This is the fourteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1440 words.
When the phone rang, it was Roxanne. She didn’t ask to talk to Roland, instead she apologised to Hannah for all the fuss, and told her the outline of what she knew so far. Despite always claiming to know what had been going on, Hannah soon realised that wasn’t the half of it. Anthony had been named by another man who had been arrested. Implicated in a wider ring of sexual abusers of children. He had been charged with possessing thousands of indecent images and videos of young boys; stored on his laptop at home, and even in secret files on the computers at his place of work. Even more upsetting for her, many of the images and videos showed him together with Finn, usually in their own house.
Further charges involved Anthony going to other houses in the town, to take part in what the police called ‘illegal sexual acts’ with young boys, and other men. She had made a statement, and had also had to sit in when Finn told his story to the police. There had been some implication that Roxanne may have known about this, and been complicit by default, as she hadn’t intervened. Fortunately for her, Finn’s version seemed to absolve her of any knowledge or involvement. Anthony would be detained to appear in court on Monday, when a trial date for Crown Court would be set. He would not be released meanwhile, for the fear that he might be attacked and injured, or try to affect witness testimony.
Hannah let her talk without interruption. She went on to say that she would be going to stay at her mother’s house with Finn, and would be away until the trial, at the very least. When she paused for breath, Hannah asked the inevitable question. “And what about Roland? Was my son involved in any of this?” There was a long pause. “I promise you, Hannah, nothing ever happened to Roland. He didn’t even know about Finn, as he never told anyone. And Finn swears that Anthony never touched Roland. I’m so sorry about all this. I have no idea when the boys can see each other again. Once he goes to court and the story gets out, our lives will be impossible here. We will have to move away, I’m certain of that. I shouldn’t even be speaking to you, as the police told me not to. But I thought it was only fair to let you know”.
After waiting for a few seconds, Hannah offered no sympathy or help. Her tone was formal, as if she was speaking to a company, or an organisation. “OK. Thanks for letting me know. Bye”.
After hanging up the house phone, she went back into the room, and relayed the whole story to her husband and son. She was talking about the Mellors as if she didn’t know them, like she had watched a news report. Roland felt a terrible coldness in his belly. Poor Finn, to have kept that secret for so long. Small wonder he wanted to escape his father, and thought that setting his best friend up with his mum was the only option. And poor Roxanne, as everyone would always believe that she knew, and did nothing. His mum was sounding triumphant again. “I told you, didn’t I tell you? Something wrong there, always was. Marrying a man so much older, and a weirdo at that. What did she expect? Something strange was always going to happen. I tell you, Roland, you are better off out of it, they’re a bunch of perverts”.
Roland stood up. He was too drained to be bothered to argue with his mum, and the look he gave her finally shut her up. “But do you have to be so pleased about it, mum? Do you really?”
He walked slowly upstairs, leaving his dad tutting, and shaking his head. Hannah shouted after him, before he opened his bedroom door. “Why are you angry at me? I didn’t do anything”.
Her mum wasn’t any help. All she would do was to keep droning on about the same thing. “We said you shouldn’t marry someone so old, and a bachelor at that. Didn’t we tell you? Now look what’s happened. I’m just thankful your dad isn’t around to see this. If he wasn’t already dead, it would kill him”. Roxanne almost smiled at the stupidity of her mum’s last remark. But she didn’t have many smiles left in her these days.
To save any torture for his son in the witness box, or by video link, Anthony had entered a guilty plea. He was due to be sentenced in a few days, and the police had suggested he might get more than ten years, due to both the high number and sheer depravity of his offences. All those weeks at her mum’s had been awful. The business would have to be sold, as well as the house. They would never go back, Roxanne had made up her mind about that. Unable to cope with any of it, she had put both sales into the hands of agents, telling them to accept any reasonable offers. And although her boss had been sympathetic and told her to take her time, she had resigned anyway, assuring him she would never return to the town.
But nothing could be done with Finn. He was almost catatonic. He hardly spoke more than a mumble, and spent every day in the spare room at mum’s, refusing to eat anything but a small portion of breakfast cereal. The school had been understanding, but she had to supply medical certificates to placate the authorities, as he had lost a lot of time out of his education. They had been given an appointment with a counsellor, and she had almost had to physically drag him to that. He refused to speak to the woman, or answer any of her questions, other than to keep saying “Mum didn’t know. She never knew anything”. After the session the woman walked her out, patted her shoulder, and said. “It will take time. Lots of time”. Roxanne could have told her that herself, and saved all the grief.
She needed to get more cereal, and some shopping for mum. The press and TV occasionally still tried to doorstep her, but the coast was clear that morning. She backed her car out of the garage, got out, and closed the up and over door. The drive to the supermarket was quite long, and every time she caught sight of her own face in the mirror, she looked away at the ghastly reflection. It didn’t look like her anymore. At the checkout, she kept her head down, and muttered answers to the friendly routine questions the lady asked her. Certain that everyone would know she was the wife of the child-sex criminal, she was terrified of any confrontation. But nothing happened, and she drove home feeling relieved. Pulling up a short distance from the house, she couldn’t see any journalists around, so drove into the driveway, got out the car, and lifted the garage door.
The sound was not something you might ever hear. Not a scream, not a yell, not even a howl. But once you heard it, you would never forget it. It was loud enough to startle her mother’s next-door neighbours, the Bellinghams, and to send a shiver up both their spines. And it was obviously heard by Roxanne’s mother in the house, causing her to run downstairs, with her heart racing.
George Bellingham heard the sound again, like some special effect from a film, a demonic cry. He decided to investigate. Something was terribly wrong. George met his neighbour as she rushed out the door of her house, her face as white as chalk. When the eerie bellow sounded again, they both headed into the open door of the garage.
Roxanne was on her knees. She had dropped to them so heavily, the rough floor had broken the skin on both of them, and blood could be seen on the concrete. Her mouth was open so wide, it didn’t seem possible that a human could do that, without dislocating their jaw. One hand was ripping at her clothing, like some kind of robotic claw, and the other was stretched out, pointing at the back wall of the garage. George wrapped his arms around her, to stop her tearing more clothes off, and his eyes followed the direction of her pointing finger.
The dead body of her son was hanging from a tool hook, suspended by a short length of nylon rope, cut from a washing line.