16 March 2017

3 - Toes

Monday cont.

The drive to Upper Grumpsfield took long enough for Joe to explain that he had moved to Upper Grumpsfield the previous Saturday.
“Where are you living, Joe?”
“I’m lodging at Mrs Barker’s.”
Gary groaned.
“We’re almost neighbours,” he said, “but that’s not why I groaned. You won’t want to stay there long. Jane Barker is a notorious busybody.”
“I’ve arranged to take her dog for walks. It makes the rent cheaper. I’ve tried Dog out and he’s cooperative.”
“I call him that. Shouting Emanuel was embarrassing.
“I know that white dog. Don’t take it to the pond on the Common. The late Mr Barker took it there nearly every day and it came home looking as if it had taken a mud bath after chasing the ducks. Even Mr Barker regretted choosing a white dog.”
“I expect Mrs Barker will scrub it clean, Gary. She seems very house-proud. She made a fuss about my shoes on the carpet. I was not to do it again.”
“I remember her demanding everyone to take off their shoes before going into her place. Cleo won’t do that. You’ll like my wife, Joe. She’s the love of my life.”
The message was clear. Gary could just as well have said ‘Keep off the grass’.
Gary parked the sleek red sports car opposite the Hurley cottage. The family-sized Hurley hatchback was parked in front. He only drove it if Cleo wanted to use the red car, which was now officially hers. Grit’s smart black Mini was parked in front of her cottage next door.
“That’s my mother’s car,” said Gary. “You’ll like her.”
“After you,” said Gary, opening the front door of the cottage.
Cleo came towards them and had her arms already open for a big hug when she saw that it was not Gary.
“I don’t believe it,” she said. “You’d better stick with those checked shirts. I don’t think I can tell you apart otherwise.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Cleo. I know plenty of ways to make you know who I am.”
“Name some!”
Cleo was nothing if not direct.
Gary was pot on the spot. Joe was amused.
„Well, there‘s that small birthmark on my…“
“Anyhow,” Cleo interrupted, her eyes wide with surprise at Gary forthrightness, ”the likeness is awesome and welcome to our retreat, Joe. I can’t think why Bertie Browne did not come clean.”
“I didn’t catch that,” said Gary. “Did you say retreat? Bertie never comes clean, Cleo.”
“Compared with the junk in my office and at HQ, this is a retreat!”
“Tell me all about it, my love. Then you’ll feel better.”
“Later Sweetie Pie,” said Cleo, getting her own back. “First we need to find out why you two guys look so alike.”
“What’s your explanation, Joe?” said Gary.
“I’ll make coffee,” said Cleo moving towards the kitchen. “Don’t go away!”
“That’s unlikely,” said Gary.
“It’s a long story,” said Joe, going after Cleo into the kitchen, followed closely by Gary. “I’ll keep it as short as possible.”
Joe told them as much about his babyhood as he knew.
“So your surrogate parents died without telling you any of this.” said Gary.
“They were nice people, Gary, and I loved them, but I’m not even sure that my surrogate mother knew exactly where I had come from.”
“But she was to tell everyone that she had given birth to you,” said Cleo. “Cream or hot milk?”
“A drop of cream, please. My parents moved to Pretoria very soon after getting me. They made a fresh start where no one knew them so no questions were asked.”
“A sensible move,” said Gary.
“I think we should get Grit in on this, Gary,” said Cleo, and Gary wondered if they were both thinking the same thing.
“Who’s Grit?”
“My mother, Joe. What if she’s yours, too? She didn’t tell me I had a brother, but I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“Surely she would have told you!”
“Not if she thought you were dead, Joe,” said Cleo, putting an arm round Joe’s shoulder.
Gary was starting to regret bringing Joe home.
Cleo moved over to Gary, sensing that he was nervous of her paying attention to Joe.
Grit was heard coming down the cottage path crunching the pushchair containing PeggySue, who was enjoying the bumpy ride over the pebbles.
“There’s my mother now with my daughter. I’ll go towards them,” said Gary.
“Stay here,” said Cleo. “Grit is in for a shock.”
“Let’s keep it simple then, shall we, Cleo?”
Gary could not help thinking how Cleo’s mother would have relished the situation.
