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3 NOVEMBER 2001


Some time during the early hours of the morning, as Lorraine lay awake, listening to Ronnie snoring, her joy and relief that he was alive started turning to anger.

Later, when he was awake, insisting on keeping the curtains drawn in the bedroom and the blinds down in the kitchen, she rounded on him at the breakfast table. Why had he put her through all this suffering? Surely he could have made one quick phone call, explaining everything, and then she wouldnt have been to hell and back for almost two months.

Then she began crying.

I couldnt take the risk, he said, cradling her face in his arms. Youve got to understand that, babe. Just one call from New York showing up on your bill could have created questions. Insurance investigators are all ex-cops theyre no fools. And I had to know you were acting the grieving widow.

Yeah, I sodding acted that all right, she said, dabbing her eyes. Then she took out a cigarette. I should get a bloody Oscar.

Youre going to deserve one by the time were through.

She gripped his strong, hairy wrist, pulled it tightly against her face. I feel so safe with you, Ronnie. Please dont go. You could hide here.

Yeah, sure.

You could!

He shook his head.

Cant we do anything so we dont lose this place? Tell me again, what moneys going to come in? She lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply.

Ive got a life insurance policy, with Norwich Union, for one and a half million pounds. Youll find the policy in a deposit box at the bank. The keys in my bureau. Sounds like theres going to be special dispensation for 9/11 victims. The insurance companies are going to pay out on the policies, even where bodies havent been found, instead of the statutory seven-year wait.

One and a half million! I could take the policy to the bank manager. Hed let me stay on!

You can try, but I know what that bastardll say. Hell tell you theres no certainty theyll pay out, or when, and that insurance companies always wriggle.

So this one might wriggle?

Nah, itll be OK, I reckon. Too emotive, this situation. But theyll give you a good grilling, for sure. So make sure you stick to your story. Appear helpful, but say the minimum you have to. Then theres going to be the 9/11 compensation fund. Im told we could be looking at two and a half million dollars.

Two and a half million?

He nodded excitedly.

She stared at him, doing a quick calculation in her head. That would be about one and three-quarter million pounds? So were talking about three and a quarter million quid, give or take?

Give or take, yeah. And tax-free. For one year of pain.

She sat still for some moments. When she finally spoke there was a tinge of awe in her voice. Youre unbelievable.

Im a survivor.

Thats why I love you. Why Ive always believed in you. I have, you know, havent I?

He kissed her. You have.

Were rich!

Nearly. We will be. Gently, gently catchee monkey

You look strange with a beard.

Yeah?

Sort of younger.

And less dead than old Ronnie?

She grinned. You were a lot less dead last night.

I waited a long time for that.

And now youre talking about waiting a year? Maybe longer?

The compensation fund will pay out fast to hardship cases. Youre a hardship case.

Theyll prioritize Americans before foreigners.

He shook his head. Not what Ive heard.

Three and a quarter million quid! she said again dreamily and rolled the ash off her cigarette into the saucer.

Thatll buy you a lot of new frocks.

Wed need to invest it.

Ive got plans. The first thing we have to do is get it out of the country and you.

He jumped up, went into the hall and returned with a small knapsack. From it he removed a brown envelope, which he put on the table and pushed towards her.

Im not Ronnie Wilson any more. Youre going to have to get used to that. Im now David Nelson. And in a years time you wont be Lorraine Wilson any more.

Inside the envelope were two passports. One was Australian. The photograph was a barely recognizable one of herself. Her hair had been changed to dark brown, cut short, and shed been given a pair of glasses. The name inside said Margaret Nelson.

Theres a visa stamp in there for permanent residence in Australia. Valid for five years.

Margaret? she said. Why Margaret?

Or Maggie!

She shook her head. I have to be Margaret Maggie?

Yes.

For how long?

For ever.

Great, she said. I dont even get a choice in my own name?

You didnt when you was born, you stupid cow!

She said the name aloud, dubiously, Margaret Nelson.

Nelsons a good name, classy!

She shook a second passport out of the bag. Whats this?

Its for when you leave England.

Inside was a photograph of her again, but in this one she had grey hair and looked twenty years older. The name said Anita Marsh.

She looked at him in bewilderment.

I worked it out. The best way to disappear. People remember good-looking women, blokes in particular. They dont remember little old ladies, theyre almost invisible. When the time comes youre going to buy two tickets in advance on the Newhaven- Dieppe ferry for a night-time crossing. One ticket in your name, one in Anita Marshs name. And youre going to book a cabin in Anita Marshs name. OK?

Want me to write this down?

No. Youre going to have to memorize it. Ill be contacting you. Ill go through it all plenty of times more with you before then. What youre going to do is leave a suicide note youre going to write that you cant bear life without me, youre miserable being back at work at Gatwick, life sucks and the doctorll be able to back it up that you were on antidepressants, all that stuff.

Yeah, well, he wont be lying about that.

