The Serpent's Sting

The Serpent's Sting by Robert Gott

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Authors: Robert Gott
Tags: FIC050000, FIC014000
she’s no good. Miss Buchanan has blotted her copy book, and you can tell her that from me.’
    â€˜I can’t tell her anything if I don’t know where she is.’
    â€˜Well, Merry Christmas to you both, at any rate,’ he said absently.

    There was a great deal of activity at Mother’s house. It was mostly to do with the preparations for next day’s lunch, although the tension in Peter Gilbert’s face was caused by more troubling concerns than whether or not we had sufficient potatoes.
    â€˜Brian said he spoke to you late last night,’ he said. ‘So you know about my son?’
    â€˜I’m sure he’ll turn up before tomorrow.’
    â€˜I’ve spoken to the police, and they’re of the same mind. I hope to God they’re right. I wouldn’t put it past John to be doing this to punish me for some imagined wrong.’
    I didn’t challenge his use of the word ‘imagined’, despite feeling that his adultery and Fulton’s illegitimacy were hardly figments of anyone’s imagination.
    â€˜You haven’t heard from him, have you, Will?’
    â€˜No. Why would John contact me?’
    â€˜The other day, I thought I saw …’
    I looked quizzical.
    â€˜Never mind’, he said. ‘I’m trying to keep a lid on my worry.’
    â€˜Do you really think he’d be so cruel as to worry you half to death at Christmas?’
    â€˜John always chose big occasions as the backdrop for his biggest tantrums.’
    He looked at his watch.
    â€˜Cloris will be here soon. She wants company, and she’s more than happy to help Agnes with the cooking.’
    We had a scratch dinner of sandwiches in the kitchen. Peter Gilbert, Brian, and I sat at the table while Mother and Cloris continued peeling, pounding, and grating. The atmosphere was tense, and the tension was exacerbated for me by my concerns about Geraldine. Mother asked if she was still coming for lunch, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I was unsure of her whereabouts. It would look like I was offering her disappearance as competition for John’s.
    â€˜She’s camouflaging trucks for the army. I’m sure they’ll release her for Christmas Day.’
    â€˜I expect John will appear in time for lunch,’ Peter Gilbert said. ‘He knows we’ll be so relieved he’s all right that we won’t make a scene.’
    I could tell from the strained look on Cloris’s face that she didn’t believe this for a minute. Brian had said that she was sure that he’d been taken. The investigator in me wondered idly where her certainty about this came from.
    That night, Peter Gilbert went back to his Drummond Street house with his daughter. She was understandably nervous about being there on her own, given the signs that violence may have been committed there. After Mother had gone to bed, I went into Brian’s bedroom to speak with him. The room had been his and Darlene’s, and I hadn’t been in it since her committal to a psychiatric institution. There were reminders of her everywhere, and the room retained the particular feminine quality she’d imposed upon it. There was only one photograph of her, the wedding photograph, with her and Brian standing stiffly in a photographer’s studio. The paintings on the walls were cloying prints of Landseer dogs, a dull still-life, and above the fireplace a monochrome engraving of Friedrich Schenck’s Anguish — a painting I’d always found repellent, but which made Darlene weep, apparently.
    Brian was already in bed.
    â€˜There’s something going on with you and Geraldine, isn’t there?’
    He could be exasperatingly perceptive, although it was usually at times that were of no practical benefit to me.
    â€˜Geraldine has done a runner from the production; at least we think she has. She told me she was going to Puckapunyal, and she didn’t turn up

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