest to me.”
“All right, but I’m going to leave him as soon as I get the chance.”
“I know, this is what I’ve been talking to my friends about.” Debbie looked confused. As she walked towards her car I shouted, “When you’ve picked John up, drive down Manor Lane. I will be parked off the road. When you go past me I will know that everything is OK.” Debbie waved as she got into her car and drove off.
The day passed quite quickly. Work wasn’t as bad as it had been lately so I made my way home at eight o’clock.
Andrew’s car was on the drive. I filled up with anger immediately; I slammed the car door shut, walked to the house as quickly as I could, fumbling with my keys, and dropped them on the floor. As I bent down to pick them up, the door opened. Denise was standing there. “Hello,” she said. “Andrew and I just popped in, how are you?”
Feeling a bit calmer and relieved, I went inside. “I’m fine, have you had a good trip?” I asked.
Denise spoke quietly. “I’ve missed you, that’s why I had to come around, I couldn’t wait to see you.” She kissed me on the side of my mouth and tried to lick my lips as the lounge door opened.
“I thought I heard the front door close,” Liz said, looking a bit suspicious.
“It’s only me,” I added and carried on into the kitchen, with Denise following behind.
We all sat at the table talking and drinking for a while and they left about ten o’clock. Denise was shattered from her trip and, to be honest, I was too, after the night I’d had, worrying about Debbie.
Thursday morning, I woke as the alarm went off. I carefully edged my way out of bed, not wanting to disturb Liz, and made breakfast for Mick. I took him to school and then drove to Manor Lane. I passed the house and, sure enough, the boat was on the drive as planned. I carried on to the cul-de-sac further on, drove down it, parked behind a car so I wouldn’t be seen and waited. Debbie drove past just after ten o’clock with John, so I drove up to the end of the road and watched Debbie’s BMW pull up outside the house where the boat was. I waited for a while and watched John get out of the passenger side of her car and run up the drive. Everything seemed to be going to plan, so I made my way to work.
It was early afternoon when Debbie phoned. “How're things?” I asked.
“I did everything you told me to do, collected the bastard from the hospital and took him home the way you told me to. Did you know his boat was in that road on someone’s drive?”
I hesitated for a second. “No.”
“I couldn’t believe it, he made me take it home. Anyway, he’s in bed now. I gave him a tablet. It was so hard not to give him the whole bottle,” she said. “He is looking forward to Sunday now! I’m not coming.”
“Meet me in the morning at the park. I will talk to you then.” Debbie agreed and I put the phone down.
Looking at the phone, I sat in the quiet at my desk, slumped in the chair and clicking the top of my parker pen, asking myself if I should call it all off and why I was involved in the first place. My stomach churned at the thought of the boat exploding into millions of bits with him on it. Then I went cold all over: what if it all went wrong and someone else got hurt? It wasn’t long before I thought about Debbie and what she’d been through with him beating her up. I was in too deep; she was on my mind all day long, from the second I woke to the time I fell asleep. It had been a long time since I’d felt like this over a girl. Some days I found myself smiling, as I thought of Debbie’s smile, how I rushed to get to the school to see her face, knowing that would keep me going till the next day, and the sound of her voice made me so happy - all my problems disappeared when I was with her. Then I thought about Liz and how nasty I had become towards her every time she spoke to me. I felt angry with her for having an affair behind my back but I wasn’t sure that she was. I was going mad with jealousy, hate, love, sex, lying, cheating, scheming and now, on top of all that, murder. I wanted to talk to someone about it all, but I soon realised I was on my own. I tried to think of something else, but it wouldn’t leave my mind. I wondered if I would leave Liz after all this and live with Debbie or Denise. The game I started had gone wrong; it was supposed to be a bit of fun.
The phone rang, so I answered it quickly, hoping it would take my mind off it all. It was Mr Simpson from the VAT office. “Your cheque is late, Mr Vaughan.”
“I’m sorry, it will be in the post tonight.”
