Cat rang her at once. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I thought I’d better prepare you. Hannah didn’t get the part – they rang half an hour ago. Unfortunately she was still up, so things are a bit fraught.’
‘Oh Lord, poor Hanny. I’m just leaving now.’
‘That isn’t quite all, but I’ll fill you in when you get home. Hannah doesn’t know.’
‘Know what? Honestly, I don’t want any more bad news this week.’
‘The trouble is, in one way this is great news.’
‘There’s Felix, I’d better go. See you soon, darling, drive safely.’
She started the car just as her phone rang again.
‘Si? How’s it going?’
‘Don’t ask. Nightmare week and it’s not over yet. Lunch on Sunday?’
Simon groaned. ‘Love to – can you just expect me if you see me? It may have gone quieter by then, we’re in the middle of all the immediate stuff, but if I know this sort of case we’ll be into needles and haystacks pretty soon.’
‘No ideas then?’
‘Plenty of those. It’s suspects I need . . . Gotta go . . . love to the rabble. By the way, has Judith said anything to you about her and Dad?’
‘No, but then I’ve hardly seen her. She’s staying over tonight so maybe . . . You?’
‘No idea, but something’s up.’
Cat opened the front door onto total silence. Wookie rushed to her giving tiny yelps of pleasure, but then returned to the sofa and his place curled up beside the cat Mephisto, from whom he was now inseparable. Cat found no one else downstairs, but heard a faint murmur from Felix’s room. She went up very quietly.
‘“. . . in case the Tiger should come to tea another day,”’ Judith’s low, slow, gentle reading-you-to-sleep voice said. ‘“But he never did.”’
Deep silence. Cat pushed the door. Judith was lying on Felix’s bed, the book she had just finished reading beside her, the little boy tucked into the crook of her arm, but then he stirred, flopped over onto his side and gave a deep sigh.
‘That’s unusual,’ Cat said in the kitchen.
‘Yes, but there’s been a certain amount of upset and he woke up, came down, wouldn’t go back, then couldn’t sleep . . . it’s taken four readings of The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I tried a move to The Gruffalo but for some reason that’s out of favour. Right – lasagne in the bottom oven, and salad in the fridge. Hannah wouldn’t eat anything, Sam had a bit. I thought I’d wait for you.’
‘Can you open this bottle of red? I’d better go up to Hannah.’
‘She’s asleep . . . the sort of deep sleep into which you escape when life has become unbearable. Not getting the part was bad but then Sam came home.’ Judith sat down at the kitchen table and closed her eyes.
‘You look exhausted. Here, drink this, and tell me.’
Judith reached for the glass. ‘Sam came home. The film people had been into his school, a few weeks ago –’
‘He didn’t say anything.’
‘No. They didn’t do any auditions or see anyone in particular. He said they just “hung about the place watching”. They went onto the sports field, into the recreation ground, some classes . . . nobody was told much about who they were or why they were there so Sam said everyone thought they were school inspectors. One of his friends said he’d been told they were there to assess the teachers not the pupils.’
Cat had put the food into the top oven. Now, she sat down with her own wine.
‘But they were film people?’
‘Film spies, as Sam put it. By the way, the other girl didn’t get the Christmas Carol role either. Apparently they’re starting again. Meanwhile, they want about twenty boys for Lord of the Flies and they found a good few of them at St Michael’s.’
‘Including Sam? Really? He’s not a natural actor. Still, being in a crowd isn’t exactly acting. How does he feel about it?’
‘Cock-a-hoop. And he isn’t one in the crowd, he would be one of the leads and the Head told Sam today they hope to talk to you this week.’
‘Sam? In a film? They’re taking the piss.’
Cat took a long drink. ‘And he came home crowing that he was going to be the lead, while Hannah came home . . .’
‘Wonderful. God, I should have been here, I shouldn’t have gone to choir.’
‘How do you work that one out? You’re hardly out every night and I think I‘m perfectly able to hold the coats by now. But poor Hannah really does mind very much.’
