Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Night Music, Page 2

Jojo Moyes

  He was still smirking as he walked across the floor and heard the theme tune to another of his favourite shows. He glanced up. Lost in the music, he did not see the bowl of rice pudding on the floor, congealing where he had left it earlier. His bony old foot landed in it heel first and he slid smoothly across the boards.

  At least, this was what the coroner pieced together when the final hours of Samuel Pottisworth's life were laid out painstakingly before the court. The thud his head made as it met the floor would have been loud enough to hear some two floors below. Still, as Matt McCarthy pointed out, so deep in the woods where all noise was deadened, things went unnoticed. It was a place where almost anything could happen.


  'Say please.'

  Theresa glared at him.

  Matt shifted. He fixed his eyes on hers. Her mascara had smudged, making her seem rather sluttish. Then again, Theresa was always a bit sluttish, even when she was dressed in her smartest clothes. It was one of the things he liked about her. 'Say please.'

  She closed her eyes, locked in some internal struggle. 'Matt--'

  'Say. Please.' He lifted himself on to his elbows so that no part of him was touching her, save, perhaps, his feet. 'Go on,' he said quietly. 'You have to ask.'

  'Matt, I just--'


  Theresa wiggled her hips upwards, in a desperate attempt to meet his, but he moved out of reach. 'Say it.'

  'Oh, you--' She gasped as he lowered his head and ran his lips along her neck, her collarbone, his body still raised tantalisingly above her. She was enjoyably easy to fire up, easier than most to keep at a peak. Her eyes closed, and she began to moan. He could taste the sweat, a cool film on her skin. She had been like this for almost three-quarters of an hour. 'Matt . . .'

  'Say it.' His lips went to her ear, and his voice became a low rumble as he smelled the perfume of her hair, the muskier scents between them. How easy it would be to let go, to allow himself to give in to the sensation. But it was sweeter to keep some control.

  'Say it.'

  Theresa's eyes half opened, and he saw that the fight had gone out of them. Her lips parted. 'Please,' she whispered. Then, grasping him, all pretence at decorum gone, 'Oh - please. Please. Please.'

  Three-quarters of an hour. Matt glanced at his wristwatch. Then, in a fluid movement, he pushed himself backwards off the bed. 'Christ, is that the time already?' He scanned the floor for his jeans. 'Sorry, babe. Got to be somewhere.'

  Theresa's hair flopped over her face. 'What? You can't go!'

  'Where are my boots? I could have sworn I left them down here.'

  She stared at him in disbelief, her skin still flushed. 'Matt! You can't leave me like this!'

  'Ah. There they are.' Matt shoved on his work boots, then pecked her on the cheek. 'Gotta go. You can't imagine how rude it would be if I was late.'

  'Late? Late for what? Matt!'

  He could have stretched it that extra two minutes. It was something few men seemed to understand. But sometimes there was more pleasure in knowing you could have something than actually having it. Matt grinned as he ran lightly down the stairs. He could hear her swearing all the way to the front door.

  The funeral of Samuel Frederick Pottisworth took place in the village church on an afternoon so black with glowering rainclouds that night might have come early. He had been the last of the Pottisworths. And as a result, or possibly because he was not the most dearly beloved of men, few people came. The McCarthy family, Mr Pottisworth's doctor, health visitor and solicitor sat in the front pews, spread out a little, perhaps to make the long wooden seats seem busier than they were.

  A few rows back, mindful of his traditional position, Byron Firth, his dogs immobile at his feet, ignored the pointed glances and mutterings of the old women in the opposite pew. He was used to it. He had come to accept that there would be wary expressions and whispered asides whenever he had the apparent gall to appear in town, and he had learned long ago to turn to them a face of stone. Besides, he had more urgent matters to consider. As he left home he had overheard his sister on the telephone to her boyfriend, and he had a feeling that she was talking about moving herself and Lily on. He couldn't afford the rent for their house alone, and there weren't many people who were likely to want to share with him and the dogs. More importantly, with the old man gone, it looked like he was out of a job. The estate was paying his wages for now, but that wouldn't last for ever. He flicked through the paper to see if any casual work was going.