So you get on the ferry as Lorraine Wilson, looking as beautiful as you can, and make sure plenty of people see you. You dump your bag, with a change of clothes, in the cabin booked in Anita Marshs name. Then you go to the bar and you start giving the impression that you are sad, and drinking heavily, and not in any mood to talk to anyone. The crossings four and a quarter hours, so you have plenty of time. When you are out in mid-Channel, leave the bar and tell the barman that you are going out on the deck. Instead, you go down to the cabin and transform yourself into Anita Marsh, with a wig and old-lady clothes. Then you take your clothes, your passport and your mobile phone and you drop them over the side.

Lorraine stared at him in utter astonishment.

In Dieppe you take a train to Paris. There you rip up your Anita Marsh passport and buy a plane ticket to Melbourne as Margaret Nelson. Ill be waiting for you at the other end.

Youve thought of bloody everything, havent you?

He could not immediately tell whether she was pleased or angry.

Yeah, well, I havent exactly had much else to do.

Promise me one thing all this money youre not planning to sink it into a scheme, are you?

No way. Ive learned my lesson, babe. I been giving it a lot of thought. The problem is, once you get into debt, youre on a spiral. Now were free, we can start again. Start in Australia and then maybe go off somewhere else, live life in the sun. Sounds good to me! We can eventually put the money in the bank, live off the interest.

She looked at Ronnie dubiously.

He pointed at the envelope. Theres something else in there for you.

She pulled out a slim cellophane bag. Inside was an assortment of loose stamps.

To help tide you over, he said. Expenses. And give yourself a couple of treats to cheer yourself up. Theres a 1911 Somerset House One Pound thats worth about fifteen hundred quid. Theres an 1881 One Penny that you should get about five hundred quid for. Theres about five grands value in total. Take them to this guy I know hell give you the best price. And when the big money comes through, hes the guy you get to convert it into stamps. Hes straight. Well get the best value from him.

And he knows nothing?

God, no. He tore off a blank strip from the back of Hello! magazine on the kitchen table and wrote down the name Hugo Hegarty, with the mans phone number and address on it. He should be sorry when you tell him about me. I was a good customer.

Weve had a few letters of sympathy and cards over the past weeks.

Id like to see those, read what everyone says about me.

Nice things. She gave a sad laugh. Sue was saying I needed to start thinking about a funeral. Wouldnt have needed a very big coffin, would we? For a wallet and a mobile phone.

They both giggled. Then she dabbed away more tears that had started rolling down her face.

At least we can laugh about it, she said. Thats good, isnt it?

He walked around the table to her and hugged her hard. Yep. Thats good.

Why Australia?

Its far enough away. We can be anonymous there. Also, Ive got an old mate who went out there years ago. I can trust him hell convert the stamps back into cash, no questions asked.

Whos that?

Chad Skeggs.

She looked at him with a startled expression, as if she had just been shot. Ricky Skeggs?

Yeah. You went out with him before me, didnt you? He used to have all his birds call him Ricky. Like it was a special privilege. Chad in business, Chad to his mates, but Ricky to his birds. He was always very particular about things.

Its the same name, she said. Theyre both versions of Richard.

Yeah, whatever.

No, its not actually whatever, Ronnie. And I didnt go out with him. I went on just one date. He tried to rape me, remember? I told you all about it.

Yeah rape used to be his idea of foreplay.

Im serious. Surely I told you the story. Back in the early 1990s, he had a Porsche. Took me out one night-

I remember that Porsche. A 911 Targa. Black. I worked for Brighton Connoisseur Cars we rebuilt it after it had been written off wrapped around a tree. We spliced the rear end together with the front end of another one. Flogged it to him cheap. It was a fucking death trap!

You sold that to your friend?

He knew it was dodgy and not to drive it too fast. He just used it for posing and pulling dolly birds like you.

Yes, well, after a few drinks at the bar I thought he was taking me to eat something. Instead he drove me up on the Downs, told me he allowed the girls he screwed to call him Ricky, then he unzipped himself and told me to suck him off. I couldnt believe it.

Crude bastard.

Then when I told him to take me home, he tried to drag me out of the car, said I was an ungrateful bitch and he was going to show me what a proper shag was. I scratched the side of his face, then I hit the horn and suddenly there were headlights coming towards us. He panicked and drove me home.

And?

He didnt say a word. I got out of the car and that was it. I used to see him around town from time to time, always with a different woman. Then someone told me hed gone to Australia. Not far enough in my view.

Ronnie sat in awkward silence. Lorraine crushed out her cigarette, which was burnt down to the filter, and lit another one. Finally Ronnie spoke. Hes all right, Chad is. He was probably just pissed that night. Got a big ego, always had. Youll find hes mellowed now, with age.

Lorraine was silent for a long while.

Itll be all right, babe, Ronnie said. Itll work out. How many people get a chance of a totally new start in life?

Some start, she said bitterly. Where the person we are going to be totally dependent on once tried to rape me.

You have a better plan? Ronnie snapped suddenly. You have a better plan, tell me?

Lorraine looked at him. He seemed different from before hed gone to New York. And not just physically. It wasnt just the beard and the shaven head, something else seemed to have changed. He seemed more assertive, harder.

Or maybe, because of the long absence, she was seeing him as he actually was for the first time.

No, she told him reluctantly, she didnt have a better plan.


| Dead Man`s Footsteps | OCTOBER 2007



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