Laura was glad she’d decided, straight after lunch, to walk along the beach from Alnmouth to Boulmer. For October, the weather was warm, the breeze from the sea gentle, and the water glistened in the pale sunlight. She was glad, more generally, that for a few days break from home she’d chosen this part of the North East coast. With her husband at a medical conference in Florida and her sons back at their respective universities, time spent by the sea, she’d predicted, was just the thing to refresh her before returning to her work as a GP at the practice in Newcastle. The B&B she’d chosen through Tripadvisor was as comfortable as its very high rating indicated, and there were plenty of restaurants, strung out along Alnmouth’s main street, where she could try out local dishes.
She had been walking along the sand for more than a mile, past dark grey rocks half-covered by the sea on one side and a golf course on the other. The beach then turned to the left. Since she wasn’t wearing the ideal shoes for walking over the rocks that now covered the beach, Laura decided to climb up the path to where some static caravans stood on top of the grassy dunes. Just beyond the start of the path, she saw a man, incongruously dressed in a checked tweed suit of the same reddish colour as his long beard, and sitting on a piece of driftwood. She raised her hand in greeting, but he kept staring fixedly out to sea. A strange figure, Laura thought.
Just before reached the top of the dune, she saw another man, this time a much younger one, tall and blond haired, who was holding a sketchbook, looking straight down at her, and virtually blocking her way.
‘What are you drawing?’ said Laura by way of greeting.
‘You, of course,’ came the immediate answer.
‘But you can only have been looking at me for a few seconds,’ Laura replied, smiling.
The young man smiled in turn and showed her the sketch he had made. She was astonished that, in just those few seconds, he had drawn with a piece of charcoal the face and figure of a woman that, however impressionistic, was recognisable as her.
‘You’re very talented,’ said Laura, aware – but not uncomfortably so - of the penetrating blue eyes that continued to gaze at her.
‘Let’s see if you still think that when you’ve seen more of my work,’ replied the man. ‘I’m renting this caravan right here for a few weeks and I’ve done a lot of drawing since I got here. Please come in and see you what you think. I’m Jason, by the way.’
‘And I’m Laura’, she replied. ‘Yes, OK, I have a few minutes and yes … it’d be good to see your work. My husband and I actually have quite a decent collection of drawings, mainly by North East artists – from Ashington, Durham, other places.’
As she followed Jason into the caravan, Laura couldn’t help thinking of corny ‘come up and see my etchings’ jokes. But she was genuinely interested in looking at his work and he was certainly a polite and charming young man. Inside the caravan was the kind of chaos familiar to Laura from the bedrooms of her sons. Jason managed, nevertheless, to find her a chair to sit on while she leafed through his sketchbook. Her first impression, that here was an artist of talent, was soon confirmed, and she told him so.
‘I want to sketch you,’ Jason suddenly exclaimed, again looking straight at her with what, she had to acknowledge, were beautiful eyes.
‘You just have,’ replied Laura, laughing.
‘No, I mean properly,’ said Jason. ‘With you posing for me and with plenty of time for me to … capture your expression. Something about your face, when I saw you coming up the path, immediately made me want to draw you. I’d like the chance to identify, and convey in a drawing, just what that ‘something’ is.’
Laura wasn’t sure how seriously to take his words. They were flattering, for sure, but were they sincere? Perhaps he just needed a live model and any passing woman would do.
‘Please come tomorrow,’ said Jason, still looking into her eyes, and this time gently pressing her left hand between his own hands. ‘I’ll even open a bottle of a very good wine I was given.’
Laura didn’t have to think long before accepting the invitation. She’d always rather fancied the idea of being painted, and being sketched was the next best thing. And there was no doubt that Jason would be an entertaining and attractive artist to sit for.
‘Same sort of time as today?’ she asked, by way of accepting the offer. ‘Early afternoon?’
That would be perfect, Jason replied: he’d have everything ready. ‘I shall picture your face – your whole figure, too - in my imagination tonight,’ he added, ‘and then work out how to do them justice.’
