Letting Miranda into his house is a big mistake. But ageing comedian Dave also has some secrets. Maybe she should have never come looking for answers. As this story about murder, betrayal and dark desires unfolds, things take an unsuspected turn. Things from the past find their way back to the surface and the dead might not be so dead after all.
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What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I watched Harry Potter and liked Alan Rickman. This made me think about older actors and the story started from there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
They just pop into my head when I watch people
22 September 2015
It’s a perfect day for swimming naked. The sun has burnt away every cooling shadow remaining from the day before, leaving the streets exposed and unwelcoming. The centre of the village, a small lake, seems to be the only protection from the heat. Nobody lingers outside disturbing the peace, and the water looks as inviting as an oasis in the desert would look to a lost Berber. A young woman walks past the lake’s banks towards a small, crooked cottage. She has deep-red hair glaring like fire in the sun. It’s difficult to say from such a distance, but she might be eighteen or nineteen, maybe younger. She doesn’t care about the weather and she will not jump into the water to cool off. Her big ocean-blue eyes stare at the old, red door in front of her. When she reaches it, she stops and waits. She stands there for a while and moves her hands only to wipe the sweat from her forehead. Her breasts are small but firm and push through her thin blouse. Little drops of sweat have turned it a bit transparent, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t want to seduce anybody. Well, not today anyway. The days of seducing men are behind her. Her eyes focus on the red door. The house it belongs to is nothing spectacular. In normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have caught her eye or anybody else’s. She turns around, scanning the building for something to hold on to. Her eyes travel from left to right and back again, trying to take in the surroundings. The village is picturesque but boring, nothing compared to the city life she is used to. People who love close-knit communities would think it to be paradise. It would be easy to hide something in a small place like this.
Nobody would suspect someone like him to live here. Maybe that’s the reason he spent his final days in this carefully painted cottage. She turns around on her left heel. The ducks dosing at the lake’s bank make it look sickly peaceful. Anybody could hide here. It looks like a painting in a children’s book. Creepy. A bit like something could hide behind all this beauty and jump out when you least expect it… These books always started nice and pleasant, just to make the reader feel secure and then turned out to hide a scary secret. Not that she’d read many books in her childhood, and it didn’t matter now. She steps away from the front door and walks around the house. The house has just received a lick of fresh paint. A light grey. It looks… nice. Too nice. As if, the owner is trying to give no reason for people to look closer. The palms of her hands are cold despite the hot weather. She isn’t sure what she was hoping to find. Everything seems like it's being looked after by someone who really cares or maybe by someone who doesn't want people paying too much attention and poking their noses into something that's none of their business. Her eyes wonder away from the back garden to the house. She almost overlooked the ramshackle shed. It's overgrown with ivy and completely out of place in this otherwise perfect scenario. But it also doesn't make her feel better. She feels like she's looking through a window and seeing something she wasn't meant to see. The shed doesn't fit in here. But maybe it is the only thing that shows his true character, the only thing that doesn't look staged. Sweat is now running down her legs. Her feet move closer without her making the conscious decision to walk. There's a bell she could ring but somehow she's afraid to make a loud noise and knocks instead. Knock, Knock. Nothing. Knock, Knock. She strokes her fingers because her knuckles are starting to feel a bit sore. She's about to give up when she can hear someone coming downstairs. The salt and pepper haired man who opens the door looks like he's in his seventies with wrinkles covering his sun-tanned face. His eyes are the shade of a clear blue Swiss lake. They have the capacity of appearing cold and intimidating but for now they are warm and without hostility. He had clearly been attractive when he was younger and probably had his fair share of women.
“Hello?” His light blue eyes are piercing through her body. His stare makes her shiver but perhaps this is just because she knows what is going to happen. He looks at her and frowns in a curious but friendly way. “Can I help you?”
She swallows the big lump rising in her throat. It has a bitter taste judging by the look on her face. She twists her hands, straightens up and looks into the old man’s eyes. “My name is Miranda. Miranda Richardson.”
“Yes and?” The man’s face is blank. She frowns. “Don't you know my name?”
“No I don't. Have we met? Should I know it?”
“I'm not sure. Maybe it was changed?”