  A few had come just for the do. Mrs Linnet, the local cleaning lady, made it her business never to miss a good funeral. She could rank them, in terms of turnout, choice of hymns, quality of sausage rolls and joints of ham all the way back to 1955. She had brought with her two of the old women she 'did for'; while they hadn't actually known Mr Pottisworth, they might enjoy the outing, she had told the vicar. Especially as the McCarthys were likely to lay on a good spread, what with Mrs McCarthy knowing how to do things properly. Her kind always did.

  And then, at the back, Asad and Henry were pressed close together as they pretended to read from the hymn book.

  'Look at them, all dressed up and sitting in the front row like they were family,' said Henry, under his breath.

  'Whatever eases their sorrow,' said Asad. A tall man, he had to stoop to ensure that they could both see the words. 'She looks very nice today. I think that coat's new.' In bright red wool, cut in a military style, it glowed in the gloomy confines of the little church.

  'They must be expecting to come into some money. She was telling me yesterday he's put down a deposit on one of those flash new four-wheel drives.'

  'She deserves it. All those years at the beck and call of that horrible man. I wouldn't have done it.' Asad shook his head. His features, betraying his Somalian heritage, were elegant and a little mournful. He managed in almost all circumstances to resemble a man of dignity, Henry said. Even in his Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas.

  'Which particular horrible man are you talking about?' muttered Henry.

  The hymn ended. With a shuffle of bottoms on pews, and the soft thud of old hymn books hitting wood, the small congregation settled down for the last part of the service.

  'Samuel Pottisworth,' said the vicar, 'was . . . a man . . . who stayed true to himself throughout his life.' He appeared to be stumbling. 'He was one of the most . . . long-standing members of our parish.'

  'McCarthy's had his eye on that house for years,' said Henry, quietly. 'Look at him standing there with her - like butter wouldn't melt.'

  Asad glanced at him quizzically, and then at the couple several rows in front of them.

  'You know he was with that Theresa from the pub not half an hour before he got here? Ted Garner came in for some wine gums before I closed the shop. Said he'd seen his van parked outside her cottage.' Henry pulled a face.

  'Perhaps she was having some work done,' said Asad, optimistically.

  'I've heard she often gets a man in.' Henry adjusted his reading glasses.

  'Perhaps she needed her pipes rodded.'

  'And he's meant to be very good at banging things in . . .'

  The two men began to giggle and battled to straighten their faces as the vicar looked up from his notes, his eyebrows raised in a weary question. Come on, his expression said. Work with me here.

  Asad sat up. 'Not that we're ones to gossip,' he murmured.

  'Nope. I was just saying so to Mrs Linnet when she came in for some headache pills. That's the second lot the old girl's gone through in three days. No, you won't get gossip in our shop.'

  Even though it was a funeral, Matt McCarthy was having trouble ensuring that his face bore the required mournfulness. He wanted to smile. He wanted to sing. Earlier that morning one of the roofers had twice asked him what he was so bloody happy about. 'Lottery numbers come up, have they?' he had said.

  'Something like that,' Matt had replied, and disappeared for the fifteenth time, rolled-up plans in hand, to eye the front
of the house.

  It couldn't have worked out better. Laura had reached the end of her tether with the old goat and, he had to admit, Matt had been worried that last evening. If she had refused to keep seeing to Pottisworth's meals, he would have been done for. In fact, so wonderful had the news been when Laura rang him, her voice tremulous and shocked, that he had made sure he had been with her when the doctor arrived to pronounce the old man dead. Laura had clung to him, believing he had returned because he didn't want her to go through the ordeal alone, but some small part of him - not that he would admit this to anyone - hadn't believed the old bugger could be gone. And that if Matt disappeared too swiftly he might spring up again and announce that he fancied 'a little bit of a roast'.

  The service had ended. The little group of mourners went out into the darkening afternoon and clustered together, a few occasionally peering about to gauge what might happen next. It was plain that no one was going to accompany the old man to the graveyard.

