Book 5/ Release 7.
They walked back across the top of the hill with the whole town at their feet. The hill was a wide open space of grassland. Timonthy appreciated the fresh air. He had lived too long in a city, he mused. He loved the amusements of the city; the theatres, the shops, and restaurants but concrete and stone was wearing on the soul: not that you noticed until you escaped. Still, grass and fresh air, even the sea and the coast, could not amuse him forever.
When they made it back to tarmac he jokingly said, “So, are we going to wait for your mother or make a run for it?”
Paris looked at him unimpressed. “I’d be tempted to say let’s run for it, but I know you’re too much a coward to even contemplate it.”
He knew she was right. It was not exactly fear but a reluctance to listen to the endless recriminations: surely that was just common sense? For the same reason even though he had a phone he always pretended to Lizzie that he had no idea how to use it, so that if she phoned him she knew not to expect a reply that day, sometimes never.
By the time they were back at the house he was tired. The last part of the hill was steep. He was tempted to make his way to an armchair in the sunshine but he wanted to check the garage before he forgot.
He went to the key cabinet and found the fob for the garage door.
“I was just wondering whether Stolid drove back to Scotland with his main luggage,” he explained. “That would prove that he had the intention of staying more than a few weeks.”
The garage was disappointing. There were two cars in it. Johnathon’s car was spotless, though without the shine of a wax coat he was used to seeing on it. This car was not the classic Johnathon had loved more than any other possession, just the new German coupe he had bought himself when the other car had been written off: an efficient though heartless replacement updated every few years in exact replication as if the death of his loved car had ruined him for any other.
Stolid’s car was obviously chosen by a man who wanted to get from one point to another without any consideration of style. It was unwashed and traces of litter could be seen escaping from the driver door pocket.
So he hadn’t driven to Scotland, Timonthy concluded disappointedly. He didn’t understand why Stolid had left Johnathon’s car untouched and unloved. He could understand the clothes. There was a sentimental attachment. They would still have some tactile and personal memories of the man and the act of throwing them away would be like admitting finally that he would never need them again. The car was just a metal hulk. At the least he would expected Stolid to have taken it as a replacement for his own dilapidated hatchback but it seemed from its immaculate state that he hadn’t.
“He didn’t drive up,” he said to answer Paris’s enquiring look. He had lost his tiredness. Stolid hadn’t driven up and the emptiness of the wardrobe seemed more disturbing now. There must be a reasonable explanation although he couldn’t see it and his curiosity gave him energy.
“Can you have a closer look at the e-mails to see if there’s anything there? I’m going to talk to the neighbours,” he asked Paris and walked down the hill again and opened the uninviting gate to the house on the side. There was a man kneeling by the pond in the front garden.
“Good Afternoon,” he greeted him with a sense of relief as he recognised him but got no reaction. He knew that the man was a little deaf so he tried again. He walked around to the other side of the pond so that he was in sight and said slightly louder.
“Good Afternoon, Mr Philips. How are you and Mrs Philips?”
He wondered whether the old man would recognise him so he carried on, “I’ve just dropped in next door to try and find out where my friend’s disappeared to.”
Mr Philips climbed up slowly from his kneeling position.
“Oh hello, you’re back! We’re struggling on, thank you. Do you mean Stolid’s disappeared? I thought he’d gone to work in Scotland. What’s the problem?”
“No one’s heard anything from him since he left. We were worried that he’d gone missing. I wondered if you would be able to help?”
“Have you been in contact with the police?” the old man asked. “I’d hate for anything to have happened to him. He was so helpful to me and my wife in the garden before he lost his enthusiasm at least.”
“Well it’s probably not that serious,” Timonthy said and prayed he was right. “I’m hoping he’s alright and has been too busy to remember to tell us. It’s just that we’ve no way of contacting him to check but it looks like he’s got someone looking after the garden and the house. I just wondered if you knew anything about that. I thought perhaps they must have some way of contacting him?”
“Someone comes round a few times a week. They work hard in the garden. I don’t know what they do in the house. They’ve been having a lot of deliveries. I’d like to go and see what’s happening in that garden. It was always pretty spectacular but now it must be something else.”
“What sort of deliveries?” Timonthy asked curiously.
“Well lots of trees and plants. We had beehives one day, at least I think they were: about a hundred of them. You’d have thought there was no way they’d all fit, even in that garden but they all came in, and nothing’s come out again. Did he buy some more land?”
“Do you want to come and have a look?” Timonthy said. “I’m not aware of it but we only just arrived. We haven’t made it into the garden yet. We’ll see if we can find out where all the deliveries went?”
The old man sprang up with vigour. It seemed that he was not exaggerated his desire to see what was going on. He started to follow Timonthy back to Stolid’s house.
“So have you seen who it is who looks after the garden?” Timonthy asked. “I mean is it a company or the same person each time?”
“I think it must be a company,” the old man said as if puzzled. “It’s not always the same people but it’s strange, I’ve never seen a van with a name. I’m not sure how they get here even unless it’s in some sort of inconspicuous car. You’d better take me down the back path,” the old man paused. “I’ve got my muddy boots on.”
There was a strained tone to his voice which made Timonthy turn round and look at him quizzically. He was blushing, Timonthy decided. He ignored it pointedly.
The side gate was bolted.
“I’ll get my daughter to open it for us,” Timonthy said as he sidled back to the front door.
He was gone a few minutes and then he came back. They stood awkwardly for a while until they heard the bolt moving and then Paris’s smiling face greeted them.
“There you are,” she said. “Shall I put the kettle on in a few minutes after you’ve explored?”
“That would be lovely,” Timonthy said.
They walked through to the back of the house where there was a terrace fronted by deep beds of stone. Small purple and white flowers were beginning to creep through and over the stone. They stood for a while looking over the view, breathing in the heady mixture of smells and then carried on down the formal, shallow wide steps. To the left of the terrace there was a painted summer house with smaller, rustic-looking stone steps leading up to the platform it stood on, overflowing with plants and at the bottom, a pond. Timonthy looked up remembering many a happy summer’s evening sitting there drinking wine with Johnathon at that very table and chairs under the light of lanterns. As they walked closer they could see between the pond weed a hundred or more frogs’ noses poking up through the water: frogs sitting on frogs, all happily sunbathing probably, Timonthy thought: surely the mating season was over now. Further on there was a lawn incongruously bordered by tropical looking plants, trees in blossom, trees with delicate apricot and pink leaves.
They made their way down one of the two shaped arches cloistering the closely planted area between them.
“There’s not much evidence of all those purchases so far,” Mr Philips said and he sounded confused. There were lots of trees: silver birch and lots of others I didn’t even recognise. They’re not here, even unplanted. All these trees have been here a while. The new ones have just vanished. Surely he must have bought more land.”
“It’s a strange thing to do just before moving to the other side of the country,” Timonthy mused.