Extract: What His Wife Knew by Jo Jakeman
Sorry. Beth Lomas thought she knew her late husband. But this one small word, written on the back of a discarded envelope and left on their kitchen table convinces the police that Oscar took his own life. As the police announce they are not seeking anyone else in connection with Oscar’s death, Beth is convinced that there is more to the story.
As she sets out to discover what really happened, Beth uncovers shocking truths about the man she thought she knew better than anyone. In their small town it seems like every stone she turns hides an ugly secret and it’s not long before her own dark past begins to rise to the surface.
Read on for an extract from What His Wife Knew by Jo Jakeman!
What His Wife Knew
Just one word on the back of a discarded envelope. I told the police that no way, never, not in a million years was that a suicide note.
I said, ‘You’re going to have to trust me. I know him better than you do, and I know that Oscar would never take his own life.’
His writing was as familiar to me as my own. There was a cat’s tail swirl on the S and the Y, followed by a single X. A kiss. Perhaps he’d used the last of the milk, or forgotten to take the bins out. Something silly and forgivable that we’d laugh about in time.
‘You idiot,’ I’d say, punching his shoulder. ‘You scared me half to death.’ And he’d wrinkle his nose in that way he did when he was embarrassed, and I’d rest my head on his chest.
I shouldn’t have told the detective about the note on the kitchen table, propped between the salt and pepper grinders. The slump of her shoulders and the downturn of her mouth made it clear that DC Lowry Endecott’s mind was made up.
‘I know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t that,’ I said.
‘Then why’s he apologising?’ she asked.
‘We argued. No, not really, that sounds too strong. We’d had words on Friday night. He left the house before I got out of bed yesterday, making the most of the last day of good weather, you know. He told Gabe – that’s our son – that he was going for a hike and he’d see him that evening. The note was an apology for the argument, you see. That’s all. Please, I beg you. You have to find him. What if he’s hurt? Don’t give up on him now.’
‘Can I ask what the argument was about?’ Endecott said.
She was tenacious, I’ll give her that, but I couldn’t allow her to get side- tracked.
‘It was something about nothing. One of those silly spats all couples have from time to time. I can’t even remember what started it.’
Was that the first lie I’d told her? Of course I could remember the argument, I could remember it word for word, and that’s why we had to find Oscar so I could take it all back.
We’d been inseparable since the day we met. Beth and Oscar. Oscar and Beth. You couldn’t have one without the other because we came as a pair. People envied us because Oscar and I, well, we were still going strong after all these years. My heart fluttered, and I caught my breath, every time I saw him unexpectedly in a crowd. I didn’t know who I was without him. So much of me was tied up in him that it made no sense to me that he wasn’t here by my side as the storm clouds tumbled in talking about making sure the drains were clear of leaves.
Endecott was dishing out platitudes she’d learned on a training course that were meant for other families, not people like us. She was trying to prepare me for the worst but she should have saved her breath. I had to believe they would find him while I stayed home and waited.
Waited, while the rest of the world carried on laughing, and bickering, and attaching importance to matters that were so insignificant I wanted to scream, ‘How can you pretend the world isn’t in turmoil?’ And so I prayed, I pleaded and I begged. If Oscar could be delivered safely home, I would never take him for granted again. Never snap, never scold, never nag.
I wanted to be out there looking for him, but I was no asset to the search party of two dogs, the Peak Rescue Team, and a drone. Oscar’s car was in a lay-by in the shadow of Wilders Pass. The keys were in the ignition, which wasn’t like Oscar at all. Me? Sure, I often leave keys in the outside of doors or the insides of cars, but I’m forgetful like that. Oscar remembers everything; the names of his employees’ kids, the number plate of his first car, even the way someone slighted him eight years ago. He’d never forget to come home to us.
Endecott assured me they were searching in the right area now. It was a matter of time, and a matter of clinging on to the little hope we had left. But with plenty of crags and caves, Oscar could be anywhere. The Peak District was treacherous terrain for those who weren’t familiar with the landscape but Oscar and his brother, Harvey, had made these hills their playground from the moment their mother cut her apron strings. The Limestone valleys of the White Peak with stepping- stones across rivers, and the dramatic ridges and gritty moorland of the Dark Peak made up over five hundred square miles of land, and somewhere, in the midst of it all, my husband was waiting for me to find him and bring him home.
