The phone rings, a shrill burst of sound in a quiet house. I’m surprised, but pleased; I’ve been trying to find something to do with myself for the last hour and failing. The television seems banal, my books seem too heavy to pick up or too intimidating to start at this time of the evening, and until Melanie forgives me I haven’t got any family to visit. I answer it happily.
“DeeDee’s head told me about you and your lies.” Melanie’s voice is cold and brooks no interruption. “She got that violin from Nico after Michael died, and there’s been no trying to take it back or destroying my house to prove a point. I don’t want you near her school again. You stay away from us, you stay away from our schools and work. You don’t exist to me!”
“If you ruin DeeDee’s recital tonight I’ll go the police and I’ll find a way to have you locked up.”
There’s a click as she hangs up, and I sit down. My knees tremble slightly, and my arms and legs both feel suddenly heavy. I can hear the stress and unhappiness in her voice, and it’s out of all proportion to what I’ve done.
And what the hell is Nico doing hanging around DeeDee still? It explains the violin, but I’d kind of guessed that he must have supplied it anyway. I realise that I’ve been avoiding thinking about it, as though that would make it go away, or better yet, make him go away. I could have made an effort to find out if the Ilmatu had killed him as well as Michael. I could have asked Guldtronen. I realise I should have told Raininen about Nico too, found out if he knew anything about him. Or these instruments. Or Stauffer. Damn it, have I been thinking at all for the past few days, or just stumbling along in a haze of self-pity and fear? And my fingers still itch, all along their length.
I get up and look for some cream for my fingers so that I’m doing something, and when I finally find some the repetitive activity of rubbing it on seems to calm me down a little. Melanie mentioned a recital, tonight, which means the violin, and so probably the next part of whatever Nico’s plan is. I put the cream away, dry my hands, and call Bark to tell him.
Bark’s advice is simple enough: don’t go. Stay home, put the television on, watch something mindless and leave it all to him and his team. So, obviously, I’m going to the recital as well. I check the time: it’s just gone six, and these school things tend not to start too late; half past six or seven would be sensible. Of course, it might not be at the school, so I’ll leave now, just in case.
It turns out I’m worrying over nothing; the recital’s set to start at seven, and the doors open at half past six. I get there just before the doors open, join a queue of three people who don’t look terribly eager to be there, and buy a ticket. Then I disappear across the road to a coffee-shop with a prominent sign telling customers that no more than two students are allowed in at a time. It’s quiet in there, but the coffee is acceptable and the girl behind the counter persuades me to take the last croissant at a small discount. I sit down a little way from the window so that I can still see out, and reduce the croissant to a pile of slightly stale, buttery flakes.
The parents turn up slowly at first, and then almost en masse at ten to seven, forming a queue that lasts for several minutes. As soon as I can see everyone in the queue and am sure that neither Melanie nor Nico are in it, I hurry out and join it, getting in quickly and scanning the hall. It has tiered seating levels that can be pulled out or folded away, with chairs that are then set out on them independently. The rows have filled up from the front and I can see Melanie and Steve in the very front row; obviously the parents of the performers get the best seats. I shuffle as unobtrusively as I can, hiding behind the people in front of me, relieved when I’m past them and can take a seat about two-thirds of the way up. All around me is the dull murmur of people talking quietly, mostly complaints with the odd note of pride as some mother or father boasts about their child’s achievements. For a few minutes I feel like everything’s normal again.