The bonfire’s growing by the day. It must be twelve feet in diameter. More than ten feet high.
Bruno admires his handiwork. A placard. Three foot high and six foot wide.
BRING BACK BONFIRE NIGHT
It says SITE TRAFFIC ONLY on the back. He’s tried painting it over but you can still make out the words.
Bruno’s misjudged the spacing. He’s had to squeeze the final letters in. The B at the beginning is almost twice the size of the final T of Night.
I say ‘You didn’t think to write it out in pencil first?’
Lester gives me a scornful look. ‘It’s not meant to be designed. We don’t want it to look corporate. It’s a community campaign.’
‘A campaign for us to save the cost of moving waste off site.’
‘A campaign to reinstate a much-loved community tradition.’
‘We’re listening to local people.’ Bruno says on cue. Dutifully. Mechanically. As though he’s reading from a script.
I’ve learnt my lines as well.
‘Reflecting the aspirations and ambitions of the people of St Anselm’s.’
It says so in Helvetica beside our corporate logo. It must be true.
‘Apart from Elsie Tanner.’ I add, veering off the party line.
We’ve had a letter from Elsie Tanner. Complaining that the bonfire is unsightly. An eyesore. Almost certainly a nesting ground for rats.
Lester snorts dismissively. ‘Tell her most local residents can’t wait. There’s a community campaign to bring the bonfire back.’
I say ‘I haven’t seen any evidence the campaign’s gained momentum.’
Lester gives an exaggerated sigh.
‘You were meant to get them all on board. Start a grass roots campaign.’
‘I had a couple of conversations.’ I make a show of looking through my notes.
‘Mr McGinty’s precise words were “Let Bygones be Bygones”. Irene Grover said “There’s nothing to be gained from bringing back the past.”’
‘Killjoys.’ Says Lester scornfully. ‘Some people don’t like fun.’
It’s late. Too late. I ought to be at home. Not in the bungalow with Bruno. Cross checking drawings against reports. I must improve my life work balance. Bruno ought to work on his.
Bruno says. ‘Come here, quickly.’
I look up from my desk.
He says ‘They’re back.’
‘The ghost in the Infirmary.’
I join him at the window. Look out across the field. At the arches and the doorways and the turrets and the towers.
I say ‘Christ, it’s eerie in the twilight.’
Bruno says ‘Look at the window by the doorway to the tower. I swear there’s some sort of light.’
I say ‘Isn’t that where we saw it last time?’
‘The same ghost back again.’
I say ‘Last time it was Billy Kirkby with his torch.’
‘It looks like he’s come back.’
‘There’s no way Billy Kirkby would go back down there again. He can’t walk past it without trembling.’
‘Well if it isn’t Billy Kirkby it must be someone else.’
We look out across the darkness. Lost in thought.
I say ‘Do you think we should go over there and find out what’s going on?’
‘Do you think it’s even safe?’
‘It must be the Surveyors.’ I say half-heartedly. I don’t believe it for a moment. I’m trying to reassure myself.
‘They’re not going to turn up at half past eight at night. And even if they did, they’d clock in with us before they started.’
‘Do you think we ought to call the police?’
‘I think we should wait and see what happens. Find out who it is.’
I’ve lost my nerve. I’m tired.
I say ‘I think we should pretend that we’ve gone home.’
We start to whisper. As if there’s a real risk we could be heard across the field.
We are standing in the darkness, side by side. I can hear Bruno breathing. I’m suddenly self-conscious in his company. Embarrassed by the darkness; the proximity; the silence. By the heightened sense of fear.
We both tense up.
The torchlight’s visible again. Flickering, uncertain. My heart is thumping with anticipation, fear, adrenaline. I swear I can hear his heart beating too.
Bruno says ‘Look, they’ve come back up the stairs. You can see the torchlight by the door.’
A figure emerges from the doorway. A shadow in the darkness. Tall and straight and regal. A stately silhouette.
Linda struggles with her bounty. It’s heavier than it looks.
A sturdy metal cabinet. Six metal draws. Taped around the edges. Protected from the ravages of dust and damp and time.
Three engraved initials. Illuminated by two competing beams. The white light from her mobile and the temperamental flicker from the wind-up torch that never works. Bombastic gold italics. Disproportionately grand. I. V. G. Irene Violet Grover. Self-important. Over-dressed. Clinging to a grandeur from another place, another world. Designed to grace mahogany or leather, not a modest filing cabinet in sturdy stainless steel.
It didn’t take her long to find it. To pick up on the comment that her Grandmother let slip. To recall that Irene had a War Room. A headquarters. A place to direct manoeuvres, despatch orders. To plot, to plan, to strategise. To stow the spoils of war.
It’s not like her grandmother to give away her secrets. She’s not as clever as she used to be. She has begun to lose her grip.
Bruno says ‘So what has Linda Kirkby been doing in the basement?’
I say ‘Do you think she’s got her husband hidden down there?’
‘Maybe it’s some sort of over-complicated sex game. She keeps him underground and takes him food. But only if he’s good. Perhaps he’s on the run. Perhaps she’s covering for him. It would explain why Billy got such a shock when he went down there. If he ran into his Dad.’
‘On the run from what? It doesn’t make any sense.’
‘Perhaps he is dead after all. Perhaps she’s got his body in there and she’s been down to destroy it.’
Bruno taps his fingers on the desk; the agitated rhythm of the theories that are racing through his mind.
He says ‘I like the sex game theory better.’
‘Well yes,’ I say ‘you would.’
‘Do you think we should just go over there and ask her what she’s up to?’
I’m suddenly exhausted. I should have been home hours ago. I’ve had enough of Linda Kirkby and her grandmother. I should be with my kids.
I say ‘She’s trespassing for starters. We ought to call the police.’
Linda goes upstairs to Billy’s bedroom. Tiptoes past his bed. Pauses for a moment to look at Billy sleeping. The Star Trek pyjamas are half way to his elbows. She’ll buy a new pair at the weekend. She wonders for a minute or two just what it is she’s feeling. Is this maternal instinct? It isn’t nearly as intense as other people make it sound.
She fumbles for the box that Billy keeps beneath his bedside table. Searches through his treasures. A ticket from a football match, certificates from school. A piggy bank, his wallet and three American dollars. A miniature Chewbacca and a clutch of foreign stamps. It takes a minute or two before she finds his penknife. He’s put it in some sort of case. Not the box it came in. An aluminium tin with his name stamped on the top.
She glances at the gap between the curtains. Across the field to Macey’s Lodge. She knows they’re out there. Dee and Bruno. Standing with the lights out. Looking out across the darkness like a pair of star-crossed lovers. She resists the urge to wave.
Linda slices through the masking tape. A straight clean cut around each edge of every drawer. She opens the top drawer first. Six manila files. Stocks and shares and property deeds. She turns to the next drawer down. She’s hit the jackpot. Exactly as predicted. Lilac Basildon Bond. The Last Will and Testament of Irene Violet Grover. Hand-written in purple ink.
She pauses for a second before she tears it open. She is tempted, for a moment, to tear the whole thing up. To throw it on the fire. Not to look at it at all. She has already determined that she will pay it no attention. Unless, of course, Irene has done the decent thing and left her everything.
A single line of text.
Look behind the symbol of a reason for a war.
For goodness sake, thinks Linda. What’s the symbol of a reason? What’s a reason for a war?
Another bloody riddle. When will her grandmother grow up?