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  • Published: 16 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241992487
  • Imprint: Penguin General UK
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • RRP: $32.99

The Whole Truth

Extract

Adam Fawley 7 July 2018 13.15

‘More fizz, anyone? Dad – how about you? You’re not even driving, so no excuses.’

Stephen Sheldon smiles up at his daughter, hovering behind him with the bottle in her hand. ‘Oh, go on then. Only good thing about being as old as the hills is not caring about bloody government drinking guidelines.’

His wife shoots him a dry but benevolent look; they both know he has to be careful about his health but it’s his birthday and she’s going to cut him some slack.

Nell Heneghan leans across and fills his glass. ‘Seventy isn’t old, Dad. Not these days.’

‘Tell that to my joints,’ he says with a quick laugh, as Nell moves on round the table topping people up.

I reach for Alex’s hand under the table and I can feel the thin fabric of her dress slipping against her damp thigh. God only knows what it must be like to be thirty-five weeks pregnant in these temperatures. There are dots of perspiration along her upper lip and a thin little frown line between her brows the others probably can’t see. I was right: this has been too much for her. I did say we didn’t have to do it – that no one would expect her to, especially in this weather, and Nell had offered to step in  –  but Alex insisted. She said it was our turn, that it wasn’t fair on her sister to ask her to do it two years running. But that wasn’t the real reason. She knows it; I know it. As her pregnancy advances, Alex’s world contracts; she’s barely leaving the house now, and as for a twelve-mile drive to Abingdon, forget it. I told Nell it’s because she’s anxious about the baby, and she’d nodded and said she’d felt like that herself at this stage, and it was only natural for Alex to be apprehensive. And she’s right. Or at least she would be, if that’s all it was.

Outside in the garden, Nell’s kids are playing football with their dog, taking it in turns doing penalty kicks. They’re eleven and nine, the kids. Jake would be twelve now. No longer a little boy, but not quite yet anything else. Sometimes, before Alex got pregnant again, I’d catch myself fantasizing about how they’d have been together, him and his cousins. Jake was never much interested in sport, but would he be out there anyway, if he was here now? Part of me hopes he’d have done it to be kind, or to please his mother, or because he liked dogs, but there’s another part that would want him as surly and uncooperative as any other twelve-year-old. I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s only too easy to start beatifying a child who’s no longer there.

Audrey Sheldon catches my eye now and we exchange a look; kind on her part, slightly self-conscious on mine. Alex’s parents understand better than anyone what we went through when we lost Jake, but Audrey’s sympathy is like her lemon cheesecake – nice, but there’s only so much of it I can take. I get to my feet and start collecting plates. Nell’s husband, Gerry, makes a half-hearted attempt to help me but I clap him chummily on the shoulder and push him firmly back down in his seat.

‘You brought all the food. My turn now.’

Alex gives me a grateful smile as I collect her dessert plate. Her father’s been badgering her gently to ‘eat up’ for the last ten minutes. Some things about parenthood never die. My mother does the same to me. In twenty years’ time I’ll be doing it myself. God willing.

Out in the kitchen, Nell is stacking the dishwasher, and though she’s doing it all wrong I resist the impulse to intervene as I know it’ll just piss her off; Alex says dishwashers are like barbecues – men just can’t stop themselves muscling in. Nell smiles when she sees me. I like her, I always have. As bright as her sister, and just as forthright. They have a good life, she and Gerry. House (detached), skiing (Val d’Isère), dog (cockerpoo allegedly, but judging by the size of those paws there’s at least a quarter polar bear in there). He’s an actuary (Gerry, not the dog) and if I’m honest I find Dino a good deal more interesting, but the only person I’ve ever said that to is myself.

Nell is looking at me now, and I know exactly what that particular look means. She wants to Have A Word. And being Nell, she pitches straight in. Just like her sister.

‘I’m a bit worried about her, Adam. She doesn’t look well.’

I take a deep breath. ‘I know what you mean, and this bloody heat isn’t helping, but she’s getting regular checkups. Far more than most women in her position do.’

But most women in her position haven’t been hospitalized for high blood pressure and ordered to take complete bed rest.

