Do you want my mobile number?”
“I’ve got it.”
“Then we’re set.”
“I was hoping that there would be room for me in your lorry,” Lizzie said, definitely archly.
“I’m afraid there are only three seats,” Peter said. “I’d offer you one of those but I’ve got some catching up to do with these two. If you still want to we’ll have a swop around at Bristol.”
Peter climbed into the lorry and shut the door with a friendly wave. Lizzie turned away muttering.
“I’ve been rejected,” she said in mock dudgeon. “Now it’s all down to you and your driving, Timonthy.”
“They’re highly unlikely to get away from me,” he said haughtily. “I’ve got a top speed of 150mph although I’ve never tested it. Still, that lorry will barely make 60, especially with all those plants in the back.”
“You sound very manly when you talk like that,” Lizzie said happily.
“You sound like you’re still drunk,” he retorted, inexplicably annoyed by her comment.
“It will be a long journey at that speed,” she ignored him
“It’s been a while since we were all together, just us. I expect we’ve got lots to talk about,” Paris said comfortably and in the circumstances, he thought, optimistically.
It wasn’t too bad as they got underway. The journey to Bristol was partially local but well known roads and then they joined the motorway. At this point in time the car almost drove itself at the moderate pace they were keeping and everyone had recovered or continued their good humour. Paris had been right to say they had so much to talk about. The last year or so they had all been leading completely separate lives and it was amazing how much had happened in that year to all of them. Just north of Bristol Will phoned Timonthy to say that they were stopping in about a mile.
He followed the lorry into the services, but turned off into the car parking spaces. He watched in his rear view mirror making sure that they were really stopping too. It was an obsessional mistrust, as if he could hardly believe his good luck that he had found someone to take him to Stolid, and someone else who seemed to appreciate him for what he was. Once gained these things were not to be lightly lost.
They waited for the three men by the entrance to the services. Peter seemed to be in a better mood. Perhaps he had had all his questions answered and knew now what he was supposed to do. How had Stolid achieved this apparent level of influence over the young man, Timonthy wondered. After more coffee and a visit to the bathrooms they were ready to set off again.
“Do you still want to sit in the cab?” Peter asked Lizzie with a look of incredulity. She nodded enthusiastically. They decided that Gerard would take her place in the front of his car. Timonthy quite liked this idea although he would have preferred to have been alone with him. They still had things to talk about which would not be possible with Paris listening in. The next stopping point was somewhere after Manchester.
“Are you sure you’re happy in the back Paris?” Gerard asked.
“Yes, you carry on. I’ll probably try sleeping and I don’t want anyone looking at me.”
“Make sure you’ve got your sleeping belt on,” Timonthy said sternly.
“I wouldn’t dream otherwise,”
Gerard got into his car with the appearance of nervousness. “This is a lot different to the lorry,” he said like a child.
Timonthy was proud of his car. Unlike Stolid he took good care of its interior and expected people to admire it. He wasn’t disappointed. Gerard seemed to appreciate it greatly, running his hand across the dashboard and the seats with a look of mischief.
“I don’t understand why Lizzie was so keen to sit in the lorry,” he said.
“Probably the company,” Timonthy replied. “I’m not complaining.”
“Nor me,” Gerard agreed.
They set off again. This part of the journey was smooth, apart from the occasional bouts of traffic. It was frustrating though to always have the white back of the lorry in front of him. For a couple of hours they mainly sat in silence as if the tedium of the journey had numbed their brains. Timonthy was slowly considering everything that had happened: thinking of different explanations for the circumstances. He couldn’t find one convincing explanation which covered it all.
“Did Peter work out what Stolid wants him to do with you?” Timonthy asked eventually deciding the direct approach was best. He knew that Gerard would not take offence whatever question he asked him, although he might be embarrassed to answer.
“I thought you heard him,” Gerard sounded delighted. “I thought it would have reassured you that Stolid was in no danger from us.”
“What does that mean?” Paris asked leaning forward so she could hear them better.
“It means that Peter had no idea that Gerard was with us,” Timonthy explained but stopped there, hoping that Gerard would carry on talking. He admired his technique for not answering questions. The more he saw it the more he admired its cunning simplicity.
“How did you get to Stolid’s house then?” Paris asked him, her head almost reaching the front seats.
“I came with Will and Elena in the van,” Gerard said. “It’s just that Peter wasn’t there when we set off. He was busy. Stolid asked me to come. He wanted to know what was happening to all of you. He knew that you’d be at his house, somehow. I don’t know how.”
“That’s impossible,” Paris exclaimed. “We didn’t even know we’d be there until after you set off.”
“I don’t know about the timing,” Gerard shrugged. “He said it was something to do with his computer. I don’t know what. I don’t understand computers really.”
Both Paris and Timonthy thought hard. They were not expert enough to know whether a computer could alert its owner to someone using it, but they were both fairly sure that Stolid wouldn’t know that either without expert help. There was no denying the fact though that Gerard had turned up at the house shortly after they had.
“So Stolid wanted you to tell him what we were up to?” Paris asked intently.
“Well, really he wanted me to make sure that you were all fine. He had a sudden attack of guilt, he said, because he had left you all in the dark.”
They sat in silence for a while, contemplating this information. It was all possible but it still didn’t feel right.
“Why was Peter shocked to see you?” Timonthy eventually asked. “It wasn’t just that he was surprised you had chosen to go on that journey. It was more as if he had seen a ghost, or someone he thought was somewhere else completely.”
Gerard was silent and Timonthy risked a quick sideways glance at him. He was making a face, like a man on the verge of indecision. Gerard looked quickly back at Paris with a smile, and then pleadingly at Timonthy.
That means that he doesn’t feel he can tell me the answer in front of Paris, Timonthy decided with a reasonable amount of confidence so he took pity on the man and tried to change the subject.
Do you remember the last time we drove to Scotland?” he asked Paris
“Oh God!” she laughed. “How many times was I sick then? It was a good holiday in the end though?”
“Yes, I’m quite glad you’ve grown out of that. I don’t even have a bucket in the car these days.”
“I was only ten, Gerard, in case you’re worried,” Paris reassured him. “We went on a tour around Scotland that time.”
“And there was a crash on the M6. We made a diversion and ended up all over the place: we went to Penrith, the lake district, Carlisle, Bridgenorth. I can’t remember now if that was on purpose or just because of the crash.”
“I’ve been to Penrith,” Gerard said happily.
“There was a lovely castle there, wasn’t there?” Paris asked vaguely.
“I don’t remember a castle,” Gerard shook his head. “Some walls, a tower perhaps but not a castle. I’ve got a terrible memory.”
“Yes, there definitely was a castle. I remember it well,” Timonthy shook his head. “The first of about a hundred we saw on that trip. You were keen on castles then.”
“They are romantic buildings,” Paris mused. “Do you remember that time Johnathon said that his father used to own a Scottish castle?”
“I remember him telling you that,” Timonthy mused. “I don’t know if it was true or not. He never mentioned it again and certainly never took us there. I must admit I thought he was just telling you stories to inspire your imagination, although it wasn’t beyond the realms of imagination. He certainly didn’t own such a thing himself when he died but then he had given away most of his father’s inheritance.”
They were thoughtful for a second, It was as though Johnathon’s death was so unbelievable that any mention of it suddenly made it seem real, as if it had just happened.