I, Witness, page 1
To Andrew, for telling me I could
I am a terrible mother. I wasn’t even good at being pregnant. I spent each trimester in a state of shock. I saw other mums-to-be, smugly patting their burgeoning bellies whilst I was horrified by every new swollen millimetre. It is an awful thing to be scared of your own children. When they arrived, they overwhelmed me, exhausted me. I was never sure I wanted them but there they were anyway. An accompaniment to a husband I desperately needed. Always more his achievement than mine. My gift to the man who had rescued me. The offering of life for the one he had saved. It’s all I had to give him.
The first nanny was a naturally maternal girl. Young and full of life, robust and energetic. I found her in our bed. I didn’t blame him. Poor James was sadder than I was. She was gone the next day. I could have replaced her. I could even have kept her. I didn’t resent either of them, not for the affair anyway.
It was the looks she gave me, half-pity, half-disgust. Her head in my husband’s lap was just an excuse. She was too present, too near. She noticed when the children touched me and I flinched. They ran to her instead of me, her arms were wide open waiting to gather them up in hugs and kisses. She saw my relief. She knew.
I am sitting, sweating. My back pressed to the wall, knees raised. Tense eyes, so like my own, are watching me, waiting. I vomit. It’s uncontrollable. Hot acid spilling everywhere on my open legs, seeping through my nightgown into my already wet knickers. My bowels open, the smell is disgusting. I cough, heave, retch. I’m losing consciousness. Soon I will choke. I can’t fight, I was never in with a chance. I’ll be found here, not dressed, drenched in my own bodily expulsions. The pills and vodka are on the table. Only one conclusion will be drawn. So obvious. I was almost born for suicide. All the signs were there after all. Someone like me: fragile, breakable, a victim.
I sentenced myself to this. I am drifting and then something brings me back. It’s my child’s hand on my shoulder, pulling me up, pinning me to the wall. I don’t flinch this time, I don’t have the strength. I meet clear, bright eyes. We lock, just for a moment. I see a face filled with curiosity. The mouth turns up at the corners. A smile that chills me and I am held there in time, inanimate, frozen. An intimate moment for all the wrong reasons. My eyes shut for the last time.
I hear singing. A lullaby I used to sing, when I had the energy, to the very person humming it now, watching while the life drains out of me. Lots of things are running through my mind. The outcomes of different choices, ones I hadn’t made. I made the wrong ones. This is the price of my weakness, so very, very high. I think I am sick again. I think my body shakes, my back slides down, my head hits the ground, a cold slap against my cheek. I hear a voice say ‘Goodbye, Mummy’ and then everything is black.
The Surrey Comet
Mother’s distress as her child’s killer moves back to the Borough
Teenage killer, Kate Reynolds, 24, has moved back to Kingston after serving six years of a twelve- year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.
Ms Reynolds was just 18 when she pleaded guilty to stabbing Naomi Andrews in 2010. It was a crime that shook the nation, not just because of its brutality, but also due to the tender age of the victim, 17, and her killer.
Despite a petition led by the victim’s mother, Anthea Andrews, the convicted killer is ‘allowed to live where she chooses’ according to Judge Marstam who set out the rules of her release.
Mrs Andrews said: ‘I am disgusted to think that I might bump into Naomi’s murderer at any time. It’s bad enough that my daughter is dead. I am saddened and outraged by the court’s decision.’
Naomi Andrews was stabbed 13 times whilst attending a party at the Reynolds’ family home. Ms Reynolds pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was given the maximum sentence.
A toxicology report showed both girls had consumed large quantities of pharmaceutical amphetamines and alcohol. Mrs Andrews said, ‘The sentence should have been longer’.
We will be looking back over the case online this week and would like your views. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma says my name softly. The same way she says everything. When I look up she is standing, holding out a coffee for me. I grunt and signal for her to put it on my desk. Then I realise there really isn’t enough space. I sweep a pile of papers to the other side. I scowl and she walks off, head down. I congratulate myself on failing yet again to be pleasant. It’s weird having a PA. She always seems to be everywhere all at once. Being efficient and useful. I can’t complain; she does all the shit I’m useless at, and then some. I’ll nip out soon and when I come back my desk will be clear and ordered. Little neat stacks topped with Post-it notes so I know what’s what. I’ll hunt for a specific piece of paper and she’ll know exactly where it is. Better still, she’ll have put it into digital format and filed it electronically as well. I sigh again. The sigh of an ungrateful bitch.
‘Going for a smoke.’
Who fucking says that? Righty-ho. Outside I light up and inhale. Relief floods my body as the craving is satisfied, I feel my shoulders drop. I look back at my odd little office. It’s a large brick hut. I like it more than I care to admit and it’s minutes away from my shit flat. But it’s not what I’m used to and, God help me, I miss the station. I miss the bustle, the people, the status. Fuck, maybe I miss the status most of all.
