She steps into the sun-baked garden of the pub with hesitant feet. A toss of her head pushes away the scent of stale beer and allows pricklish anger to reclaim her skin.
Only three tables are occupied, so it takes seconds for her to notice the old man. As she watches him hunched over a pint, she wishes again that it had taken a few more. He’s like a vulture in the last days of his life, swooping down and snatching away every rehearsed line and gesture.
She keeps them close as she approaches, though. He barely notices her, his dewy eyes fixed instead on the pair sitting under the oak tree. The female of the couple notices, though; her hands quickly vanish beneath the table. Beside her the man remains relaxed.
Standing unacknowledged is an exercise in both hope and regret, but she nevertheless indulges for a moment before sitting down. She allows her bag to thud against the table, but the action backfires; pages of handwritten notes spew out, and her jaw tightens as she forces them back inside.
“She’s stuck in meetings, but what else is new?” She undoes the top two buttons of her blouse and fans herself with the loose material.
The old man studies her. “You look like a tramp.”
“Nice, ’cos you can talk, yeah?” She expects it now, but it’s still a punch to the gut. She jabs a finger at his dishevelled form—the wild grey moat around his pate and the cardigans and coat swaddling his already round frame.
He nods, though his face is still empty. “She doesn’t care about work like this, you know. Anyway, you’re late, Anna. We’ve work to do.”
“It’s Eloise!” The routine is the same every time. The forgotten name, the disappointment in her voice. “What are you doing drinking anyway?”
Her phone buzzes against the table and she snatches up. Her relief is brief; the message isn’t from her, but from Hannah, and she cannot bring herself to read it. She reaches across and takes a cigarette from the box in his hand, eyes studying him as she lights it. He won’t stop her—she figures it’s the least he can do for her, and suspects he knows it too.
“Who are we watching, Francis?”
“Murderers.” He spits out the word, pressing a thumbnail into a beer coaster. His face sags as he looks down at it. “Thieves and murderers, Anna.”
“Eloise!” She lets the rest of the retort evaporate as the coaster begins to shake beneath Francis’ hand. Old memories resurface, and she stabs at her phone. Of course she hasn’t called yet.
Nearby, the couple under the tree start to whisper. The glasses around the woman far outnumber those of the man.
When she turns back, Francis looks somehow smaller, his eyes fixed on the coaster. Rolling her eyes, Eloise takes a pen from her bag and places it in front of him, and like a fairground machine fed coins he comes back to life. She bites her lip as she tries to read the scrawl of his writing.
It always seemed so easy in the crime dramas she used to watch, to piece things together into a whole.
Breathing deep, she pushes the cigarette into the ashtray. “Taken any pictures?”
“Can’t find my camera.” Francis presses his hands into his pockets before looking up expectantly. She turns away.
“Good, ’cos it’s messed up.”
Her stomach begins to twist. She wonders why she hasn’t been in touch yet—wonders what she’s playing at. Their argument this morning had been about this very thing.
Francis puts the pen down and sits back, jaw twitching. He doesn’t take his eyes off the couple, and the man eventually notices. He scowls, juts out his chin.
“Stop staring, will you?” Eloise hisses.
“Had Durant on the blower weeks back. Said his son-in-law’s playing the field. Thinks he’s going to murder his wife—Durant’s daughter—for her insurance.”
Clouds slouch across the sun, and Eloise shudders. The man’s relaxed demeanour has returned, but the woman’s hands are gripping the stem of her wine glass.
“Sounds unlikely,” she says. The words chase away the clouds.
“Seen it before. Had a case back in…” His eyes dim. “Where’s Anna?”
“God knows.” Her eyes snap back to the phone, her stomach somersaulting.
“Anna will remember. Worked the case with me. Woman did her husband in.”
“Lovely.” Eloise contemplates reading Hannah’s message, but knows it will make her feel worse. “So who’s this Durant anyway?”
“Old buddy from the force.”
“So does he think she can’t look out for herself if he tells her?”
“Everyone needs to be looked after sometimes.”
She can’t work out if he sounds defensive, but the words carry too much weight for her to care.
“Doesn’t mean everyone gets it, though, yeah? You think sometimes the wrong people are looked after, and the ones who need to be aren’t?”
She knows she should feel sad, but she doesn’t.
“They’re here every Friday.” He both sounds sure and unsure. “Can’t find my camera.”
Eloise watches the sunlight on the man’s ring as he cups the woman’s face.
“Maybe Friday is date day.” She folds her arms. “I finished my exams today. Just saying.”
