During their thirty years of marriage, Rose Redfern has confided everything (well, nearly everything) to Michael, and is certain that he would never hide anything from her. That’s why it’s such a shock when, shortly before Rose and Michael are set to take a romantic trip to Venice, she receives strong evidence that he’s having an affair with a woman their daughters’ age. Rose feels emotionally unmoored, and her sense of betrayal swiftly turns vengeful. She stumbles across a stash of powerful barbiturates, previously used to medicate an epileptic dog, and wonders if she might not find a new use for them . . . But is Michael truly unfaithful to Rose, or is someone seeking to destroy the Redferns’ lives—and can that person be stopped before it’s too late? Night Visitor is a frighteningly plausible scenario of how secrets and jealousy can tear people apart.
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By Gillian White
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2001 Gillian White
All rights reserved.
'Oh no! Oh no! It's OK, baby, it's OK. I'm here, I'm here.'
The primitive sound came stealthily onto the silent fabric of night, a tug at the black material.
The Aura Epileptica.
Rose could recognize it now almost before it happened. The magnificent otterhound stirred on his bed in the corner of the room and Rose, so in tune, had already turned on the bedside light before the dog's limbs started their rictus dance, began their hellish tango with madness as his gentle brown eyes rolled back and spume flecked his hairy lips.
'Hang on, baby, hang on.'
These dire fits of Baggins' were mostly nocturnal, at four in the morning, the death hour, around the full moon, as if the tide filling the river, silvered by the lunar presence, were calling to the oldest souls. And this hound was an older soul, a wonderfully, marvellously older soul who knew his way well round this tiny earth. His illness seemed, to his loving owner, to be as awesome as it was horrible.
'It's all going to be OK. OK, baby, OK. I won't leave you.'
But by now the fits were as much of a ritual as rising at night to feed Rose's babies had been, the difference being that years ago she had woken to lime juice and Cadburys chocolate, whereas now, at nearly fifty, she preferred a snack of milk and cashew nuts. And now all that was required of her, instead of changing nappies and waiting for dawn with her boobs hanging out, was that she kneel on the floor beside her dog, whispering reassurances, stroking the gasping sides of the animal, waiting until the convulsions subsided and then helping Baggins downstairs to the kitchen to cope with the manic aftermath.
From there he could roam and pace for an hour, from backdoor to garden shed and back along a pitifully well-worn path, bumping, shivering and cowering, until his normal faculties returned.
But those faculties, once so keen—sight and smell and speed would gallop him over the hills and fields quite impervious to the human voice—were gradually being eroded by the ferocity of the fits.
Each time he recovered with a fraction missing. Homoeopathic cures wouldn't touch him.
By the time Baggins was five he could no longer find his way home and had to be rescued from sanctuaries and pounds. The local dog warden knew his name.
Once he turned up in a stranger's bedroom, covered in mud and doing an enviable Pavarotti. So Baggins was forced to stay on the lead and lost that precious, snuffling freedom.
His vision dimmed. He could no longer see to recover his sticks from muddy rivers and waterholes. Huge and heavy, he banged into lampposts and parked cars, denting bumpers.
And worst of all the drugs turned him old. They knocked him out. He hardly woke to go on his walks and collapsed straight to sleep on his return. He slept twenty hours out of twenty-four, but what was there left to dream about? He grew confused, dizzy, wobbly, and lay and snored and farted and twitched, and the fits increased and intensified because the drugs were making him weaker, so Rose decided to lay off the barbiturates and let nature take its course.
She did this gradually.
But then came the fatal night when Rose, an ordinary, decent woman with no stain on her character, committed the only crime she had ever knowingly carried out in her life. It was not premeditated, but it was serious. And, maybe because of her impeccable character, she got away with it scot-free.
The vet arrived in the early evening, after Baggins had suffered a cluster of fits lasting more than six hours.
He had had enough. He was exhausted.
The vet, a kindly, sexy man, went straight out to his Renault estate and, lifting the boot, rooted around for an ampoule of the dangerous drug Pentobarbitone. Rose and Michael watched in relief as the foaming Baggins with the crucified eyes suddenly slipped into perfect peace, as near to death as was possible.
'Thirty-six hours of perfect peace,' said the vet happily, viewing Baggins with pride before disappearing into the kitchen. 'His brain is now completely closed off and can no longer function normally, or abnormally as in poor Baggins' case.'
A sharp parp from the drive informed Rose of her mother's arrival. Dinah would be annoyed to find her habitual parking space blocked. Almost unable to reverse, but refusing to admit it, she displayed enormous resentment towards anyone who had the gall to take her precious position alongside the house.
Terrified of a scene with the vet, Rose shot out to inform her mother of the emergency situation. Dinah was Baggins' biggest fan and would be first to give way to anyone who was there on the dear dog's behalf.
Outside, in the drive, Rose caught sight of the boxes, some neatly stashed, some higgledy piggledy, and implements in the back of the Renault. The vet had already announced he had several calls to make, some out on the moor. It would take him hours; he probably wouldn't get home till ten. He had already phoned his wife.
