Chapter 11 - Zoe
I’d decided to cycle. Living in the centre of York meant that owning a bike was integral. I adored living in the heart of this beautiful, ancient city, but some of the cobbled roads were almost impassable. Attempting to navigate a car through lanes that were once made for horse and carriage proved perilous. Moreover, I needed to feel the wind on my skin.
I pedalled hard through the hustle and bustle. York cathedral pierced the sky overhead. To anyone looking, I was simply a girl on her bike when in fact, I was a girl with a secret.
I approached my old home gingerly, The Stranglers blaring in my ears. I stopped still at the front door. Was it fear that prevented me from knocking? I could practically hear the thud of my heart over the clank of No More Heroes. The door opened before me.
He was standing there.
“Come on in then, you’ll catch a chill.”
I followed him into the hallway, slowly taking my earbuds out and shoes off. I wanted to waste as much time as possible. Inevitably, I made my way into the kitchen, my senses on tenterhooks. The tang of homemade lasagne filled the air. Red wine, already opened, sat expectantly on the side.
“Pour a glass,” he offered with a tea towel in his hand, “I’m just about to dish up.”
At the table, I glanced over all the hard work that he’d gone to. Garlic bread. A rocket salad. Napkins. He’d never been this domesticated when mum was alive. It felt alien. He felt alien.
“I thought you’d forgotten about your oul fella,” he said with a sheepish smirk. Oul fella is an Irish term for father. I used to call him that as a kid. Back when his Irish slang fascinated me. Back when I wasn’t afraid of him.
The plate of food looked piping hot. I felt disappointed that I couldn’t dive straight in and fill my mouth to avoid talking. The only other option was to talk about anything other than what actually consumed me.
“I’m sorry I’ve been off lately,” I began while taking a piece of garlic bread and blowing on it. “I went back to work today but had to leave after a few hours. I don’t think I’m quite ready to pick up where I left off.”
He reached out to me then and placed his hand on mine. His expression, filled with love, bore into my soul, paralysing me to my seat.
“That’s good love,” he said. “I think you should take it slow. I know I am. That reminds me. I put that jacket you were after on the sofa. That’s the one, isn’t it?”
I followed his pointing finger. There, laid over the back of the cream sofa, was my mother’s jacket. My jacket. Just the sight of it made me flush with nerves.
Why would he parade it around like that?
I had a horrible thought that he knew about the letter all along. Surely, he’d have done away with it.
“Yep, that’s the one, thanks.” I wiped the crumbs from my mouth as I continued, “Remind me to take it on my way out.”
“How is Vivienne?” he asked, eyes dropping to his plate.
“Viv? She’s okay. She’s been a big support, as always. Why’d you ask?”
“Just curious, that’s all, a little like you earlier.”
There was a sudden switch in his tone.
“Aunt Caitlyn called, she said that you rang her. Something about bringing up a past New Year’s Eve party - completely out of the blue.”
Anxiety radiated from my body. I was sure he could smell it on me as I wrung my hands under the table.
“Just rehashing old memories of mum that’s all. It’s nice to hear about times before she fell ill.”
I spoke into my food, not wanting to meet his eyes. Had I avoided them all evening?
“You know you can always ask me about things like that?” he said with a slurp of his wine.
“I know I can,” I said, pushing pasta back and forth with my fork.
The real question was, did I dare?
The silent air hung heavy between us, an invisible forcefield fuelled by suspicion and distrust.
“That night, the night that you asked your aunt Caitlyn about…” My jaw slacked ajar, awaiting his next sentence. “…your mother and I fought, as we did many nights.”
“You argued? I don’t remember you fighting.”
“We tried our best to wait until you were in bed. We wanted to shield you from the upset.”
The lucid dream from nights ago soared to the forefront of my mind. Was it a suppressed memory after all?
Waiting, I watched as my father continuously spun his gold wedding band round the base of his finger. “I’d come to Caitlyn’s New Year’s Eve party from the pub with some workmates. Grace was up in arms about it. Accused me of being with another woman.”