At the door of the caravan, Laura shook hands with Jason, said ‘Ciao’, and set off along the path that led, parallel to the beach, towards Boulmer. Before she’d gone more than fifty metres, a young woman in running clothes came round a bend in the path towards her. Panting and hands on hips, she said ‘Hi!’ to Laura as they walked past each other. Before she reached the bend, Laura turned round and smiled to herself when she saw the girl walking towards the door of Jason’s caravan. Another of his ‘models’, she assumed. Certainly the girl’s pale but fine features, and her spiky hair, dyed purple, must make her an interesting subject.
At two o’clock the next afternoon, Laura was close to the little path off the beach that went up to Jason’s caravan. Despite the drizzle and not having slept too well, she felt buoyant and charged with a sense of anticipation. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, she’d had her doubts in the middle of the night whether she should go back to Jason’s. She hardly knew him. Maybe he was a classic ‘temperamental’ artist. Maybe she would prove a hopeless sitter. Maybe …. But she set aside these worries. Here was an adventure, and adventure, she knew, was something missing from her life.
Her marriage – to a plastic surgeon she’d met when they were medical students together at Newcastle University – was a settled one. But her sons were away from home most of the year, and she was now only working part-time at the health centre. The days, she had to admit to herself, could often drag. True, she was involved in plenty of ‘worthy’ activities: a trustee of two charities, on the board of a local hospice, and a patron of an animal welfare organisation. Satisfying in their way, these activities lacked a certain spice. There was – she couldn’t get the word out of her head – no adventure in them.
Jason was waiting at the open door of the caravan, dressed, despite the weather, only in denim shorts and a collarless, open white shirt. He ushered Laura in and helped her to remove her wet anorak. He then passed her one of the two glasses of red wine that he had already poured.
‘This will warm you up,’ he said and added, smiling, ‘It’ll make you feel more relaxed for the sitting, too.’
‘Do I look that nervous?’ she asked, smiling back at him.
‘You look just as I hoped you would,’ replied Jason.
Laura was pleased she’d put on a tight-fitting, V-necked blue T-shirt, and a pair of narrow fawn coloured jeans. She’d always kept fit and, as a forty-three year old woman, could a take a certain pride in her figure. It was good to see, from his eyes, that this young and, she felt, discerning man appreciated the way she looked.
‘So how do I pose?’ she asked after sipping her wine. ‘Sitting? Standing? Kneeling? Laughing? Crying?’
‘Yearning!’ came the answer. ‘Let me show you,’ he continued, as he took her hand and led her to the couch-bed, covered with a cotton throw, that ran alongside the back wall of the vehicle. ‘I want you half-sitting, half-lying - propped up against the pillows, with your right leg crossed over the other leg. Your left arm is resting on a pillow, and your right hand is gently resting on your left breast. Try it. It’s a real classic pose: you find it in several portraits painted by the old masters.’
Laura hesitated a moment before settling into the position Jason had described. If she was a little surprised by the instruction to touch her breast, she quickly recovered. She hardly wanted to appear prudish. The word ‘adventure’ again came to mind.
Jason then explained that she should look at a point just above and to the left of his head while he drew her.
‘You’re thinking of a lover,’ he went on, ‘and thinking especially of how it’ll be when he returns. You’re yearning, in fact, and that’s the expression I want to capture. Eyes looking into the distance, and your mouth slightly open and with just the hint of a smile.’
‘Phew!’ said Laura, ‘I’ll have a go. How’s this?, she asked as she settled into the pose.
‘You’re a natural model,’ replied Jason. ‘That’s perfect. Let’s start, then … and do let me know if it gets uncomfortable. You can stretch your limbs.’
