Weekenders are usually gone by the time I put my key in the door— and they pay London rates. If I'm having a bad day, I can rearrange the cute wooden fish swimming on wires and Scent of the Sea diffusers before I get on with cleaning grit out of the showers. I could try on clothes but I don't—well, apart from shoes, obviously. Everyone does, don't they? And the occasional dress but only over my own things. They'd never know. They probably don't even know what's in the wardrobe.
Liam doesn't like me working for them—he says they're like fat leeches sucking the blood out of the town. I tell him to save it for his mates down at the Neptune. I'm sick of all his "Come the revolution, comrade" stuff.
I haven't yet worked out how you change it up. I mean, how long do you have to live here to be a local? Is there a secret waiting list? Do you have to wait for someone to actually die to take their place? I've lived here five years but I'm still totally on the sidelines. I don't mind—I don't want the attention—but it really bothers some people.
Charlie rushes up the steps while I'm wiping down the sink. "Breakfast is here, my love!" he calls to Pauline, and winks at me.
"Where have you been all this time?" Pauline shouts from her bed.
"I got caught by Dave Harman. Still ranting about the pop festival in a couple of weeks. I said, 'It's a bit early on a Saturday for this, old man,' but he carried on, accusing weekenders of ruining the town, predicting Armageddon in Ebbing over the August bank holiday. He and his friends have been fired up like this for weeks. He'll give himself an ulcer."
"Well, he's right," Pauline said. "We don't want our town invaded by the great unwashed.
There'll be drugs, anarchists, and burglars. And where will we park in town?"
"Absolutely. Anyway, I have sourced the finest croissants for you. I'll warm them and bring you a tray."
"What are you after?"
"Nothing, darling. Can't I spoil you a bit?"
"Huh, you forget I know you, Charlie."
I'm cleaning the windows when the row starts in the bedroom. "Twenty thousand? You are joking!" Pauline shouts. "That money is for my swimming pool, not a care home. I didn't sign up for this when I married you."
"Darling, you're not being fair," Charlie says as if he's talking to a child. She won't like that. "You knew from the beginning that Birdie needed to be cared for."
"But not that she was bleeding us dry. How much have you spent already? Oh, God, don't tell me. I can't bear it. But it stops now. Do you hear? Now."
She must know I can hear but she doesn't care. I rub the glass a bit harder and try not to catch Charlie's eye when he comes through. He looks terrible. I don't know how he stands it.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10, 2019
Fourteen days earlier
Dr. Elise King was making herself an herbal tea—"Dust and twigs," her neighbor Ronnie called it—but, according to the box, it was supposed to be calming. Elise wondered how long it took to work.
She'd had only four hours' sleep and her eyes were gritty. The owners of the holiday home next door had arrived after midnight, conducting a symphony of slamming doors and car boots, cursing London getaway traffic and shouting at their teenage twins and incontinent Labrador. It happened a lot. Ebbing seemed to double in size every Saturday morning, and Elise had learned early on that all the sourdough bread would go unless you got to the bakery first thing.
She'd lain there as the great unloading took place—"Why the hell have you brought a food mixer? Move those bloody paddle boards before I trip over them again"—with fists and teeth clenched, devising suitable retribution. Hoovering shared walls at dawn, perhaps? Lighting a barbecue with damp wood? But she didn't have the energy.
And they were always perfectly pleasant in that detached, passing- through way they had when they met Elise on the pavement.
"Hello there! Beautiful day!" they said when they saw her, never using her name.
She didn't know if they even knew it-or that she was a senior officer on the Major Crime Team—but she knew theirs. Kevin and Janine Scott-Pennington. She looked them up on the computer—on a need-to-know basis.
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday, October 17th, we begin the book COLD FEAR by Brandon Webb and John David Mann.