Quiet End

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Chapter 6

Nick had four days off and Ellie had two. They lay entwined in each other’s arms although the sun had long since risen. Tyrion and Hannah had apparently given up any chance of going for an early walk. They both slept noisily at the foot of the bed; Tyrion snoring and Hannah chasing something in a dream; her paws paddling in hectic circles.

Ellie’s phone vibrated and flashed but the volume was muted. Her eye opened just a squint and she saw that it flashed again. She rolled over to look at Nick but he was sound asleep. Without waking him she took her phone and walked to the kitchen. Erica had tried to call her so Ellie phoned her back.

‘Hello Erica.’

‘Sorry to call you on your day off but I thought you should know that old Mary passed away last night.’

‘Oh, no,’ this news was no great surprise as the lady had been in her nineties, but still Ellie’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Poor old love. Have they taken her away yet?’

‘The undertaker’s just left and Elsa has just arrived.’

‘Thanks for letting me know. Tell Elsa I’ll call around tomorrow for a cuppa if she’s feeling up to it.’

‘I will.’

‘Did she go peacefully?’

There was silence for a moment. ‘Sorry Ellie, I’ve just come outside so Elsa can’t hear me. I think Mary’s dementia must have been severe at the end. I think she was trying to hide under her bed. It looks like she got stuck there.’

‘Oh dear, something, probably imagined, must have frightened her.’

‘I’m glad Elsa arrived too late to see her like that. She’s already beating herself up for not putting Mary into the care home earlier. I did tell her that she was going to go, no matter where she was, but she’s too distraught to listen.’

‘Give her my love won’t you.’

‘Sure. I’ll see you on Thursday.’

‘Thanks for the heads-up Erica.’

Ellie put on the kettle and thought about Mary while it came to the boil. If the old lady had been in the nursing home they may have given her something to calm her evident anxiety. Elsa had been a good friend to Ellie’s dad, and Mary was Elsa’s Godmother. The two were as close as mother and daughter. Ellie had never had a grandmother so Mary had insisted she call her “Nan.” The three of them had spent Christmas and Mother’s Day together since the death of Ellie’s father.

The old lady’s dementia had progressed quite quickly and her death seemed sudden. Only two weeks before she had been lucid, just a bit forgetful, but hale and hearty for her age. She had given Ellie a book on Spanish cooking that day.

‘Are you okay?’ Nick asked from the doorway.

Ellie forced a smile. ‘Of course I am.’

‘Well I’ve been standing watching you stir that cup for over two minutes. You look like you’re on another planet. And why are you hugging that book?’

Ellie walked to him and he slipped his arms around her.

‘I just got some sad news. Mary passed away last night. Do you remember her? We dropped the flowers to her house before we went out for lunch at the Boatshed last week.’

‘Yes, she told me I had to take good care of you or she’d hunt me down and kill me.’

‘She was kidding.’

‘Only partly. I was a bit scared of her.’

‘She could be a bit gruff but it was just an act. She was always so caring and…’ Ellie began to sob.

Nick moved closer and held her tightly against him. They stood that way for a few minutes. Finally Ellie coughed to clear her throat and returned to her coffee cup.

‘Do you need some time alone?’ Nick asked.

‘No,’ she shook her head vigorously. ‘I need you around if you can bear it?’

‘Of course I will. How about we go to the beach? The forecast is high twenties and sunshine today. We can lie on the sand and get fish and chips for lunch.’

‘That sounds brilliant. Can we bring the dogs?’

Nick brushed his black hair away from his eyes and chewed his lip.

Ellie laughed. ‘I’m only kidding. I’ll take them for a walk before we go. I know how unpopular they are since they trashed your car. I wouldn’t put you through that again.’

‘We can take them if you really want to.’

‘That is very sweet but I know you don’t mean it. I’m sorry about your seat-covers. Tyrion has never done that before. Did the new ones I got you fit?’

‘Yes, they’re perfect, and you really didn’t have to get them.’

‘Nonsense! Seat-covers aren’t supposed to have great holes chewed in them. It stops them being able to cover the seats.’

‘I guess,’ Nick said lamely, ‘you have a point. At least he didn’t chew the seats.’

‘No, I think he had something against lamb’s-wool. Well, come on. Let’s get dressed and not waste any more of the day. It will be harder for me to be glum out in the sunshine.’