Nell leans back against the worktop and reaches for a tea towel, wiping her hands. ‘She hardly ate a thing.’

‘I’m trying, really –’

‘And she looks completely exhausted.’

She’s frowning at me. Because whatever this is, it has to be my fault, right? Out in the garden Ben scores a goal and starts running around the grass with his T-shirt over his head. Nell glances over at them, then fixes her eyes back on me.

I try again. ‘She’s not sleeping well – you know what it’s like in the last trimester. She can’t seem to get comfortable.’

But Nell’s still frowning. Nicky is now yelling that the goal was a cheat; Gerry gets up and goes to the window, calling to his sons to play nicely in that sententious parental tone we all swear we’ll never use. Something else about having kids that never seems to change.

‘Look,’ I say, ‘it’s tough with the job but I’m doing as much around the house as I can, and we’ve got a cleaner coming in once a week for the rest.’

Nell is watching her boys. ‘We were talking earlier,’ she says, without looking round. ‘She says you’ve moved into the spare room.’

I nod. ‘Just so I don’t wake her up. Especially given I’m now getting up at stupid o’clock four days a week for the bloody gym.’

She turns towards me. ‘Quitting still a bummer?’

The look that comes with the words is cool but not unkind: Nell’s an ex-smoker too. She knows all about nicotine displacement strategies.

I try a wry smile. ‘A bastard. But I’m getting there.’

She eyes me up and down. ‘And toning up a bit too, I see. Suits you.’

I laugh. ‘Well, that’s a bloody miracle, considering I’m on a packet of Polo mints an hour.’

There’s a pause and then, finally, she smiles. But it’s a forlorn one. ‘Just look after her, Adam, OK? She’s so stressed out – this baby means so much to her. I don’t know what she’d do if –’ She stops, bites her lip and looks away.

‘Look, Nell – I’d never let anything happen to Alex. Not now, not ever. You do know that, don’t you?’

She glances up, then nods, and I wait. I know what she wants to say, and why she’s having so much trouble doing it.

‘It was in the paper,’ she says eventually. ‘He’s out, isn’t he? Gavin Parrie.’

‘Yes, he’s out.’ I force her to look at me. ‘But he’s on licence – there’ll be strict conditions. Where he can go, who he can see.’

Her lip quivers a little. ‘And he’ll have one of those tag things, right? They’ll know where he is twenty-four hours a day?’

I shake my head. ‘Most of them aren’t that techy. Not yet. The tags are linked to the offender’s address. If he goes out of a specified range the monitoring service gets an alert.’

‘And like Gerry said, if he came anywhere even remotely near here, they’d have his arse back in prison so fast he’d leave skid marks. Right?’

I take a deep breath. ‘Right.’

‘So why would he take such a massive risk?’ She’s willing me to agree now, willing me to belittle her fears. ‘He’s not stupid – he has way too much to lose.’

‘Right.’

She sighs. ‘I’m sorry. You probably think I’m completely overreacting. I just can’t stop thinking about those threats he made in court –’

She can’t possibly know how hard it is to be the man she needs me to be. But I try. ‘He was just venting, Nell. It happens all the time. And I don’t think you’re overreacting. Families always worry when offenders are released. The other victims will be going through exactly the same thing.’

‘But at least Alex has you,’ she says, giving me a wobbly smile. ‘Her own private protection officer.’

I don’t trust myself to reply to that, but luckily I don’t have to. She touches me gently on the arm and reaches for the pile of plates. ‘We’d best get on. They’ll be wondering what we’re up to in here.’

As I walk back into the dining room I wonder what she’d have said if she knew the truth.

Gavin Parrie isn’t stupid, she’s right about that. And he’d have a hell of a lot to lose, she’s right about that too. But he does have a reason. A reason that might – perhaps – be worth the risk.

Revenge.

Because he wasn’t just venting, that day, in court.

He was guilty. He knows that and I know that. But there’s something else we both know.

Gavin Parrie was convicted on a lie.


The Whole Truth Cara Hunter

THE LATEST IN THE DI FAWLEY SERIES FROM THE BIGGEST CRIME BRAND TO BE LAUNCHED IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS

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