For several minutes, as Jason sat on a stool drawing her, Laura was entirely relaxed, but relaxation then gave way to a feeling she found it hard to identify. Occasionally she’d been defying his orders, and looking not at an imaginary point in the distance, but at his blue eyes as they flickered up and down between her and his sketchbook. It was hard, too, to ignore the long, sinewy and tanned legs, lightly covered with golden hairs, that stretched out either side of the stool. When she felt her nipple harden beneath her hand, she could no longer doubt that she was experiencing arousal. She was, ironically, feeling precisely the physical yearning that she was supposed to be imitating – only not for an absent lover, but for the very physically present young man a few feet away.
She became aware that, for minute or more, Jason had stopped drawing and was simply looking at her and quietly smiling. He stood up from the stool, went to the tiny kitchen, refilled the two glasses of wine, and walked over to the couch. He sat on the edge of the couch, drank from one of the glasses and held the second up to Laura’s lips. Neither of them spoke. When she had taken a couple of sips, he placed the glasses on a small table by the couch.
Gently, he removed Laura’s right hand from her breast and replaced it with his own. At the same time, he stroked her hair with his other hand and bent forward to kiss her. She reciprocated by stroking the length of his thigh, that lay against the side of the couch. Slowly and carefully, he drew her T-shirt above her head, while she unhooked her bra and tossed it aside. When she was fully undressed, Jason ran his index finger lightly along the scar that an operation had left behind on Laura’s belly. He then bent forward to kiss the small tattoo of a sunbird near the top of her thigh – a memento of a night in Thailand with some other gap year students who, like her, had drunk too much.
With what seemed to Laura like a single movement, Jason removed his shorts and shirt, stood there long enough for her to appreciate his nakedness, and then lay next to her. He lay on his back, eyes half closed, with his arms behind his head. Laura lifted her left leg over Jason’s body, placed the palms of her hands on his chest, and began to make love to him. Despite her excitement – her yearning - she made love to him as slowly and tenderly as he had been caressing her moments earlier.
Almost two hours later, Laura came out of a half sleep, looked at her watch, and realised it would soon be dark. She needed to leave at once if she was to get back in the light. She softly ruffled Jason’s hair.
‘You go back to sleep,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘I’ve got to go now. I’ll be back tomorrow – late morning, if that’s OK. It’ll give us more time together. I’ll bring some lunch from the delicatessen near my B&B, and of course some wine.’
Jason opened his eyes, pressed her hand, and said that’d be fine: he would work on the sketch tonight and show it to her tomorrow. Laura kissed his forehead, got up from the couch, dressed, and with a final wave opened the caravan door and stepped outside. She looked forward to feeling the wind and the rain on her face as she returned along the beach.
The following morning the rain was heavier and the wind blowing in from the North Sea stronger. Laura decided to walk to Boulmer along the road from Alnmouth that, after a few hundred yards, skirted the Foxton golf course. From there a track led to the caravans, all of them unoccupied as far as she could tell, except for Jason’s. In a backpack, she was carrying some savoury muffins, Doddington cheese and rye bread bought from the delicatessen, and an expensive bottle of claret.
Despite the rain, she felt elated and walked quickly. She wanted to maximise the time she’d be spending with Jason. She was relieved that she’d slept well, untroubled by any of the regrets or self-recrimination that she’d half expected to experience. These few days on the coast, she persuaded herself, should be seen as somehow hived off from the rest of her life. The adventure with Jason would soon become history, surviving only as a fond memory of something with no implications for her marriage or work. As she neared the caravan, it was not anxiety or remorse, but anticipation of the ways in which she would give pleasure to Jason that occupied her thoughts.
The door opened before she had time to knock.
‘Come in,’ said Jason. His voice, to Laura, sounded uncharacteristically harsh and stern. He didn’t help her with her coat and didn’t lean forward to receive the kiss she tried to give him. She hung up her coat and put the backpack on the kitchen surface.
‘Can I look at the sketch?’ she asked, genuinely eager to see how he had drawn her.
‘There’s something else I want you to see first,’ replied Jason, unsmiling and in the same harsh tone.
