The Silver Lining

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Chapter 5 - Zoe

In the days after my chat with Vivienne, I had to see my father, especially given that we would both be at Grace’s funeral. Staying away from him after my mum died wasn’t a plausible response. He’d suspect something to be amiss if I’d abandoned him without reason. Besides, some part of me still needed my father. I was so conflicted about how to react. Viv might be right. My mum could be mistaken, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t give him a chance.

The funeral was hard. For most of the day, I stood or sat next to him. Both adorned in the only black clothes we owned, although physically together, we mourned separately. Alone. Silent. Not once did we utter a word about her to one another. How we missed her. How unfair it was that she was gone. The only interactions we had, were the condolences of friends and family. Like robots, we smiled and nodded to others’ kindnesses. At the wake, we separated into our different social cliques, drowning our sorrows. I wasn’t prepared for him to make a speech.

“I just want to say, thank you for being here today. I know Grace would be comforted by the outpouring of love that you have all shared with Zoe and me. It means the world to us.”

I felt inclined, so I smiled at this notion, feeling the redness rise across my chest as all eyes stared at me, eager for my father to continue - curious to know what he’d say.

“Grace was the love of my life. As trivial as that phrase may sound, it really is true. She lit up every room she entered, and people just loved to be around her. She was funny, beautiful, and genuine. I don’t want to dwell on the bleakness that was the last decade of her life. I want today to be about remembering Grace in her heydays! The Grace we all knew and cherished. To Grace!”

Through the surge of clinking glasses, Viv chirped up in my ear, “Christ, if he is a killer, he is one of the best actors going.”

I followed Viv’s gaze as it sized up my father. “How’s the research going? Found anything yet?” I replied with a swig of wine.

“Well I didn’t want to get into it here, but I think I’ve found something of interest. Come round to my place tomorrow, after the wake.”

My skin tingled with anticipation and dread.“I can’t wait until tomorrow, Viv. I know it looks unsympathetic, but I need to do this tonight. The not knowing is killing me.”

Her eyebrows raised at my turn of phrase. I pushed my hands together in prayer and mimed ‘please’.

“Okay, okay. I hear you. Let’s just put things on the back burner for now and focus on your mum. She deserves a proper send-off.” With that Viv lifted her glass, indicating me to do the same.

“To mum,” I whispered, all the while contemplating what secrets Viv had uncovered.

*

Back at Viv’s place, my tummy was in knots. I knew I’d need more alcohol in my system before embarking on the next part of our evening.

Without even uttering a word, Viv declared, “Wine is in the fridge, help yourself, and grab me a glass while I set up my laptop.”

I sauntered over to her kitchen; an interior as put together as Viv. I cast my gaze across the clean, shiny surfaces with pops of cherry red accents from her designer kettle and toaster. The world could be coming to an end, and everything would still be neatly in its place.

My hands found the integrated fridge after a few attempts. I eagerly grabbed the entire bottle and two glasses before heading to her bedroom. One of the glasses slipped from my grasp and plummeted to the floor, shattering into jagged shards. Glancing my head around the doorway, I could see that Viv was firing up her laptop, focused and raring to go. Undeterred, she simply told me to clean it up later and grab another (less fancy) glass from her cupboard without breaking task.

“You ready?”

I poured myself a large glass of Pinot Grigio, inhaled the liquid courage and nodded.

“Okay, so it’s not much. I’ve had a lot going on at work and could only do so much since our chat, but I think I’m on the right track. I started googling about murders in the area - actually found a website that tracks murders in your local area. Someone has set this up. It has a whole section dedicated to unsolved crime. You just type in your postcode, and it will generate a list of incidents within a 10-mile radius. I stretched the search area to include all of York, and started looking through the list, to see if anything jumped out.” Viv tapped at her screen before revealing her finding. “Here - A woman, 31 years old, stabbed seven times, left for dead in Howardian Hills. No suspect. No witnesses. Found by dog walkers.”

