Chapter Twenty Four
Maggie drove straight from her investigations in Leeds to Coventry, arriving at teatime. She booked into a bed and breakfast and after stopping at a garage for a sandwich, and enough chocolate to sustain her for a few more hours, she decided that the people of Coventry sell rancid coffee and talk funny. It took her some time and much misdirection to find the flat where Sharon Cabot lived. She hardly dared hope that anybody would be in and rang the doorbell without being aware that she was holding her breath. If she could talk to this Cabot woman, surely she could shed light on the situation; she’d actually lived with them. Finding out that Jennifer was Marc’s sister and not his daughter made more sense, but it still didn’t feel right. There was more to be discovered.
‘Oh, hello. I’m sorry to bother you but are you Sharon? Sharon Cabot? My name’s Maggie Johnson.’
‘Oh heck, now that I’m here I’m not sure where to start. I really need to talk to you. I have this friend, you see, and she’s in trouble. Phyllis from the café in Leeds sent me to you.’ The young woman looked blank. ‘Damn, I’m waffling. I always do when I’m nervous. Do you think I could come in please and I’ll tell you what this is all about?’
The inquisitive smile left the woman’s face and she frowned. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but who are you? Could you tell me what this is about first, please? I’m rather busy…’she tailed off.
Maggie would rather have laid her cards out inside the flat, and preferably over a decent cuppa, she knew that if somebody rocked up on her doorstep asking questions about her former partners, she’d tell them to mind their own business and get stuffed. ‘Actually I wanted to ask you about Marc Robinson, I believe you used to live with him in Leeds?’
Maggie watched her reaction closely. Sharon gasped and her knuckles went white as she clutched the door more firmly. ‘That’s a long time ago. I’m sorry. I don’t know what this is about, but I don’t want to talk about him. I’ve moved on. She began to close the door in Maggie’s face and then stopped. ‘Oh God, he doesn’t know where I am, does he? Is he with you?’ The colour had left her face and she looked terrified.
‘No, no it’s okay, he doesn’t know anything about this, and I’m not about to tell him. Look love, your reaction has just terrified me. I know somebody who could be in a lot of trouble, and if you can tell me anything at all that might help my friend, I’d be really grateful. She’s the nicest person I know. You’d like her, everybody does. See, there I go waffling off again, please talk to me. I promise, anything you say will stay between the two of us and he’ll never find out about it.’
‘What sort of trouble is your friend in?’
‘Well, she’s got herself mixed up with Marc and this Jennifer girl and –’
Sharon reluctantly opened the door. ‘You’d better come in, but I hope you’re as good as your word. I had to move three times before he’d leave me alone. I really don’t want anything to do with him again. I haven’t got long. My flatmate will be back soon and she tends to be a bit nosy. I don’t want her knowing too much about my life back then.’
Maggie assured her that she wouldn’t take up too much of her time. She saw the possibility of a welcome cup of coffee fading. Sharon led her into a neat living room. The flat was pokey and a bit shabby, but with throws and bright colours the women had made it homely. As she sat on the lumpy sofa, her attention strayed to a framed photo on the unit by the window. It showed two women in walking gear, one was Sharon and the other an older Brunette. The flat didn’t appear to be separated in style by two flat-sharing tastes, it was warm and intimate, Maggie was fairly sure that the women were lovers.
‘How is Phyllis? She never could keep her bloody mouth shut, the old cow.’ The words held no malice; she smiled as she asked after the cafe owner.
‘Well, she makes one hell of a chocolate cake,’ said Maggie, ‘and she speaks fondly of you. More than can be said for her opinion of Marc Robinson. I can’t stand him either. Didn’t like him from the second I set eyes on him, the flash git.’ This wasn’t quite true as Maggie had only turned against Marc when he had chosen Beth over her.
Sharon grinned, ‘Yes, he’s certainly an acquired taste. So what did you want to know? You already know that he is my ex-partner and I honestly don’t see what relevance that can have on anybody nearly ten years later. Why are you here?’