‘While Sam won’t give a toss.’
‘He’s not playing it like that. In fact, I gave him an earful and sent him up to bed early, he was winding her up so much. And I don’t think I have ever had to do that before.’
‘Forget everything.’ That’s what they said. ‘Forget everything.’
So I did.
But I didn’t forget how it feels. All these years, I remembered. But then again, I thought maybe I didn’t. Not actually remember. Not really.
I remembered all right.
Remembered pretty well.
Know that now.
Still, I’ve got my little reminders. Just in case.
They never knew about those. Nobody’s ever known.
My little reminders.
And now there’s another one.
Happy with that.
‘Simon . . .’
‘It’s an anniversary. I’m no good at them but this is different . . . Rachel?’
He knew what the silence was about and it was not because she didn’t want to have the dinner, didn’t want to be with him, didn’t want to remember. It was Kenneth. Always.
‘He had an awful attack last night – I had to give him oxygen, he was in such a panic.’
‘How is he today?’
‘Better. He’s slept a lot. And much better this aftenoon – he’s had something to eat and he’s watching the Test match. God bless satellite television or he wouldn’t have half the pleasure he can still get.’
‘And we’re winning.’
‘Are we? Oh yes, he said something about that.’
‘Perhaps you can get the carer who likes cricket to come and sit with him.’
‘Tim. I can try.’
‘Otherwise, when do we see each other, how do we see each other?’
‘How’s the inquiry?’
‘A long progression of detail, most of which will turn out to be insignificant and irrelevant and one iota of which will be vital.’
‘So can you get away for an evening?’
‘Yup. I’m always on the phone, but you know . . . I’m not worried. I wouldn’t risk it if I was.’
‘Our anniversary . . . I remember sitting on that sofa and shaking so much the ice in my glass chinked.’
Green velvet sofa. The picture of it, of Rachel sitting there, of her face as she turned towards him. It wasn’t a question of remembering, because he never forgot.
He had never been in love with any woman for this length of time, though he had been linked to Diana for longer. But linked was not love. Even Freya Graffham . . .
He stopped himself. About Freya he would never know.
‘Shall I pick you up?’
‘Of course not. Simon, I have to see if I can organise this first.’
‘But you want to?’
‘Yes,’ she said.
Simon felt wretched after he had put down the phone. Why couldn’t anything be straightforward? Why had he never met someone, fallen in love with them, married, settled down, had a family, in the usual uncomplicated way? He walked along the corridor to the CID room feeling sorry for himself.
It was late. The team were at computers, trawling through data, trying to find matches for this, links with that, to marry the forensic detail of X with Y. It was thankless and they all knew there would be days, weeks of it. But he was confident. The murder had been some sort of signal, sent out by a man with a grudge, almost certainly not a personal one, against elderly women. This was not an opportunist. This was a psychopath. A sicko, as they all said. He had left no prints, not the tiniest fragment of his clothing or cell of his person. He knew the score. Knew just how careful he had to be.
And, somewhere, he was now gloating, going over the night in his mind, loving every detail, squeezing the last pip of satisfaction out of what he remembered seeing, hearing, touching.
It was the hardest sort of murderer to pin down, the sort with whom Serrailler had always felt an odd personal connection, as if this was between the two of them.
‘Nobody work beyond midnight. This is going to be slow and relentless so don’t blow all your energy now. Go home, switch off, eat, play Scrabble.’
‘Euphemism,’ Simon said.
‘MUM, YOU CAN’T stay here by yourself. I’ll be worried out of my mind.’
‘I’ll be perfectly all right. Of course I will. You heard what the policewoman said – they’ll be keeping a close eye on us.’
‘Yes, and what does that mean? Swanning past in a patrol car twice a night instead of once.’
‘It’ll be more than that, I’m sure it will.’
‘You’ve had a terrible shock.’
‘I have. But I’m better now. And I think I should stay because I owe it to her – to Elinor.’
‘How do you make that out?’
Rosemary shook her head.
