Janice stared at the diffident man facing the camera. It looked like it was taken in a back garden, maybe at a barbecue. He had the same hooded eyes in the twenty-year old’s picture she had, but now there was a goatee and a receding hairline. Small round sunglasses hid the eyes too. It could be the same man as in the police reconstruction. Possibly.
“What happened? I mean why were you separated? If you don’t mind saying?”
“I’m his half-sister. I didn’t know until very recently when there was a query – DNA – and it came out I was related to his brother who had died. That’s when I found out about Christopher. He may not know his brother is dead so, well, I thought it was a good excuse to try and find him.” Was she speaking too fast? It was the truth, sort of.
“He knows his brother’s dead. It… he’s been in a strange place since he came back and told me.”
“Are you close?”
The woman, Marjory, shook her head and then looked down, at her hands, spinning a ring on her right hand. “We had… well, at one point…” She laughed awkwardly. “We were good for each other. He’s a good listener.
“What’s he like?”
“Quiet. Intense. A bit lonely, I‘d say. Very private. I didn’t know much about his family, apart from his mother. He was close to her.”
“How long has he lived here?”
“In Margate? All his life, he said. His parents moved away and he came back after university and stayed. He works for the Council, something to do with engineering. His mother seemed lovely.”
Janice tried hard to hide her surprise. “You met her?”
“Why yes. She visited quite regularly. She’d come on a Tuesday and go home the next evening.”
Janice squeezed her eyes shut. Her mother in law had a ‘friend’ in Canterbury who she visited every month or so. Only it turns out the ‘friend’ was Christopher. She fiddled with her phone and found a picture of her mother in law. She turned the screen to face Marjory. “Is this his mother?”
Marjory nodded. “And that’s Roger, his brother.” Her finger hovered over Janice’s husband’s image.
She forced herself to speak. “Did… did Roger visit too?”
Marjory nodded. “I only saw him the once. I’d been in hospital – a small procedure – and they released me early. I think it was the weekend and they must have figured they could better use the bed than have me filling it. I told them Chris would be able to keep an eye on me, so the ambulance men who brought me back knocked and he and Roger came over. He seemed very nice. Less like his brother, less serious. That was the only time I saw him…. I’m pretty sure he was here a week or so ago. They were arguing and I heard him leave. I’m fairly sure that was the last time he was here.”
Janice turned to face the window, trying to imagine what prompted Roger to turn up.
“Would you like more tea?”
“That…yes, thank you.”
Marjory disappeared towards the back of the house. She called after Janice. “It’s a shame you missed him. I expected him back last week but I’ve not heard anything. It’s a bit of pain, in truth.”
She re-emerged and put the pot down. “Colin is very demanding.”
Janice felt her shoulders go rigid. Colin was the dead twin. What did she mean?
Marjory didn’t notice as she concentrated on pouring more tea. “He’s a rescue, from abroad and if he doesn’t get his feed on time he’s yowling like he’s being tortured.”
Janice blinked at the teacup that was being handed to her. “A cat?”
“His true love, I used to say. He dotes on that moggy. I’m cat-sitting but I’m off tomorrow for a few days at my sisters.” She looked at her hands again. “We’ve tickets to see a tribute act and, well, it’ll be a bit of fun. If he’s not back, I’m not sure what to do.” She laughed. “Godfrey, on the other side, tried to feed Colin once and the cat went berserk. He ended up in A&E. Apart from Chris, he won’t tolerate men.”
Janice swallowed and held her breath. “I could…”
“I mean… what I mean is I’m in Margate for a few days and could pop in. If that would help. Kind of begin making up for lost time.”
Marjory’s face contorted into several unspoken questions. “I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve only just met you. And he’s very private. And Colin might not take to you.”
“I understand, if the idea makes you uncomfortable.”
“Well, you clearly know the family. You have that picture.”
“I’ve other pictures of Roger too, if that helps?”
“No, really.” She tapped her fingers nervously on her lap. “Tell you what. Come with me now and we can feed his majesty and see if he’ll tolerate you. If not, that answers it. If he does then I’ll call Chris’s mobile and leave a message. If he’s come home or rings and says not then fine but if he remains incommunicado well, let’s do it.”
“If it helps I’ll check in with this neighbour. Godfrey? Just let him know it’s me.”
“Would you? That would make me more comfortable.”
“Of course. I just want to help. It’s rather exciting at my age to find I have a new brother and to help him is the icing on the cake.” She was sure Marjory would see through the lie but she was in too deep now to stop.
Thirty minutes later, Janice stood on the pavement, looking at Christopher’s bungalow. She left her mobile number on the proffered notepad. She hesitated briefly when Marjory suggested she leave Janice’s mobile number with Chris when she called. Janice nodded her agreement; she didn’t think there was any other way. The cat ignored her when Marjory let them into the spotless kitchen and, after, when they popped round, Godfrey nodded his understanding of the proposal. It just needed Marjory to call and set up the hand-over of the keys, assuming Christopher didn’t return over the next twenty-four hours.
Sitting in the reception to the hotel, waiting to be shown to a room, she wondered if she was mad. She should call the police, Inspector Thorne and tell him what she’d uncovered. But curiosity is a strong emotion.
A text message came in at 9pm, saying Marjory had heard nothing and the key and a note of instructions would be under her front door mat for the morning feed and thanking Janice for saving her bacon.
At 8.30 Janice said goodbye to Godfrey and headed to collect the key and note. The key was a simple Yale – not the most secure. As she walked down the path on her way to Christopher’s back door she opened the note. It was a neatly typed set of feeding and watering instructions. On the top Marjory had written,
Chris called back late last night. He said he was delighted if you could feed Colin and was looking forward to meeting you just as soon as possible…