“Changed?” The man is clearly confused now. The girl takes a deep breath, rolling her eyes. She's a bit irritated. She never had much patience.
“Yes, my name might have changed. I'm not sure. It's possible. I've been…. The reason why I'm here is… well, I think I should come in,” she whispers, seemingly scared by her own courage, clutching her handbag. The man stares at the girl with wide eyes, but behind the mask of shock, he doesn't seem to be very surprised.
“I thought this might happen one day,” he mumbles, biting the inside of his mouth. “Come in. Just be careful, this step here is a bit loose.” He points down. “My name is Dave Hutchinson, but I guess you know that already.” He opens the door a bit wider so she can step in. She hesitates for a second, but then she follows him into the house. There is no way she would turn around now. After all, that's why she came here and she wouldn't wimp out, not now after coming so close to finding the missing puzzle piece. She doesn't feel hot anymore and tries to take it as a good sign. Her blouse has dried by now and she looks like a good girl. But this is not how she feels, and from the angry look in her eyes, it's clear that she isn't here to make friends. It will be an interesting evening.
“I know,” she just whispers while walking past him. She doesn’t look up and her unmoving eyes look frozen like black glaciers just staring straight ahead. “My parents have hidden nothing from me. They loved nothing more than the truth, and they told me early in my life what I needed to know. They wanted to be as honest as possible so our relationship could grow without baggage. I’ve no doubt they’ve always loved me. I felt taken care of, and they were good at showing positive emotions. But after they told me a little I wanted to know more, and I started digging. My parents knew about… her and how she had this car accident and that she loved me. So if that hadn’t had happened I wouldn’t be here today and maybe you wouldn’t have to numb your feelings with booze… My… the other… I mean the guy,” she glares at Dave and her eyes tighten, “is another story.” She clearly wants to hurt or at least embarrass him, but his reaction surprises her. A little wave of guilt rolls through her body when she looks into his sad, empty eyes. Maybe there was more to all of this and she should listen to what Dave has to say. He doesn’t look like a drunkard who didn’t care about anything. Maybe he can tell her something she needs to know. “They told me you looked after me for a couple of weeks, maybe even months after it happened, but apparently you didn’t feel responsible enough and couldn’t cope. Or maybe you just didn’t want to. My parents thought maybe you were an alcoholic, but they were not a hundred percent sure. They weren’t allowed to ask too many questions at the time and accepted it, because all they wanted was to have me back home. For them it didn’t matter where I was before and why it all happened, as long as everything was normal, well as normal as it could be for them. They just wanted to have a few details so they could answer my questions once I was old enough to ask. And it doesn’t matter now. They are both dead.” She sits down on a scruffy looking, green velvet chair and looks straight into his face. Dave swallows hard.
“I'm sorry. About your parents, I mean, that they are dead.” Miranda just waves her hand in a dismissive gesture.
“I don't want to talk about them.”
“Well, I drank too much, I know that. But am I an alcoholic? To be honest, I don't know. I just stopped when my wife and I split up, and I've never wasted any more thought on it. It was easy. I never missed it much. I still drink the occasional glass of red wine, but that's it. So I guess no, I wasn't an alcoholic. But I assume I was pretty, damn close to becoming one.”
“Did she leave you because of her? Your wife, I mean. Did you cheat on her?” Dave’s lips curl up in a sad smile. “No. I mean yes, unfortunately, that's one reason. She left me because of you. However, it wasn't what you think. I didn't cheat. The trust was gone and we didn't have anything in common. All that had kept us together was trust and money. And when that was gone…I mean the trust not the money…she left. It was strange because we were together for a long time. But it was better that way. You have to believe me I didn't cheat on my wife. Not once. She misunderstood everything, and I never told her the truth. Not all of it anyway. I guess she sensed there was something I had not told her and came to the wrong conclusion. But it didn't matter. We would never have made it anyway.” He suddenly shakes his head. “Why the hell am I telling you all this? I just met you.” He pauses, grasping his cup of tea, which is clearly cold by now. He has not taken one sip. “Well, I guess it doesn't matter. You see, she didn't want to understand.” His voice turns raspy and he looks like his mind might have wondered off. He is more speaking to himself now. Then he realises where he is again and looks at the young woman. “It just made us both unhappy and there were so many things going on at the time and of course, it turned even worse later, but our relationship had been so unhappy over a long time. We just didn't want to see that it was over. Never mind. But I guess that's not why you are here. You don't want to hear about me and my marriage problems. I got over that a long time ago and I'm sure you are not really interested in my feelings anyway. I'm still alive and that's all that matters.”