With the relief of Baggins fresh in her mind, exhausted by the afternoon's hell, watching him suffer so cruelly, something must have snapped; she could explain her appalling behaviour in no other way.
She snatched a small box, already opened, with the brand name Pentobarbitone on the side. This would mean that Baggins' relief would, in future, lie in her hands. If she had the cure safe in the house she'd have no need to watch him writhe in agony while she waited for the vet to arrive. She was spurred on by the knowledge that in the boot of that car lay the answer to so much suffering.
She could stop Baggins' regular pills, which were turning him into a zombie, if she could find a way of administering just a few milligrams of this magic potion every time his fits merged together into a devastating cluster.
After a quick explanation to Dinah, Rose slipped back inside like the thief she was and dropped the box in the black bear umbrella stand. Immediately she'd done it she panicked. There would be an inquiry. The vet would surely remember how he had left his car outside her house, and he would recall the fact that she had left the room when she'd heard her mother arrive.
But equally well, her bad side whispered that if she denied any knowledge of the crime, how could they prove she was the culprit? He had other calls to make. Some in the dark. Might he not, unwittingly, nudge the box onto the road? Another client might nick it, or some passer-by, some addict ... her brain went round and round trying to get herself out of what might be a serious dilemma.
Scandal. Court proceedings. Accountant's wife and mother of two. Suspicion of drug addiction. But it was too late to go back.
She had committed a serious crime and she would have to live with it.
Later she hid the disgraceful box with the rest of Baggins' pills, which were now unnecessary.
It was, after all, an act of mercy.
Inside the box were five smaller boxes all crammed full of ampoules.
She didn't share her secret with Michael, nor did she discuss her decision to withdraw the tablets, because he was more disturbed by the fits than Rose had ever been. He preferred Baggins dozy and old—anything to avoid the horror of those hellish nightly contortions—which he mostly missed as he slept so soundly on his back with his mouth wide open. He loved his dog as much as his wife did, but felt the pills were essential. He was an obedient patient and did exactly what the good doctor ordered. He was meticulously punctual with his own medication; it rattled him if he was an hour late.
Rose continued to order and pay for the high doses of Phenobarb, which she hid. She bought a box of disposable syringes, the vet bills continued to arrive, Baggins had the occasional fit, but there were no more of those hideous clusters. If he started, she could stop him.
The first time Rose administered the drug she thought her heart would crash through her ribs, and her hands vibrated so they seemed to hum, as if there was a battery inside them.
The needle had to go intravenously. First, the vet had shaved a small patch on Baggins' foot, but Rose, undercover, couldn't afford to do that, nor could she squeamishly close her eyes or look away at the moment of entry.
This was Baggins' third fit of the day and, in the end, compassion drove her to ram the needle into his foot—he was completely unaware—and draw back the plastic tube. After the deed it slipped from her hand; her whole body was running with sweat.
Peace, perfect peace for Baggins. Enormous relief, and some pride, for Rose.
It was only a small deception. But for her to deceive Michael over anything at all was such an extraordinary event that, over time, the magnitude of the deed began to eat away at her. She never could keep her mouth shut. When Michael was fifty the girls threw a party; it was so secretive she was sworn to silence.
If she blabbed she would ruin everything.
She told him.
She just couldn't not.
If she sided against him in anything, no matter how small, that amounted to betrayal in her eyes. Apart from her secret smoking. So naturally the thought of either of them deceiving each other in anything so large as an extra-marital affair was so enormous she had never considered it.
Enough canine capers.
The first box of ampoules was a quarter empty, she daren't stop ordering the pills for fear of discovery—the vet had not only rung them up, but had come round the next morning to scour their garden—and over the next two years Rose's supply of barbiturates grew into a sizeable pharmacy of little black bottles, which she zipped away in a shroud of plastic in the oblong box under the bed where her wedding dress had been stashed for thirty years. Never touched, save by her. Never moved, save for hoovering.
Somehow she couldn't be sensible and allow the box to join the family relics in the attic. The cob-webbed attic with its fibreglass lining spelled the end of life for everything that went up there, like a hangman's hatch but the other way round. Seldom did anything consigned there see the light of day again. No, Rose liked the idea of keeping her wedding dress and all that it stood for living and breathing and near her, directly under her while she slept.
When Baggins died peacefully at the good age of eight, Rose and Michael were inconsolable. They would never forget him.
Oh yes, of course; she should have thrown the medicines away, but being so aware of their lethal effects she feared a child might find them. And if she'd flushed them down the loo some might float back, little white clues to her tiny treachery, and Michael would catch her out.
Eventually she forgot they were there.
A loyal, gentle, loving dog, how could they replace him? And to be fair, they were getting on, and another puppy might be too much to handle. Now was the time when Rose could sensibly confess her deception to Michael, but what was the point, and she soon forgot the little boxes of lethal liquid and stock of barbiturates scattering the white wedding veil; life goes on as it must. In time the memories faded of the hairy shape by the fire, the smell of river mud in the bedroom, the sandy leavings that stuck to the skirting boards, the wet nose marks on the window, the wicked wolfing of food off plates.
