Esme's answers...

‘So tell me again,’ Maddy said, peering at the piece of paper Esme had handed her. ‘What’s this for?’

They were sitting on the bench on the grass promontory overlooking the harbour at Warren Quay. A swell was building

in the bay and spray from the waves breaking against the rocks blew in on the wind, filling the air with the smell of salt. It was the first proper sunny day they’d seen all winter. The draw to sit and breathe in the clear air under a pristine blue sky after so many days of relentless rain was compelling, despite the chill of the onshore breeze.

‘She caught me on the hop,’ Esme said, pulling her coat around her and tucking a strand of hair

back into its fastening, which the wind immediately tugged out again.

‘Who did?’

‘Her.’ Esme cocked a nod at the paper. ‘Melissa Something or other. From Devon Today

magazine. She writes a regular column.’

‘Oh, I get it. She’s interviewing you.’

‘Apparently. Her readers would lap it up, she assures me.’

‘Well, that’s good, isn’t it? Great for business. Genealogist extraordinaire. They’ll be fighting a

path to your door.’

Esme rolled her eyes before throwing Maddy a withering look.

‘What?’ said Maddy with a shrug. ‘You don’t reckon?’

‘It’s not that,’ Esme said, pulling a face. ‘It’s the things she wants to know that bothers me. Some

of her questions are a bit… you know… close to the bone.’

‘Like what?’

‘See for yourself.’

Maddy shuffled back on the bench and rested the heels of her running shoes on the edge as she

scanned the sheet. ‘Well, OK. I see your point on the one where she asks about your scar. But you can’t blame her for being intrigued. Most people are, but they don’t ask.’  She turned to Esme. ‘So, have you?’

‘Have I what?’

‘Ever considered having plastic surgery?’

Esme gave a half-laugh and instinctively put her hand to her cheek. ‘You sound like Lucy.’

‘Your archivist friend in Shropshire?’

Esme nodded. ‘She was always on at me to do something about it. She even went as far as giving

me leaflets from specialist medical companies and suggesting I went for an assessment.’

‘And did you go?’

‘No.’

‘Freaked out by the thought of anaesthetics and scalpels, I bet. I’m sure I would be.’

‘Lucy would tell you it’s because I’d rather wear my scar as some sort of badge of shame.

Survivor’s guilt.’

Maddy cocked her head to one side. ‘And would Lucy have a point?’

Esme shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’ She folded her arms. ‘Look, it’s hardly something I’m going to

explore in public, in the pages of a glossy magazine, is it?’

‘No, of course not. Strike that one, then.’ She looked back down at the list. ‘OK, so I’m guessing

you’re unlikely to answer anything with a romantic connotation, like, do you see yourself finding love again?’

‘Too true. Mind you, if Aiden Turner and I become an item while he was filming the latest series

of Poldark a bit further down the coast, I promise I’ll invite Melissa to the wedding.’

‘You can forget that,’ Maddy said. ‘You won’t get a look in if I get to him first.’

Esme laughed and gestured towards the sheet of paper. ‘You see my problem, though?’

‘I’m sure you don’t have to answer any questions you don’t want to and there must be something

here you can answer.’ Maddy scanned the list. ‘What about this. What drew you into the world of solving mysteries? That’s pretty harmless, isn’t it?’

‘Is it? It’s a bit of a loaded question, though, isn’t it?’

‘Esme. I’m sure you’re reading too much into it.’

 ‘Am I?’ Esme rubbed her finger down her scar.

‘OK, so we know that you ended up doing genealogy to get you away from investigative

journalism after what happened to Tim – well, and you, of course – but you don’t need to go into that. Just say how you love researching people’s family history, breaking down brick walls and all that stuff.’

‘You don’t think, what do you consider is your greatest regret is significant?’

‘No, I don’t. How could it be? She doesn’t know the circumstances. And you don’t have to tell

her.’

‘I’m not too keen on the next question after that, either.’