I used to laugh at private investigators. We all did. The rogue wannabes, either not good enough, or too old to do the real job. Yet here I am. In my sixth month, on my fourth marriage-wrecking case. I should be glad of the work. I get told this endlessly. Aren’t you lucky? You can pick your own hours, no boss and none of the nasty stuff, eh. All correct, but the real truth is the company’s almost broke, before it’s even got started. And I miss it. The boss, the long hours, the team. I miss the nasty stuff, and I miss the feeling of being at home somewhere in the world. I feel rudderless here, in my breeze-block office with efficient Emma
In all of my cases so far I’ve advised them they probably don’t need my services. ‘You’re mad, talking yourself out of money,’ I was told by a well-meaning friend. But I also tell them, if you think something’s wrong, it probably is. In one instance it wasn’t an affair though. Her husband had been sneaking around all right, but his ladylove was the race tracks and casinos. I’m not sure which is worse. At least the spouses of the cheaters will get some cash. This poor woman had none left to get. She was relieved nonetheless. I don’t think she realised gambling would probably be stiffer competition than another woman. He’s in rehab now, the husband. There’s rehab for fucking everything these days. I don’t think about it. I flick my fag and head back in.
I’m bored, which I hate. I hover over Emma pointlessly; she is tapping away at her keyboard. I ask how her weekend was and she offers me a pleasant smile. Apparently it was good. She went for a lovely walk and a pub lunch with her partner. She asks how mine was and I mumble that it was okay and skulk back to my own desk. I don’t tell her I was here for most of it. She probably knows. My case notes are up-to-date. She’s likely transcribing them now. I think of other weekends, ones filled with Molly and Rob. The temporary bit of my life when I was almost happy. Almost.
I slurp at my coffee and spit it back into the mug. It’s cold. Emma’s there in seconds with a fresh cup, removing the old one. For fuck’s sake. I smile thanks and open emails. I have a news alert from the Comet. Kate Reynolds. Jeez, there’s a blast from the past. I skim the article and then go back over some of the historical pieces in a bit more detail. One of my first cases. I was a rookie then. Just out of uniform, new to murder. In my trial period and desperate to be taken onto the team.
I was sent along to secure the scene, as I happened to be close by. I nearly threw up when I walked in. I’d never seen so much blood in my life. It wasn’t my first dead body, not by a long shot. But there is a difference between the accidental deaths you find on the road, or the oldies in their beds, and what I saw that day. This was rage. Human nature at its most disgusting.
There was a girl in the middle of the floor. She was the one bleeding. But that day she managed not to be the main event. Not for me, anyway. Kate Reynolds was the star. Half smiling at me as I walked in, her hands gripped into the other girl’s dead flesh, the knife grazing her knee as she rocked back and forth. She was gibbering. Whispering. My colleague and I, another newbie who was not quite lucky enough to hold his lunch down, watched for what must have been a full minute before we did anything. And then I woke up and knew I had to move the girl, the living one, away. I knelt down and spoke to her.
Her glazed eyes turned on me. She was still chattering but making no sense. Soaked in blood and that half-smile. She told me it was the wrong face. When I asked what she meant she held the dead chin and angled it towards me. I resisted the urge to smack her hand away. ‘It’s not her, it just looks like her.’ Shock had her in its confused grip, muddied further by being high. Eventually I prised her off and got her out. The Scene of Crime officers came in and started their business. I walked the bloody girl through the now cleared house. There were teenagers littering the lawn, by this time pushed back behind yellow police tape. They whispered amongst themselves as they watched, a gruesome sight.
She was treated for shock, albeit briefly. Taken in for questioning, and then she was charged. I was surprised when she was sent down for voluntary manslaughter. There was a madness on her that day that was as far away from a sound mind as you could get. She was confused, and had dissociated herself from reality and certainly from her dead friend, muttering over and over, ‘It just looks like her.’ As though it must all be some kind of dreadful mistake. But the case stuck. I’ve followed it over the past five years. Articles debating evil often reference it. I don’t believe in evil people as such. I don’t think it’s born, which means it must be created. Something that makes the hand and the mind warp. The outcome being scenes like that.
It was my first nasty. There would be plenty more. Not now though. Now I am part of the home-wrecking network. Part of the universal paranoia. All the worse because it is justified. Hurrah for the digital age.
I wonder why Kate has moved back to Kingston. Had she headed anywhere else, changed her name, she could have started afresh. As I recall she came from wealthy stock. Maybe she’d been cut off. Although it seems unlikely probation would have housed her here. Maybe she doesn’t know where else to go. Maybe she’s just plain stupid. It’s a funny place, this town. A large borough that straddles both London and Surrey. It has a reasonably big population but it’s close-knit nonetheless. The Surrey Comet is one of the few local papers in the city that is still widely read. Kate will get shit for this. There isn’t a recent photo accompanying the article. Just the same one from 2010, of an angel-faced blonde child. It was that image that stayed on the front pages for months, contrasted next to Naomi Andrews. Equally stunning but dark haired, dark eyed.