The rolling surf and cloudless sky helped Ellie’s mood, but her sadness was only dampened and never far from surfacing. She sat cross-legged in front of Nick; his arms draped around her. He occasionally kissed her neck. She balled up the paper that had been the wrapping for their chips. She’d fed the leftovers to the seagulls and a few still hung around squawking. A passer-by had glared at the noisy birds during their feeding frenzy, but Ellie didn’t care. She refused to waste food by throwing it in the bin. Besides the gulls loved it.

Nick cleared his throat before speaking. ‘I’m going back home on my next break.’

‘That’s great,’ Ellie said, attempting enthusiasm. ‘Your family will love to see you.’

‘Yeah, mum’s pretty excited.’

‘How long will you stay?’

‘Four days.’

‘I love Sydney. I love the harbour and the shops.’

‘Maybe next time you could plan some time off and come too? We’re a fair hike from the harbour but we could get a room in the city centre.’

‘I’d love to. What would your mum think?’

‘She’s happy I’ve met you. I’ve already told her about you.’

‘Really?’

‘Um hum.’

Nick massaged her shoulders. Ellie groaned and let her head dip to the left; he kissed the right side of her neck.

‘Apart from Mary, I’m really happy,’ Ellie said.

‘I’m glad because I am too.’

Ellie sighed and leant backwards until the back of her head rested against his chest. He kissed the top of her head and fondled her breasts. There were giggles from two girls walking along the jetty above them so Ellie swatted his hands away.

‘Not sorry,’ Nick said.

Ellie laughed. ‘I know you’re not.’

‘My mum will make me work the whole time I’m there.’

‘In the mini-mart?’

‘Yeah, and her shop next door. It sells kitchen stuff.’

‘In Cabramatta?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Is it safe there?’

‘It is now. The police really cracked down on the drug dealers. It’s better now than it was when I was growing up. Everyone I knew was in a gang. Back then the cops gave the place a wide berth. I guess there are still drugs and crime but it’s been driven underground, not like the old days when you had contraband for sale on every corner.’

Ellie cocked her head so she could see his face. ‘Were you a bad boy back then?’

‘No,’ Nick laughed. ‘I was always a good boy.’ His smile disappeared. ‘My brother was bad enough for both of us.’

‘Oh dear,’ Ellie whispered.

‘He got in with a gang. He didn’t do drugs but he was selling them. And they were stealing things, computers and laptops; that sort of stuff.’

‘Did he get caught?’

Nick shook his head, his eyes downcast. ‘I dobbed him in.’

‘To the police?’

‘No, no, not the police.’ He still didn’t look up; he seemed embarrassed. ‘I had no father so I told my uncle. He was the patriarch figure for us. He came down hard on my brother, so much so that my brother no longer speaks to me. But, from what I’ve heard he’s doing well these days, and he isn’t in jail.’

‘You did the right thing, whether your brother agrees or not. Maybe one day he’ll see the light.’

‘Maybe, but I don’t think so. The rift has gone on too long, other things happened too, and I heard from my cousin that my bro was disgusted when he found out I’d joined the police force. Sometimes I think he’s the reason I joined.’

Ellie smiled at him. ’Well I’m proud of you, and I bet your mum is too.’

Nick grinned and said, ‘it won’t stop her from working my arse off when I get there. I try to tell her I’m coming for a break but she won’t listen.’

‘She’s a hard worker?’

‘Always. And a bit of hard arse too.’

‘Well, she probably needed to be. It would have been difficult bringing up kids by herself. Does she have contact with your brother?’

‘Sometimes. He tries to spoil her, to buy her things, but she won’t take them.’

‘Too proud?’

‘Yeah, and stubborn like a donkey.’

Ellie grinned at him but said nothing.

‘I am not stubborn!’ he defended.

‘I didn’t say you were.’

’You didn’t, but the look on your face did.’

Ellie rolled away from him and kicked sand at his foot. ‘Hee-haw!’ she brayed and then ran to the water. She leapt over two waves and realised Nick was right behind her. She dived into the cold surf and he caught her around the waist. They broke from the water laughing.

‘Are you crazy? You made me jump into this freezing shit!’

‘I didn’t make you. You just followed me.’

Ellie clung onto him, her teeth chattering. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here.’

He waded back to shore with her in his arms, pausing once to kiss her, and second time to dump her in the water. She squealed and chased him back to their towels, shivering and laughing. They rubbed at their gooseflesh-covered skin as they jogged to the car.

They drove with the car heater on full, and only feeling warm again as they arrived at Ellie’s home. They showered and washed the sand away, but not for long, the lure of her bed and lovemaking was too overpowering.