He handed Laura three photos. As she looked at them, she felt that she was being kicked hard in the stomach. For a moment, she thought she’d be sick. In the first photo, she was lying on her back, with Jason’s head pressed against the top of her thigh, the ecstatic expression on her face showing she was at the point of climax. In the second, she was on top of Jason, with her hands on his shoulders, looking up, again with an ecstatic expression, towards the ceiling. In the final photo, she was lying by herself on the couch, eyes sparkling, lips open, a glass of wine in one hand and the other hand poised provocatively between her splayed legs.
Despite the shaking in her limbs and the nausea that almost overcame her, Laura managed to speak in a controlled, calm voice.
‘Why did you – or rather some hidden camera – take these, Jason? Do they turn you on? They don’t turn me on. I don’t … I really don’t like them, to put it mildly. So please tear them up.’
Jason’s reply was equally measured: ‘No, they don’t turn me on at all. I set up the camera to take them because I want you to give me £3000. Otherwise I’ll show them around. Your husband, your sons, your NHS employers, your fellow trustees … lots of people will see them.’
‘I see you’ve been doing some Googling about me,’ said Laura, still trying hard not to be sick and trying as well to stop herself from flailing out at him in anger.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘You see, I know you won’t miss the money, whereas I’m the proverbial penniless artist. And at least you enjoyed yourself yesterday afternoon, so it’s not a complete waste of money.’
Laura was astonished at the contrast between the frigidity of his words and the warmth of his love-making less than twenty-four hours earlier.
‘How will I know that you’ll destroy any copies you’ve got of the photos, and also the SD, or whatever it is, that they’re recorded on?’ asked Laura.
‘You won’t know,’ replied Jason in a casual tone. ‘You’ll have to take my word for it. But I wouldn’t want to push you too far. £3000 is nothing to you … think of it as payment for services rendered. But if I came back asking for more … well, you might, just might, decide to go to the police.’
‘For services rendered!’ Laura shouted. ‘Are you telling me …’, but she decided not to finish the question. She’d been about to ask him if yesterday afternoon his seemingly tender love-making was all simulation and cold calculation. But why bother? Why believe anything he might say in reply?
‘I’ll come back with the money tomorrow afternoon,’ she said, her voice once more controlled. ‘I’ll need to get a train to Newcastle in the morning and go to the bank for the money.’
She collected her backpack, put on her coat and left, with neither of them saying another word or exchanging a glance.
Laura decided, the following afternoon, that her last walk to the caravan should be along the beach. The sky was clear, the weather cold, and a lively wind was blowing in her face. That was good: her head would be clear, she would arrive at the caravan alert and focused.
She had not, after all, been to Newcastle in the morning to withdraw the money. That was something she’d decided the previous evening when, sitting at a table in an Alnmouth pub, a bottle of red wine before her, Laura considered the options available to her. Walking back from the caravan, she’d felt too numbed to think things out. Only after a long bath and a glass of wine was she ready to focus on what she should do.
First, though, she’d needed to set aside the anger that kept welling up. Anger that, she was surprised to find, was directed less against Jason’s threat of blackmail than at the betrayal and humiliation she’d suffered at his hands. She had given herself, passionately and sincerely, to a man who’d seemed genuinely caring and attracted to her. But it was precisely this sense of humiliation that Laura had to put out of mind if she was to concentrate on the course of action to take.
She fiddled with the plate of scallops and rice that the waitress in the pub put on the table, took another long sip of wine, and rehearsed the alternatives. She wouldn’t, she knew straightaway, pay Jason the money he was demanding. The worst outcome, in her view, was to live the following months, even years, in fear that Jason would keep contacting her, demanding more and more money. That left at least three other options. To try to reason with Jason, and to remind him that blackmail was a crime, while adultery wasn’t. Or she could go to the police immediately, in the hope that they would deter him from sending the photos to her husband and goodness knows who else. Or she could summon the courage to tell her husband, and her sons too, what had happened in the caravan, and let Jason do his worst.
There was one more alternative that struck her when she’d finished her meal and walked back to the B&B. She would sleep on it and decide in the morning.