Harvey was heading up the search party. Though he volunteered for the Peak Rescue Team, and had located countless climbers who were injured or lost, he’d never imagined that, one day, he’d be looking for his own brother. If anyone could find Oscar, it would be Harvey. He was the level- headed one of the two. He and Oscar shared that unbreakable bond that meant they loved and fought fiercely, and Lord help anyone who got between them. The Lomas brothers were a team to be reckoned with. They climbed together, holidayed together, and ran a business shoulder to shoulder. They were terrible practical jokers, always setting the other one up through prank phone calls and in- jokes. Though they were equal business partners, it was Oscar who captained that ship. Harvey preferred to take a less visible role, but you couldn’t have one without the other. Oscar was as extroverted as Harvey was introverted. Oscar was flamboyant where Harvey was measured. They each needed the other for balance. Harvey was the one who talked about projected income and cost- saving measures while Oscar went after orders they couldn’t fulfil and expanded their premises without planning permission. Harvey knew as well as I did that the possibility of Oscar taking his own life . . . well, there was no possibility. It was ridiculous the police were even considering it.
The coming storm was all anyone was talking about. News reporters would have us believe that three months of rain would be falling in the space of forty- eight hours. Flood warnings were already in place. People in picturesque market towns were dragging sandbags into doorways and driveways, buying in extra milk and bread with tins upon tins of store cupboard essentials. But Oscar knew all of this, we’d watched the news together, commented on how impossible the roads would be. Oscar took risks, it was one of the things I loved about him, but never with the weather. I knew he would’ve been home by now if it was within his power.
Judge me if you must, I don’t care, but I didn’t report him missing until lunchtime even though I hadn’t seen him since Friday night. Though I was concerned, and tried his phone twice, I didn’t immediately assume the worst. Why would I? I supposed Oscar had taken himself off somewhere to sulk, still angry with me for the way I’d reacted to our quarrel. He could have stayed the night with Harvey and Miriam after one too many brandies. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
‘Have you checked with family and friends?’ Endecott asked.
‘No one has heard from him since Friday night when his brother spoke to him on the phone. His parents are on their way up from Cornwall now. They’ve not heard from him at all this week. There’s not really anyone else to call. They’re a tight- knit family. Sorry, not they. I mean we.’
DC Endecott said I had to be patient and, as anyone who knows me will tell you, patience is something I excel at. There’s power in my patience. No one can bide time, fill time, or spend time as I do. Patience brings all good things to bear and, as my father used to say, time has a way of burying your enemies.
I’d just taken a dozen lemon and blueberry muffins out of the oven. They were cooling alongside the tray of chocolate brownies. Oscar would be hungry when he came home. I bake. It’s what I do. I bake to celebrate, to console, and to nourish. You can chart my stress levels by how much time I spend in my kitchen.
It might’ve been the heat from the oven, or the tension in the house, but there didn’t seem to be enough oxygen left in there for me. I flung open the door but the air was just as thick outside. My clothes were sticking to me as I slipped into the garden, pulling at the neck of my T- shirt. My bra strap was twisted and digging into my shoulder but I didn’t alter it. The pain was a welcome focus; a domestic cilice.
Clouds gathered over the hills, dark heads together in collusion, plotting destruction. The wind ruffled my hair as I sat heavily on the bench. I looked over my shoulder and saw our daughter at the window on the second floor. Honey’s face was intent on the horizon as if she could spot her father and guide him home. She was the beacon in the window. If anyone can bring Oscar back to us, it’s her.
The patio door slid open and I snapped my eyes shut.
The first drops of rain fell on my head.
‘Beth?’ Louder this time. The detective’s feet tapped down the three steps towards me but I didn’t look at her. I could tell that she judged me for not reporting Oscar’s disappearance soon enough, and for baking cakes while rescue teams risked their lives. The slight arch of her right eyebrow had suggested she thought me careless for misplacing something as precious as a husband. She was everything I wasn’t. Organised, resilient, strong, authoritative. I bet she’d never gone to pay for groceries and realised she’d left her purse by the kettle, or put petrol in her diesel car, never forgotten that the clocks had gone back and ended up an hour late for an important meeting. I would hazard a guess that she’d never been late for anything, whereas I couldn’t remember when I’d ever been on time.
I opened my eyes.
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘Just needed a moment. Is there any news?’
It was the same question I’d asked half a dozen times already.
But this time the answer was different.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid there is.’
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