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|| A woman and a man. They stood
on my doorstep, smiling but not with their eyes. The woman
was smart and stylish, in a wholesome Head Girl kind of
way. Her glossy brown hair was cut in a neat bob: her
navy suit finished modestly at the knee. She had a faint
clean smell, of deodorant, perhaps, or fabric conditioner.
The man was younger - tall, gangly, with his hair slicked
back like Elvis.
"Mrs. Langdon?" said the woman.
"Yes," I said.
They showed me their identification.
"We're sorry to disturb you like this," said the woman.
"We did try to phone, but no-one answered."
"You'd better come in," I said.
They followed me past the door to the sitting room. Lucy
was in there, settled in front of Tots TV as though entranced,
her chest heaving with slow sleepy breaths, her comforter,
an old cardigan, pressed to her cheek. She looked appealingly
scruffy after her day at infant school, her face a little
smudged, pale fronds of hair escaped from her scrunchie
straggling down over her shoulders. She didn't turn her
head as we passed: she wouldn't get up for an hour or
so. This mattered to me: I wanted desperately to protect
her from what was about to happen.
My kitchen was full of syrupy autumn sunlight. Geraniums
flared red on my windowsill. Outside in the garden, the
shadow of the apple tree fell sharp and dark across the
bright grass. A bee buzzed opulently in the honeysuckle
at the window, unnervingly loud in the stillness. I was
acutely aware of all these things, as though all my senses
were sharpened. Everything was precise and loud and clear.
The man and the woman stood either side of my big oak
table. They seemed to use up a lot of space. It was the
moment when you expect a visitor to express some sort
of approbation - "What a fabulous old fireplace" or "I
love your children's drawings". They just stood there
- not hostile, but not friendly either. A shaft of sunlight
fell on the table between us. Dustmotes danced in it,
"We want to talk to you about Daniel Whitmore," they said.
"Yes," I said. "Why don't you sit down."
They sat. The man had very long legs: he shifted around,
trying to work out where to put his feet. They opened
their briefcases, took out pens and notepads. The man
had something else too, a blue official-looking folder.
He put the folder down, opened it to reveal some handwritten
pages inside, straightened it between his palms so it
was neatly parallel to the edge of the table. What I saw
there between those exact and unfamiliar hands appalled
me. The writing was my own.