“You are right. I'm not interested in how you felt when your marriage broke down, unless it had something to do with why I'm here. But it is interesting how I didn't have to say much, and you knew almost straight away why I'm here. It would be too easy if your wife had anything to do with it. But I’m sure people would have asked questions a long time ago and we wouldn’t be sitting here. No, I want to find out as much as I can about her. That’s all. I want to know what happened to her and I will not stop until I know. No matter what it costs.” Dave gasps. “Okay.” He obviously can’t think of anything else to say. He looks as if he is going to throw up at any minute but manages to contain himself. He takes a deep breath and just gestures for her to continue.
“So, let’s jump right in and start with why you handed me over that easily. I mean it would have been hard to do it all on your own, but you could have looked after me without her. You might not be super-rich, but I know you have enough money to afford a nanny. Well, at least you did back then.”
“A nanny wasn’t the problem. That would have been the least of my issues.” Dave looks at her like one of those Labrador puppies straight out of a commercial. Her face looks grey and exhausted. She clearly doesn’t feel sorry for him. “I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t. It wasn’t my decision in the end. I just did what I had to do.” He sighs. “I think we should have another cup of tea. Mine has gone cold. Here, have some brandy with it. That might help you to feel better. Well, it certainly makes me feel better. After all, I’m an alcoholic, right?” He tries to grin, but it doesn’t work and makes his face look even older. “It’s a long story and I need you to understand every bit of it. Twenty years have passed, but everything that has happened follows me into my dreams almost every night. It still feels as if it was just last week.”
“You mean how one wrong decision can ruin someone’s life forever or sometimes even the lives of a whole family?” Her eyes tighten, but there's no sign of regret for her outburst.
“Not exactly. I'm not sure if it was just one wrong decision. There were many events that folded into each other. None of us wanted this, and people still suffer. But I can’t change the past, as much as I would like to.”
“People?” She frowns. “If you mean me as one of those people, I've never…suffered. Not because of this. I’ve had a nice life so far. My childhood was great. I had fun and my parents loved me but I'm curious.” Unconsciously she rubs her hands together and she struggles to look Dave into the eyes. “I need to know where I was born, my origins. I need to know where I spent the first few weeks of my existence. And I just want that one question answered. What happened? I don't know much about the circumstances of my birth but I know about my mother. She was a photographer. She wasn't very successful but I think she was good. I mean she could make a living from her art but she wasn't famous or anything. I couldn't find many pictures of her but the few I could find on the internet gave me a warm feeling. She was talented but so are many people who never make it big. So, on that note I don't think I can find out a lot more unless I speak to my grandparents. But they never tried to stop any of this, so I guess they aren’t really interested in me. Maybe they were too busy with their own lives. I don't know. Or…,” she hesitates. “I think my mother was born a Muslim, so maybe they didn't approve of her choices in life. I'm sure her parents were pretty conservative. But of course I can’t ask her and I don't even know where they live. Maybe they are dead.” She shrugs as if it doesn't bother her. “I just made stories up in my head over the years. It gets more and more unreal to the point where I don't know what's true and what's not. But my grandparents don't matter to me. I can’t really tell you why I'm not interested in them. But there's nothing I know about you and I do want to find out a few things. Just who you are and why you did whatever you did. You were the only person my parents talked about. The only one who might know what happened. Of course, I want to know why you gave me to them in the end. And I can accept any explanation. I just want to know the reason, have peace of mind and close that chapter of my life, whatever happened. Whatever you have done, whatever they've done, it doesn't matter.” She blows out the last bit of air and sighs. This nicey, nicey stuff turned out to be hard work.