  'I thought it was very civil of you and Mrs McCarthy to arrange Mr Pottisworth's funeral.' Mrs Linnet laid a featherlight hand on Matt's arm.

  'Least we could do,' he said. 'Mr P was like family to us. Especially my wife. I'm sure she's going to miss him.'

  'Not many could expect such generosity of spirit from their neighbours in their later years,' said Mrs Linnet.

  'And who can say what prompts such acts? He was truly a lucky man.'

  Asad Suleyman was beside him, one of the few men in the locality who could make Matt feel short. Among other things. Matt looked up sharply at his words, but Asad's face, as ever, was unreadable. 'Well, you know Laura,' he said. 'Her side of the family likes to see things done properly. Very big on form, my wife.'

  'We were just wondering . . . Mr McCarthy . . . whether you were likely to be commiserating Mr Pottisworth's life in any other way today . . .' said Mrs Linnet, from under the brim of her felt hat. Behind her two other old women waited expectantly, handbags clutched to their chests.

  'Commis--? Of course. You're all welcome, ladies. We want to give dear old Mr P a proper send-off, don't we?'

  'What about you, Mr Suleyman? Will you have to get back to the shop?'

  'Oh, no.' Henry Ross had appeared beside him. 'Early closing on Wednesdays. You couldn't have planned it better for us, Mr McCarthy. We'd love to - ah - commiserate.'

  'We're all yours.' Asad beamed.

  Nothing was going to spoil Matt's day. 'Wonderful,' he said. 'Well, all back to ours, and we can toast him. I'll just go and tell the vicar. Ladies, if you wait by my car, I'll give you a lift down.'

  The house that Matt McCarthy had built - or renovated, with his wife's money - had once been the much-smaller coach house, sited on the edge of the woods, before the driveway had been split from that of the Spanish House. From the outside, it was in keeping with the architecture of the area, with its neo-Georgian facade, long, elegant windows and flinted frontage. Inside, however, it was more modern, with downlighting, a large, open-plan sitting room with laminate flooring and a games room in which Matt and his son had last played pool several years before.

  It gave on to open countryside, and the two houses were shielded from each other by woods. They were a mile and a half from the village of Little Barton with its pub, school and shop. But the long, winding driveway, which had once allowed easy passage from the nearest main road, was now an overgrown track, rutted and pitted with neglect, so Matt and his wife required sturdy four-wheel drives to leave their house without fear for the undersides of their vehicles. Occasionally Matt would drive the quarter-mile worst part of the track to pick up visitors; twice it had ripped exhausts from elegant, low-slung cars and Matt, who was no fool when it came to business relationships, did not like to start any meeting on an apologetic footing.

  Several times he had been tempted to fill in the drive with hardcore, but Laura had persuaded him it was tempting fate. 'Do what you want when the house is ours,' she had said. 'There's no point in spending all that money for someone else's benefit.'

  Now the drinks table was loaded with fine wine - far too much, considering the number of people who had shown up, but Matt McCarthy would not have it said that he was a mean host. And a little lubrication smoothed business contacts. He knew that as well as anyone.

  'See the old man buried, did you?'

  'Someone had to make sure he wasn't going to get back up.' He handed Mike Todd, the local estate agent, a large glass of red wine.

  'Is Derek here yet? I imagine he'll want to talk to me about putting it on the market once probate's sorted out. Got to tell you, the plot might be fantastic but it's going to take deep pockets to sort out the old wreck. Last time I was in there was . . . four years ago? And it was falling apart then.'

  'It's not in great shape, no.'

  'What's it say over the gate? Cave? Take care, is it? Sounds about right to me.'

  Matt leaned in to him. 'I wouldn't hold your breath, Mike.'

  'You know something I don't?'

  'Let's just say you might be marketing this property before you look at that one.'

  Mike nodded. 'I'd suspected as much. Well . . . I can't say I wouldn't find yours an easier commission to earn. Think there's a few more in the market for a house like this. Did you know our area's been named in one of the Sundays as the next property hot spot?'

  'You're going to be busy, then. But you'll do me a good rate?'