‘And a couple of other people have moved out – I overheard –’
‘Yes, well, that’s up to them, but you can’t live your life running away.’
‘Well, if you’re determined, why don’t I come and stay with you for a few nights?’
‘No thank you, Karen.’
‘Mum . . .’
‘Your place is with Harry and the boys. I’ve got a phone, the police have given us all a special number, and you’re not far away for goodness’ sake. I don’t want to talk about it any more. Now, I’d like to go into the town, maybe have a sandwich lunch? I need to buy some more hooks from Frobisher’s – can you see where these curtains are sagging? I thought at the time I hadn’t got enough.’
‘Do you feel up to that?’
‘Of course I feel up to it. Cheer us both up. You don’t have to fetch the boys until half three, you can drop me back here just before.’
Karen still hesitated. Harry had said before going off on a job that she should leave the decision to her mother. ‘She’s not a child, she’s perfectly capable of deciding what she thinks is best for her. She knows if she wants to stop here for a night or so she’ll be welcome, but personally I think she’s best facing it right away. It’ll be much harder if she leaves it. Only don’t tell her that, let her make up her own mind.’
She looked at her mother. It was still on her face – horror, disbelief, sadness. The flesh seemed to have sunk down and there was a deadness in her eyes. Karen wanted simply to pick her up and carry her home, settle her on the sofa in front of the fire, with a cup of tea and a magazine, shelter her from the rest of life. She felt as if their roles had been suddenly reversed and Rosemary was the child now.
Her mother stood up. ‘I’ll go and powder my nose and get my coat. Then we can be off. All right, Karen?’
‘If you’re really sure?’
SOMETIMES HE JUST wandered, but tonight he knew which way he’d go. He couldn’t keep away. He had no feelings about any of it, just curiosity and a sort of disbelief. A woman had been in bed, safe as houses, fast asleep. Dead of night. Next thing, someone had got in, dragged her out of her bed, put her in a chair and strangled her.
Not in a story, not on the telly or at the pictures, not in a magazine. In Lafferton. His own place. On his beat.
Nobby shook his head.
He’d found a leather jerkin in a skip, together with a thick fleece and a wooden bench. He left the bench in a ditch to pick up on the way back but the leather jerkin was practically new and he could wear the fleece and then put the jerkin over it. Warm as toast. Not that he worried about the cold. Summer bothered him a whole lot more. Plus it was light till nine or half past in summer, not so easy to hide.
He slipped alongside the hedge and through it onto the path. Quiet. Cold. Starry sky. He liked skies. He tried to work out the star names. He could do the Bear. But then there was so much stuff in the way now, satellites and that, confusing you.
He went along the path to the back where the fence began. Couldn’t climb that, no chance.
He walked a bit further then between the houses. A shadow. No one. No lights. No cars. Not even a cat racing in front of him. But there was the red-and-white tape all round the one bungalow and a couple of lamps on, big moon-faced battery jobs.
Nobby stopped very still.
There’d be a copper on duty.
He inched his way round until he had a good view of the garden, the path, the front door, the windows. No, no copper. Just the tape. Probably done with the place by now, crawled all over it, got everything. What else was there? No point a copper standing there all night.
And then a light was shining right into his eyes.
‘Stand there, don’t move.’
He wasn’t moving.
A shout. ‘Here.’ Feet pounding towards them.
‘I said, don’t move.’
Hands on him, bending his arm behind his back.
‘Hey, you –’
‘Save it. Now walk.’
Nobby walked because he had no choice. He said nothing because what was there to say? He’d been stopped and questioned enough times. They just didn’t like him, though a few were all right, gave him a lift home, told him to mind himself, sometimes even bought him a cup of tea from the van. Once, they’d bought him fish and chips. But, usually they saw him, didn’t like him being where he was, pulled him in, told him off, sent him home.
So he wasn’t bothered.
They opened the patrol-car door and pushed his head down, as if he didn’t know the form.
‘All right . . .’ Nobby said.