The Good Samaritan

Page 25


The case. Charlotte had gone from being my wife and the mother of my unborn child to the case in under an hour.
The trauma of losing Charlotte overpowered everything. It was too much for me to take in all at once. For the rest of the night and the early hours of the next morning, the four of us concentrated on trying to comprehend that we’d never see her again, while aching at the loss of my baby.
Two fresh police officers appeared the next day to learn more about Charlotte. DS O’Connor was a chubby man, forty-something, with broken red capillaries across his nose and cheeks, and awkward body language that suggested he’d rather be anywhere than in my company. I shared his sentiment. DS Carmichael was considerably younger, with a sympathetic smile and red hair scraped up into a tight bun. I imagined that in an interrogation scenario, she’d be the good cop.
They suggested it would not be in my best interests to identify Charlotte’s body, based on the height from which she’d fallen and the position in which she’d landed. I took that to mean head first. She’d been airlifted by helicopter back up to the clifftops, but it was clear she was long dead. I felt selfish for being relieved that I didn’t have to see her in that state.
‘Do you know why my wife died yet?’ I asked.
‘We don’t know the exact circumstances of what happened yesterday,’ said DS Carmichael. ‘So we’re working from eyewitness accounts.’
‘Who was the person who abducted her?’
DS O’Connor shifted uncomfortably in his seat. ‘Again, we can’t answer that yet until his body is washed up or retrieved from the sea. We’re hoping it’ll turn up soon.’
‘So it was a man?’
‘We believe so.’
‘It doesn’t make any sense,’ I continued. ‘Why would he kidnap Charlotte and drive all the way down there to kill her? Surely it must be someone we know, or she’d never have got in her car with him. And why isn’t this flat being treated as a crime scene? Shouldn’t you be looking for evidence?’
Mum clasped my arm tightly. Johnny, two years younger than my thirty-one years but always the more pragmatic of us, looked like he wanted me to guess what he was thinking. DS O’Connor glanced at all of them and then at me, but nobody said a word.
‘What am I missing here?’ I asked.
‘This isn’t going to be easy for you to hear, Ryan, but from our initial investigation, it appears Charlotte was a willing participant in what happened yesterday.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ I replied. ‘Of course she wasn’t. She was taken against her will, or that man coerced her into going there for some reason—’
DS Carmichael interrupted. ‘Ryan, two separate eyewitnesses saw them walking towards the edge of the cliff together. Neither Charlotte nor the man appeared distressed. They were both holding mobile phones to their ears when they climbed over a fence and then stepped off the edge. Unfortunately, the car park CCTV cameras weren’t in operation, so we can’t back their statements up yet.’
‘Then the witnesses are wrong,’ I replied adamantly. ‘Charlotte had been a little down lately, I admit that, but she was getting better and she wouldn’t just kill herself. We tried so hard for a baby and we only had a couple of months left to go. She wouldn’t end her life, or our child’s. She had no reason to.’
‘They were walking hand in hand,’ said DS Carmichael softly.
‘The witnesses say Charlotte and the man were holding hands when they died.’
My world suddenly ground to a very sharp halt. I opened my mouth to argue with her, but by the look of everyone else in the room, they believed her. I couldn’t lift my hand up to my eyes quickly enough to quell my tears. Dad pulled me into his shoulder and I sensed he was trying to stop himself from crying, too.
‘What do you think the relationship was between this man and Charlotte?’ Johnny asked.
‘It’s another question we can’t yet answer,’ DS O’Connor replied. ‘Our investigation is still in its early days.’
‘So you do think they were in some kind of relationship?’
‘Only because something brought them to that place at the same time, for what we believe was the same purpose.’
‘To die,’ I said. It wasn’t a question. They nodded their heads while I shook mine.
‘No, I’m not buying it. Charlotte wouldn’t do this to herself or to us. It makes no sense to me, but you believe it because you don’t know her. Mum, do you think she was having an affair or suicidal?’
‘I don’t know what to think anymore.’ She looked down at the table.
‘The evidence so far seems to point to the fact her death was voluntary, Ryan,’ my dad added. ‘But let’s not worry about that for the moment.’
‘Then what should I be worrying about?’ I asked with a raised voice. No one could answer.
I couldn’t listen to the police or my family any longer. I stormed out of the living room and into our bedroom, slamming the door behind me so hard that I heard the wedding photos hanging in the hallway juddering.
I wanted so badly to call Charlotte and have her answer, telling me it’d been some huge fuck-up and that she was fine. How could I even start to get my head around not hearing her voice again?
So much of what you believe – or what you have convinced yourself to be true – can be flipped on its head quicker than you can ever imagine.
I was desperate to believe that what had happened to Charlotte had been the result of foul play, that she’d been murdered by this unidentified stranger – not that she’d willingly gone with him and jumped to her death.
After another restless night, I turned on my iPad and went online to look up the location where she’d died. Birling Gap, in East Sussex, was part of the Seven Sisters coastline, with panoramic views of the English Channel. Charlotte had been found at the base of a five-hundred-foot cliff drop that was notorious for its erosion.
That makes much more sense! She and this man didn’t take their own lives; the ground simply gave way beneath their feet.
Surely if they’d travelled that far to die, they’d have driven a few miles further down the coast to Beachy Head. That was a suicide spot, not Birling Gap.
‘Dad, I think I know what happened to Charlotte . . .’ I began hurriedly as I marched towards the kitchen. My parents, Johnny and DS Carmichael were sitting around the table with an open laptop in front of them. I was surprised to see the police there on a Sunday morning.
‘Sit down, Ry,’ urged Johnny, and I obliged.
‘The cliffs, they’ve been known to collapse,’ I continued. ‘What happened to Charlotte was an accident.’
‘I have something to show you and it won’t be easy to watch,’ DS Carmichael began gingerly.
‘Please, Ryan, sit down, just for a minute,’ Mum urged.
DS Carmichael pressed play. Footage had been retrieved from a dashboard camera a driver had failed to turn off when he’d parked for a clifftop dog walk. He’d returned to find his bumper scratched. It was only when he reviewed the recording that he noticed what else it had taped.
I held my breath as I watched Charlotte leave her car. Compared to a lot of expectant mums, her baby belly was relatively small, and she was disguising it that day with an overcoat. Her phone was clasped to her ear as she walked across the car park. A male figure came into view. He had his hand to his ear, too, like he was also on the phone. I recoiled as they embraced. I wanted to shut my eyes, but I couldn’t tear them away from the screen. Then they held hands and walked slowly but deliberately across the car park and towards the safety railings that prevented visitors from going too close to the edge.