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Deuce-Chapter 1

 

Prologue

I recall that the day started as many other days had for Katrin Nielsen, and I watch it now like a movie reel unfurling in my mind…

 

Once she had seen Konrad off to his morning lessons, Katrin washed their breakfast dishes and tied her hair back to stop it blowing across her face on the short walk to the library, such as it was; a grand name for the single-room turf-roofed hut. She was looking forward to opening the new shipment of books that had arrived from Copenhagen the day before. The books would need to be covered and catalogued but that was a job she enjoyed.

 

She sniffed the air when she left her work to go home at lunchtime. Only ten of the new books had been processed. Katrin always stretched the job out to make the most of the brief respite from the regular daily chore of gutting fish from the night trawlers’ catches.

 

Konrad came racing up the path towards her before she reached their house. She loved the way he moved. Fourteen years old and all long limbs and awkwardness. He reminded her of someone she’d once known. A flicker of recognition that came and went like a lighthouse beam piercing the night.

 

“Mamma. Come. There’s a seal on the sand. It’s stranded.”

 

Katrin gathered her coat closer to her body and followed her son down the winding path to the small strip of beach that was only visible at low tide. A few of her neighbours were already there standing around the large mammal lying on its side.

 

“Is it ill?” she heard one of them ask.

 

Katrin moved closer until she could see the creature clearly. “No. It’s not ill. Seals do this from time to time. Haul out so they can rest, digest a big meal. She will rejoin the sea on the next incoming tide.”

 

Konrad was staring at her open-mouthed, as was her nearest neighbour, Lars. She looked past them, past the recumbent seal, to the waves beginning the cycle of return to the shore. Her mind left them there, reverberations in her head, the swell of the sea, frantic shouts, holding on and holding on, wet, cold, pulling and pushing, falling into darkness….

 

“Mamma!” A boy’s anxious face came into focus.

 

“What?”

 

“Are you okay? You said something now in a foreign language. About the seal.”

 

“It will be okay. It’s resting.”

 

As I turned away and walked back up the steep path, so many images rushed through my thoughts—faces, and one in particular. A name. Jay. Where was she? I had to get back to Jay and my baby. A small bundle in my arms, tiny fist curling and uncurling…and one thought gained prominence as I reached the cliff top…I am Charlotte Summersbridge.

 

 

 

 

Part One

Chapter One

 

The lane leading up to the house was little more than a farm track, deep ruts on either side of the strip of grass. Tess checked her satnav. The image on the screen clearly showed a turn into the unnamed lane. Her destination lay at the end of it, only thirty seconds away. She thought she’d heard the name of the cottage as Sea View, but the small wooden sign pointing up the lane read “Seal View.” Hoping the undercarriage of her car wouldn’t suffer, she maneuvered it slowly round the corner. No horrible scraping noises alerted her to possible damage.

 

When the reclusive Jay Reid agreed to see her, Tess had envisioned meeting in a London hotel. However, the retired tennis player’s business manager, Mo Farrell, made it clear Jay spent most weekends away from the city, and the winter months always found her sequestered on the lonely stretch of coastline near Hunstanton from Friday to Monday.

 

Had she taken up bird watching? Tess couldn’t think of much else to occupy anyone out here on the eastern edge of England. An edge that was receding further away from the continent each year as if the shoreline had a Brexit plan of its own.

 

Birds of the non-feathered variety were mainly what she hoped to ferret out on this visit. Jay Reid’s reputation for bedding young players on the tour had outweighed her achievements of winning two Grand Slam titles and briefly holding the number-one spot in the world rankings.

 

Getting her to name names wouldn’t be easy. No one had come forward in the twenty-three years since Jay’s retirement from the tour. The adage of “what happens on tour stays on tour” seemed to have held true. But with the revelations of, mainly male, abuse of power hitting the headlines every day, Tess wondered how long it would be before someone would indulge in a “kiss and tell” story from Jay’s past.

 

She had seen the photos, watched the videos. Jay Reid’s meteoric tennis career shone brightly for eight years, then crashed and burned. At twenty-seven years old, the British star seemed to have no barriers to continuing to play at a high level for many years to come.

