He even asked about Eko, and when I mentioned Eko’s duties at the guesthouse in Lampu’uk, he suggested that the young man (his words) could be gainfully employed here, now that Hannah wasn’t returning.
‘Hannah? What happened?’
Charles opened out his hands. ‘To put it bluntly, Delcie caught me with my pants down, fired Hannah, and I thought it best to go AWOL for a while.’ He saw my look of disbelief and added, ‘yes, my behaviour—unfitting for an officer and a gentleman, but I made it up to Hannah, and I hope to do the same for Delcie.’
‘She’s still my wife,’ I said, ‘even though we’ve grown apart.’
Charles nodded. ‘Richard that’s something…’ but I held up my hand. I didn’t much care what the two of them got up to, as long as they didn’t flaunt it my face like that bloody Donaldson. And I told him so.
Charles nodded again. We had reached an understanding.
The taxi stalled in a traffic jam, giving us an opportunity to relate our adventures. His, quite amusing, especially his run in with a Russian gangster, which seemed on par with my brush with a secret agent. I’m sure we both embellished our stories, and by the time we finally arrived at the House we were talked-out but more at ease in each other’s company.
An hour or so later, after we had both showered and in dressing gowns, we settled down in the lounge to wait for Delcie. Charles, seated at the table, riffled a pack of cards, and I flopped on the sofa with my Tolstoy book.
‘Give it an hour,’ Charles said, ‘then I’m off to bed.’
‘And me,’ I said, flicking over a page. ‘Truth is, I might turn-in sooner. Just thinking about Mary wears me out, let alone Jane’s funeral and Junior’s future. And her paternity threat. Bloody witch.’
Charles stopped playing his game. Tapped his fingers on the table, turned to me. ‘Did you..?’
He left the question hanging. I put down my book, and rubbed my eyes. ‘So we’re clear, whatever insinuations Mary makes, I am positive Jamie was Jane’s father. We were pretty close back then, and even though he was starting a course of chemotherapy he told me he still had as many tadpoles as a sperm whale.’
‘So did I,’ said Charles, somewhat wistfully, I thought. ‘And her implication includes you, doesn’t it?’
I shook my head. ‘Fertile imagination, Charles. She’s desperate to lumber one of us for her future upkeep.’
‘So you never..?’
Another dangling question, which I swatted. ‘I’m not Jane’s father, Charles.’
Silence from him. After a few moments he nodded, and turned back to his card game, our earlier bonhomie dissipated. I doubted we would ever become close, or even friends while we lived together — much less, merely a compromise.
As it happened, I didn’t retire early. Either I became engrossed in my book or Delcie returned sooner than I expected. When she sidled into the lounge coughing, I blinked. She looked like she’d been through a mince-making machine; clothes creased, hair straggly, and dark circles under her eyes. Charles asked about Mary, which led to a minor skirmish involving Beatriz, Mary recovering, and then him raising the paternity issue — which Delcie avoided by seeking alcoholic salvation.
Much to my surprise, Charles kept his promise of mending fences with her, albeit his grand gesture of rustling up a nightcap had her asking if he was ill.
He grinned. ‘As Hannah didn’t come back with me, it’s the least I can do. A sort of peace offering.’
‘Oh,’ she said, biting her lip, and settling down at the other end of the sofa. ‘I see.’
Clearly she didn’t, and wasn’t about to ask why. But I had no such qualms, so I stuck my oar in. ‘What happened?’
He shot me a look that tested our fragile truce, but I met it with a deflecting smile and he backed off.
‘All I want to say is that Hannah has gone back to her family, and I’ve returned to mine — that’s if, you both agree to let me stay.’
I shrugged, put down my book. ‘I could say the same. Do you both want me here?’
Delcie threw up her arms as though chastising a spoilt pair of kindergarten kids. ‘Richard, this is your home until you pop your clogs — and Charles, just get me a large vodka before I pass out.’
My phone rang. I dug it out of my dressing gown pocket and looked at the display. It wasn’t Eko, but it had to be Tevfik.
Wouldn’t it? I clicked on the call button, said hello, and was reassured when I heard his voice.
‘Mr. Richard, I have returned from Lampu’uk. Eko is with me, but he won’t travel to Aceh unless I accompany him.’
‘Oh,’ I said, glancing at Charles who was gesturing at me. I shook my head at the offer of a drink, picked up my book and stood up.
‘Mr. Richard. Are you still there?’
‘Yes, yes. Hold on a minute.’
I gestured goodnight to Delcie, shuffled out of the lounge to the stairway, where I paused. ‘Okay,’ I said, as I climbed up. ‘You’re welcome to bring him here.’
‘That’s one of the problems,’ he said. ‘My wife is not well. I cannot leave her right now.’
Bloody hell. It’s never plain sailing.
I reached my bedroom door. ‘Well, I could come and get him,’ I said, as I opened it and stepped inside.
‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s more difficult than that.’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ I said, ‘just tell me what’s wrong.’
I sank down on the bed as he explained. I had to agree it was difficult, and I looked up at the ceiling and prayed for Angelique to visit me.
Help me bring Eko home.