- Published: 5 July 2022
- ISBN: 9781529125801
- Imprint: Century
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 448
- RRP: $32.99
The Family Remains
from the author of the million copy bestseller The Family Upstairs
‘Yes. Here. That’s me.’
I stare down at the young man who stands below me ankle-deep in the mud of the banks of the Thames. He has sandy hair that hangs in curtains on either side of a soft, freckled face. He’s wearing knee-high rubber boots and a khaki gilet with multiple pockets and is surrounded by a circle of gawping people. I go to him, trying to keep my shoes away from the mud.
‘Good morning,’ I say. ‘I’m DI Samuel Owusu. This is Saffron Brown from our forensics team.’ I see Jason Mott trying very hard not to look as if he is excited to be in the presence of two real-life detectives – and failing. ‘I hear you have found something. Maybe you could explain?’
He nods, eagerly. ‘Yes. So. Like I said on the phone. I’m a mud-larking guide. Professional. And I was out here this morning with my group and this young lad here’ – he points to a boy who looks about twelve years old – ‘he was poking about and opened up this bag.’ He points at a black bin bag sitting on some shingle. ‘I mean, rule number one of mud-larking is no touching, but this was just sitting there, like someone had just dropped it there, so I guess it was OK for him to open it.’
Although I know nothing of mud-larking rules, I throw the young boy a reassuring look and he appears relieved.
‘Anyway. I don’t know, I mean, I’m no forensics expert . . .’ Jason Mott smiles nervously at Saffron and I see him flush a little. ‘But I thought that they looked like they might be, you know, human bones.’
I pick my way across the shingle to the bag and pull it open slightly. Saffron follows and peers over my shoulder. The first thing we see is a human jawbone. I turn and glance at her. She nods; then she pulls on her gloves and unfurls some plastic sheeting.
‘Right,’ I say, standing up and looking at the group gathered on the mud. ‘We will need to clear this area. I would kindly ask for your cooperation.’
For a moment nobody moves. Then Jason Mott springs into action and manages to corral everyone off the beach and back up on to the riverside where they all stand and continue to gawp. I see a few smartphones appear and I call up. ‘Please. No filming. This is a very sensitive police matter. Thank you.’
The smartphones disappear.
Jason Mott stops halfway up the steps to the riverside and turns back to me. ‘Are they . . .?’ he begins. ‘Are they human?’
‘It would appear so,’ I reply. ‘But we won’t know for sure until they have been examined. Thank you, Mr Mott, for your help.’ I smile warmly, hoping that this will send a signal that he must stop asking questions and go away.
Saffron turns back to the bones and starts to lift them out of the bag and on to a plastic sheet.
‘Small,’ she says. ‘Possibly a child. Or a small adult.’
‘But definitely human?’
‘Yes, definitely human.’
I hear a voice calling down from the riverside. It is Jason Mott. I sigh and turn calmly towards him.
‘Any idea how old they are?’ he shouts down. ‘Just by looking?’
Saffron smiles drily at me. Then she turns to Jason. ‘No idea at all. Give your details to the PC by the car. We’ll keep you posted.’
‘Thanks. Thanks so much. That’s awesome.’
A moment later Saffron pulls a small skull from the black bag. She turns it over on the plastic sheeting.
‘There,’ she says. ‘Look. See that? A hairline fracture.’
I crouch. And there it is. The probable cause of death.
My eyes cast up and down the beach and along the curve of the river as if the killer might at this very minute be running from view with the murder implement clasped inside their hand. Then I glance back at the tiny ash-grey skull and my heart fills both with sadness and with resolve.
There is a whole world contained inside this small bag of bones.
I feel the door to the world open, and I step inside.
Groggy with sleep, Rachel peered at the screen of her phone. A French number. The phone slipped from her hand on to the floor and she grabbed it up again, staring at the number with wide eyes, adrenaline charging through her even though it was barely seven in the morning.
Finally she pressed reply. ‘Hello?’
‘Bonjour, good morning. This is Detective Avril Loubet from the Police Municipale in Nice. Is this Mrs Rachel Rimmer?’
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘Speaking.’
‘Mrs Rimmer. I am afraid I am calling you with some very distressing news. Please, tell me. Are you alone?’
‘Yes. Yes, I am.’
‘Is there anyone you can ask to be with you now?’
‘My father. He lives close. But please. Just tell me.’
‘Well, I am afraid to say that early this morning the body of your husband, Michael Rimmer, was discovered by his housekeeper in the basement of his house in Antibes.’
Rachel made a sound, a hard intake of breath with a whoosh, like a steam train. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘No!’
‘I’m so sorry. But yes. And he appears to have been murdered, with a stab wound, several days ago. He has been dead at least since the weekend.’
Rachel sat up straight and moved the phone to her other ear. ‘Is it – Do you know why? Or who?’
‘The crime scene officers are in attendance. We will uncover every piece of evidence we can. But it seems that Mr Rimmer had not been operating his security cameras and his back door was unlocked. I am very sorry, I don’t have anything more definite to share with you at this point, Mrs Rimmer. Very sorry indeed.’
Rachel turned off her phone and let it drop on to her lap.
She stared blankly for a moment towards the window where the summer sun was leaking through the edges of the blind. She sighed heavily. Then she pulled her sleep mask down, turned on to her side, and went back to sleep.
The first three men came stumbling into town shortly after ten a.m., babbling of dark shapes and eerie screams and their missing buddy Scott and their other buddy Tim, who set out from their campsite before dawn to get help.
Inside Laura's head, Deidre spoke. The trouble with you, Laura, she said, is that you make bad choices.
The boy gasped for breath, hair in his mouth, before the next wave slammed him back against the bottom. He tumbled, the fizz of bubbles around him.
He opened the new bag of coffee beans and inhaled, relishing the toasted aroma that his favourite brand of arabica gave off.
Discarded medical equipment litters the floor: surgical tools blistered with rust, broken bottles, jars, the scratched spine of an old invalid chair.