He waited for an hour. The rain had hammered down on the windscreen throughout, obscuring his presence from inquisitive eyes. She had not left the house. He turned his phone over and over in his hand, knowing that he should leave. His job here was done yet still he hesitated. Just one glimpse of her face, that was all he had wanted, just a chance to know for sure that it was her who had gone inside.
As the tail lights disappeared around the corner Karen rose from her hard chair, stiff from sitting still for so long. She descended to the hallway, the light from the kitchen hurting her eyes. Replacing the knife in the block she filled the kettle, hearing her mother’s voice as water splashed against the lime-scale encrusted element: ‘Nice cup of tea, that will help.’ If only solutions could be so simple.
Mother had warned her that he was back in town, she had known this day would come. The face that stared back at her from the window above the sink was etched with the scars from their last encounter. He had told her then that, whatever it took, he would find her and finish the job. She did not doubt his resolve.
It was Mother who found her the next morning, face down in a sea of congealed blood. Through bitter tears she told the police about her fears, that Karen had called her on the previous evening, convinced that her house was being watched. She confirmed that the stalker had driven away.
His landlady had heard him return. She had been watching television so could give the police a time, it was before Karen had made her call. When questioned he did not deny that he had been watching the house but he had left her alone, gone home and slept. The recorded signal from his phone confirmed that it had not been moved since his vouched for return.
The break in had been expertly done, the heavy rain washing away any evidence that might have been left outside. Neighbours had neither seen nor heard anything remiss, few had ventured outside on such a dark and inclement night.
In the absence of evidence they had no choice but to grant him custody of the child. Social Services would remain involved to ensure her welfare, but he was her father and had served his time. She did not know him and cried for her mama, her persistent wails reawakening his anger.
The first few times that the nursery reported her absence checks were swift, but each time she was found with him, safe. Carefully strapped to the passenger seat of his delivery van she stared at the concerned strangers, silenced by sweeties, colourful workbooks and dashboard DVDs. ‘She wanted to come’, he claimed. He was breaking no laws.
It was a day after the completion of his parole that they disappeared. He handed in his notice, paid the rent due on his flat and moved out. With nursery closed for the summer it would be weeks before anyone reacted. Mother had long since given up trying to maintain contact, his hostility towards her had upset the child.
The owner of the holiday villa was happy not to publicise the drowning. Her father claimed that she must have crept out of bed in the night while he slept, clambered over the small fence and fallen in. She had loved playing in the pool, but could not swim without aids. The local police found no reason to think it was anything other than a tragic accident.
He returned then, resumed his life in another town, content now to move on. She had not, after all, been his child. Karen must have suspected as much but she had never said, not even when she walked out on their marriage. He had never told her of his vasectomy, carried out abroad before they met. He understood the benefits of secrets.