His face creases. “When did you go back to school, Anna?”
“I should be celebrating.” She lifts another cigarette to her mouth, wondering if she should just leave him to it.
He nods like he understands, but she knows he doesn’t. In silence that follows he pats his pockets again. Her teeth tighten around the cigarette but Francis remains silent. Somehow, that’s worse.
“So can’t the police investigate?”
“Cheating isn’t a crime!” His voice slaps against the birdsong and muted traffic. “And there’s no evidence for the rest of it. That’s why he got in touch!”
“But you don’t do this anymore.”
Francis sits upright, and for the first time Eloise sees something tangible beneath the skin and bone. “Doesn’t matter. You never lose your intuition. He’s going to murder her—Drake believes it, and so do I.”
“Didn’t you say he was called Durant?” She wipes a hand through her hair. The garden has become a heat-trap, another stifling layer against her skin.
Francis presses a thumbnail into the coaster. “Durant… Yes. An old buddy form the force. My daughter knows what happened. She knows.”
“You don’t have a daughter! You have—had—a son…” Eloise shakes her head, and grabs her phone from the table to call her. She was supposed to celebrating. She was supposed to be a daughter, a—
“You’re not listening!” The table shakes as Francis pounds his palms against it. Eloise recoils, her heart thudding against her chest. She looks sideways and realises people are watching them. “He’s going to do it! Just like the case before. Where’s my—”
Lunging, she slaps his hand away from his pocket. “You don’t have your goddamn camera,” she shrieks. “They’re just drinking, Francis. That’s it. No affair, no plot. Does this Durant even exist?”
“Of course! Nothing wrong with my memory!” He slaps the table, his face luminous.
Tears prick her eyes; her fist tightens until nails prick her flesh. “There’s everything wrong with it!”
“No, I’ll prove it!” Francis stands up, but the movement surprises even him. He stands rigid, his eyes blinking as they travel across the garden.
“Oi, mate! You got a problem or something?”
The man has stood up. Beside him, the women tugs his shirt, looking horrified.
Eloise can taste the bile rising up her throat. “He’s not well,” she says, cheeks burning. “Please, he’s not well.” Turning to Francis, she points a finger at his chair. “Sit down!”
Satisfied, the man backs off. “Wants to lay off the booze then,” he remarks loudly to the woman. “Bloody nutter.”
Francis stares at the man, lips moving soundlessly. “Please,” Eloise tries again. “Sit down—Granddad!”
There, she thinks, she’s said it. After years of promising not to. After years of joining him and her father in the bliss of ignorance. Francis looks down at her and, despite herself, Eloise wills him to say her name. To give some sign that he remembers too.
“I don’t have my camera,” he mumbles.
She bows her head, taking his trembling hands in her own. “I know.”
“I want to go home.”
“I know. Soon, okay? Soon.”
They remain at the table until she arrives. Eloise quickly stubs the cigarette out and pushes the smouldering ashtray towards Francis as her mother steps into the garden. The sunlight dances across the tired lines of her face as she approaches. Her eyes linger on the smouldering cigarette, before she turns and places a hand on Francis’ shoulder.
“Francis? It’s Anna. Your daughter-in—Listen, I’ve come to take you back, okay?”
He shrinks from her touch.
“Come on,” Anna says softly, helping him up. She glances over her shoulder. “Do you want a ride back, El?”
Eloise lifts her phone. “Want to catch Hannah and the others. Celebrating… Exams and all.”
Anna winces. “Of course, I… I’m sorry, El. I should have asked this morning instead of… Well that. It’s been tough.
“I didn’t want to ask you to come here again, but work…” Anna shakes her head. “Don’t be late, okay? Jay’s away this weekend so we can have a girls night if you want? Talk about your exams?”
“Sounds good.” Eloise turns to pick up her bag and notices the couple opposite are now holding hands. Again the sunlight glints off the man’s ring, and it makes it more noticeable that the woman isn’t wearing one. Eloise’s stomach flutters at the sight. He was right about the affair, wasn’t he? There really was something of him still there.
Then a horrible chill envelopes her.
“Where’s Jay this weekend, Mom?”
Anna looks over her shoulder. “Oh, looking at another business we might invest in.”
The chill creeps across Eloise’s limbs and into her chest. “With Dad’s money? Guess even now he’s looking out for us, huh?”
Anna’s face cracks for just a moment, but it’s enough. Eloise almost gasps as she recalls Francis’ words.
You never lose your intuition.