Sometimes some sense of Baggins would return, and then they would look sad and stare, and even call out loud when nobody else could hear, by the river, in moonlight, in new grass or in rain, 'Go carefully, angel.'
At that time she had no reason to suspect she would ever need those drugs again. But loss has to be coped with, and loss of a pet is no real comparison to loss of life's human soul mate. Swans have been known to die of grief.
Thank God she and Michael were both fit. With luck they had years ahead of them and Rose hoped she would die first.
He would probably let her.
Michael was such a decent, dependable man, happiest with a regular routine. He ate the same meals over and over, wore the same clothes till they wore out, paid his bills on the third of each month; he wasn't unpredictable. That's why his business had done so well. He was unlikely to be so reckless as to drop down dead with no advance warning.
He had been quite a catch at the time, but dangerous. For a start he was dreamy to look at and therefore a target for unscrupulous women. Tall, slender, cool, with a collarful of curling black hair. He was twenty-eight, well-off, ambitious and clever, with a dry wit that was often shocking.
'Michael is not a comfortable man,' Dinah had told her with caution. 'Rather too thrusting for my liking. Not like your father.'
Yes, there was a danger around him.
'This passion for self-destruction,' said Dinah. 'Where the hell does it come from?'
And in one sense her mother was right. Rose did have a destructive urge; it had been with her since early childhood. At five years old her terror of blindness forced her to take up the challenge, and for days she went round tapping with a stick and trying not to cheat by looking out from under her blindfold, practising just in case the worst happened. Perhaps she thought that facing the monster would take the terror away. It never worked, it made things worse.
Then it was death, and every night she shut herself in her toy cupboard, where the darkness was total and she could hear no sound save for her own frightened wimpers. But then came a loudness she hadn't expected as the air tore round her ears. All red-faced and furious she wet her knickers to prove to herself she was warm and alive. Words like 'grave' and 'coffin' filled her with a trembling horror. When the awful realization dawned that one day Mummy and Daddy would die, she refused to speak to them or acknowledge their presence in order to defend herself and show she could do without them.
Many times Rose was tempted to fling herself from great heights to put a stop to her vertigo. Maybe that's why she was drawn to Michael: she sensed some terrible drop.
But any fears about Michael had quickly been dispelled. He was faithful.
The thirty years they had been together meant that Rose could read Michael's mind; there was sometimes no need for talking. She knew his views about most things, politics and personalities, holidays and home furnishings. Her friends with more difficult men sometimes said they envied her, and she didn't deny it; she just nodded and said, 'I know, I've been lucky.'
'He listens to you,' they said, 'and that's unusual, a man who listens.'
And her house, mortgage paid, was warm and friendly; sunlight drifting off freshly washed drapes, sunbeds on the lawn, the kitchen with its Aga and smell of home baking, the bathroom with its fleecy towels and, up until quite recently, the sound of children's laughter.
Rose felt proud that her marriage had worked while so many around her had failed. This success was deeply fulfilling; her primitive warding off of danger, division, disruption and chaos. Her judgement had been sound. She had chosen her partner well, the best sort of father for her children, which, after all, is the point of it all. Daisy and Jessie both adored Michael. A hands-on father before they got stylish, he knew The Three Little Pigs by heart, he helped with the demands and the mess and let Rose sleep in on a Saturday.
But best of all Michael made her laugh, sometimes till she felt sick, her sides ached and her jaw felt bruised. He was the best of company, an easy man to love and to like, and so they shared a large circle of friends. People were attracted to Michael. Rose, she supposed, rather trailed in his wake. That was the way it had always been, and she saw no real harm in it.
'But you have no life of your own,' said Kate, married to a man who was never home, too involved in his work and his golf. In Rose's eyes their marriage was a sham; they passed like ships in the night on their way to their various activities, preferring the company of others. 'What if anything happened to Michael?' Kate asked in her sickly-sweet voice. 'What on earth would you do with yourself?'
Rose sometimes sensed other friends thought her a woman of narrow vision. That she should be a working wife. They said her degree had been wasted. She braced herself for the right defence.
'It doesn't worry me actually. I'm perfectly happy at home.' She felt she needed to expand as the look on Kate's face was unconvinced. 'Michael and I play tennis, go off for weekends, the theatre, and we enjoy being at home together, reading, sometimes gardening, listening to music, drinking, eating. Anyway, what's wrong with that?'
Excerpted from Night Visitor by Gillian White. Copyright © 2001 Gillian White. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A perfect little thriller, Night Visitor is a chilling story of jealousy and madness. How far will Rose, the apparently perfect wife and mother , go to keep control of her daughters and ensure the fidelity of her husband? Rose and her husband, Michael, embark on a long awaited romantic trip to Venice, but while there Michael falls desperately ill. Rose becomes his caregiver and the nightmare begins.