‘That’s right. I wanted to see him, but then I decided that it wasn’t a good idea, so I came home.’
‘What time was this?’ Gaskill’s voice was even, his face completely blank. His lips barely moved when he spoke. I could hear the scratch of Neck Acne’s pencil on paper, I could hear the blood pounding in my ears.
‘It was … um … I think it was around six thirty. I mean, I think I got the train at around six o’clock.’
‘And you came home …?’
‘Maybe seven thirty?’ I glanced up and caught Cathy’s eye and I could see from the look on her face that she knew I was lying. ‘Maybe a bit later than that. Maybe it was closer to eight. Yes, actually, I remember now – I think I got home just after eight.’ I could feel the colour rising to my cheeks; if this man didn’t know I was lying then he didn’t deserve to be on the police force.
The detective turned around, grabbed one of the chairs pushed under the table in the corner and pulled it towards him in a swift, almost violent movement. He placed it directly opposite me, a couple of feet away. He sat down, his hands on his knees, head cocked to one side. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘So you left at around six, meaning you’d be in Witney by six thirty. And you were back here around eight, which means you must have left Witney at around seven thirty. Does that sound about right?’
‘Yes, that seems right,’ I said, that wobble back in my voice, betraying me. In a second or two he was going to ask me what I’d been doing for an hour, and I had no answer to give him.
‘And you didn’t actually go to see your ex-husband. So what did you do during that hour in Witney?’
‘I walked around for a bit.’
He waited, to see if I was going to elaborate. I thought about telling him I went to a pub, but that would be stupid – that’s verifiable. He’d ask me which pub, he’d ask me whether I’d spoken to anyone. As I was thinking about what I should tell him, I realized that I hadn’t actually thought to ask him to explain why he wanted to know where I was on Saturday evening, and that in itself must have seemed odd. That must have made me look guilty of something.
‘Did you speak to anyone?’ he asked me, reading my mind. ‘Go into any shops, bars …?’
‘I spoke to a man in the station!’ I blurted this out loudly, triumphantly almost, as though it meant something. ‘Why do you need to know this? What is going on?’
Detective Inspector Gaskill leaned back in the chair. ‘You may have heard that a woman from Witney – a woman who lives on Blenheim Road, just a few doors along from your ex-husband – is missing. We have been going door to door, asking people if they remember seeing her that night, or if they remember seeing or hearing anything unusual. And during the course of our enquiries, your name came up.’ He fell silent for a bit, letting this sink in. ‘You were seen on Blenheim Road that evening, around the time that Ms Hipwell, the missing woman, left her home. Mrs Anna Watson told us that she saw you in the street, near Ms Hipwell’s home, not very far from her own property. She said that you were acting strangely, and that she was worried. So worried, in fact, that she considered calling the police.’
My heart was fluttering like a trapped bird. I couldn’t speak, because all I could see at that moment was myself, slouched in the underpass, blood on my hands. Blood on my hands. Mine, surely? It had to be mine. I looked up at Gaskill, saw his eyes on mine and knew that I had to say something quickly to stop him reading my mind. ‘I didn’t do anything,’ I said. ‘I didn’t. I just … I just wanted to see my husband …’
‘Your ex-husband,’ Gaskill corrected me again. He pulled a photograph out of his jacket pocket and showed it to me. It was a picture of Megan. ‘Did you see this woman on Saturday night?’ he asked. I stared at it for a long time. It felt so surreal having her presented to me like that, the perfect blonde I’d watched, whose life I’d constructed and deconstructed in my head. It was a closeup head shot, a professional job. Her features were a little heavier than I’d imagined, not quite so fine as those of the Jess in my head. ‘Ms Watson? Did you see her?’
I didn’t know if I’d seen her. I honestly didn’t know. I still don’t.
‘I don’t think so,’ I said.
‘You don’t think so? So you might have seen her?’
‘I … I’m not sure.’
‘Had you been drinking on Saturday evening?’ he asked. ‘Before you went to Witney, had you been drinking?’
The heat came rushing back to my face. ‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Mrs Watson – Anna Watson – said that she thought you were drunk when she saw you outside her home. Were you drunk?’
‘No,’ I said, keeping my eyes firmly on the detective so that I didn’t catch Cathy’s eye. ‘I’d had a couple of drinks in the afternoon, but I wasn’t drunk.’
Gaskill sighed. He seemed disappointed in me. He glanced over at Neck Acne, then back at me. Slowly, deliberately, he got to his feet and pushed the chair back to its position under the table. ‘If you remember anything about Saturday night, anything that might be helpful to us, would you please call me?’ he said, handing me a business card.
As Gaskill nodded sombrely at Cathy, preparing to leave, I slumped back into the sofa. I could feel my heart rate starting to slow, and then it raced again as I heard him ask me, ‘You work in public relations, is that correct? Huntingdon Whitely?’
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘Huntingdon Whitely.’
He is going to check, and he is going to know I lied. I can’t let him find out for himself, I have to tell him.
So that’s what I’m going to do this morning. I’m going to go round to the police station to come clean. I’m going to tell him everything: that I lost my job months ago, that I was very drunk on Saturday night and I have no idea what time I came home. I’m going to say what I should have said last night: that he’s looking in the wrong direction. I’m going to tell him that I believe Megan Hipwell was having an affair.
The police think I’m a rubbernecker. They think I’m a stalker, a nut-case, mentally unstable. I should never have gone to the police station. I’ve made my own situation worse and I don’t think I’ve helped Scott, which was the reason I went there in the first place. He needs my help, because it’s obvious the police will suspect that he’s done something to her, and I know it isn’t true, because I know him. I really feel that, crazy as it sounds. I’ve seen the way he is with her. He couldn’t hurt her.