Welcome to the weekend, and another part of TED HARRIS’S story. Last week, Ted was being quizzed by JORDAN BUTLER-THOMPSON’S grandmother, GERALDINE, about the whereabouts of her grandson. Ted’s explanations have not gone down well and now she’s back with more questions.
It was almost lunchtime the following day when Mrs Butler-Thompson returned. Ted had managed to grab a few hours sleep and had shaved. He had made significant progress on restoring his garden; most of the bedding plants were back in the borders, and he had refastened the rose to the trellis around his window. Most of the flower heads lay naked against the stem, but there was at least some colour climbing up his wall. He was on his knees digging in the border, when she leaned over his wall and cleared her throat. Ted put down his trowel and looked up. “Mrs Butler-Thompson. Did you ever find your grandson?”
“No. No I did not,” she said. “As a matter of fact, that’s why I’m here.”
“Really?” Ted stood and wiped his hands on his trousers. The prickling sensation was back; Jordan’s body was still in his shed. Not only had he killed the teenager, he had dismembered him and then covered it up. He suddenly felt very sick. “How can I help?” Even in his worried state, he could tell it would be difficult for this woman to ask for his help, so he tried to savour her unease.
She tugged on the bottom of her suit-jacket and flipped an imaginary piece of hair out of her eyes. Her face had flushed. “I think Jordan may have been coming over here a couple of days ago to see you, and I wondered if you can recall seeing him.” She shuffled her feet and dropped her eyes.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t recall seeing him. There was someone in my garden a few nights ago, if you recall. He pushed my wall over.” He pointed to the spot in the border where the wall had fallen.
“Are you suggesting that was Jordan?”
“Not at all. I was just saying.”
Mrs Butler-Thompson looked at him for an uncomfortable length of time. Ted tried to hold the stare, but eventually blinked and looked away. “Do you know something you’re not telling me?”
Ted shrugged and knelt back down. “Other than the secret of my wonderful garden? I don’t think so.” He busied himself with his plants but could feel her eyes on him. He resisted the urge to look up.
“Your garden.” She was back to herself. “Well, we’ll see what the judges have to say about that next week. And Mister Harris,” she paused, and Ted looked up, “I don’t intend to be beaten by an outsider.”
As she spoke, Ted felt the nausea receding. He stood once more, and she lifted her chin at him. “I’ve been in the village almost ten years now. When do I stop being an outsider?”
“You will always be an outsider here, Mister Harris.” She reached over the wall and plucked a tulip off its stem. She tossed it to him, then turned and walked away.
Ted went back to his planting until she was out of sight, then he went to his shed. The black plastic bags were where he had left them. Someone would find them, sooner or later. He believed that Mrs Butler-Thompson would drag the truth out of him. That would be the end of everything he had worked for. A new hole would need digging. A deeper one this time.
Ted stepped back to look at his work, using his handkerchief to wipe his forehead. The hole was half a spade length deep, perhaps ten or fifteen centimetres. As long as Ted, and half as wide, it had taken him most of the afternoon, and the light was fading. The piles of removed earth surrounded the hole on all four sides. The soil sat on four thick pieces of blue tarpaulin, angled towards the hole, anchored by sturdy stakes of wood. It was held suspended by an upturn in the front of the tarp. Devising the rig had taken Ted hours. His strength, or lack thereof, had played a part, and he suspected that when the time came, he would not have the strength to fill the hole. His arms felt like jelly after only a few hours of shovelling, and there was more to do before it was deep enough.
He dug for another half an hour before giving up for the day. He was struggling to see in the fading light, but he could tell his shirt was filthy and wet with his sweat. Two of the buttons had been lost during the digging, and his white vest was exposed. Running a hand through his rapidly vanishing hair, Ted dropped the spade and made his way inside the house.
In the kitchen, he flopped into one of the hard-backed chairs and rested his head on the table, breathing hard. Burying bodies was young man’s work, and those years were now far distant in the rear view mirror. His back ached and his head thumped, but he lifted his head and looked at himself in the wall-mounted mirror across from him. What he saw scared him: his eyes were red, his face dirty, and his mouth hung open. This was not the life he had expected when he and Sissy had moved here ten tears ago. It should have been the perfect retirement: the home they had always wanted, the pace of life they had wanted, and the garden that Sissy had wanted. Instead it had turned into a nightmare; he had held a pillow over his wife’s face until she stopped breathing, and Ted thought he had sunk to depths he would not be able to extricate himself from.
The garden had been his shining beacon guiding him from his misery into a semblance of a life again. The Butler-Thompsons of the world could try to drag him back, but he always believed that his garden would save his soul and his sanity.
But a fifteen year old boy? Ted stared deep into his blood-shot eyes. He could hear the sound of the spade on the back of the boy’s head, and he squeezed his eyes closed, wiping away the tear that slipped out, streaking mud across his face. If his wife’s end had been borne out of love and pity, what was Jordan? In his mind he replayed the dull thuds the boy’s body had made as he struck him again and again, slamming his fist against the table with each swing of the spade.
Letting out an anguished yell, he swiped a hand across the table, connecting with one of the teacups he had placed there, Sissy’s cup. It flew against the wall and smashed, sending shards of china skittering across the floor. Ted stood up sharply causing his chair to topple backwards, slamming against the tiled floor. He threw himself down, grabbing at the broken shards of china scattered across the floor, as he if could somehow save the cup.
He clawed as many pieces as he could to him, picking them up. When he finally realised that the cup was lost, he sat back against the wall and stared down at the pieces held in his cupped hands. He flipped one of the larger pieces over, revealing the pink floral design. Fresh pangs of longing grabbed him as he thought of his wife, and he began to cry, silently at first, then with body shaking, wracking sobs.
He sat that way on the floor for a while, legs out, head back against the wall. When the tears had stopped, he stood up and gently placed the pieces of the broken cup on the kitchen table, turning the pieces pattern-side up and arranging them into the flower design as best he could. When he was satisfied, he made himself another pot of tea. He moved the broken pieces across the table from him, and placed the pot, handle towards the broken cup. Spinning the pot, he poured himself a cup and sat in silence.
Lifting his cup to his lips, Ted froze. There had been a noise outside. He gently replaced the cup and moved to the window. The back garden was shrouded in night, and the light in his kitchen made it almost impossible to see anything. He squinted, but his sight could not penetrate the darkness. He turned round as he heard another sound. It appeared to come from the front of the house.
Moving into his living room, he left the light off. Although dark, he could make out movement by his wall. It looked as if someone was trying to replace a large stone that had been dislodged. Whoever it was, appeared to be struggling, dropping the stone on more than one occasion. The silhouetted figure appeared to be wearing a skirt, and Ted was convinced he was looking at Mrs Butler-Thompson. Her slightly portly frame convinced him, and he moved to the window and knocked on the glass. The figure looked up briefly, bathing the face in moonlight; it was Mrs Butler-Thompson. She dropped the rock she was trying to replace and hurried away.
Ted ran to the front door and stepped out into the night, calling after her. There was no reply, and he moved to his wall for closer inspection. There was minimal damage, and he replaced the missing stone. Up close, it appeared that she might also have been digging around in the soil; there were signs that the soil had been removed in some places, but further investigation would have to wait for the morning and fresh light.