Ed looked around him at the bedroom of the holiday home, at the crisp Belgian linen duvet that the cleaners had put on that morning, at the drawers that held an emergency wardrobe of jeans, pants, socks and T-shirts.
‘Get out of town,’ Sidney had said. ‘If this gets out you’re seriously going to f**k with our share price.’
Ronan hadn’t spoken to him since the day the police had come to the office.
He stared at the phone. Other than Gemma, there was now not a single person he could call just to talk to without explaining what had happened. Everyone he knew was in tech and, apart from Ronan, he wasn’t sure right now how many of those would qualify as actual friends. He stared at the wall. He thought about the fact that during the last week he had driven up and down to London four times just because, without work, he hadn’t known what to do with himself. He thought back to the previous evening when he had been so angry, with Deanna Lewis, with Sidney, with what the f**k had happened to his life, that he had hurled an entire bottle of white wine at the wall and smashed it. He thought about the likelihood of that happening again if he was left to his own devices.
There was nothing else for it. He shouldered his way into his jacket, picked a fob of keys from the locked cupboard beside the back door and headed out to the car.
There had always been something a bit different about Tanzie. At a year old she would line up her blocks in rows or organize them into patterns, then pull one or two away, making new shapes. By the time she was two she was obsessed with numbers. Before she even started school she would go through those books you can get full of maths problems and ask questions, like, ‘Why is a one written as “1” and not “2”?’ or tell Jess that multiplication was ‘just another way of doing addition’. At six she could explain the meaning of ‘tessellate’.
Marty didn’t like it. It made him uncomfortable. But then anything that wasn’t ‘normal’ made Marty uncomfortable. It was the thing that made Tanzie happy, just sitting there, ploughing through problems that neither of them could begin to understand. Marty’s mother, on the rare occasions that she visited, used to call her a swot. She would say it like it wasn’t a very nice thing to be.
‘So what are you going to do?’
‘There’s nothing I can do right now.’
‘Wouldn’t it feel weird, her mixing with all the private-school kids?’
‘I don’t know. Yes. But that would be our problem. Not hers.’
‘What if she grows away from you? What if she falls in with a posh lot and gets embarrassed by her background?’
‘I’m just saying. I think you could mess her up. I think she could lose sight of where she comes from.’
Jess looked over at Nathalie, who was driving. ‘She comes from the Shitty Estate of Doom, Nat. As far as that goes, I would be happy if she got early-onset Alzheimer’s.’
Something weird had happened since Jess had told Nathalie about the interview. It was as if she had taken it personally. All morning she had gone on and on about how her children were happy at the local school, about how glad she was that they were ‘normal’, how it didn’t do for a child to be ‘different’.
The truth of it was, Jess thought, that Tanzie had come home from the interview more excited than she had been in months. Her scores had been 100 per cent in maths and 99 per cent in non-verbal reasoning. (She was actually annoyed by the missing one per cent.) Mr Tsvangarai, ringing to tell her, said there might be other sources of funding. Details, he kept calling them, although Jess couldn’t help thinking that people who thought money was a ‘detail’ were the kind who had never really had to worry about it.
‘And you know she’d have to wear that prissy uniform,’ Nathalie said, as they pulled up at Beachfront.
‘She won’t be wearing a prissy uniform,’ Jess responded irritably.
‘Then she’ll get teased for not being like the rest of them.’
‘She won’t be wearing a prissy uniform because she won’t be bloody going. I haven’t got a hope of sending her, Nathalie. Okay?’
Jess got out of the car, slamming the door and walking in ahead of her so that she didn’t have to listen to anything else.
It was only the locals who called Beachfront ‘the holiday park’; the developers called it a ‘destination resort’. Because this was not a holiday park like the Sea Bright caravan park on the top of the hill, a chaotic jumble of wind-battered mobile homes and seasonal lean-to tents: this was a spotless array of architect-designed ‘living spaces’ set among carefully manicured paths and lodges, in tended patches of woodland. There was a sports club, a spa, tennis courts, a huge pool complex, which the locals were not allowed to use after all, a handful of overpriced boutiques and a mini-supermarket so that residents did not have to venture into the scrappier confines of the town.
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays Benson & Thomas cleaned the two three-bedroomed rental properties that overlooked the clubhouse, then moved on to the newer properties: six glass-fronted modernist houses that stood on the chalk cliff and looked straight out across the sea.
Mr Nicholls kept a spotless Audi in his driveway that they had never once seen move. A woman who said she was his sister came once with two small children and a grey-looking husband (they left the place immaculately clean). Mr Nicholls himself rarely visited, and had never, in the year they’d been doing it, used either the kitchen or the laundry room. Jess made extra cash doing his towels and sheets, laundering and ironing them weekly for guests who never came.