The Cellar(9)

By: Minette Walters

Yetunde bridled. ‘Isn’t that what I told the interviewer?’ she demanded. ‘Did you think I was lying?’

‘I’m simply demonstrating how easy it is for us to prove or disprove what people tell us, Mrs Songoli. For example, you said your sons went to their bedrooms when their father came home … but that isn’t true. We have Mr Songoli’s car on camera, passing the traffic lights two streets down at six thirty-seven that Wednesday evening, and Olubayo’s computer showing unbroken usage from five until just before midnight. I can even tell you what he was looking at.’

Olubayo was sitting next to Muna on the sofa, and she felt a shiver of alarm run through his body. It pleased her to have the police know he was a dirty boy as well as a liar. Muna had seen what he was watching when Yetunde ordered her to take a tray of food to his room – naked white ladies in strange positions – and, though she’d averted her gaze from Olubayo as she put the tray on the bed, she’d heard his animal grunts as he worked on himself. It had made her afraid that it wouldn’t be long before he tried to leak his filth into her the way his father did.

‘Abiola’s computer wasn’t used at all that day,’ the white continued, ‘yet his normal practice was to switch on at around four o’clock. Both boys’ hard drives show a habit of doing a half to one hour’s homework each night but neither followed that pattern on Wednesday. Do you have an explanation for that? Perhaps Olubayo can tell me.’

Ebuka spoke to his son in Hausa. Say nothing, boy. I will do the speaking for all of us. ‘Why do you take no account of our distress at the loss of our son?’ he demanded. ‘If my wife and I are confused about that evening, it’s because we haven’t slept since Abiola was taken from us. How can we remember details from a week ago when our hearts and minds are broken with grief?’

‘Most parents do, Mr Songoli. They agonise over everything said and done in the hours before a son or daughter goes missing. Even when they know the fault’s not theirs, they still feel guilt for what’s happened.’

‘I’ve already admitted my mistake in cancelling the car.’

The Inspector nodded before holding up two more photographs. ‘This is yours passing through the Crendell Avenue junction at six thirty-seven on Wednesday evening, and this’ – she held up the second – ‘is the same car driving through it in the opposite direction four and a half hours later. The time stamp says eleven seventeen. I believe you’re the only driver in the house, sir. Do you want to tell me where you were going so late on the night before you say Abiola vanished?’

From beneath lowered lids, Muna saw fear in Ebuka’s face and shock in Yetunde’s. Neither answered.

‘Mrs Songoli said she went to bed early and was asleep by ten thirty. You agreed with her – it’s one of the few details that isn’t in dispute – but you claimed you followed shortly afterwards and were in bed by eleven. And that’s not true, is it, sir? Where did you go? We’ll examine the footage from every camera within a ten-mile radius if we have to.’

It was Yetunde who spoke. You mustn’t answer, she whispered in Hausa. This white has set a trap for you but she can’t do anything if you refuse to speak. Phone your employer and ask him to send a solicitor.

Ebuka, paler than Muna had ever seen him, nodded. He left the room to make some calls and an hour later a man came to the house. He gave his name as Jeremy Broadstone and showed no fear of the Inspector when he accused her of trampling on his clients’ rights. He ordered her and her colleagues from the room, and Muna was frightened by the power he had to make them leave when she heard the sound of tyres on the gravel outside. She feared the police had gone for good, and it caused her to dislike Jeremy Broadstone.

He was white and thin and beaky-nosed, and she thought him untrustworthy. He lowered himself into a chair without invitation and tapped his watch. ‘We have limited time. I’m here because your employer, John Ndiko, asked me to come but I can’t help you unless you’re honest with me, Mr Songoli. Why do the police think you’re involved in your son’s disappearance? What cause have you given them for suspicion?’

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