Chapter no 51

Then She Was Gone

“Where did Poppy get those candlesticks? The silver ones in her bedroom?”

Floyd looks up at Laurel from the newspaper. It’s Tuesday morning and they’re having breakfast. Laurel nearly didn’t stay last night. She’d nearly said she had a headache and wanted to sleep in her own bed. But something kept her here: the promise of a shared bottle of wine, the proximity to Poppy, unanswered questions.

“The art deco ones?”

“Yes. On her bookshelves.”

“Oh, I found those at Noelle’s when I went to collect Poppy’s things. Lovely, aren’t they?”

She draws in her breath and smiles tightly. “I used to have a pair,” she says, “just like that.”

“I did wonder if they might be worth something. That’s why I took them. And it was strange because Noelle literally had nothing. All her stuff, all of it, just tat. Yet she had those. Genuine art deco I’d say they were. I meant to get them valued, but I never got around to it.”

Laurel keeps smiling. “The pair I had were definitely worth a fair bit. Some friends bought them for us, for a wedding present, said they’d got them at an auction. These friends were incredibly wealthy and they suggested that we should get them insured, but we never did.”

She leaves that there, between them, waiting to see what Floyd does with it. “Well, there you go then,” he says, smiling tightly. “Maybe Noelle did manage



to leave Poppy something worth having after all.”

“But, what about her house? Doesn’t that belong to Poppy? Technically?” “Noelle’s house? No, she didn’t own her house. It was rented.”

“Was it? I thought . . .” Laurel stops herself. She’s not supposed to know anything about Noelle’s house. “I don’t know, I just assumed she would have

owned it. And what about Noelle’s family? Did you ever meet them? Did they ever meet Poppy?”

“No,” says Floyd. “Noelle didn’t have much of a family. Or at least not one she told me about. It’s possible they were estranged. It’s possible they were dead. She might have had a dozen brothers and sisters for all I know.” He sighs. “Nothing would surprise me about that woman. Nothing.”

She nods, slowly digesting Floyd’s lie. “And when you went to her house to get Poppy’s things, what was it like? Was it nice?”

Floyd shudders slightly. “Grim,” he says. “Really grim. Cold and bare and uncomfortable. Poppy’s room looked like a room in a Romanian orphanage. It had this really weird wallpaper. Everything was painted Pepto-Bismol pink. And my God, Laurel, the worst thing, the worst thing of all . . .”

His eyes find hers and he licks his lips. “I’ve never told anyone this before because it was so bleak and so sick and so . . .”—he shudders again—“. . . depraved. But in her cellar she had been hoarding hamsters or gerbils or something. God knows what. Mice maybe. In cages stacked one on top of the other. Must have been about twenty of them. And a dozen in each cage. And all of them were dead. The smell. Jesus Christ.” He blinks away the memory. “I mean, seriously, what sort of woman, what sort of human . . . ?”

Laurel shakes her head, widening her eyes in faux wonder. “That’s horrible,” she says, “that really is.”

Floyd sighs. “Poor sick woman,” he says. “Poor, poor individual.”

“Sounds like the only good thing she ever did was to give birth to Poppy.”

He glances at her and then down at his lap. His eyes are dark and haunted. “Yes,” he says. “I suppose it was.”

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