*

The alert sounded on Nam’s police watch program. Key words, “suspicious” and “death” popped up from time to time, but while the operation was underway in Moonta, it paid to check out each incident thoroughly. He scrolled through the communiqué between the Kadina police officer and an Adelaide Major Crimes investigator.

The country cop had mentioned sighting a shoe imprint on the floor of a deceased elderly lady who lived alone and had significantly smaller feet than the print. The Major Crimes cop had replied and asked the question, how many people had entered the scene?

To that the reply had been: two cops, two ambos and the man from the house next door who had found the body.

The final correspondence on the matter was unquestionably terse. The Major Crimes cop had suggested that the country cop could be making better use of his time than imagining felons in such a cut and dry natural death of an elderly citizen.

Felicia kissed Nam on the back of the neck. He jumped. He’d been so engrossed in the report that he hadn’t heard her sneak up on him. With a swift movement he stood and wrapped his arms around her. She giggled and didn’t see his hand flick the switch to darken his monitors.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked.

‘Trying to work my sweetness. I have to earn the money to feed you.’ He rubbed his hand on her huge belly. ‘It takes a lot to feed you two.’

‘Stop it,’ she laughed. ‘If you want to feed me then let’s go out for lunch.’

He kissed the end of her nose. ‘Of course I will feed you. Let me finish my work.’

Her face grew serious. ‘We aren’t in trouble are we?’

Her comment caused a tingle to run the length of his spine. ‘Trouble? What kind of trouble?’

She pointed to the screen, which was now black. ‘I saw the word police. Are you in trouble with the police?’

Nam faked a grin. ‘You can’t get in trouble with the police if you haven’t done anything wrong. Where do you want to go for lunch?’

‘Somewhere that does braised goat. I feel like eating goat.’

‘Where do you get your crazy cravings from?’ He pressed her stomach again. ‘I swear this one must be a girl, only a crazy little girl would make you feel like eating a poor little goat.’

‘But I’m not killing the little goat. It’s already dead. Stop teasing me!’

‘I’m sorry but it is so easy to tease you.’

‘Stop it or I’ll get angry!’

Nam pretended to cower with fear until Felicia punched his arm. He tickled her until she squealed.

‘Let me finish this bit of work and we’ll go to that nice Greek restaurant by the river.’

‘Oh yes, they have goat. Hurry up and finish, I’m starving. I will put a nicer dress on. Hurry!’

He sat back at his desk and reread the communiqué three more times, finally he was convinced that the matter not a concern. But a seed of doubt had been planted. He and Lawrence had done well by taking extreme care, and although they had never undertaken a job this risky before, they had previously gambled with millions of dollars. The mere sniff of concern had sent them packing in the past. It paid to be cautious.

He opened his Facebook poetry page and sent Lawrence a message.

*

Lawrence hated Adelaide. He despised the way people talked, the pokey cityscape and the urban sprawl that satisfied the backyard-barbequing dungers. Luckily the taxi driver was not interested in conversation. For some unknown reason he was unable to get an Uber driver to pick him up from the airport so he was stuck with a smelly conventional cab. He looked at the seams of the back seat and wondered how many people had thrown up where he sat.

The hotel at least was fine, but he only stayed long enough to change into chinos and fresh cotton shirt and then strolled to the Botanical Gardens. There was nothing to hate there; its vast beauty grudgingly impressed him. He sat on a bench beneath a trellis that dripped with wisteria blooms, and waited for Angus.

The Canadian stood out like a sore thumb; furtive glances over his shoulders and jerky hand movements. At least, Lawrence thought, this will all be over soon.

Angus sat on the seat opposite but Lawrence patted the space beside him.

‘You look awfully strange to passers-by sitting all the way over there. I don’t bite you know.’

’It’s not the biting I’m worried about.’

Lawrence slapped his leg and laughed. ‘You know you can be quiet humorous when you try.’

Angus merely shrugged.

‘How are things in jolly old Moonta?’

‘Oh man it’s bloody boring. My place is in a nice location, a nearby town called Wallaroo, but it’s bloody boring there too.’

‘Well for the money you’re earning I’m sure you can suffer a little tedium.’

‘Sure,’ Angus said without enthusiasm.

An elderly couple sauntered past, hand in hand. Lawrence didn’t speak until they were out of earshot.

‘And what of Jarrod? Is he behaving himself?’

‘Yep. He finished working at the agency.’

‘I know. The program he installed has been very useful. We extracted the data necessary to help with upcoming jobs.’ Lawrence stared at Angus and asked, ‘How are the projects going? Are you taking a step back?’