The case interested me, but I didn’t see an association with my father, “What makes you think it has anything to do with my dad?” I asked, now pacing up and down her room.

“First of all, the park is only an 18-minute drive away. Second of all, the date.”

My muscles turned rigid. “What about the date?”

“She was killed the day you were born, 12th January, 1987.”

I sucked in my breath. My mother and I told the story of my birth to friends and family as an entertaining anecdote. A jibe in jest. Viv, in attendance at all my social events, must have heard the story a dozen times. Whenever anyone mentioned someone being late, or forgetting something, or making a blunder, my mother would interject, “Don’t get me started! I’ve got the epitome as a husband! You should think yourself lucky. No one could find him! There I was, going into labour, and James was nowhere to be found. I’d woken up with soaked sheets, and the contractions were already intense. I rolled over to tell James and he wasn’t in bed. We didn’t have a mobile back then, so I went next door. Neighbours kindly took me to the hospital, and all the while I’m thinking - where the hell is he? I go through the entire labour on my own. I’m sitting there, holding Zoe, at that point unnamed, and in he walks, with a shopping bag, as if nothing was amiss. So I ask him, ’where have you been?’ That’s when he pulled out a pot of ice cream and said we’d run out. During my pregnancy, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff, so when he noticed we’d run out, he popped off to the off-license to restock. He said when he realised I must have gone into labour, he walked to the hospital. Figured labour took a while, and he’d make it in time! Men! It is safe to say that I’ve gone right off ice cream!”

My father would laugh off the story, claiming he’d been slandered for being a doting partner trying to do a good deed. No one ever questioned his whereabouts or asked exactly how long he was gone, or why he went at such a ridiculous time.

I stood up a little straighter and aired my concerns, “My God. That is weird. Why have I never heard of this case?”

“The woman who died had no partner was estranged from her family, and had no children that we’re aware of. She has never been formally identified. No one knows who she is. I guess a middle-aged nobody wasn’t big news back in the day. Isn’t like now with social media. The newspaper headlines changed daily. Most people bought national news; the main stories were the big stories.”

“I still think a local, mysterious murder like that would have hit Haxby. This could have been what started my mother’s suspicions. If she did hear about it, wouldn’t you suspect?”

“Possibly, or your mum could have still been in the hospital, or been busy with you - her new-born baby.”

Whatever this was, it felt significant. There are coincidences and then there are coincidences. This felt personal. Coldness consumed my body. If this was my father’s doing, why choose to murder someone on the day your daughter is about to be born? It was incredible of Viv to uncover it.

“I can’t believe you found this, Viv. This is impressive stuff. It must have taken you hours. Thank you.” I held her gaze.

“Anything I can do to help. What does it actually prove though?” she asked curiously.

“It makes my mother’s claims plausible if nothing else. We need more though. Are there any similar crimes to this?”

“I don’t know, as soon as I saw this one, I fixated on it. What would we look for next?”

I jumped into detective mode, thinking strategically. “Murderers are meant to have an MO right? Let’s focus on the things this murder has.”

I grabbed a pen and paper and start scribbling down notes for Viv to see. Weapon equals knife. Women. Lonely. Woods. York.

“When did your parents move to Haxby, do you know?” Viv queried.

I scratched my head, thinking. “They met in ’79 in Ireland when my mum was visiting there. I think they married in ’85 and moved to Haxby that same year. I don’t know where they lived before then, or if they were even living together before they got hitched.”

I was impressed by how much I could remember. I normally couldn’t recall what I ate for breakfast.

“That’s plenty for now. Let’s focus on the stabbings of women in and around Haxby between 1985 and today.” Anyone listening in on our conversation would think we were professionals. Or idiots.

“Won’t the Police have done the same thing? Are we being silly?” Were we silly?

“Probably, but what else are we going to do?”

Viv was right. I couldn’t not look into it. I was in too deep now. Going back to any sort of normal existence was out of the question.

“Sorry mum,” I said, edging closer to Vivienne. “How do we search?”

“Good old Google.”


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