As Laura approached the caravan along the beach, it was this alternative that crystalised. The sea air had, as she hoped, cleared and sharpened her mind. She was now certain what she had to do. She climbed the familiar path up the dune and there, standing at the door of the caravan, was Jason – the man to whom, when she’d come there only yesterday morning, she’d envisaged making love for hours on end.
Neither Jason nor Laura spoke as she entered the caravan. Once inside, she took an envelope out of the zipped pocket of her anorak. She held it in front of her and Jason approached to take it from her hand, at the same time taking three photos out of his shirt pocket. Laura then stepped forward and jammed her knee with great force into his crotch. As he screamed and crumpled forwards, Laura gripped his head in her gloved hands. The left hand pressed against his jaw, the right one against the side of his skull. In a single movement, and with all her strength, she jerked his head upwards and twisted it anti-clockwise. A crunching sound in his neck was immediately followed by a loud snap. Jason was already dead, as Laura knew from her medical training that he would be, by the time he fell to the floor.
As she glanced down at the body, she felt entirely calm, knowing that she now had to act coolly, quickly and efficiently. First she needed to locate the hidden camera that had taken the photos of her. Given the angle from which the pictures had been taken, it would have to be above the cupboard opposite the couch. And there it was, a small device barely visible between two toby jugs on top of the cupboard. Laura removed it and put it in the backpack she’d brought with her.
Next, she needed to find Jason’s mobile phone and, if he had one, his laptop. The phone was on the floor near Jason’s body: it must have fallen from a pocket of his shirt or shorts when he fell. This too went into Laura’s backpack. After carefully sifting through drawers and cupboards, she was confident that there was no laptop or tablet in the caravan.
It was easy to find the cardboard portfolio containing the sketches that Jason had been working on when living in the caravan. It stood against the small desk where, Laura assumed, he did most of his sketching. To her relief, the two sketches of her were top of the pile – the one of her climbing up the path on the first day she met him, and the one he’d done the next day of her lying on the couch. In a different context, she would have admired the way he had conveyed, in just a few strokes, the character of her face and the curves of her body. She rolled up the two pieces of thick paper and put them inside the backpack.
Next, she carefully washed the two wine glasses that stood by the sink. She knew, of course, that her fingerprints and DNA were all over the inside of the caravan. But if they were ever traced to her, the story she’d tell would be of a single brief visit to look at Jason’s sketches. The story would not include their drinking wine together. Even less would it include their time on the couch. Laura’s final act was to remove from the couch the lightweight throw on which she must have left hairs, flakes of skin and other traces of her body. She folded it up and squeezed it into the backpack.
When she was ready to leave, she had to step over Jason’s body to reach the door. She looked at it for a few seconds. Fortunately he had fallen face down, for she was sure that the agony, momentary as it was, of a crushed scrotum and the breaking of his neck, must have distorted that handsome face.
Laura opened the door slightly and looked out to check that no one – like the spiky haired girl she’d seen there three days before – would see her leave. There was no sign of anyone and Laura stepped out of the caravan, half walked and half slid down the sandy path to the beach, and started to walk back towards Alnmouth. The tide was out and she kept close to the water, to avoid being too close to the few people who were exercising their dogs on the beach. She was fairly certain, when she returned to the B&B, that no one she’d seen, or who had seen her, could have any reason to think she’d near the caravan site on the dunes.
Later in the evening, Laura packed her suitcase in preparation for catching the train, early the next morning, back to Newcastle. Inside the case, she managed to fit the camera, Jason’s phone, the drawings and the tightly rolled throw. It would be more sensible to dispose of these at her local tip than to dump them into one of the Alnmouth wheelies that the police, once Jason’s body was found, would soon be sifting through.
Laura dined at the same pub where, the night before, she’d thought of the solution to her problem that she had now put into practice. She felt entirely tranquil, undisturbed by any images of Jason’s crumpled body. She was able to enjoy the dish of baked crab and the fine wine that accompanied it. Back at the B&B, she poured herself a miniature malt whisky as a nightcap, went to bed and slept deeply.