As I put the phone down, the door opened and Roger brought me in a cup of coffee. I was so glad to see him. “How are things downstairs?”
“Fine, we’ve just finished the TVR respray, you can ring Dennis and tell him to fetch it if you want to.” I made the phone call, talked to him for a while and soon forgot about everything until I got home about seven - Mick was playing outside the house with his remote-controlled car. I felt very strange as it bumped up and down the kerb; it made me shiver as he pulled the lever backwards.
Liz put my dinner on the table while I poured myself a large drink. We ate together for the first time in ages. “I’m taking you out for the day on Sunday.”
“I’m working,” she said sarcastically as if it was my fault. “Well, don’t worry, I’ll take Mick, then.”
“It’s John’s 40th birthday; he’s taking the boat down to the Cotswolds on the lake. I just thought we could pack a picnic and have a day together; it’s something we haven’t done for ages.”
“It’s not my fault, you are the one that works all hours. I’m surprised you aren’t working Sunday.”
“Couldn’t you swap with someone?”
“Forget it, then!” I shouted and threw the rest of my dinner in the bin, my plate in the bowl and stormed out of the house and into the garden.
We had become very short-tempered with each other lately. I sat there for a few minutes trying to cool down, then Liz came out to me. “I’ve just spoken to Jenny from work. She said she will swap Saturday for Sunday, so I can come.”
I sat there for a second. “All you had to do was ask someone,” I said as Liz stormed off.
I heard her shout, “I’m going to bed.”
Mick came out into the garden, excited. “Where we going?” I told him about the day out and he went up to bed happy.
I woke in the chair with a stiff neck. Liz had gone to work, so we got ready and left for school. I saw Debbie in the playground; we didn’t speak, so I carried on to the park. I waited a short while until she turned the corner and parked behind me. We walked for a while. Debbie was very quiet. “What’s wrong? He hasn’t started-”
Shaking her head, she interrupted me. “No. I’m not coming on Sunday, I just can’t. Birthday or no Birthday, I can’t stand him, I don’t want to be anywhere near him.”
“I want you to come. I want you to be near me. He’ll be out on the boat all afternoon showing off. Come later, come about three o’clock. Tell him you have to do something first and you will follow him. You need to be there.”
“Why, what’s going to happen?”
“You’ll know soon enough. There’s nothing I can tell you.”
We walked a bit further, quietly, then out of the blue she said, “OK, I will come later in the day.”
“Oh, good, you won’t be disappointed, and leave Dawn with someone, don’t bring her with you.”
“He will go mad if she’s not there.”
“If he says anything, just tell him she wasn’t well.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Debbie said, looking at me straight-faced. I had the impression she had worked out what was going to happen.
“I won’t see you till Sunday. Be there for three o’clock.” We kissed by the cars and held each other as if we would never see each other ever again.
I made my way to work after stopping at the bank to get the wages. Don phoned about midday to tell me everything was set and that he would speak to me next week sometime.
I left work at about five o’clock and made my way to the Wooden Cross for a drink with my friends. They spoke about Sunday and how they were all looking forward to it so we arranged to meet at ten in the car park at the Bear Inn on the main road.
After a few drinks, I made my way home and played with Mick until he went to bed. Then, as normal, I fell asleep in the chair till morning.
On Saturday, when I awoke to the sound of the cartoons on the television, I decided to go for a quick run. I hadn’t been for a few months and when I got back to the house I could tell. It took me nearly twice as long. I had a quick shower, Mick and I got dressed and I took him to work with me, stopping off at McDonald’s on the way for a breakfast. We ate it in the car park and carried on to the garage. While I was busy in the workshop, Mick washed my car, leaving a few dirty patches all over it. Then, after I’d washed it again, we went home at about one o’clock.
I didn’t do a lot that afternoon, except watch the telly with Liz and Mick. I started drinking heavily when they were in bed, hoping it would help me sleep, and at midnight I staggered to bed. I lay awake for hours and couldn’t stop thinking about the boat on the lake.