My breathing haltered. “Why would she think that?”
My father’s hand covered his mouth, his lids blinked rapidly. Through his muffles I could just make out his reply, “I have no idea.”
Was my whole upbringing one big deception? The thought exploded in my chest, robbing me of breath for a dizzying moment.
“I’ve got a headache coming on,” my hand rose to my knitted brow. “Best not to overdo it.”
I couldn’t help but notice my father’s disappointed glare. I watched as it softened in the candlelight into the face that I had grown up with. The face that I once recognised as my dad.
My chair pushed backwards as I stood, creating an uncomfortable, jarring screech. I quickly thanked him for dinner before turning to leave. His heavy footsteps followed me to the front door, a drumming beat to my racing heart.
“Don’t forget this.” He passed me the jacket I’d left strewn out on my mother’s bed. The same jacket that’d had a ticking timebomb enclosed within its inside pocket. I took it from his grasp and draped it carefully over my arm.
We both stared at the empty cloth, thinking of her. Even as I left the house, I didn’t turn back to see if my father was watching me from the doorway. I kept my eyes unwaveringly fixed on the sacred fabric cradled in my arms.
* * *
When I arrived back home, I punched through my contacts in search of Viv’s number. I needed to bring her up-to-speed.
“I found another murder, Viv.” No need for pleasantries.
“What? I thought I was the award-winning journalist?” She genuinely sounded offended.
“Well looks like you’ve got competition. So, are you coming over? I need my sidekick.”
I don’t know if it was the adrenaline of being with my father face-to-face, or knowing I was making headway, but a strange swell of giddiness flew through my veins.
“Give me ten minutes. Have the wine ready.”
She read my mind.
Viv was an excellent timekeeper. In ten minutes, she was flying through my door eager to know more.
“Let’s do this.” She ushered us into the lounge where I’d already set up the laptop on the Jane Powel report. I watched in anticipation while she read, inhaling the scent of cool, night air that had waded in with her arrival. My tapping fingers strummed against my thighs; I craved her acknowledgement - her alliance.
“Interesting,” she finally proclaimed.
I wanted clarity. “Interesting because… I’m on to something?”
“It depends. What was James doing that night? Do you know?”
“That’s where things get really interesting. I called my aunt, who hosted a party that New Year. She says my father left before midnight after an argument with my mum.”
My eyes widened and my brows lifted. I turned out my palms, waiting for her reply.
“Wow, Zoe…this is getting serious now. You have to stay away from him until we decide what to do about all this.”
My face flushed. Was I so naive?“I’ve already been to see him, earlier today. He invited me over for tea.”
I dodged the pillows as Viv threw them at me.
“Zoe! What did I say? I’d go with you. At the very least you should have informed me, so I could make sure you came home.”
The sense of playfulness dissipated. “You think he’d hurt me?”
Zoe simply shrugged and sighed. That was a yes then.
“What should I do?”
I knew what she’d say, I just didn’t want to be the first one to say it.
“I think we need to go to the police.” The inner corners of her mouth pulled downwards as she spoke as if they soured against her talk. “We have the letter, two murders, and two accounts of James being unaccounted for during such events. Your right, it doesn’t look great.”
“Come with me?” I asked while nudging her fondly on the shoulder.
“Of course, I’m your sidekick, remember?”
That night, we organised when we’d head for the station. Zoe was covering a story the next day but would be free after work. We knew we might be questioned for some time so planned on grabbing a bite to eat before. Somewhere quick. A drive-thru.
After we’d polished the wine off, we said our goodbyes. I didn’t have work in the morning, so instead of rolling into bed, I decided to stay up and watch Netflix. A crime documentary came up on my recommended list. Was my laptop listening to me? A thought passed my mind then. One day, my father could be the centre of one of these shows. What would I say if I were interviewed? Would I show forgiveness? Would I visit him in jail? Would I still love him? It was pointless considering such possibilities. First things first, I needed to prove that he was guilty.