Men are so predictable. All they think about is what’s in it for them. So easy to manipulate. Take Charles, for instance. Mention a bit of nooky, and he starts to slaver and whinny.
Rather than get into a squabble with Richard, I let Charles persuade him to join us to confront Mary. For both, the paternity issue was key — the costs of upbringing a child would be daunting — even though they were adamant they had not fathered Jane.
I half-expected Richard would have shrugged his shoulders when he heard the tests had been dropped, but he must have smelt a rat.
And Charles. He had a nose for deceit, as I knew so well. Did the dirty on me with Hannah.
In retrospect, I should have waited until the following day — I was tired from my journey back to the Manor, and I guessed the “boys” would be, too. But I had a sense that Mary would be itching to leave without any of us cottoning on to her good fortune.
Half a million quid.
Hence, after my fortifying vodka, I told Charles to lock up with Richard’s houseboy patrolling the grounds — or more likely, him sheltering in the sunroom — while I hailed a taxi.
I half-expected that fate or misfortune would prevent us from visiting Mary, or that she had checked out. But she still had some luggage upstairs, and I doubted she’d leave that behind. And no other problems arose on route — even Richard seemed amenable when we picked him up at the docks.
But he was quiet. Too quiet.
We arrived at the hospital as dusk turned into night, waved through reception and along to her room. Inside, she was awake and looking none the worse for wear. Even a splash of make-up, and her neatly combed tresses tied in a bun with a pink ribbon.
Pity about the smudged mascara. And the grey hairs. ‘You’re looking better,’ I said. ‘Just like old times.’
Whether she thought I was being sincere or winding her up, she didn’t show it. Instead, she sat up in bed, plumped the pillow, and held out her hands in greeting.
‘And what do I owe this pleasure? A full family complement.’ She frowned, her hands trembled. ‘Don’t tell me. I’m about to die, aren’t I?’
‘Don’t be silly,’ I said. ‘We’re here to talk about Junior.’
‘Actually, we’re not,’ said Charles. ‘I suggest we drag in a few chairs, and get down to business.’
Mary blinked. ‘What business?’
‘Paternity tests,’ said Richard, an edge to his voice. ‘You know, the ones you demanded us to take, and now you’ve changed your mind. Why?’
‘Hold on,’ I said. ‘Go and find the chairs, first.’
While they scouted around outside, I whispered to Mary. ‘You better sound convincing.’
She glared at me, glanced outside. ‘You know, don’t you?’
I bared my teeth. Predator style. ‘I haven’t the faintest idea. But I do hope we can decide what’s going to happen to Junior before you do a moonlight flit.’
Richard barged in carrying two chairs. ‘What was that, Delcie?’
‘Full moon, tonight.’
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘wolves howling and kitties prowling.’
‘I heard that,’ said Charles, returning with a third chair. ‘Tell me more.’
I put a finger to my lips. ‘Shush. Let Mary do the talking.’
‘Let’s hear it, then,’ said Charles, a smirk on his face as if picturing a different scene. ‘I’m all ears.’
‘And me,’ said Richard, who wasn’t smiling.
What’s up with him? He’d spit it out eventually, so I gave Mary some slack while she skirted round the issue.
‘…I can’t bring Jane back to life, but NEMO has agreed to repatriate her body back to England, and fund the funeral expenses. That’s a big weight taken off my shoulders.’ She gazed up at the ceiling as if seeking celestial guidance. ‘And I realise it would be unfair to add to your worries. You’ve also lost loved ones. So I told Hamish not to pursue my request for paternity tests.’
‘A request, said Charles. ‘Last time I heard, it was a demand.’
‘That’s correct,’ said Richard. ‘I recorded that very word in my notebook.’
Mary looked at me. A sign to intervene.
‘I think what Mary is saying is she was distraught when she made that statement. We all were.’ Mary was nodding. I pushed out the boat. ‘Now she’s had time to reflect, and she’s sorry.’
Charles didn’t seem convinced. ‘So where does that leave us, then?’
‘It means,’ I said, looking back at Mary, ‘that we mustn’t forget Jane’s son.’
Mary held out both hands. A pacifier? ‘I think Jamie would have approved,’ she said. ‘I am hoping that you could…well you know…’
‘Look after him, you mean?’ Richard’s neck was reddening. A sure sign he wasn’t liking what she was suggesting.
Had that been bugging him?
Charles leapt in. ‘Do you know how much it costs to raise a kid? It’s not petty cash by a long chalk.’
I kept quiet. Looked at my nails. They needed a manicure. I made a mental note to get them done. Perhaps a pedicure at the same time. And my hair…
Mary was talking. ‘Oh, I wasn’t suggesting you funded Junior. NEMO’s doing that. But I want him to stay here with people he knows until I sort myself out.’
‘Humph’, said Richard. ‘How long will that be?’
I jumped in. ‘We’d be delighted,’ I said, ‘providing our costs are met. Won’t we, Richard?’
He didn’t answer, which I took to be a good sign he was contemplating the arrangement, but Charles surprised me.
‘Now we’ve got Eko as our houseboy, what’s a little extra? House rattles as it is.’
My turn. ‘And we could employ a nurse, couldn’t we, Mary?’
Not a pretty one, though. A robot, preferably. Japan had plenty…
She smiled — the Machiavellian one, probably to seal the deal. ‘All of Junior’s medical care is fully covered.’
I could have whooped with joy, but hid my feelings — just in case it all went pear-shaped. ‘Well that’s settled, isn’t it, Richard?’ He was staring at his feet. ‘Richard?’
‘I didn’t father Jane,’ he said, looking up at me. His eyes were glistening. ‘Did I, Delcie?’
Pear-shaped? Oh, not now. Please not now.