Page 66

They hadn’t met Oscar. She had given up trying to seek their approval, and telling them about a black lad from a single parent home would have produced exactly the reaction she’d predicted. They would have stopped listening, in particular her mother. It wouldn’t have mattered that he studied hard, that he was studying to be a lawyer on a scholarship.

With this in mind, she hadn’t told Oscar the full story. He presumed her parents knew Jessica was going away with them. He hadn’t been hard to convince. He loved children.

 

* * *

 

Back on the beach, Oscar and Laura lay back on the soft dry sand. The fire crackled at their feet and the air was fresh with the smell of the sea and the far off sounds of the sea.

He slung his arm around her neck and his hand started to move over her shoulder and under the neck of her blouse.

‘What’s that?’ said Laura knocking his hand away and sitting up.

‘I can’t hear anything,’ he said. ‘Come on, I really want to do you on this beach. Theres no one around.’

‘Jessica, she’s in the caravan,’ said Laura pointing to it in the distance. Then they noticed it was in darkness.

‘The generator, it’s stopped working,’ said Laura starting to panic.

‘It’s probably run out of petrol.’

‘But she’s scared of the dark, she’s all alone there in the dark!’ said Laura standing and hunting for her shoes.

‘It’s okay, she’s probably asleep, she was exhausted.’

‘We should never have left her alone in there!’ Laura shouted.

‘It’s not my fault, it takes two to tango. Anyway we’ve got the key,’ said Oscar pulling it from his pocket.

‘Stop being clever. I want to go back,’ said Laura. She now had both shoes on and was marching off up the beach to join the small footpath to the caravan.

When they reached the door, Oscar put the key in the lock.

‘That generator really stinks,’ said Laura. And then Oscar opened the caravan door.

 

 

68

 

 

PRESENT DAY

 

 

* * *

 

Erika and Peterson sat in horror as Laura continued her story,

‘The inside of the caravan was thick with acrid smoke and fumes. One of us had moved the generator, because it was on uneven ground and we didn’t want the wind to blow it over or for it to topple, what we didn’t realise is that we’d moved it up against a vent near the front of the caravan. It was opposite where Jessica slept. We’d locked the doors and the windows. Oscar flung them all open and tried to get the air circulating again, but when I went to her… She wasn’t moving. Her skin was this terrible purple grey colour, and she was dead.’

‘So it was an accident?’ asked Erika in disbelief.

‘We should have checked, I should have checked for things like vents and windows…’

‘What happened next?’ asked Peterson.

‘We both freaked out. I then told Oscar that Jessica was my daughter. He started going on about kidnapping and manslaughter charges and that he had signed the paperwork to rent the caravan, and he’d signed a legal thing about using the generator. He was a young black man at the start of a glittering law career… Do you know how they treat young black men in the justice system? He kept saying. I carried her down to the beach and I sat up all night with her. Just holding her in my arms. She was so beautiful… then it got light and I heard the car start and Oscar went away and came back, he said he’d been to one of the camping shops a few miles away and that it was all over the news that Jessica had been kidnapped. He freaked out even more, that I’d lied to him.’

‘And then what did you do?’

‘We buried her… we buried my little girl… we dug a hole and we put her in it. It was under a tree where she could see the sea. We were so scared. Oscar was threatening me. I hadn’t slept…’

Erika moved round and took Laura in her arms. She looked over at Peterson and saw that he had tears in his eyes too. Laura managed to compose herself and she pushed Erika away.

‘Oscar was just able to switch himself off. We came back and he put it to the back of his mind, but I carried this terrible secret. I was burdened by it and the thought that I had left my little girl… You know what the terrible thing is? I enjoyed keeping it from my mother. That fucking bitch had taken my little girl from me and now she knew what it felt like! They can go to hell!’ Laura shouted slamming her hand down on the table. ‘I hate her!’

‘So how did Jessica go from being buried hundreds of miles away to resting at the bottom of Hayes Quarry?’

‘I was going crazy, the police were searching for her, and then they arrested Trevor Marksman and it was sent from heaven. He was a paedophile, I was happy for him to take the blame for Jessica’s death… I wrote Gerry a letter.’

‘Gerry O’Reilly? Jessica’s father?’

Laura nodded. ‘I asked him to phone me. We got talking and he said that he would be in London to see friends before he was posted out to Iraq. I spent the night at his hotel and I told him everything. I thought he’d go crazy, but I had to tell him, he was Jessica’s father. You know what he was most interested to hear? That a lawyer was involved, a fancy lawyer… He agreed to help me. I had to bring her home. I saw they had searched the quarry, so a few weeks after I said I was going back to university to get some of my things, as I hadn’t returned for the September semester. We went back to Wales, and we dug her up… Oscar hadn’t even wrapped her in anything. She was just in the earth. We brought her back.’

‘What about the old man who was squatting in the cottage opposite the quarry?’

‘I swear I didn’t know about that. He saw us, he saw us when we were in the boat. Gerry said he would take care of it and he did. He made it look like he hung himself. He was crazy.’

‘But he didn’t deserve to die,’ said Peterson.

The clock ticked through the silence.

‘I used to go there often. It was a comfort to me that she was there. I never told my husband, or any of the friends I made. When you live a lie, it becomes so ingrained you almost think its true. Until you found her again, in my mind, she had gone missing on that afternoon on the way to the birthday party.’

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