“Can you carry on bringing everything over? I’ll get inside and try to arrange everything so it doesn’t get damaged on the journey,” Will said as he saw them.
They worked quietly and efficiently, aware of Peter’s eyes upon them. After a while he seemed to shake off the thought that was absorbing him and he joined in the work.
In spite of Will’s anticipation it seemed that Peter’s arrival had dampened the atmosphere but they soon finished.
Peter turned to Timonthy.
“Are you happy for me to use the computer?” he asked.
“I assume that you’ve got Stolid’s permission, so it’s nothing to do with me.” Timonthy replied. He was aware that he didn’t sound friendly, resenting the fact that Peter had transformed the other men into pensive automatons, especially Gerard who now looked like a sulky schoolboy caught in some reprehensible act that he was about to have to explain to the headmaster.
Peter disappeared indoors and the other two looked unsure as to what they should do.
“We should exchange numbers,” Timonthy suggested, “so we can communicate on the journey.”
Will nodded and Gerard continued to look blank, so Timonthy assumed he didn’t have a phone. He expected no different.
“I don’t remember my number,” Will apologised.
“Ring me and then I’ll know what it is,” Timonthy suggested. He looked on with a degree of suspicion while Will fumbled the task of ringing him. It worked eventually, and Timonthy helped him add his number into the contact list.
“What’s Peter’s number?” he asked. “I’ll put that in my phone as well in case we can’t get through.”
There was another bout of fumbling and then the right contact came up. It was the only one with the exception of his own number. He supposed that was not completely suspicious considering they lived somewhere with no signal. While he was there he added Lizzie’s number to the list just in case. He was determined not to lose them if human effort could avoid it.
Then he left them and quickly checked his car. He saw Lizzie’s face peering out of the upstairs window. It reminded him she was going to take over surveillance while he packed.
Paris came out of the front door as he went in complete with bag.
“I’m ready,” she said. Lizzie met him at the top of the stairs. She was about to speak, he imagined recklessly, so he signalled with a finger across his lips that they were overheard, so she smiled instead and carried on downstairs with her bags. She looked like she had packed for weeks. He and Paris only had enough for a few days but he assumed that lack of phones, and post did not necessarily mean lack of laundry facilities.
Timonthy gathered together the few things he had removed from his bag and pondered. His eye rested on the bed briefly and he remembered the previous night with a shudder of pleasure mixed with something else, not pain, or loss but something like those things.
He checked all the upstairs windows as he rested his bag at the top of the stairs and then brought it down with him. Lizzie was already outside. Then he checked that the downstairs doors at the back of the house were all locked and stood outside the study watching Peter on the computer. He was crouched and concentrating like a man not used to using a keyboard. The image was like a memory. From the back you could imagine that that was Stolid sitting there. His eye flickered down to Peter’s thigh and he admonished himself. Not right: if even your own conscience says that, you know you have crossed the line, he thought with guilt. It looked like a nice thigh contained in its denim shell, though. He despised himself sometimes.
“Nearly done,” Peter called out cheerfully. He looked round and gave Timonthy a look which almost convinced him he could read his mind: a look which encompassed the whole of him without judgement.
It was friendly enough to encourage Timonthy into the study to peer through the front window.
Gerard was sat in the lorry, partly concealed by darkness and Will was balancing on the step. Lizzie and Paris were talking to them with their heads on a tilt. They were definitely flirting, he thought to himself: in an innocent way, he hoped.
“Was it you, or one of your staff, who collected Stolid’s clothes?” Timonthy asked, suddenly remembering that part of the riddle.
“Yes, we did,” Peter nodded his head. “There were a few things we collected, books and other things. He had the intention of only staying a few weeks at the beginning. He thought he would go home and collect more things if he decided to stay but when I said we could get it, he didn’t bother to come home again.”
Perhaps that was where Johnathon’s books had gone to then. It wouldn’t have been the first thing he would guess Stolid needed but perhaps they were a comfort in a strange land.
“Now I’m done,” Peter said, closing the lid of the laptop and putting it back in the bureau where it belonged. “It looks like everyone’s ready to leave: how about you?”
“I’m ready,” Timonthy said. “I just need to get one thing, first.”
He rushed back to the living room and found the collection of papers he had started reading the day before. He put them into a side pocket of his bag and took his bag to the car.
“Will you lock up when you’re ready?” Peter said.
Timonthy turned his back on everyone and locked the door.
“I was thinking of stopping at Bristol for a quick break,” Peter said turning towards Timonthy. “I’m going up on the motorway, I think. A bit out of the way but probably less hassle in the end. Do you want my mobile number?”