Angus returned the stare and nodded. ‘It’s better that way. I can cope now. Watching Jarrod work is…sickening. Now I just get to hear about them instead. It’s still awful, but better.’

Lawrence grimaced and said, ‘I know I wouldn’t want to see him in action, and he does like to bang on about things.’

‘So why am I here? I thought our meetings would be rare, if any.’

‘That certainly was my intention. And believe me coming to this dump was not on my bucket list.’ He paused to see if Angus was amused; he wasn’t. ‘As you know this is not my operation. I find the whole deal repellent, and now it seems that Nam does too.’

‘What?’

Lawrence widened his eyes and spread his hands, aware that it was a little too theatrical, but not caring. ‘I was shocked too.’

‘So what happens now?’

‘Well, by my count there have been five people dispatched including the old boy last night.’

‘Yes.’

‘Nam wants the others taken care of by the fifteenth. You and Jarrod need to be gone by then.’

‘The fifteenth of October? That’s only ten days away! Is he crazy?’

‘I’m not a psychiatrist so I couldn’t say. He has his reasons and it is not up to us to question them. He is paying you well but he has brought the deadline forward.’

‘Shit!’

‘Be that as it may, I need your answer. Can it be done?’

Angus’ brow had beaded with sweat despite the mildness of the temperature. He chewed at the thumbnail of his shaking hand.

‘Well?’

‘I’m assuming we have no choice about this?’

‘That’s correct.’

‘I think it will be too much. I think it will be suspicious to the cops, and to the community. I mean, even one old person a week seemed a bit excessive, now you’re asking for one every second day. Someone is bound to smell a rat.’

‘It will mean you are out of there sooner, surely that’s a good thing?’

‘Well, yeah, that side of it is cool, but I think it’s risky. Why would he want it wrapped up so fast?’

Lawrence leant back against the bench and picked a speck of grime from the cuff of his shirt. ‘Nam is a genius. His brain is a work of art. I’m not sure why he has willed this to happen but I never argue with him. This whole undertaking has been a very…emotionally motivated quest. I’ve never known him to be that way. The Nam I know is more like a brilliant surgeon, focused and cutting. This job is somehow personal.’

Angus drooped his head. ‘Tell me something Lawrence, what does Jackie, or Nam, look like?’

‘You’ve spoken to him haven’t you?’

‘Sure, I met him in Hong Kong, but just the once.’

‘Ah, I see.’

‘I know he’s Vietnamese.’

‘He looks exactly like he should. He is a God. He looks like a God.’

‘Ask a stupid question,’ Angus mumbled.

‘Why are you interested?’

‘I’d just like to see a photo of him, to refresh my memory. You see, I got this vibe the other day. You know what it feels like when your skin is crawling?’

‘Sure, I have it every time I have to fly to Adelaide.’

Angus was shaking his head while his fingers twitched in his lap. ‘I saw this guy in the shopping centre. He gave me the weirdest feeling.’

‘You don’t like Asians?’

‘No, it wasn’t that. He looked just like Jackie.’

‘They all look alike.’ Lawrence’s attempt at humour was less than lame. He expected no reaction and got none.

‘There was something else, something that made it even stranger.’ He wiped away sweat from the top of his lip. ‘This guy was a cop.’

Lawrence’s eyes widened. He put his hand over his mouth for a second and then bellowed with laughter. ’Oh my God! You just had me then. I really thought you were for real. That is so funny Angus. I take back all that stuff about you having no sense of humour. That is gold!’ But the smile froze on Lawrence’s lips, and he felt some of that crawling skin on his shoulders. ‘You aren’t joking are you?’

‘No. Do you have a photo of him?’

Lawrence began to shake his head, but he stood and took his wallet from his back pocket. Folded in a small flap behind his driver’s licence was an old photo taken during a trip to the Gold Coast. He knew he shouldn’t have it on him, but it had been taken years ago. They were only eighteen years old at the time. Even if the cops took it from him, it was hardly evidence.

‘This isn’t what he looks like now. Obviously we are both a lot older, but this is Nam.’ He unfolded the small picture and handed it to Angus.

For a moment Angus said nothing. The photo was grainy. It showed two youths, one tall and lanky, the other much shorter, both with long hair and wearing board shorts. They leaned against an orange Kombi Van, a rack with surfboards perched on the top. He handed back the photo.

‘Well?’ Lawrence asked.

‘Like you said, they all look the same,’ he pointed to the picture, ‘but that guy looks an awful lot like the cop I saw.’