 

With the expanse of North Sea shining in the distance, the cottage came into view when she rounded the last bend. The squat grey building looked like an extension of the landscape. Visiting on a sunny day made it less bleak, but Tess could imagine how desolate it would look on a windswept rainy day, which was likely most of the year on this coastline. She parked behind a battered-looking Land Rover—one of the old models, the green paintwork daubed with mud, giving it the look of an abandoned army vehicle. The gleaming chrome of the motorbike next to it looked more like the kind of transport Jay would use.

 

Tess grabbed her bag from the front seat and climbed out of her two-year-old Honda Civic. She did a quick inventory to make sure she had her camera, recorder, and notebook. Unnecessary, as she’d checked three times before leaving home early that morning. Walking past the Land Rover and the bike, she was greeted with an unexpected view of a well-tended garden, sloping down from a patio.

 

A woman came out of the open doors and stood looking at the view before turning to acknowledge Tess.

 

She hoped the shock didn’t show on her face. The photos she’d studied showed a tall, athletic figure with androgynous good looks. Jay Reid was only fifty years old. Surely she hadn’t shrunk so much or acquired so many lines on her face. Perhaps she had a drink or drugs problem.

 

The woman came closer. “Hi, we spoke on the phone. I’m Mo.”

 

“Oh. Of course.” Tess hoped her smile covered her initial reaction. She held out her hand, “Pleased to meet you.”

 

“Jay will be out in a few minutes.” Mo shook her hand with a strong grip. “I’ll leave you to it. You’ve got my number.” Nothing resembling a smile crossed her features, and she brushed past Tess after letting go of her hand.

 

The roar of the motorbike shattered another of her misjudgments since her arrival. She shook her head.

 

 

A flock of seagulls wheeled away from her line of sight. Whatever had attracted them to the shore below had no doubt been hoovered up in their greedy beaks. Jay glanced at the timer. Another ten minutes. She kept her legs moving. Spinning. An apt metaphor for her life, wheels turning, going nowhere.

 

The journalist would be here in half an hour. As soon as Jay had finally given Mo the go-ahead to tell the woman she would talk to her, Jay had had second thoughts. Did she really want to rake up the past? She had always been thankful her career ended before the advent of social media. A few paparazzi could be shaken off, but not now when seemingly everyone carried a mobile device capable of taking pictures and sending them out to the world. Her secrets would have been public knowledge in no time.

 

Fifty years old, half her life gone if she lived to a hundred. Half her life wasted. Why would anyone want to read about that? She started the five-minute cool-down and reminded herself she was doing it for Charley and the seals. Nothing else mattered. Her successes on the tennis courts, her conquests in bed, those were the moments the journalist would want her to talk about. But that wasn’t Jay’s over-riding passion any longer. It hadn’t been since she quit the circuit. The only thing that mattered, the one thing she had never publicly spoken of…the loss of the love of her life. Could she ever manage to explain what the world…her world…had lost when Charley and the rest of the research team disappeared into the depths of the North Sea?

 

Losing tennis matches had threatened at times to overwhelm her emotionally. But there was always another day, another game, and another chance to win. Losing Charley hit her harder than anything else she’d faced up to that point in her life. By the age of sixteen, she had already lost her parents to a car crash, and then four years later, her older brother to an oil-platform explosion only days after she won her first Grand Slam match. It was no wonder she held on tightly to what had been left to her—the baby she and Charley had planned to bring up together.

 

Mo called out from the kitchen, “I’m leaving now. The coffee pot’s set up. You just need to switch it on.”

 

“Thanks.” Jay stepped off the exercise bike and walked around the screen as Mo entered the conservatory. “I have time for a quick shower, don’t I?”

 

“Definitely. And don’t come any closer. You smell pretty ripe even from here.”

 

Jay flicked the towel at her. “Go, then. I’ll see you on Monday.”

 

“And play nice!” was Mo’s parting shot as she left.

 

“Don’t I always?” Jay muttered, heading for the shower.

 

 

“I never get tired of the view.”

 

Tess turned to face the speaker. Jay Reid in person. She could have stepped straight off a tennis court, dressed in shorts and a form-fitting T-shirt. If Tess hadn’t known her age, she would have thought Jay was closer to forty than fifty.