It was not until two days after Laura had returned to Jesmond that the discovery of Jason’s body was reported on the news. It was the first item on the local news slot of the BBC Breakfast programme that Laura had been watching since 7.00 am while she ate croissants and drank strong coffee. The body, according to a Detective Sergeant, had been discovered by a young woman the previous evening. The circumstances of the young man’s death were, he added, being treated as suspicious. By the time of the Look North lunchtime edition at 1.35 pm, the Detective Chief Inspector in charge of the investigation confirmed that the death was being treated as a case of murder. A witness, who was staying in a nearby caravan, then described in front of the TV camera how, on the previous evening, a young woman, shaking and sobbing, banged on his door and told him to call the police. She’d just found Jason’s body on the floor of the caravan.
So, Laura thought to herself, now it begins. In a way she felt relief that the crime had been discovered: at least there was now something – an unfolding of events – for her to focus on. Simply waiting for the news to break, as she’d been doing for nearly three days, was hard to manage. She had, of course, done a lot of thinking during this time, ever since she’d got back home, and driven to a tip in Gateshead, where she disposed of everything she’d taken from the caravan, as well as her backpack and the clothes she’d been wearing.
Laura was relieved that her husband would not be back from his conference in the US for another three days. She could reflect in peace on what to do and without having to put on an act in front of him. Her first instinct when she’d returned from the tip and settled herself into an armchair with a coffee was to contact the police once Jason’s death was reported. If the fingerprints and DNA they would find were ever matched to hers, it would be difficult for her to explain why she had not informed the police that she had been in the caravan. By the evening, though, she reconsidered this first instinct.
While it was of course possible, she reflected, it was nevertheless unlikely that her prints and DNA would ever be on a data bank that would enable them to be matched with the ones found at the crime scene. Moreover, she was pretty sure that no one had seen her enter or leave the caravan, not even the spiky-haired girl she’d passed on the path. Then, if she did tell the police that she’d met Jason, would she be able to do so without making them suspicious? She would certainly come across as nervous: maybe she’d contradict herself or even break down.
Now that the body had been found and the death established as a case of murder, Laura went over the arguments for and against going to the police. On balance, she decided, she would say nothing – not to the police, nor to her husband. The coming days were not going to be relaxing, she knew, but at least she was not troubled – almost to her surprise – by anything like ‘a conscience’ about what she’d done. She was feeling now as coldly unemotional as when she’d broken Jason’s neck three days earlier. If she was on the verge of any emotions, they were still those of anger and humiliation.
No further news broke for another couple of days. When it did, it was the report in The Chronicle that the police had been questioning a man in connection with ‘the caravan murder’, as the media now labelled it. The man was believed to be Jason’s former art teacher in Newcastle, who had allegedly been stalking his ex-student. Reading between the lines, Laura gathered that the man was gay and had become fixated on Jason. The report also published a photo of the teacher. She recognised the distinctive features at once. They belonged to the craggy, bearded and tweed-suited man she’d seen on the beach, staring out to sea and sitting on a log just below the caravans. It was too much to hope, reflected Laura, that the man would be charged with and then found guilty of Jason’s murder. But at least his being taken in for questioning meant that, for the present, she was not in the police’s line of vision.
‘Laura, don’t forget we’re supposed to be at the Hatton Gallery reception by 6.30,’ called her husband from the bathroom where he was shaving. ‘You haven’t started to get ready.’
‘Do we really have to go?’ shouted Laura from the bottom of the stairs.
A couple of minutes later, Clive, who’d only returned from Florida the previous day, came down to the kitchen, still drying his face with a towel.
‘Yes, we really should go. The Vice-Chancellor sent us a personal invitation, and Richard and Jenny are expecting to meet us there.’ He then added, ‘And it might do you good. You’ve seemed down – preoccupied – since I got back from the States.’