It was the story that had it all. Drugs, murder, a wealthy party lifestyle, and at its very heart two beautiful young girls. The public loved it. And now it was resurrected. Stupid she must be, plain dumb-ass stupid.
I wake up before my alarm goes off. When I get outside it’s drizzling. I get soaked on my way to the car which gives me the hump before I even arrive. I make notes, email them to Emma. I file a couple of invoices. There’s nobody to spy on right now. Surveillance is the highlight of my working day. The bit where I’m not tied to my shitty desk doing mundane tasks. Emma smiles and waves goodbye promptly at five thirty p.m., to go I don’t know where. I should know that by now, for God’s sake. I don’t know if she lives alone, with friends, parents. She talks about a partner, maybe with them? I don’t know if that’s a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I assume she has a social life. She can’t be more than thirty, though she has the air of someone far older and wiser. Fuck. I make a mental note to try harder. I wouldn’t want to lose her. She’s actually very good. She’s also not put off by me, which is a bonus.
I should be out of here in about half an hour. I’ve pretty much spent the day trying to figure out how other PIs make a living and if I can handle a life of fraud investigations and divorces. If the alternative is security I guess I’ll have to at least give being a PI a try; I worked bloody hard to get out of uniform and I’m in no hurry to put one back on. These thoughts are depressing me and I’m gasping for a cigarette but its dark outside and starting to rain again. I slip off my shoes and climb onto my desk in stockinged feet. It’s now actually illegal to smoke on a work premises. For fuck’s sake. I sweep the window open as wide as it will go and lean out. Fucking stupid smoking laws. I light up and relief hits all the good places. I’m halfway through when I hear the door click open followed by an ‘Oh’.
I drop the fag out of the window and turn, frown in place, expecting Emma, but it’s not. The woman standing in the doorway is petite, dirty-blonde hair, probably mid-twenties, poorly dressed in some sort of hideous sportswear. Her outfit seems at odds with the rest of her. Neat hair. Neat small features. I’m now squatting on my desk, no shoes, exhaling a puff of smoke. I wish Emma was here. I’m still scowling as I climb down. My shoes are on the other side of the desk. I try to look business-like nonetheless.
‘Can I help you?’
She asks, ‘Are you Detective Inspector Attallee?’
‘I’m Madison Attallee. This is my private investigation company. I’m no longer with the police.’
She frowns but it makes her look nervous rather than cross. ‘Yes, well, I knew that.’
‘Can I help you?’ I glance at my watch. Six forty-five.
‘Oh well, I don’t know. Sorry to come so late.’ She’s familiar, though I can’t pinpoint it. I wait.
She goes on, ‘You don’t remember me?’
‘No, I don’t think I do.’
‘Kate Reynolds.’ She says it qu
‘Right, and how can I help you?’
‘You’re not scared?’
I shrug and resist laughing. ‘I’m more worried about getting a smoking fine, to be honest.’ I reckon I have a few pounds on her.
She smiles and I see that she is still pretty underneath the premature worry lines.
‘What do you want?’ I ask.
‘I want help.’
‘Don’t do bodyguard services if that’s what you’re after.’
She’s frowning now. ‘No, that hadn’t occurred to me. Gosh.’
Gosh. Six years in prison hasn’t removed all the plummy-ness, though her voice is definitely rougher, less refined. I remember her clipped tones. Her startled confusion.
‘Then what is it?’ I look at my watch again, openly this time. I might have all kinds of places to be. She doesn’t know any different.
‘I . . . I’d like to hire you.’ Her voice is low, her eyes are carefully trained on the floor.
I nearly laugh, but she looks serious, so I don’t. ‘What the hell for?’
‘I think I’m innocent.’
She’s just staring at me, with piercing, bright blue eyes. I think I might have made a mistake. This whole thing is probably a mistake. My brother Marcus called me earlier. His overly concerned voice: Am I okay? Had I seen the paper? All code for ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ and ‘Please do us a favour and go away again.’ Maybe that’s exactly what I should be doing. I could go somewhere, anywhere. A nondescript little town. Not another country. My licence won’t allow for that. Somewhere near the sea. I used to like water. I’m about to turn around and go when she stands, walking around the desk and stepping into impossible-looking stilettos. I try not to flinch as she passes me. She runs a hand through an already wild mane of bleached hair and gestures at me. I think she means for me to take a seat and I do. She slumps back behind her desk, frowns and pulls out a pad and pen.