  'I'll always look after you, Matt, you know that. In fact, let's have a chat later. There's a woman put an offer in on that barn conversion behind the church. She's going to need an awful lot of work doing and I told her I might know just the man. Thought we could both make it worth our while.' He took a long slug of his drink, and smacked his lips. 'Besides, if you're after doing up that old wreck, you'll need all the money you can get.'

  It was surprising how many more people turned up to the funeral tea than had for the service, Laura mused. Out of the window the sky had cleared and she could almost smell the musty scent of the woods. She had walked the dog there earlier, and even in September you could detect the subtle change in the air that heralded the approach of autumn. She hauled her attention back to the fruit cake, which sat on a tray in front of her on the work surface, ready to go into the front room. If their guests settled in, as they seemed to be threatening, she would be playing hostess until well past dusk. That was the thing with small communities. They all led such isolated lives that they tended to leap on any event and milk it for all it was worth. At this rate she'd have to get the Cousins to reopen the village shop for her.

  'All right, beautiful?'

  Matt's arms were round her waist. He had been lovely this past week, cheerful, relaxed, attentive. Much as she felt guilty to admit it, Mr P's death had been a blessing.

  'Just wondering how long before chucking-out time,' he murmured.

  'The old ladies may need taking home soon. Mrs Linnet's gone all silly on her third gin and Mrs Bellamy's snoring on a pile of coats upstairs.'

  'They'll be making passes at the Cousins, next.'

  She smiled and put a cake knife on to the tray. Then she turned so that she was facing him. He was as handsome as the day she had met him. The weathering of his face, the lines that spread from the corners of his eyes, only made him more attractive. Sometimes she winced at that; today, filled with wine and relief, she just felt glad of it. 'Everything's going to change now, isn't it?' she said.

  'Oh, yes.' He bent to kiss her, and she let her hands slide round him, feeling his familiar shape against her, the tautness of muscles primed by hard work. She thought she had probably never held him close without feeling an echo of desire. She kissed him back, feeling a brief, reassuring sense of possession in the pressure of his lips on hers. These were the moments that made it all worthwhile, that made her feel as if he was restored to her. That everything in the past had been an aberration.

  'Not interrupting anything, am I?'

  Matt lifted his head. 'If you don't know by now, Ant
hony, we wasted all that money on your biology lessons.'

  Laura slid from her husband's grasp and picked up the tray with the cake. 'Your father and I were talking about the future,' she said, 'how good it's looking.'

  There were times, thought Matt McCarthy, adjusting himself surreptitiously, when he was pretty pleased to be married to his wife. He watched her as she went into the drawing room, totting up her attributes: waist still narrow, legs shapely, something classy informing her walk. Not a bad old stick, all told.

  'You not going out?' he asked his son. 'Thought you'd be long gone by now.' It took him some moments to grasp that Anthony was not wearing his usual complicit grin.

  'Shane gave me a lift back from football.'

  'Nice for you.'

  'I saw your van outside Theresa Dillon's.'

  Matt hesitated. 'So?'

  'So - I'm not stupid, you know. And neither is Mum, even though you act like she is.'

  Matt's convivial mood evaporated. He fought to keep his voice light. 'I've no idea what you're talking about.'


  'Are you accusing me of something?'

  'You told Mum you were coming straight from the builders' merchants. That's fourteen miles the other side of the church.'

  So this is it, Matt thought. His anger was partially offset by pride that his son wasn't a fool and that he wasn't afraid of his father. That he had grown some balls. 'Listen, Inspector bloody Clouseau, I stopped off because Theresa rang and asked me to give her an urgent quote for putting in some new windows, not that it's any of your business.'

  The boy said nothing, just stared at him in a way that told Matt he was disbelieved. He was wearing that ridiculous woollen hat, low over his brow.

  'After she rang me I worked out there was nothing I needed from the builders' merchants that I couldn't get tomorrow,' he added.

  Anthony looked at his feet.

  'You really think I'd treat your mother like that? After everything she's been doing for this family - and that old man?' He might have had him then - he saw uncertainty in his eyes. Matt's response was instinctive - never admit, never explain - and had got him out of God only knew how many holes.