‘You are just imagining things. Nam wouldn’t even know where that little town was.’

‘Then why pick it? Why am I here? Why are you here?’

Lawrence opened his mouth then closed it again. He really couldn’t think of a good reason. ‘I can only guess…’ he said after a moment. ‘I bet he just picked it on a map. He would have been looking at towns with a large demographic of elderly people; that’s all. It’s just a coincidence that you’ve now seen some Asian cop. He probably stands out in such a small town. No wonder he made you think of Nam.’

‘It looked like him, and I don’t think we’re here by some random choice from a computer.’ Angus was wringing his hands; his feet tapped the ground.

’You need to calm down and finish the job. Think rationally. Nam is pretty much anonymous and invisible. He chooses to be that way; to be otherwise would be dangerous for him. So why then would he come here impersonating a cop of all things? It is a ludicrous suggestion. You need to get a hold of yourself and get back to work. The job you are doing is traumatising. You need to get a grip and not let your mind play tricks, because it can.’

The words made sense, Lawrence knew it and Angus must have realised it too, but he said nothing. Lawrence got to his feet and stretched.

‘Speak to Jarrod and make sure the deadline is met. You guys are doing good work, so keep it up.’ Lawrence paused before walking away but Angus still didn’t reply. Lawrence felt his skin crawl again.

Angus looked worried, and although he was mistaken, the worry was infectious.

*

Yalda looked at the name on her phone before answering. It was Felicia. Ahmed had been very strict about who she could talk to, but surely that didn’t apply to Felicia? They were good friends.

‘Hello sweetheart!’

‘Oh Yalda! It is so good to hear your voice.’

But before Yalda could reply a shadow fell over her car window.

‘Oh dear! Felicia I have to move the car. I’m in the school pickup zone and I’m getting the evil eye from the crossing man!’

Felicia laughed and Yalda promised to call her back once she’d parked somewhere suitable.

‘Hey kids, do you want to go to the playground?’

Lilith squealed and clapped her hands, while Baltasar, to cool to be enthusiastic, merely shrugged and said ‘okay.’

Yalda drove from the Moonta School to the Apex Playground. She parked the Mazda under the shade of a tree and grinned with anticipation.

When they had lived in Sydney, Yalda worked as a cleaner. One of the families who employed her were the Rossi’s, and next door to them lived the Caruso’s; Felicia’s parents, whom Felicia visited often.

‘Hello Felicia!’

‘Hello Yalda! I am coming to Sydney for the Norton Street Festa, are you going to be there?’

Yalda groaned. There weren’t many things she would miss about Sydney, but she loved the Leichhardt area, and the Italian Festa was a huge event on the social calendar.

‘I’m sorry but I can’t. We have moved to South Australia.’

‘No, no, no! What did you do that for?’

‘So we could have our own home. It’s a nice little town by the beach.’

‘But it’s too far away!’

Yalda laughed. ‘What do you mean? You live in Brisbane and that’s just as far.’

Felicia’s voice grew serious. ‘Sure we live in Brisbane but I’m always going back to see Mum and Nonna.’

‘How is your Nonna?’

‘She’s good. Still getting over the shock of her birthday, but good. Oh, hang on a minute the kids are fighting again.’

Felicia’s yelling grew dimmer and Yalda chuckled. She remembered the day that had bonded the two of them.

Felicia’s grandmother had turned ninety at the end of June and the party was huge. The Rositano’s had invited Yalda and her family, insisting that Nonna Maria would want them to attend. It had become a street party with hundreds of people from the diverse community turning up. Before that day Felicia and Yalda had met only on special occasions, those occasions when Felicia came down from Brisbane to visit. They chatted but knew little about each other. On that day Yalda got to finally meet Felicia’s husband Jackie, and their children.

Felicia’s eldest son, Franco, had paired up with Baltasar at the party while Lilith remained with Yalda. Felicia’s daughter, Rosa, hung onto old Nonna like a limpet. When Yalda and Felicia first heard the screams they were dishing out punch to partygoers, and had mistaken it for laughter. When Jackie had ran to them, ashen faced with Franco limp in his arms, they realised something terrible had happened.

Yalda had not panicked, in fact her memory of that day was eerily calm. She saw the boy’s swollen lips, saw the welts on his neck and the way he clawed weakly at his throat. She knew it was an anaphylactic reaction to something, because once, a few years before, Baltasar had looked the same after being stung by a wasp.