“You’re right,” said Cleo. “I’ll play it cool.”
Gary and Joe smiled the same smile simultaneously.
Joe went into the kitchen with Cleo to make lattĂ© and Gary went to meet Grit. He helped with the push chair, untied PeggySue’s reins and threw her up in the air before bringing her into the living room tightly enfolded in his arms.
“Not planning to throw me into the air, I hope,” said Grit, following.
“Unlikely, Mother, but I think you should sit down.”
“Do I look tired? Have you cooked lunch?”
“Sit down, mother!”
Cleo came back into the living-room. She called to Joe to come in. She was getting her bit of drama, after all.
“Who is this, Grit?” she said as Joe made his grand entrance from the kitchen and Grit’s facial expression changed from relaxed to haunted.
“It can’t be Gareth,” she said. “He’s over here.”
“I’m Joe Butler, Mrs Hurley. How do you do?”
 “So what’s it all about, Mother?” said Gary. “You don’t like people beating about the bush, so don’t do it now.”
“If I didn’t know he was dead, I’d think it was your twin, Gary.”
It was now Gary’s turn to be shocked. Joe’s hunch was bang on.
“You’ll have to explain that, Mother,“ said Gary.
“It could tie in with what I already know,” said Joe.
“What do you know, Joe?” Grit asked.
“You first, Mrs Hurley!”
“I was expecting twins and one died at birth,” said Grit as tears welled up behind her eyes. “I’ve tried to forget, but I can’t.”
 “I couldn’t either,” said Cleo, putting her arms round Grit to comfort her.
“According to my father’s diary, he bought me as a new-born,” said Joe.
Grit looked bemused.
Joe told the story again for Grit’s benefit. “I was bought! I had apparently been rejected by my natural mother. The payment was to go towards her welfare.”
“That is monstrous,” said Cleo.
“But not unusual,” said Gary. “You know that, Cleo. The trade in babies takes various forms and is flourishing. Leaving out Hollywood stars who would rather adopt than ruin their figures by having kids of their own, it stretches from surrogate mothers birthing kids that are then taken over by the natural parents, to stolen and kidnapped babies, to babies declared dead but with no proof that they ever existed. We’ve had our share here in Upper Grumpsfield, after all.”
“I looked up the hospital records in Cape Town, Mrs Hurley. There was an amazing number of still-births in those days, especially in cases of multiple births.”
“We had a case of baby-trading here in Upper Grumpsfield a while ago, Joe,” Cleo said. “That’s partly what Gary was referring to. Did your father write anything else?”
“No, but I did some research, Cleo. A doctor in Cape Town apparently resigned his post there and went to East London to open a private clinic. After that there were fewer still-born registrations in Cape Town, but a lot more in East London.”
“Weren’t there detailed lists of so-called donors?”
“No, but since it was all criminal that’s not surprising, is it? There was never proof of any illegal activities. Most mothers just believed the news and grieved,” said Joe. ”And I only know that much from a scribbled note in a file at the registry office and a hand-written entry in my father’s secret diary. Someone must have wanted to relieve their conscience at that registry office.”
 “I don’t suppose there were many inquiries,” said Cleo. “People don’t usually boast about buying their children and the birth mothers are obviously innocent.”
“That’s not always the case, Cleo. Some may not have wanted more than one child,” said Gary. “Prostitutes give away their babies if they’ve been careless enough to have one.”
“Inconceivable,” said Cleo.
“But feasible and lucrative,” said Gary. “A stud for new humans, in other words.”
“I was so distraught that I did not even ask to see the baby,” said Grit. “Later I realized that the little guy died without even having a name.”
“You poor love,” said Cleo. “Was that in February?”.
“Early February in Cape Town,” Grit said.
“I expect the doctor was obliged to resuscitate some of the babies if the mother insisted on seeing her dead child,” said Gary. “The whole business is contemptuous.”
“But surely the midwife must have been aware of what was going on,” said Cleo.
“She must have at least known about the system and was probably being paid for her services and her discretion,” said Gary. “I expect she got a good job at that doctor’s new hospital. We’ll find that midwife if she’s still alive.”
