In this week’s blog – Crime Cymru member R.G. Adams gives us an excerpt from her debut novel Allegation. (Harrowing, moving and written with a fearsome authenticity, the story forces the reader to question where the truth lies’ Daily Mail)
My debut novel, Allegation, features newly qualified social worker Kit Goddard, who has been allocated to work with the Coopers, an affluent family in the small Welsh town of Sandbeach. Kit’s job is to assess the risk that Matt Cooper may present to his own three children after historical sexual assault allegations have emerged against him, emanating from two women, and dating back to their teenage years. In doing so, Kit finds herself in two minds about handsome, charming Matt. Is he a devoted dad or a manipulative predator? And why does his father, successful businessman Len Cooper, wield such power and influence with Kit’s employers, Sandbeach Council?
In this excerpt, Kit has just finished a visit to Matt at his parents’ home, where he has been bailed to reside while investigations are ongoing. The visit has revealed a vulnerable, sensitive side to Matt, and Kit finds that she is warming to him in spite of herself. As she leaves the house, Kit lingers over some photos in the hallway that raise new questions in her mind, before running into Matt’s parents.
Matt had moved out of the room and was waiting for her. As Kit followed him towards the front door, she saw a large display of photos that climbed up the wall to the side of the staircase, ending in a beautiful studio portrait of Matt and Annie with the three children.
‘It’s lovely, isn’t it?’ Matt’s tone was warm again as he took a few steps back to stand beside her.
‘Yes, it is.’ It really was stunning, with Matt and Annie looking photogenic behind Lucy’s chair and Chloe and Cameron on either side of their sister, one blond head leaning on each of her shoulders, all three of them giggling over a shared joke. There were other family groups too, showing Matt at various ages along with a younger girl and a couple who must be the infamous Len Cooper and his wife. The photos of the girl seemed to peter out in her late teens, but there was photo after photo of Matt – holding up sporting trophies, graduating, relaxing on beaches and by swimming pools, and marrying Annie. The couple looked so outright beautiful in their wedding photos that Kit found it hard to stop staring at them. A row of smaller pictures had been cut out of newspapers; they showed Matt and Annie in full evening dress, snapped as they arrived at various functions and clapping in the front row at local award ceremonies and prize-givings.
Matt saw her looking at the newspaper cuttings. ‘My mother, I’m afraid,’ he said, with a sheepish smile. ‘She’s rather proud of us. It’s a bit embarrassing really.’
Kit’s eyes moved across the display and she caught sight of another framed newspaper cutting. This one showed Len Cooper, in a suit and tie, cutting a ribbon that was stretched across the door of a building. He was surrounded by a crowd of people caught in the midst of a round of applause, one of them a portly middle-aged man wearing the mayoral chains. Something about the photo jarred in Kit’s mind. She knew Sandbeach like the back of her hand, so could see the photo had been taken from the far side of the bay, up high on the road that went out towards the west. The sea formed a gleaming backdrop in the lower part of the picture, only partially hidden by the ugly squat building Len Cooper was presumably opening. But the building itself wasn’t familiar to her at all. Then she remembered what Vernon had said about Len building a residential home for older people. It certainly had that institutional look about it, single-storey and nondescript, and she realised it must have been built in the last few years, while she’d been out at Cliffside. She scanned the cutting, but before she could draw close enough to read the print underneath, Matt was clearing his throat loudly and she saw that he had moved away and was holding the front door open.
The sound of crunching gravel filled the hallway. A dark maroon Mercedes swept across the drive and pulled up in front of the door. A man got out, instantly recognisable from the family photos. He was uninteresting to look at, with Matt’s lanky build and thick hair but none of his chiselling. He was dressed in nondescript casual trousers and a checked shirt. A small woman got out of the passenger side. She was wearing a black and white floral dress and sunglasses. Kit took in her slim build and glossy blow-dried hair and admired her expensive-looking black suede sandals. The whole effect was to make her look much younger than her husband, until the sun fell unkindly on the marionette lines that rucked up the skin of her lower face. Something about that face seemed familiar to Kit. Even under the thick make-up, it was obvious her skin wasn’t good. Kit could make out an uneven surface, a bumpy criss-cross over the cheeks and the slightly thickened nose – facial veins, she’d know them anywhere, through any amount of slap. Mrs Cooper was a drinker, Kit would have bet her job on it. Len Cooper locked the car and walked around to the door, and Kit waited, curious to see how this scene was going to play out.
‘Kit, this is my father, Len. And my mother, Jackie. This is Kit, the social worker.’
‘So it’s you we’ve got to thank for what’s happening to my family?’ Len Cooper spat. ‘Right, well, I’m glad to see you here, girl, because I’ve got a few things to say to you.’
Kit felt her confidence rise instantly in the face of this. Girl indeed.
‘If you’ve got something to tell me for my assessment, then yes, of course, that would be very helpful.’
‘I’ll tell you this for your assessment. I want my son back home with his family where he belongs. So, let’s hear what you are going to do about it.’
‘Your son is facing serious allegations. We can’t have him around his own children until we know he’s completely cleared.’
Len Cooper had moved close to her now, so close that she could see flecks of spit on his thin, pallid lips.
‘So, what you say goes, is it? Because of something that’s been said by some little slag? Let’s see how long she keeps her story up. You are going to be sorry you ever believed a word that came out of her filthy mouth.’
‘Dad, leave it.’ Matt was suddenly in between his father and Kit. He put a hand up to keep Len Cooper back and allow Kit out onto the drive. Jackie Cooper slipped past in the other direction, taking her husband’s arm on the way, ushering him into the house.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Matt said. ‘My parents are very upset, I’m sure you can understand why. He didn’t mean to scare you.’
‘He didn’t scare me.’
‘I’m glad he didn’t. Look, Kit, I know you can’t do what I want. I want you to promise it’s all going to be all right and of course you can’t. But for what it’s worth, I think you have a very difficult job and you do it very well.’
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Matt Cooper’s hand moving upwards. She put her own out to meet it, thinking that he was going to shake hands. But his rose higher, as if he was going to touch somewhere around her shoulder. She looked at him, knowing that her face showed her surprise. His hand dropped immediately to his side.
‘Thank you again, Kit. Goodbye now.’ He stepped back and closed the door.