“I can understand you, Miranda. We all like to know who we are. But sometimes knowing everything doesn't give you peace of mind. It makes things worse.” Dave puts a thump on his lower lip and strokes it slowly. “I just didn't expect all this at my age. To open up like this. But of course it's something that had to happen eventually.”
“Just tell me, Mr… gosh, this sounds wrong. I can’t call you Mr Hutchinson”. Miranda winces.
“Just call me Dave, okay. Makes it easier for both of us. I cannot even remember the last time someone called me Mr Hutchinson. Dave is fine, honest. I don't mind, and you don't need to make this any more uncomfortable than it is already. I've heard a lot worse in my life.”
“I will call you Dave. Makes it more real,” Miranda winks at him coldly. She put her hands on her stomach as if she feels sick.
“I bet you like this little game. Dave is fine. I think it's okay for the situation we are in. Well…,” he gets up and turns down the gas fire a bit. “Do you feel hot? I do.” He turns back to Miranda.
“No,” she whispers and swallows the big lump that had returned to her throat. “Why don't you just sit down and tell me my story.”
“Your… story.” He looks thoughtfully at her with his piercing eyes. “Hmm, well I guess you could call it your story in some ways. You might be right. No, you are right. You need to know so you can make up your own mind. But I have to warn you. Some parts are not very pleasant.” She sighs again. “Look, I've no idea what has happened to me the first few months in my life, I've seen some pretty shit things in my life and my mother died in a car crash. Of course, it's not going to be pleasant. I'm prepared for anything. Just go ahead.” She nods at him, hoping it looks reassuring, but her hands feel slippery like an eel.
“Okay.” He takes a deep breath, patting her hand absentmindedly. She stiffens a bit but manages not to pull away. “To start with I have to tell you about a good mate of mine, Gerald. He is a very, very good friend and he's the central character to… as you say …your story. I met him the first time when we went to drama school and our friendship has been going strong ever since. I know this might be confusing, but understand your story we have to start with him. He told me most of this and of course some of the stuff that went on is just a guess on my part.” Miranda straightens her back. Maybe this story would give her some clues about her mother. She clearly didn't expect Dave to tell her the whole truth, especially if he was the one who was involved, but he might mention something that would help her. She gestures at him to keep going. “Well,” he stands up. “I think I should give you something. Maybe it's better than me telling you everything and getting it wrong. Wait here a second.” Miranda sinks deeper into her green velvet chair and her eyes keep scanning the door he has shut. What is the man doing? He comes back just a few minutes later, but to her it seems like hours. What did he plan? Obviously nothing dangerous as she finds out, when he hands her a battered, brown cardboard-bound diary with his hands shaking. Maybe it was just old age. Maybe. “I think it's better if you read this first. Don't take it home. Read it here. I'm sure you will have questions. He wrote a lot more diaries. Mostly about his job and some thoughts he had about becoming a playwright some day. But I think this one is the most interesting for you. He told me once he hoped it would make a great biography one day. Probably after he died. Or maybe he could publish it when he ran out of money because nobody would want to see him acting. Well, he didn't – even though it would have sold well. We all know that and I'm sure you would agree as well. Well, that's before all this mess happened. It changed everything. Everybody was devastated when they found out. Everybody who liked him, of course. His friends and family. But I guess at the point when it happened he didn't care. I'm not even sure, why he continued writing it. Maybe it was for you or maybe it was just habit. I never asked him. Maybe I should have. Thinking about it, it might have been a good idea. If the police had found it, it could have got us into trouble. But they never did. It was well hidden. Anyway, I don't know. I will make you another cup of tea. Yours is cold.” The police? This old man clearly knew a lot more than she anticipated. Why should the police have got involved in the story he was talking about. She looks at him questionably, clearly confused as to what he meant. But she doesn't say anything. Maybe it was better not to give anything away at this point. She just settles deeper into her chair, takes the diary and opens it.
A.G.R. Goff is an award-winning author who just published her third novel "Circle", a psychological thriller and the second book in the "Mind Games" series. Goff grew up in East Germany and has since lived in South Africa and the United Kingdom. She is married to an English guy and enjoys a good sense of humour and unexpected adventures. When she is not writing or travelling she plays the saxophone.
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