“Once those babies had become the natural children of those clients officially - because they would claim that rather than calling it adoption, since it involved criminal acts - the deed was done I expect,” said Cleo. Those medics might already have been panning their next coup.”
“S we mothers left the hospital grieving for our lost babies,” said Grit.
“Even if a parentage was later challenged, identification would have been impossible in those days, and if the child had not been perfect and healthy, it would not be sold in the first place,” said Cleo.
“I know what Charlie would say,” said Gary, “as if we needed any proof.”
“Look at their feet!” said Gary.
“So you’d better do that, guys,” said Cleo and the men solemnly took off their shoes and socks.
“The same unusual space between the first and second toes as Teddy and Tommy!” said Cleo acting as jury and judge.
Grit stood up.
“We’d better have a big hug, Joe,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll need a DNA test, but we can get Charlie to confirm that she now has an uncle…. Or simply look at my feet!”
My birthday is February 5th,” said Joe. “When’s yours, Gary?”
“The same,” said Gary, joining in the big hug.
“Better late than never,” said Grit, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I’ve always loved you, Joe, and now I have chance to show it.”
Grit embraced her twins again.
“If I had a violin, I’d play it now,” said Cleo.
Getting to know his twin brother should have taken the rest of Gary’s day, but it didn’t. As if to remind him that he was head of the homicide squad at Middlethumpton Headquarters, Gary was forced to turn his mind to his job when he answered the phone an hour or so later.
“Where are you, Gary? I thought you would be at your desk, but you aren’t!”
“Sorry Roger. Something came up.”
“I don’t suppose it was that photo of you in the Gazette this morning, was it?”
Roger Stone was not only Gary’s boss and head of crime at HQ at management level, but also a good friend.
“It was,” said Gary. “That photo wasn’t of me but of my twin brother.”
“I don’t believe it. Are you quite sure the man is not bluffing?”
“It’s him on the photo and we have the same toes,” said Gary.
Roger laughed. “Did you say toes?”
“Yes. Grit has them and my twins have them, too.”
“What is it about those toes that makes them so identifiable?”
“A bigger space between big and second toe, Roger. I expect other people have that too, but everything else about our feet also matches.”
“That’s all a bit farfetched, isn’t it?  Perhaps you should get a DNA test after all. Chris can do one when he’s finished with the corpse we’ve just found on Upper Grumpsfield Common.”
“Is that why you phoned?”
“I assume that you are now at home, Gary. Can you go there please? I have a meeting any minute now otherwise I would go myself. I’m really sorry to break up your family party.”
“That’s OK, Roger. Can you come to dinner tonight and meet Joe?”
“I’d like that. Will Grit be there?”
“She’ll be delighted to see you, Roger. Say eight o’clock? Then most of the kids will be in bed.”
“Does Charlie have your toes, Gary?”
“No, she takes after her mother.”
“I can’t wait to hear the whole story,” said Roger and rang off.
“You heard that, folks. Dinner at eight and Roger’s coming.”
“That’s great,” said Grit.
“Didn’t you have a date with him last night?” said Cleo.
“Well yes, but …”
“I approve, Mother,” said Gary, “and I’m sure we all do.  I’ll head for the Common now. A corpse awaits me!”
“Terrible timing,” said Grit.
“Corpses don’t wait, Mother. Can you walk along to Jane Barker’s with Joe and prise him out for dinner tonight? Always supposing you want to be prised out, Joe.”
”There’s nothing I’d like better,” said Joe. Two days of Jane Barker had made him homesick for the B & B. One hour of family convinced him that he come home.
“Would you prefer to sleep in my cottage, Joe? The second bedroom is just about ready for occupation.”
“Are you inviting me?”
“I want to get to know more about you and now we know who we are, there’s no good reason for you to lodge with Mrs Barker, is there?”
“I suppose I could still take Dog for walks,” said Joe. “I’d feel guilty if I didn’t.”
“That’s settled then,” said Grit, still wondering what had hit her.
“Charlie will be home soon. Don’t go until she’s here, folks. I want to see the look on her face,” said Cleo.
“Blast. I can’t be here,” said Gary.
 “You will if you don’t get moving,” said Cleo. “Reunions can wait, but corpses can’t.”