Abby opened the rear door of the taxi, deeply distressed by the encounter with Hugo Hegarty, and shot a bleak glance through the pouring rain up and down Dyke Road Avenue.
The British Telecom van was still there and the small, dark blue car was still parked further along. She climbed in the back of the taxi and pulled the door shut.
‘The Grand Hotel?’ the woman driver checked.
Abby nodded. It was the wrong address, which she had given deliberately when she phoned from Hegarty’s office, not wanting him to know where she was staying. She would bail out somewhere before there.
She sat back, thinking. No word from Ricky. Dave was wrong. It was going to be a lot harder to sell the stamps than he had told her. And it was going to take much longer.
Her phone started ringing. The caller display showed it was her mother. She felt sick with fear as she answered, clamping the phone tightly to her ear, aware that the driver would be listening.
‘Mum!’ she said.
Her mother sounded disoriented and deeply distressed. Her breathing coming in short bursts. ‘Please, Abby, please, I’ve got to get my medication, I’m getting-’ She stopped and drew her breath in sharply, then let out a gasp. ‘The spasms. I’ve – please – you shouldn’t have taken them. It’s wrong-’ She let out another gasp.
Then the call terminated.
Abby redialled frantically, but it just went straight to voicemail, as before.
Shaking, she stared at her phone’s display, expecting it to come back to life at any moment with a call from Ricky. But it remained silent.
She closed her eyes. How much could her mother take? How much more could she put her through?
Bastard. You bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard.
Ricky was smart. Too bloody smart. He was winning. He knew she wouldn’t be able to sell the stamps easily and that therefore she almost certainly still had them all. Her plan to palm him off with a small cash payment, telling him that she’d transferred the bulk to Dave, was now out of the window.
She didn’t know what to do any more.
She looked at the phone again, willing it to ring.
Actually there was one thing she could do, and she had to do it as fast as possible. She had to stop her mother’s suffering, even if that meant making a deal with Ricky. Which was going to mean giving him what he wanted. Or at least pretty much everything.
Then she had a thought. Leaning forward to speak to the driver, she said, ‘Do you know any local stamp dealers?’
The name on the driver’s ID card read ‘Sally Bidwell’.
‘There’s one in Queen’s Road, just down from the station, called Hawkes. I think there’s one out in Shoreham. And I’m sure there’s one in the Lanes, down Prince Albert Street,’ Sally Bidwell said.
‘Take me to Queen’s Road,’ Abby said. ‘That’s nearest.’
‘A collector, are you?’
‘I just dabble,’ Abby said, reaching inside her coat and unbuckling her belt.
‘More of a boy’s hobby, I always thought.’
‘Yes,’ Abby said politely.
She retrieved the Jiffy bag, held it down, below the line of sight of the interior mirror, and shuffled through the contents, looking for some of the lower-value items. She pulled out a block of four stamps with Maltese crosses on them that were worth about a thousand pounds. Also, there were some blocks of stamps featuring Sydney Harbour Bridge that were worth about four hundred pounds a sheet. She kept these out, then replaced the rest in the Jiffy bag and belted it back securely under her pullover.
A few minutes later the taxi pulled up outside Hawkes. Abby paid and climbed out, keeping the stamps safely dry, in their cellophane, inside her coat. A bus rumbled by, then she fleetingly noticed a small blue car passing her, with two men in the front, a Peugeot or a Renault, she thought. The passenger was talking on his mobile phone. The car looked very similar to the one that had been parked near Hegarty’s house. Or was she being paranoid?
There were no customers in the shop. A woman with long fair hair was seated at a table, reading a copy of the local newspaper. Abby rather liked the slightly ramshackle feel of the place. It didn’t seem precious, didn’t feel the kind of place where you were likely to get asked all sorts of difficult questions about provenance and chain of title.
‘I have some stamps I’m interested in selling,’ she said.
‘Do you have them with you?’
Abby handed them to her. The woman put the paper aside and took a cursory look at the stamps.
‘Nice,’ she said, in a friendly tone. ‘Haven’t seen any of these Sydney Harbour ones in a while. Let me just go and check on a few things. OK if I take them with me into the back?’
The woman carried them through an open door and sat at a desk, over which was a large magnifying plate. Abby watched her put the stamps on the desk and then start to examine each of them carefully.
She glanced at the front page of the Argus. The headline read:
SECOND MURDERED WOMAN LINKED TO 9/11 VICTIM
Then she saw the photographs beneath. And froze.
The smallest showed a beautiful but hard-looking blonde in her late twenties, gazing seductively into the camera lens as if she wanted to have sex with whoever was behind it. The caption at the bottom read Joanna Wilson. The largest photograph showed another woman, in her late thirties. She had wavy blonde hair and was attractive, with a pleasant, open smile, although there was something slightly bling-looking about her, as if she had money but not much style. The name beneath the photograph was Lorraine Wilson.
But it was the photograph of the man in the centre that Abby was staring at. Totally fixated. She looked at his face, then his name, Ronald Wilson, then his face. Then his name again.
She read the first paragraph of the story:
The body of a 42-year-old woman, found in the boot of a car in a river outside Geelong, near Melbourne, Australia, five weeks ago, has been identified as that of Lorraine Wilson, widow of Brighton businessman Ronald Wilson, one of the 67 British citizens known to have perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
She skimmed through it again. It felt as if someone had suddenly dimmed the lights inside her. Then she read on:
The skeletal remains of Joanna Wilson, 29, were discovered in a storm drain by workmen digging the foundations for the New England Quarter development, in central Brighton, last Friday. She had been Wilson’s first wife, DI Elizabeth Mantle, of Sussex CID, the Senior Investigating Officer, confirmed to the Argus this morning.
Sussex Police are mystified by forensic evidence indicating that Lorraine Wilson’s body had been in the Barwon river for approximately two years. As reported by this newspaper at the time, it was believed that Mrs Wilson had committed suicide in November 2002, when she disappeared from the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry during a night crossing, although the Coroner returned an open verdict.
DI Mantle said that investigations into her ‘suicide’ were being reopened immediately.
Abby looked at each of the photographs again in turn. But it was the man in the centre her eyes went back to. Suddenly the floor she was standing on seemed to slope away from her. She took a couple of steps to the left, to avoid falling over, and gripped the edge of a table. The walls seemed to be moving, swirling past her. A disembodied voice asked, ‘Are you all right? Hello?’ She saw the woman, the fair-haired stamp dealer, standing in a doorway. She saw her go past her eyes as if she was the attendant on a fairground carousel. She came round again.
‘Would you like to sit down?’ the voice said.
The carousel was slowing now. Abby was shivering and sweating at the same time.
‘I’m OK,’ she gasped, looking at the paper again.
‘Interesting story,’ the woman said, nodding at the paper, then looking at her again, concerned. ‘He was in the stamp trade. I knew him.’
Abby stared at the photo again. She barely heard the woman’s words as she offered her two thousand, three hundred and fifty pounds for the stamps. She took the money, in cash, in fifty-pound notes, and crammed them into her pockets.