Hamish’s conspiratorial grin annoyed me. He reminded me of a naughty school kid, and I wondered why I felt attracted to him in the first place.
Vulnerable? Yes. I’d been at a low point and I grabbed at anything and anyone who made me feel good inside. My weakness — men who offered no real comfort.
I sighed. ‘I thought you were in surgery.’
‘Delcie, I’m winding down, handing over my role to others. That’s what I want to talk to you about.’
‘Oh,’ I said. I restrained from mentioning Beatriz — I’d rather have a lobotomy than show any emotion to him.
‘Lucky I caught you before you left. Who were you waiting for?’
Not you, that’s for sure. ‘Just gathering my thoughts. Thinking about Rod’s visit.’
‘Ah, and that’s the other matter.’
He was being obtuse, I could tell. Another of his childish pranks, no doubt. I sighed, replaced my magazine, and stood up. ‘Well, come on then. Back to your office?’
‘Eh, no,’ he said. ‘There’s a consultancy room over there’— he pointed — ‘it’s private.’
Inside a table and two chairs. He closed the door, and we sat facing each other, the table between us. I looked him in the eyes — puffed up and red — stubble on his cheeks and chin, and his skin pale and leathery. His stint here in Aceh had taken its toll.
‘Well?’ I said.
He rubbed a hand across his face, grimacing as he did so. ‘I’m leaving the day after tomorrow. I’ve no reason to linger, now that Rod’s arranging Jane’s funeral in the UK, and Junior is being transferred to a children’s hospital in Jakarta.’
‘I’m glad,’ I said, ‘you look worn-out.’
He half-smiled. ‘Jane, Junior, and Mary—I wouldn’t want to go through that again.’ He stopped as if a thought had struck him. ‘And talking of Mary, she told me to forget about the paternity tests. It didn’t matter anymore.’ He peered into my eyes. ‘You visited her. Do you know why?’
I held his gaze, my mind working overtime. ‘News to me,’ I said. ‘How did that come about?’
He shrugged. ‘After we wheeled her into a private room, care of NEMO, I understand. Maybe Rod knows.’
There wasn’t much left to talk about. We skirted around each other like wary animals afraid to interact, and eventually I tired of the diversion. I stood up. So did he. ‘Have a safe trip,’ I said. We didn’t embrace or shake hands. I suspect he knew the reason why.
‘And you,’ he said. ‘I’m really sorry about Jane and…well you know…’
Matters of the heart left unsaid. I had nothing to add. Just acknowledged his words, and departed, him staring at my back, or so I surmised.
With Hamish ticked off my list, and off the radar, my attention rested on Rod. His visit had triggered Mary’s change of mood. Money was in the equation, somehow, and I resolved to find out.
I shouldered my handbag, walked outside, and hailed a waiting taxi. ‘NEMO offices,’ I said to the driver.
Mid-afternoon. On my way, I wondered if the “boys” had made any progress with a replacement for Hannah. I pulled out my phone, but the battery was flat.
At NEMO’s offices I half-expected Rod to be otherwise engaged, but remarkably he was available, and pleased to see me.
‘I’m glad you came,’ he said. ‘I messaged you. Did you read it?’
I shook my head. ‘Sorry, my phone needs recharging.’
He frowned. ‘Then..?’
‘In private?’ I said.
‘Yes, of course. Follow me. Would you like a coffee?’
All charm that day. Like a heavy weight off his shoulders.
‘Okay,’ he said, when seated in the library room, and sipping hot coffee from mugs. ‘I had good news for Mary.’
I waited. Yes, NEMO were funding repatriation and funeral expenses, but more importantly — he started to speak.
‘NEMO has a splendid staff welfare policy. Life and accident cover for all senior Ex-pats. Head office confirmed today that Jane was eligible, and ready to pay a substantial amount into her estate.’ He ignored my startled expression and continued. ‘I immediately went to see Mary to tell her.’
I smiled at him. ‘Great news. How much?’
He swallowed. Looked at me. Looked around the room, perhaps expecting an eavesdropper. ‘Promise you won’t tell?’
I could have told him I’d kept secrets for decades. I could have told him I knew who fathered Angelique. But it didn’t matter — right then. All I wanted was to get Mary off my back. So I copied the bedside smile and affirmative spiel Hamish reserved for his patients.
‘Rod, you know me better than that.’
He nodded. ‘And believe me, I’m mighty relieved that my job is safe. Must be Karma.’
‘All in all, close to half a million sterling, plus ongoing care for the baby.’
Good heavens. No wonder Mary dropped the paternity tests. Didn’t want any man sharing that windfall. I immediately regretted my thoughts. For me, all the money in the world wouldn’t replace Jane. I couldn’t even say goodbye to her at her funeral. I wiped away a tear.
What would I tell the “boys”?
I drained my coffee, wrapped up further pleasantries with Rod, and wished him well. Decided to buy a chicken take-away on my way back to the Manor, and wallow in my wake with a bottle of Gordon’s.
The Manor was shrouded in darkness when I returned. I frowned. No welcoming light. Where were they?
They weren’t inside. I switched on the downstairs lamps and made my way to the kitchen. Priorities: plug in the phone recharger, eat my dinner, settle down with a large gin, and then call them.
The chicken was too spicy, and the rice too soggy. I cursed the lack of a housekeeper, and hoped the “boys” would turn up trumps on their return.
With that thought I picked up the house phone, thumbed through the directory, and found Richard’s number.
I called him.
‘Where are you? I said. ‘Have you found a replacement for Hannah, yet?’
Hesitation from his end. ‘I’m with Charles. At the police station in Sabang. We’ve run into a glitch.’ More hesitation. ‘I’m not sure when we’ll get back.’
At the police station? In Sabang? I sensed uncertainty in his voice. Strange. ‘Why? What’s wrong?’
‘We don’t know yet.’ I heard voices. ‘That’s the problem...I have to go.’
Sugar and shit. What now?