The Duchess nodded, smiled. 'That's nice,' she said. 'But you're forgetting about the interest, my love.' She shook her head, laughing softly as though the mistake was one she was very familiar with. 'The interest on the interest.' She reached down to prod at the earth in a terracotta plant pot. 'That needs a bit of water, that does. Dry as a bone.'
'How much?' The hand that was clutching the beer can had begun to shake a little, so he held it against his chest.
'It's around twelve, I think—'
'Don't worry, because that's why I'm here, isn't it? There's no need to panic, because you can work it off. That's the beauty of it.'
'Work it off how?' Something bright caught Evans's eye, and he looked up to see a WELCOME HOME balloon rising up and away from the back of the house. He could hear his friends and family laughing in the garden.
'Oh, I couldn't say for sure, love. Bits and bobs, that's all. Just a few bits and bobs. They'll let me know, and I'll let you know, see?'
'What if I don't want to do it?'
'Now, don't be daft, love...'
This time, when the Duchess moved towards him, Evans did step back and found himself against the side of the garage. She reached for his hand, and when he finally gave it she pressed a package into his palm then wrapped her own fingers around his. 'There you go.' She patted his hand. 'I bet you need this, don't you?'
For those few seconds, before Evans slipped the package into his pocket and pushed himself away from the wall, he could smell her: sickly and cloying, the lacquer and the skin cream.
'And this one's on the house,' she said. 'Like a whatever you call it 'a goodwill gesture.'
As he pushed back through the gate into the garden, he could hear her chuckling behind him. 'A welcome home gift from Granny.' Then: 'Do you mind if I stay for a bit, love? Those sausage rolls are bloody lovely.'
Evans's wife was coming towards him across the grass, the smile slipping from her face, and she was saying something, but he began walking faster and cut hard left on to the patio and into the house. Into the noise and the crush of bodies. Immediately, arms were outstretched towards him, but he pushed past them and hurried quickly into the hall and turned on to the stairs.
He took them two at a time.
The Duchess had been right. He needed what she had given him, but first he needed to be sick.
NINE LIVES, TWO DEATHS
He was always amazed at how easy it was.
Part of that was down to him of course, and it was no more than common sense: the thorough preparations, the thought he put into it. The care taken each and every time and the refusal to get lazy.
That was what they were, after all. So trusting and desperate for affection.
Victims had never been hard to find, quite the opposite, but still, each night's work needed to be treated with caution. Best laid plans and all that. There were basic measures that needed to be taken, things to steer clear of, cameras and that sort of carry-on. He was no expert when it came to forensics, but he knew enough to avoid leaving any sorts of traces. The gloves were thicker than he would have liked, but that couldn't be helped. It took away some of the feeling at the end, which was a shame, but he wasn't going to risk getting scratched, was he?
Enough feeling, though. There was always enough left, and each time it was as though things were starting to...even out inside him.
A lifting, of sorts.
Funny old word, but it sounded right.
He shook his head and drank his tea, one ear on the radio, as he sat and thought about who he was.