Sunday 24th December

‘Hello, Harriet.  Are you okay?’ June asked rather tentatively.  Considering how their last conversation had ended she was more than wary of her oldest daughter.

‘I’m okay mother, considering the circumstances.  I suppose you have still heard nothing from our Dad?’  she replied, at least this was straightforward, and she had dropped the sarcasm.

‘No, nothing.  He never even said goodbye the morning he left.  You know, the same day you went back up to Leeds, he just ate his breakfast, drunk his tea as normal, which considering the awful night we had the day before was strange in itself, but I just thought that that was his way of dealing with it.  You know, just acting as if everything was normal.  I was as shocked as anyone when I learned he had disappeared.’

‘God, what a mess.’ Harriet said. ‘What have the police said, do they think he will just come back home, or are they out there looking for him?’

‘Both I think.  But honestly I don’t know what to think.  I had no idea he was in any money trouble at all.  That was a real shock to me, I never suspected him of doing anything un-towards.’ June said, not quite honestly, because she had thought it strange that he was out so often in the evenings, but at the time she had put it out of her mind, and then she supposed, like most things you just get used to them and then stop even questioning them.  But actually she had never thought Phil would do anything really dishonest.

‘So what happens now?  Are we just supposed to wait until he turns up?  What are we doing for money?’ Harriet, practical if nothing else.

‘I honestly don’t know.  I have been spending money I had put by for buying Jane clothes with on her birthday in a month’s time.  I have no access to your father’s bank account. I don’t even know which bank he is with.  He used to handle the money and pay all the bills, and if I needed money for housekeeping or anything I had to ask him for it.  He never let me know there was any sort of problem.’

‘Well I suppose you should go into his office and speak to his partners and find out just where we stand.  Nothing has been proved against him yet, has it?  They can’t just let us starve.  It isn’t our fault he has run away.’  She was amazingly practical.  June hadn’t even thought of any of these things, she was still waiting for Phil to return and sort it all out.  Harriet was already thinking further down the line than that.

*  * *

“Where will all of this end I wonder?  I might even go to jail, I suppose.  That would be a miserable end I must say, but no more than I deserve.  One of the things people don’t realise is that although I was getting away with my deceptions and eventually misusing other people’s money for a few years I was never happy doing it.  I was almost waiting to be caught, and in fact the longer it went on the more miserable I became.  I knew I would be caught one day, though I always held out the ridiculous hope that I could turn things round and pay everyone back.  But things were just going from bad to worse, and I had to keep stealing more money to hide the other mistakes.  It was all a house of cards really, and any day it could have come tumbling down.  So, in a way, although everyone blamed June for my running away, it was just my way of bringing it all to a head.  I needed to get away, to think about my life, and what I wanted to do, about June and my marriage, or what might be left of it, but also about the crooked business.  I couldn’t face a few more years of shoring up my mistakes by even more reckless thefts and deceptions.  It was better this way.  At least it would soon be over.  I couldn’t quite believe no-one had found me yet.”

*  * *

And for a day or two it all seemed okay.  Harriet was just like she used to be before she went to Leeds, before the drugs and before she found out about their mother and Uncle Ted.  She even helped with preparing the dinner and washing-up, something she would never have stooped to a few months back.  And Jane’s mother was trying to be cheerful too, making an effort for the first time in days.  They even watched television together, and Harriet was just so nice, almost polite and really helpful, Jane started to believe they might have turned some sort of corner, that things might turn out alright.

But on the Tuesday night when the police came round, there was a glint, some spark in their eyes, and they just couldn’t keep it to themselves.

‘We think we know where Mr. Wilkinson might be, after all.’ The Sergeant smiled. ‘I am going there tomorrow with my Detective Inspector, and hope to apprehend him and bring him back for questioning.’

‘Where is he then?’ said June, with a tremor in her voice.

‘Confidential information I am afraid Mrs Wilkinson.’ as he tapped the side of his nose.  ‘And I cannot at present divulge that, especially to his spouse, as I am sure you understand, but by all accounts he is safe and well. I will let you know tomorrow how we get on.  I have to be off now, but rest assured this matter will soon be over.’

Well it would be of course for the police.  Another missing person found, and another crime cleared up no doubt.  But it suddenly hit them that this thing would just go on for them now for some time to come.  There would be some sort of trial, the whole money thing still to be sorted out, what would happen to the house, what would happen to their father come to that.  And then Harriet, what would she do?  Go back to Leeds or to London as she was always threatening.  And what of Jane?  Would she just go back to school as if nothing had happened?

*  * *

Harriet did try, when she went back home that final time, but it wasn’t easy.  She was still pissed at her mother for her part in their downfall.  In fact Harriet was sure June was totally to blame.  Her father would never have gone off like that if she hadn’t been screwing Uncle Ted, and even if he had been doing a few dodgy deals he might well have cleared it all up and managed to sort it all out somehow.  Anyway he was clever enough to have even carried on getting away with it if he had wanted to, and no-one would have been any the wiser.  Her mother had gone to pieces after her Dad went off, and someone had to start pulling it all back together again.  Jane was about as much use as her mother, so Harriet just naturally started to take over.  She felt she was the only person thinking straight at all.  She had to worry about money and stuff like that because her Dad wasn’t there to do that for them.  So, she insisted that her mother go and see Dad’s partners, which she very reluctantly did.  They assured her that though they were most worried about monies which appeared to be missing they would continue to pay his salary for the present.  They sent her to see the bank manager, who of course knew that Dad was missing, but did allow June to have access to some money so at least they wouldn’t starve.    And then that night the police sergeant told us they thought they knew where their Dad was and were going to collect him tomorrow, exactly a week after Harriet caught her mother.  At least now they might have some sort of resolution, some answers to the questions which were crowding her mind.