Those of you who read my debut satirical thriller Life Without Me, will remember Tony. For those of you who didn’t, Tony was an enigmatic broody lawyer with a dark past and a rather unorthodox set of moral values. He was my heroine Georgie’s rival on a professional level and her lover on a personal one. He was also a key player in the storyline, operating behind closed doors with incisive efficacy.
He may have vanished from the pages of Life Without Me, but he did not fall off the face of the earth. He makes a return in The End of the Road as one of its six central characters. Over the next six days I will introduce you to all of them and share short extracts about them.
Let’s start with Tony:
He woke up with wet sand in his mouth. It was full of hard quartz-like grains that he ground between his teeth but was unable to spit them out. He had no saliva in his throat. It was dry and burning. Tony was being consumed by a murderous thirst. He lay still for a while, his face down and his cheek pressed into the sand. He seemed unable to find his limbs. They had to be somewhere, in the usual place where legs and arms normally are, but he could not feel them. Panic stricken, he thrust his torso to and fro until he dislodged something heavy from his back. It rolled to one side – a huge bulk of bone-white driftwood to which Tony was attached with his belt. He could not remember when and why he might have tied himself to it.
He unbuckled his belt and freed himself from the weight of the flotsam. He scanned the horizon. He was alone on a vast stretch of golden beach. He couldn’t remember how he got there. The last thing he did remember was when he and his fellow refugees had been told that the ferry had been redirected towards Antwerp due to heavy bombardment of the French coast. There were very few people on the ferry and the vessel had been traversing the English Channel in total darkness so as not to attract enemy planes or submarines. It had been a surreal experience. It had seemed like they were floating in space, surrounded only by distant stars.
They must have been detected and the ferry taken out by a missile. Tony had survived.
He got to his feet. They felt rubbery. He was cold, his clothes heavy and wet. He couldn’t have been lying here for long. He began to stagger ahead, alongside the coastline. Water squelched in his shoes, but he knew it would be unwise to go barefoot.
He shouted for help, but his words were snatched by the wind blowing from the direction of the sea. He kept going, if only to keep warm. Ahead he saw a mass of something dark and tangled. He picked up pace. As he approached, he became aware that it was a person covered with seaweed, sprawled on the sand, facing up.
“Hey! Hello!” he called out and ran towards the figure.
The man – for it was a man – was dead. Despite his bloated, bruised face, Tony recognised the bald man from the lorry and his tattooed knuckles. He was still looking up – a steady, unmoving gaze, but there was no engagement with life. It seemed like the man had never lowered his gaze, not even in his final hour. Crabs were congregating around his cold body. This man had been Tony’s travelling companion and though he had not spoken one word to him or anyone else, he deserved some dignity. Tony went down on his knees and started digging. It felt as if he was a boy playing on the beach, burying another boy in the sand, for fun. It felt dreamlike. Only when Tony covered the man’s face with sand, did the sensation disappear. The man had no need for seeing or for breathing, and that wasn’t the same as in his boyhood beach games.