The last thing Laura was in the mood for was an exhibition at the Newcastle University’s art gallery, but Clive, she was concerned, would become even more worried about her fidgety behaviour and muted mood since his return unless she made the effort to go.
‘OK, darling,’ she said, ‘I’ll go and put something suitable on.’
She went upstairs, taking with her a miniature bottle of wine, whose contents she swallowed in a single gulp. Since The Chronicle’s item about Jason’s art teacher no new developments in the police investigation had been reported. Instead of making her feel more confident that she was secure, she found this silence unnerving. She wondered when, if ever, she would be free of the gnawing anxiety that repeatedly took hold of her, often in the middle of the night.
Once she was dressed, Laura and her husband walked the short distance from their Jesmond house to the Hatton Gallery on the university campus.
‘What is this exhibition?’ asked Laura, just before they arrived. Her husband replied that he wasn’t exactly sure, but thought that it was showing drawings by a young North Shields artist who was making a considerable reputation for herself.
‘Jack Simpson, the V-C, knows of my … I mean, our … interest in drawings,’ he went on, ‘Hence the invitation. But I fear her stuff might not be quite our scene. Abstract, spidery, and with a few blotches, to judge from that.’
He was pointing to the poster by the entrance to the gallery. Just inside the door were their friends Richard and Jenny Bateman, two surgeons who both worked at the Freeman Hospital. After the four of them had exchanged handshakes and kisses, they walked towards a table covered with drinks – wine or fruit juice - and nibbles. Each of them took a glass of wine and began to walk around the first of the two rooms dedicated to the exhibition.
Even if her mood had been a brighter one, Laura would not have enthused over the drawings. ‘Abstract, spidery and with blotches’ wasn’t a bad description. They reminded her of some of the work of Victor Pasmore, an artist whose fame she had never quite understood. As they stood before one drawing, barely distinguishable from the rest, called ‘Process’, Laura and Clive exchanged glances, eyebrows slightly raised and shoulders almost imperceptibly shrugged.
The two couples walked through a door into the second of the rooms. Here they were surprised to see a knot of people gathered at the end of the room and looking at whatever was hung on the far wall.
‘Something more interesting, perhaps,’ whispered Jenny to Laura. ‘I hope so.’
The two women walked towards the group of people. Jenny managed to get between two of them and get a view of the drawing. Laura heard her gasp – scream almost – before her friend turned round, and looked at her with an expression of horror.
‘My God, it’s you, Laura!’ she said in a strangulated voice.
When they heard her speak, the two people who Jenny was standing between turned round to look at Laura, then back at the drawing, and then at Laura again. With embarrassed smiles that registered their recognition of the sitter, they then shuffled away.
Laura now had a clear view of the drawing. It was much larger than any other in the exhibition, and there was nothing spidery and abstract about this one. No one who knew Laura could fail to recognise it as a portrait of her. It was a very accurate drawing that copied, in unashamed detail, one of the photos taken by Jason’s hidden camera. It was the one of Laura lying naked on her back, lips provocatively apart, a glass of wine in one hand, and her other hand hovering by the top of her open legs. To make the identity of the sitter all the more unquestionable, the artist had even sketched in the scar on Laura’s belly and the sunbird tattoo on her upper thigh.
She stared at the drawing, as if rooted to the spot. Only when her husband, who was now by her side, whispered into her ear that it was best to leave, did she take her eyes away from this portrait. She let him lead her towards the door and, her legs trembling, had to lean on his arm for support.
Before they reached the door, however, they were forced to stop. Standing in front of it was the girl Laura had seen near the caravan: her spiky hair was now dyed green rather than purple, but it was unmistakably her. The girl looked straight at Laura, and then turned and nodded to the two men standing next to her. Laura recognised them at once. They were the Detective Sergeant and the Chief Inspector she’d seen interviewed on Look North after the discovery of Jason’s body.
Author Notes: 'The Sketchbook' was short-listed for the Lindisfarne Prize for Crime Fiction in 2021