Maddy frowned and looked back at the page. ‘Where does this inner strength and courage come

from enabling you to go into some sinister and dangerous situations and your drive to get the answers?’ She gave a half-laugh. ‘Well, I can answer that. Because you have an inbuilt ability to completely ignore advice from someone who can see…’

‘No I don’t!’

‘Really?’ Maddy raised her eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion.

‘You’re making me out to be reckless. I’m not.’

‘I’m sure you don’t think you are. But once you’re got the bit between your teeth, trying to slow

you down is like wrestling with a tiger.’

Esme sighed. ‘You’d get on well with my sister. Anything she says about me always begins, The

trouble with Esme...’

‘Look,’ Maddy said, dropping the sheet on her lap. ‘I get it, OK? You see the light at the end of the

tunnel and you go for it.’ She gave Esme a sideways glance. ‘Even if it does turn out to be a train coming the other way.’

Esme jabbed Maddy with her elbow, grinning despite herself. ‘Very funny. So, that’s going to be

my answer to that one, is it? I get so obsessed with my mission, I’m oblivious to the dangers all around me, even if someone like yourself points them out? Hardly presents me as a responsible researcher, does it? That’s not likely to fit with this idea of yours that this interview will be good for business.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. Depends on the client. Then again, you may be right.’

Esme wriggled on her seat and shoved her hands deep into her pockets. ‘OK, so remind me what

else this woman wants to know. I’m still not convinced yet that there’s a single one I can answer.’

Maddy read on. ‘This one’s quite a good compromise — personal but not too personal, if you

know what I mean. Have you discovered anything in your own family history that would be book-worthy?’

‘I would have thought that my sister’s secrets and everything I had to do to uncover them are

book-worthy enough for her readers.’

‘Yes, but she already knows about that, as does everyone else who read the papers at the time. I

expect she’s keen to hear about any other skeletons in your ancestral cupboard.’

Esme shook her head. ‘Nothing quite so explosive as Elizabeth’s story. There’s the scandal of my

three times great grandfather and his mistress the housekeeper being had up for cruelty to my three times great grandmother. Another story that made the papers, though in 1856 rather than in recent times.’

‘She’d love that, I’m sure. Especially given how the story ended. In fact, you could embellish it a

bit. Turn it into a true crime.’

‘It was a true crime.’

‘I meant, a murder mystery.’

‘Maddy, you’re incorrigible! And you talk about me being obsessed.’

‘That’s completely different, as you well know.’ Maddy studied the sheet again. ‘Now, there must

be another one you can answer. Oh, here we go. A nice easy one for you. Is there a genealogical resource or repository that you have not had the opportunity to see that you would like to? That’s pretty innocuous.’

Esme stared across the harbour and watched a fisherman loading lobster pots on to his boat as she

considered. ‘I’d love to be let loose in somewhere like the National Archives strong room. Or better still, the Parliamentary archives. All those shelves stacked high with rolls of vellum. Can you imagine the smell of old documents? Fabulous.’

Maddy’s eyes misted over. ‘Oh, I know what you mean. It’d take you a life-time to see everything

though. Haven’t they got several million items?’

‘Got to be. And they’d have so much more if they’d not lost so much in the fire of 1834.’ She

glanced over Maddy’s shoulder. ‘So is that it?’

Maddy glanced down. ‘Last one. What are your plans for the future?’

Esme stood up and rubbed her hands together. ‘A cup of tea and to warm up in front of a roaring

fire are the only things on my agenda at the moment. I’m perished.’

‘Good plan,’ Maddy said, handing back the sheet of paper. ‘I’ll join you.’

As they walked back along the road up to the coastal path, Maddy said, ‘You haven’t told me

about this new investigation you’ve started.’

‘What new investigation?’

Maddy gave Esme a scathing look. ‘Come on, Esme. I can always tell when something’s brewing

in that head of yours. You have a certain look about you.’

‘Do I, indeed?’ Esme said, laughing. She tapped the side of her nose with her finger. ‘All in good

time, my friend,’ she said, linking her arm in Maddy’s. ‘All in good time.’

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