Sample text for Dying voices / Laura Wilson.


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Counter My name is Dodie Blackstock. Well, it's supposed to be Dorothy, but I hate it. And yes, it's those Blackstocks. Wolf Blackstock was my father. I'm the one who inherited all the money. My mother was his third wife. The one who was kidnapped.

I hate telling people. Sometimes — no, often — I lie. Because when they ask if I'm related, they expect me to say something like, "No, but I wish I had his money," and then we can talk about the kidnap and how weird that they never found her body, and that leads us on to the summer of 1976 and how hot it was. If you're about my age — I'm twenty-nine — I already know it was your best school holiday ever and that you went to the open-air pool every day and came back in the evening feeling as if the sun was inside you.

If I do tell the truth, I usually regret it. Because if you tell someone that your father was Wolf Blackstock and your mother was murdered by her kidnappers, you might just as well add, "And by the way, I'm seriously screwed up," because that'll be what they're thinking. I've had every sort of reaction, from total disbelief to a level of sympathy where they're almost ready to commit suicide on my behalf, and they've only known me five minutes. But the worst thing is the nice people, the ones who just say, "God, that must have been terrible." I just say, "Yeah, well..." and talk about something else. But it's always uncomfortable. It's as if people feel guilty because they asked or they'd made a joke about it or something. And because they're fascinated by the money, of course.

People used to ask all the time. I used to think about handing out flyers with my life story printed on them to save time. Father rich; mother kidnapped, body never found; university; the reason I actually work for a living instead of designing my own range of swimwear or prancing about in art galleries or whatever rich girls are supposed to do that passes for a job. Anyway, the life-story thing dropped off a bit because people were getting younger — well, they weren't, but you know what I mean. But last year, when my father died, it was all raked up in the obituaries and magazine articles and one of those TV programmes, so now everyone knows about it all over again.

I was eight when Mum was kidnapped. January 1976. The kidnappers wanted ten million pounds, but my father wouldn't pay. They dropped it to nine million, and then to eight million three months later, then seven, then two months after that they dropped it to six, before he agreed to part with a penny. You know the Pathé News videos they sell, one tape for each year? Well, if you get the one for 1976 you can see what happened. You'll find it in June, after the bit about the end of the Cod War. There's a man with fuzzy sideburns and a drip-dry shirt with a long pointy collar, crouching in some grass in front of a bush. The camera's a bit wobbly, and sometimes you catch sight of a bit of thatched roof poking up behind him.

At ten o'clock this evening, armed police stormed the cottage where kidnappers were said to be holding Susan Blackstock, wife of multi-millionaire property tycoon Wolf Blackstock, who was snatched from her car in January this year. Mr. Blackstock, one of the richest men in Britain, was asked for ten million pounds in exchange for the safe return of his wife. The kidnappers, who are thought to be politically motivated, have not yet received any money. In a covert operation, police marksmen surrounded this quiet Suffolk cottage but when they approached the house, the kidnappers fired on them. The police responded, and in the crossfire two policemen were injured and one man, thought to be the leader of the group, was killed. One of the officers, PC Timothy Corrigan, has subsequently died in hospital. Susan Blackstock was not in the house, and no traces of her have so far been found.

Then a voice-over will tell you that police arrested the third member of the gang at a house in Cricklewood, where items of women's clothing were discovered, but that despite a nationwide search, my mother's body was never found. Then it goes on to talk about record traffic jams to British coastal resorts and Dennis Howell being the Minister for Drought.

After that, half the journalists in the country must have descended on that village in Suffolk. One of the locals said it was like Gunfight at the OK Corral and a woman said she'd rung the police station when she heard the gunfire, and the sergeant said not to worry because the police were the ones doing the shooting. The other half of the journalists were doorstepping us, or that's what it felt like. We were down at Camoys Hall. That was my father's country house, which was where he lived most of the time and where I lived when I wasn't at school. It's got a great circle of gravel in front of it, made when the house was built so that carriages could turn round. I remember looking down at it from a top-floor window and not being able to see one speck of gravel, only the tops of journalists' heads. I spat, but nobody looked up.

Frankly, it would have been child's play to kidnap Mum from Camoys Hall, but she was taken from her car in London. My father wouldn't have dogs or guards or anything because he said he wouldn't be made a prisoner in his own house, so there were ordinary farm gates at the end of the driveway instead of electric ones. There was a notice saying PRIVATE PROPERTY, but the gates were usually open and anyone could have driven through them. Those journalists must have thought they'd died and gone to heaven, except that my father refused to talk to them, and they waited in front of the house every single day for almost three weeks while the search for Mum's body was going on. The reporters had vans, lighting, everything. By the end, there were blankets and even deckchairs. Most of the men had sunhats, and some of the women were lying on the brown grass of the front lawn with their tops rolled up, sunbathing. One of the newspapers ran a picture of them sitting around a picnic, playing cards. When they finally went, Joan, our housekeeper — actually she was a bit more than that, but I don't want to go into it now — and I tiptoed out of the front door to have a look and by the state of the grounds you'd have thought there'd been a garden party. Not a Buckingham Palace one, though. The following spring, our cook cut open one of the cabbages from the kitchen garden and found a used condom inside it.


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Mothers and daughters Fiction, Great Britain Fiction, Rich people Fiction