Chapter 11. Men.
On the drive home, Maeve ran the logistics in her mind. She definitely wouldn’t have time for a proper root around in the woods with Orla if she had to be back in time to see Steve. Plus she might be a bit distracted. Maybe best leave it for a day and have the walk before driving up to Cambridge for Marianne. If, fingers crossed, her test was negative.
Maeve got home in time to have a slice of toast and coffee with Orla as she tried to convince Orla to spend some time with her in the woods. It turned out that Maeve’s timing would work out well. Orla couldn’t face any trees yet, but she liked the idea of going for a walk in a wood that wasn’t under threat at the moment. With a day to prepare herself, she should be fine, she didn’t think that she would have another emotional breakdown. Today, a day in town was what Orla wanted, just window shopping was perfect.
So that was decided, as soon as Orla was ready, they would go into town together. Maeve told Orla about her lunch date with Steve, because being accidentally spotted was definitely not worth the risk. Maeve had done that before and had learned her lesson.
Orla was a little more discreet than Ada, she understood that this was not something that Maeve was comfortable talking about. So she tried hard not to react, seeing Maeve exhale with relief, Orla felt that she had been reasonably successful. Still she hoped that it might work out for Maeve, they all approved of Steve.
While waiting for Orla, Maeve turned her attention towards Edward. She tried again, this time not waiting for him to appear, just addressing the room,
“Edward, if Orla and I go walking in the woods should we be wary of anyone in particular? Edward, do you know that if we went and got into trouble, and you knew something, and hadn’t warned us, then it would be your fault?”
With that Edward appeared behind her,
“Well, it's those vagabonds, they are the ones. I only tell you because you must be careful. There’re many people who had to take to the woods after, you know, after the Christmas business. I’m not talking. I keep my peace. I’m just sayin as you need to go in company, not alone.”
This gave Maeve something to go on. She could start checking things out online, she knew he was connected to Sir Edward Hales and she could cross reference that with some event that happened around Christmas. Hopefully that would be enough.
Orla appeared with a subtle slim fit down jacket which for some reason made Maeve notice that she was looking very smart. She had brushed her hair and put it up, and maybe there was a trace of eye make-up. Maeve was looking at her and seeing her daughter for the first time, no longer as an awkward teenager, but as a beautiful confident young woman.
Orla misinterpreted Maeve’s moment of reflection, so as if in self defence, she said,
“What? Just because I want to save the planet doesn’t mean I have to look like a sack of potatoes. Anyway while you are on your date, sorry official business, I’m meeting a friend for coffee.”
Deflecting any further comments from herself, Orla went on,
“I have heard that they now do churros with melted chocolate in the Dane John garden, as ‘takeaway’ food.”
Maeve smiled, she had a fair idea who this friend might be. It was likely to be Adam, the handsome young PhD student of archeology, who Orla had helped to rescue from a deeply unpleasant situation. But as advised by Ada, she didn’t want to get this wrong by being too interfering. And she wasn’t sure how Orla’s relationship with Adam would work out, so responded with what she hoped was a cheery sounding,
“Great, that sounds lovely. I didn’t want you to feel as if you weren’t welcome to join me but that sounds like a much better idea.”
The weather was in the process of turning cold, there was a misty feel, and the trees were losing their leaves with each gust of wind. Not ideal for eating outside, but not too cold yet either, and at least it wasn’t raining. They did a quick walk through Beverly Meadow. Maeve now knew that if she didn’t ‘call’ the spirit linked to the park then she probably wouldn’t appear, anyway they seemed to prefer to talk to her when she was on her own.
The closer they got to Canterbury, the more anxious Maeve felt. She was only half listening to Orla. As she consciously registered this, she glanced over to see if Orla had noticed. She saw that like her, the closer they got to town the more animated Orla was getting, she now had a healthy touch of pink in her cheeks. Maeve laughed to herself thinking that they hadn’t got to the stage where they could share what they were feeling about romantic relationships. Neither of them were ready for that yet.
Trying to be sensitive, Maeve suggested that they split up, giving each of them some time on their own to prepare themselves for their rendez-vous. A relieved Orla carried on walking along the High Street.
Maeve peeled off into Stour St to drop off Ada’s prints which she had carefully packed in her backpack. They weren’t too heavy and Maeve was happy that Ada wasn’t into doing large prints yet.
Maeve had listened to Ada’s advice and without going overboard had taken a look at herself in the mirror before she left home. She could do with a haircut but that would have to wait till lockdown eased. Otherwise she had gone for the ‘enhanced natural’ look, being a little makeup rather than any femme fatale red lipstick. And had on her smarter navy Barbour jacket as opposed to the much loved, full of holes, green with brown corduroy Barbour jacket. It is doubtful that Steve would have noticed the difference, but Maeve felt that bit more confident. Anyway he had news for her so he probably wouldn’t be looking.
Steve spotted her as soon as she turned into St Margarets Street. He had got there a little early, to make sure that he could reserve the bench resting against St Margaret’s Church in the alleyway beside the fish and chip shop. This was their idea for a makeshift outdoor restaurant. It wasn’t romantic, but then this was supposed to be work, and Steve wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t be overheard, so it would do.
Food bought, they sat at either end of the bench, as far away as possible. The practicalities of getting served whilst distancing had made them both laugh, so tension had been relieved. Steve was chatting comfortably,
“...so the bikes around town with all the crazy colours and covered in flowers, you know the ‘flowerpowerbikes’. I found out that they were inspired by a guy in Amsterdam who covered his wife’s bike with flowers so that she could find it. That was years ago and he is still doing it.”
Maeve couldn’t wait any longer, did Steve just want to meet up with her or was something up, direct as ever she said,
“What did you want to tell me in person?”
Steve appreciated her straightforward approach to everything. Looking around to make sure there were no other customers lingering nearby, he leant a little closer before saying,
“After you left, the forensic team cleared away the rest of the debris. Then as they moved the body. Now we could see the other side of the body. It was clear that he had been hit hard on the back of the head. Almost as if someone had swung a golf club and caught him just where the head meets the neck. That man’s death was no accident.”
Stunned Maeve simply looked at Steve as she took all of this in. After a moment as her colour returned to normal, she said,
“But, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t pick up any sense that he was unhappy. In fact the opposite, it was calm, peaceful, content.”
Steve was trying to look her straight in the eyes as he said,
“Now you know why I wanted to see you in person. Not only to tell you this, but to ask you to do something. Look at me. After your recent experience in Butchery Lane, I want to see your answer to this question.”
She turned, with some trepidation.
They looked directly at each other, over the remains of the meal, the leftover chips now cold, gathered up in the paper they had been wrapped in.
Steve spoke slowly and clearly,
“Will you call the dead?”