While people around her wailed and gesticulated, she rushed into the Caruso’s house for her handbag. It was a cumbersome thing, and Ahmed often berated her for carrying around so much crap, but one piece of that crap was Baltasar’s Epipen, and on that day it saved Franco’s life. She had jabbed it into Franco’s thigh muscle without hesitation.

Of course he’d still been gravely ill and the paramedics had to put a tube down his throat so he could breath, but he was alive. Yalda and the children had been bundled into the back of Felicia’s four-wheel drive. Jackie hadn’t waited for them to buckle up as he followed the ambulance to the hospital.

It had been a horrible time in the sterile looking waiting room. And she remembered how scared Baltasar had appeared. She guessed he remembered his own similar experience in Syria. Jackie’s face was pale as he hugged Felicia, who was uncharacteristically silent.

When the doctor finally emerged, and smiled, the family had indulged in a mass hugging; Franco was okay. Ahmed had arrived at just that moment. He hadn’t been able to contain his tears. Yalda knew he also had raw memories of Baltasar’s similar brush with death.

She saw that Jackie and Ahmed had a serious conversation shortly before they left the hospital that day, but Ahmed said little to her about it. He had assured her that they would soon have citizenship and a house of their own, but she didn’t get her hopes up. When their dream did come true, she knew it was due to Jackie.

‘It won’t be the same if you’re not there,’ Felicia moaned when she finally returned to the phone. ‘Can’t you get away? I really want to see you.’

‘I can ask, but I don’t think so. It’s better here now, but things have been tough.’

‘Tough? How come? Have people been mean to you?’

There was an edge to Felicia’s voice that made Yalda giggle. Jackie had told her that no one in the world scared him like Felicia did when she was angry. It was a frightening sound.

‘It’s fine now but for a while Lilith wouldn’t settle.’

‘No, no, no! The poor little lamb. Was someone cruel to her?’

‘No, nothing like that. She didn’t like the first house we moved to. She had nightmares every night.’

‘Then it was haunted; children sense these things.’

Yalda grinned. ‘No, I don’t think it was haunted. She just imagined she saw the old man who had lived there.’

Yalda could hear Felicia muttering a prayer, and she could imagine the woman making the sign of the cross. Felicia was very devout.

‘So you have moved from this haunted house?’

‘No, I mean yes we moved, but it wasn’t haunted.’

‘Lilith is a special child. She is sensitive, I’ve always thought so. You need to stay away from that house.’

‘We will, we have moved from there and things have settled. Lilith is sleeping at night. She is happy again.’

‘Oh thank you Lord! What made you choose a house that was haunted?’

Yalda was growing tired of this conversation. ‘I don’t know but I think Jackie may have chosen it for us.’

‘My Jackie! How could he choose such a house? How could he put your poor little Lilith through such horrors? I will be having a talk to him!’

‘It’s fine now, really. How are things with you? When is the baby due?’

‘Oh, the doctor says four more weeks, but I want it born now. I am tired and my feet are so big I have to wear slippers all the time.’

‘You need to take plenty of rest and put your feet up.’

’I will but I’m not going to miss the Festa. Will you ask…no, will you tell Ahmed that you are coming with me?’

‘I can try.’

‘We can go shopping in the city.’

‘That may tire you out.’

‘We could go for a little shop and then have a big lunch down by the harbour.’

Yalda smiled. ‘That sounds lovely. I promise I will ask.’

There were sounds of a tussle in the background and Yalda guessed that Felicia covered the phone while she shouted at someone.

‘Oh Madonna help me!’ Felicia said. ‘Franco has his cousin Pietro in a headlock! What is it with these boys and their violence? I give them everything they could possibly want but do they go and play quietly? No, they have to bash each other’s brains in. What am I doing wrong Yalda?’

‘You are a saint Felicia. You are the best mother in the world.’

‘Then why are you laughing?’

‘I’m not, not really. I’m just so happy to hear your voice again. I miss you so much.’

There was a muffled sound and then one distinct sob.

‘Oh please don’t cry Felicia! I promise I will try to come to the Festa. I will ask Ahmed tonight.’

‘Okay,’ Felicia’s voice was soft. ‘I will get tickets for all of us. I will say a prayer too.’

‘Thanks for calling. I will let you know tomorrow, okay?’

‘Okay, bye.’

Ahmed would not be happy about this. He had no paid work yet but there was money enough for Yalda to take the trip with the children. It was the secrecy he would be concerned about. They had made a fresh start and that meant leaving their past behind. He hadn’t factored Felicia into the equation. What Felicia wanted, she usually got.

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