 

A small dog trotted out from behind Jay’s legs. Tess held out a hand for it to sniff. She wasn’t a dog person, but she knew this was a safe way to let the animal approach.

 

“He doesn’t bite.”

 

After a cursory sniff, the dog licked her fingers, then settled down under the wooden bench next to the conservatory door.

 

“He’s cute. What breed is he?’

 

“Boston terrier. Coffee?”

 

“Yes, thanks. Would you mind if I used your loo first?”

 

“No, of course not. On your right, past the kitchen.”

 

Tess’s first impressions proved wrong again. The conservatory, kitchen, and bathroom were all outfitted like an IKEA showroom. A quick peek into the sitting room revealed the aspect she’d expected: dark, authentic wooden beams not far above her head, and a stone fireplace at one end. For a moment, a strange feeling assaulted her. A sense she’d been here before. She’d never really believed in it, but it was a clear déjà-vu moment. Tess shook her head. She had never been to this part of the country in her life.

 

Jay had set out the coffee mugs on a table in the conservatory. Tess sat in the cushioned chair her host indicated. She hoped she was getting this first impression wrong as well. So far, the subject of her visit didn’t seem too thrilled to see her. None of the usual introductory pleasantries, asking about her journey, or even introducing herself. Obviously Tess knew who Jay was, and Jay knew she was coming. Still, it made her feel uncomfortable, off balance. Maybe that was the intention.

 

She helped herself to milk and a spoonful of sugar. The clatter of her spoon against the side of the mug brought the terrier back inside. He looked at the plate of digestive biscuits on the table, then up at Jay.

 

“No, Ritchie. They’re not for you.”

 

He seemed to understand and sat by Jay’s feet. She fondled his ears before reaching for her own mug. No milk or sugar for her. No wonder she looked trim for her age.

 

Tess had interviewed many people, some who were more willing to talk than others. She always got through in the end. But something about Jay Reid made her think this was going to be a particularly difficult task.

 

“When you’ve finished your drink, we’ll go down to the beach.”

 

“Okay.” She looked at her shoes. They were comfortable for walking, but she wished she wasn’t wearing a skirt. An October breeze off the North Sea wasn’t what she’d bargained for. But if walking would get Jay talking, then she would have to go with it.

 

 

The poor girl looked frozen by the time they walked back from the beach. So Jay led the way into the sitting room and got the fire started. It would take a few minutes for the flames to catch and start consuming the logs. Ritchie claimed his place by the hearth.

 

“Tea or coffee?” Jay would have offered something stronger, but Tess had a long drive ahead of her.

 

“Tea would be lovely, thanks.”

 

When Jay returned with the tray, Tess had set up her laptop. She moved it to one side of the low table to make room. With the tea poured and fire starting to crackle, Jay gave in to the inevitable purpose of the journalist’s visit.

 

Tess asked the usual questions about her early years. Talking about her parents didn’t get any easier with the passing of time. And she didn’t want to talk about Stewart. After deflecting those prompts, she moved on to the start of her tennis career. How she was self-taught, with her brother finally convinced it was the best way forward for her, after only two terms at university. They’d both learned the hard way that life was short. Her goal had been to play at Wimbledon, and she couldn’t believe her luck when she got a wild card into the tournament after only her first year on the tour. Two semi-final finishes had brought her to the attention of the higher echelons of the tennis world.

 

“You’ve seen the tapes, I guess.”

 

Tess nodded eagerly.

 

Jay didn’t need a visual reminder of that day. Her first win…and on the fabled grass of Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The only thing she expected to take away from the tournament was a coveted green-and-purple branded towel. Since she was a wild-card entrant the crowd didn’t expect much from her either. Until she reached the fourth round…then the semi-final…and the final. Virginia Wade’s 1977 win was a faint memory in the minds of even the most ardent British tennis fans.

 

Jay won the toss and let her opponent serve. Why? A question that was asked many times during the first set. Games went with serve for the first five, then she was broken and lost the first set 6–2.