‘To be honest it’s not just Marc that I’m interested in. It’s more his sister. I want to find out anything that you can tell me about them. My friend, Beth, she went out with this Marc guy for one night. I think she might still be seeing him. Anyway she saw him for one date and the next morning she’s beaten black and blue, said she was mugged by a kid after her bag, then this crazy girl shows up, and the next thing is, Beth’s taken her in and she seems to have some kind of twisted power over her. I just know that something is horribly wrong.’
‘Look, Maggie, is it? Sorry, Maggie, I can’t say much. I’m done with all that now. I’m happy.’ Her eyes strayed to the photo and then quickly back to Maggie’s face. ‘I don’t want to rake the past up again, it’s done. All I will say is get your mate the hell out of there, no good will come of it. They’re damaged, the pair of them, and anybody who comes into contact with them will end up damaged, too.’ She glanced at the clock. ‘I’m sorry; I really do have to get on, now. I’m sorry I couldn’t be anymore help.’
Maggie felt that there was a lot more that Sharon could tell her that might help. If she’d arrived earlier she might have been able to get more out of the woman but she was clearly nervous about Maggie being there when the other woman was due home. Maggie wondered if that was because there was a strange woman in their flat, or because questions about Sharon’s past would be asked. She couldn’t help wondering if Sharon Cabot had lurched from one controlling relationship straight into another one. At the door she fished a piece of paper and a pen out of her bag and, using her knee to lean on, she scrawled her mobile number on it. ‘Look, I’m staying at a bed and breakfast, not far from here, if you can think of anything else that might help me, please ring. I don’t care what time it is. I’m seriously worried for my friend’s safety, so please. Ring me, yes?’
Sharon crumpled the paper in her hand. Maggie thought that she was going to throw it back at her, but she hastily shoved it into her jeans pocket. She nodded and mumbled, ‘Yes. I’ll ring if I think of anything that might help, but it’ll be late, when Annie’s asleep.’ Maggie wanted to tell her that her life didn’t have to revolve around controlling partners, but it wasn’t her place. She smiled, squeezed Sharon’s arm in thanks and left.
She ate pizza in her room with her mobile phone on the bed beside her. Graham rang to let Barry speak to his mummy before bedtime. Then Connor came on the line to have Maggie intervene in a fight between him and his sister. Maggie couldn’t get them off the line fast enough. Sharon might only ring once, and she didn’t want to miss the call, if it came. She half-heartedly watched the television but was restless and couldn’t settle. It was long past midnight when she went to bed.
The following morning she woke late. The phone by the side of her bed was ringing but it was only the irate owner telling her that she was late checking out of her room. She contemplated going back to Sharon’s house and shaking her until she told her every detail of her life with the Robinson’s. The trip had led her this far, but what had she actually learned from it? Marc and Jennifer were brother and sister, that was handy to know, but other than that, and the fact that he’s a bastard, she was no further forward, and at a loss how to help Beth and get rid of Jennifer.
She drove all morning and was only an hour from home when her mobile rang. She expected it to be Graham moaning that she wasn’t back yet and wanting to know how to cook fish fingers for the kid’s lunch. She answered her phone on the hands free. It was Sharon.
Maggie? Hi. I must be mad getting involved in this but I’ve thought of somebody who might be able to give you more information than I could. She’s Jennifer and Marc’s nanny from years ago. I searched the directory for a number for you. You need to ring first; but I have the number. The last I heard she was living in this nursing home in Chester. She might be dead by now, for all I know, but it’s the best I can do. I can’t remember her exact name. Marc called her Nanny Nettles. I think her name might have been Cynthia, but don’t quote me on that. Marc used to send money. I hope I’m doing the right thing.’ She gave Maggie the phone number for the nursing home. ‘Good luck. Oh and please don’t contact me again. I’ve done all that I can for you.’
Maggie didn’t even have the opportunity to thank her before the line disconnected. She rang the number that Sharon had given her and despite a poor line, due to her driving through hills, Maggie spoke to a member of staff who finally put her through to the matron of the sheltered accommodation. They established that the lady that Maggie wanted to see was a woman in her late seventies called Cynthia Thistle. The matron wasted no time in telling Maggie that the old woman’s account was in arrears and that they had a long waiting list for rooms in Tranquil Meadows retirement accommodation. Maggie turned the car around at the next junction and headed for Chester. Graham was going to kill her.