Since I met Eko outside “our” mosque, it’s been different. Eko — at sixteen — lost his family; both parents and three older brothers. I brought him into the House, much to Delcie’s surprise. She turned up her nose when I introduced him. Later, she collared me making sandwiches in the kitchen when Eko went to explore the grounds.
‘Richard, he’s a native.’
‘He’s an orphan. And he speaks English.’
No effect. She tried conciliation. ‘Why is he here?’
She tried to reason. ‘Open your eyes, Richard. There are hundreds of similar victims — and we’re not a charity.’
That pissed me off. I toyed with the bread knife, tested the serrated edge for sharpness with my thumb. ‘He’s bloody well staying with me, and that’s final.’
She spat out a reply. ‘You mean sleeping with you? It’s disgusting.’
I sighed. ‘We talk to the spirits, that’s all.’
Delcie’s voice went up an octave — into the soprano range. ‘Spirits? It’s macabre, are you crazy?’
A lingering malaise passed between us, which heralded in Charles on cue. He frowned at us but directed his words at me.
‘Did you realise there was an intruder in the grounds by the stables? If I hadn’t accosted him, we could all have been murdered in our beds.’
I pointed the knife at him. ‘What have you bloody well done?’
He brushed my comments aside. ‘Turfed the bastard out on his ear, old boy. Told him to bugger off, in so many words.’
‘What? Are you some kind of bloody idiot?’
Charles’s voice went cold. One of his eyelids twitched; a sure sign he was expecting confrontation. ‘You heard me,’ he said.
I didn’t disappoint him, but my incandescence tempered.
‘Did you realise that Eko — your intruder — is my guest? My guest, do you understand? So you can bloody well go and bring him back.’
Delcie interrupted. ‘Richard, don’t be stupid. Charles acted in good faith. How was he to know that this Eko is your toy-boy?’
A silence between us; Delcie’s eyebrows rose in mock horror — or so it appeared, until Charles roared with laughter. ‘Toy-boy? Oh my giddy aunt.’
Enough. ‘Sod the bloody pair of you. I’ll go and find him, and we’ll move into the West Wing.’ I made a point of slowly sliding the breadknife back into the board, while staring at Charles. ‘Just so we’re crystal clear old-boy. Eko’s my houseguest, you hear me?’
They heard me. Deafening silence followed my footsteps outside.
Stables — a misnomer for a barn never utilised; now rotting wood and tin sheets lying in untidy heaps backed up against the stone walls. The aftermath of the tsunami remained evident, despite our meagre attempts to restore the splendour. I sighed. A few gaping holes in the once-solid masonry opened an invitation to any intruder; no wonder Charles assumed Eko was one.
I made my way to the Iron Gate close by, lifted the broken padlock out of its latch, and pushed against the cool breeze. The gate creaked open on rusty hinges, another maintenance chore going unheeded.
I surveyed the scene. Slimy silt as far as the eye could see. Closer, a few forlorn grasses sprouted through piles of rubble and junk. To one side a listless pond, now overgrown with whispering rushes and reeds, a few screeching gulls swooping low as if seeking prey — but no bloody sign of human life nearby.
Eko had gone.
Bloody hell. The light faded, and I wasn’t going to risk breaking a leg clambering over God knows what. I swallowed my chagrin and tramped back to the House.
Delcie was waiting. She frowned. ‘Did you find him?’
I waved my arms. ‘Does it look like I did?’
‘I guess not. But I was concerned. He’s a youngster, the weather is turning, and it’s getting dark.’
A spark of humanity the tsunami hadn’t extinguished — or had something or someone lightened her mood? I suspected Charles but, for once, I was way off beam. I held her gaze. She hesitated at first.
‘Richard, there’s something I want to tell you.’
‘Remember Mary Parrington…?’
‘What? She’s here?’
‘I what?’ said Charles, who slid up behind her.
‘I was about to tell Richard I’d met Jane Parrington down by the market…you remember Mary, my best friend from Roehampton…her daughter.’
‘Ah yes,’ he said. ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary. Not my cup of tea, though.’
Delcie arched an eyebrow. ‘Is that so? Most men found her… captivating.’
Charles smiled, gazed at me. ‘Richard should know. A hungry python, what, old boy?’
I ignored the jibe. ‘Look,’ I said. What about this Jane Parrington…What’s so bloody important?’
Delcie smiled, showed us a picture of her. Quite unlike my svelte Angelique — Jane had ginger hair, a toothy grin, and a protruding bump.
‘She’s having a baby, and I’ve said she’s welcome to stay here for a while.’
Blood rose to my cheeks. ‘What the..?’
She didn’t miss a beat. ‘I knew you’d be delighted,’ she said. ‘You have your toy-boy, and I’ll have Jane’s baby to mind.’