 

Her opponent won the first game off her in the second set. Jay returned to her seat aware that the crowd was with her all the way now. She was sure to lose, but she was all theirs, British through and through. It was inconceivable that she could win. She looked up from behind her towel and smiled. The cameras picked up that smile, and commentators remarked how relaxed she looked considering the tremendous pressure she was under.

 

Jay led the way out for the next set, and the crowd had to be told to be quiet as her opponent prepared to serve. From then on, Jay outplayed her, frustrated her at every hard-won point until serious errors took their toll. So it finished with scores in her favour at 2–6, 6–1, 6–0. The spectators couldn’t believe it. They had watched her demolish the highest-ranked player in the tournament with seeming ease in the last two sets.

 

When she saw the video of the match a few days later, the cringe-making remarks of the commentators were embarrassing. They sounded almost upset, apologetic even, that she’d won.

 

Tess looked up from her laptop. “There was a pitch invasion when you won, wasn’t there?”

 

“I suppose you could call it that. Totally flummoxed the officials. They were gearing up for the usual sedate ceremony. I certainly didn’t expect to be carried around the court by a group of well-dressed toffs chanting, ‘We are the champions’. The Duchess of Kent, of course, didn’t let it fluster her.”

 

“What did she say to you?”

 

“I really don’t remember. ‘Well played’, or something to that effect.”

 

The girl’s next comments shouldn’t have come as a surprise. She had obviously researched Jay’s career thoroughly before coming to see her.

 

“Your brother and his girlfriend were in the players’ box. That must have meant a lot to you.”

 

“His girlfriend? Oh, you mean Charley.” Jay struggled to keep her emotions in check. “Yes, it meant a lot that they were there that day.” She stood and walked over to the window. “Looks like a storm front’s moving in. You might want to leave now to get back onto the main road before it hits.”

 

 

Tess drove away, more questions than answers seething through her thoughts. The alleged storm didn’t materialise until she had reached Norwich and parked in the pub car park. As she suspected, Jay had used the weather as an excuse to get rid of her. When she reached her room, Tess texted Alice to let her know she was staying overnight and could FaceTime with her when she got home from work.

 

The Wi-Fi was good enough to let her do some Internet searching, and the first name she typed in was Stewart Reid. She already knew his was one of the bodies not recovered after the Piper Alpha platform explosion. Just three days after seeing his sister win the Women’s Wimbledon final. Further searches led to a brief bio of the petroleum engineer and the fact his only surviving relative was a Julie Ann Reid.

 

Tess could have kicked herself for not picking up on this before. When she’d googled Jay Reid initially, the information connected to that name and the Wikipedia entry only mentioned her tennis career.

 

Julie Ann Reid was also a common name so she got a lot of hits, but Tess found her easily enough now, listed as the managing director and senior consultant at CSC, a physical therapy clinic in London which helped injured athletes and armed-forces personnel get back on their feet, sometimes quite literally. J. A. Reid, BSc, MCSP, CSP, HSPC…an impressive list attesting to her professional qualifications. The full name of the business only appeared on the about us page on the website, causing another mental jolt for Tess. CSC stood for Charlotte Summersbridge Clinic.

 

Falling back onto the bed, Tess closed her eyes. It was almost too much to take in. When she had first seen the footage of that Wimbledon final, the camera had focused often on Stewart Reid and his companion between serves. Large sunglasses and a wide-brimmed straw hat obscured most of the woman’s face but something about her struck a chord. Now she knew why. Jay had called her Charley, but Tess had known her as Auntie Char.

 

 

Jay paced up and down, kicking at a loose stone on the patio. Tess Bailey-Roberts. No reason she should have recognised the name. But the face was all too familiar. She couldn’t blame Mo. Her friend and agent hadn’t known Charley or Stewart and she hadn’t met the girl, only arranged the meeting on the phone.

 

Taking her for a walk along the beach had helped assuage the tightness in her chest. Jay had succeeded in giving out little personal information apart from her involvement as a volunteer in the mammal-watch programme. But back in the cottage, answering questions and reliving her first Grand Slam win, she’d had to find an excuse to end the conversation.

 

The girl was no fool. She would have realised soon enough that Jay had wanted to get rid of her. Although Jay had agreed to meet up again in London the following week, she would ask Mo to cancel.

 

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