Tonight, it was dry but the temperature was near freezing. He scooted up the lane and in via the paddock gate, then stopped. There was a light on in the pony’s stable. The little grey pony was only ridden by Felix now, walked round the paddock on the leading rein. Hannah had grown out of him and lost interest, Sam had never ridden. But Peanuts was part of the family, and would be kept for the rest of his life.


Wookie came hurtling towards him from the stable, yelping and leaping the usual noisy welcome. Sam followed him into the stable, expecting to find his mother, filling the hay net or defrosting the tap yet again. Instead, Hannah was there alone, standing beside the pony with her face buried in his neck.


‘Ha, crybaby.’


She jumped but then bent her head again, saying something darkly into the hairy coat.


‘You still sulking?’


‘Go away.’


‘You’ve forgotten something.’


‘What?’


‘It goes, “Go away, I hate you”.’


‘Yes, well.’


Sam dropped his bag and sat down on the rickety stool. ‘Got the first week’s filming schedule.’


Silence.


‘On a day, off a day, on half a day, then –’


‘Shut up.’


‘Then we go on location, after the studio week. An island somewhere. Do you know who the adults are being played by?’


‘I don’t want to know . . . I just want to know why you’re being so horrible to me. Why are you?’


‘Because I like winding you up. That little key sticking out of your back . . .’


Hannah patted the grey pony, picked up the empty bucket and went out, ignoring her brother completely. Sam stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled.


Hannah turned, her face pale and brilliant in the light over the stable door. ‘What?’


‘You dare say anything.’


‘About what?’


‘You know. “Muuuummmmy, Sam’s being meeeeeean . . .”’


He expected her to scream, burst into tears, even hit out at him, but she just turned and walked quietly away towards the farmhouse, leaving Sam smouldering with pent-up frustration in the stable. He kicked the wooden half-door hard. If it had not been so cold, he might have stayed there.


Cat came out of her study as Hannah appeared, white-faced and miserable, but when she asked what was wrong, Hannah shrugged. ‘It’s freezing out there.’


‘Has Peanuts got his rug on?’


‘Yes. Can I do my homework in here?’


Usually Hannah worked in her room, occasionally in the den.


‘Yes, but I’m going to start supper.’


‘That’s OK.’


The side door banged and then Sam’s bag hit the hall floor. He passed the kitchen on his way upstairs, whistling softly, but Cat called to him. He stopped.


‘Homework?’


‘Natch.’


‘Supper in an hour.’


‘Isn’t it always?’


‘I beg your pardon?’


‘Sorry.’


‘Everything all right?’


‘Yup. Can I go now?’


Hannah started to get the books out of her bag and organise them on the table as soon as the conversation with Sam was over. Cat felt uneasy and anxious, fully aware of the permanent atmosphere of tension and conflict between the two of them, of Sam’s bullying moods and Hannah’s unhappiness, uncertain as to how best to handle it. Hannah was easier – plenty of attention, affection and a listening ear when required seemed to smooth most things over. But the abrupt change in Sam, from easy-going, good-natured boy to ill-tempered, rude adolescent required different skills. She was not sure she had them. Chris would have known, at least in part, how to cope with Sam, Simon had the knack. But Chris was dead and Simon absorbed either in work or in Rachel.


She could ask Judith, who was extremely good with both Hannah and Sam, but right now was not the time to enlist Judith in family problems. Cat guessed she had enough of her own.


She chopped up vegetables for a stir-fry, sliced chicken breast and put it on to cook, took jars and bottles from the cupboard, all the time attuned to Hannah, who was writing, underlining neatly, turning a page here and there, but somehow taut as a wire.


‘Please show me what to do. Please help me to get all this right,’ Cat said silently. She wished the film companies had never come near Lafferton. The quarrels and jealousies had started there, Hannah’s disappointment and unhappiness, Sam’s cockiness and jaunty attitude.


There was a sudden burst of crying from upstairs, then rapid footsteps. Then quiet. Felix had been unwell the previous day, and she had kept him off school today. He had a slight fever and had gone to sleep early, happy to be tucked up with a story tape, but when he felt ill he often had bad dreams.


She went upstairs. Sam was lying beside Felix on his bed, arm around him, singing him his Bob the Builder song. Felix’s eyes were closed, his body relaxed back into sleep.


Cat crept out. But she was, as so often, baffled by this other side of Sam, his tenderness and gentleness with his small brother, the way he took endless trouble to play with him, comfort him, read to him, take his side in any upset.


He was a different boy from the one who teased Hannah so sadistically. Two boys. Which was the real Sam?


Both.


Neither.


She went downstairs and opened a bottle of wine.


I think about it a lot. The reasons. The old reasons and the new reasons, because they’re not the same. The old reasons were Alan’s reasons, and to be perfectly honest with you, they all boiled down to one. Fun. Call that pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction, whatever. It was fun. But Alan doesn’t exist, does he? I exist. I’m still me. But I’m not him. I’m this new person. So my reasons are different. Some of them anyway.


At first I thought I started doing it again for fun. Just like him. Well, that’s a bit of it. I get a kick out of it. I get a buzz. So, yes – fun.


But there’s something else. I don’t know who I was. I know who I am. I’ve no real problem with that now, not after ten years. I know who I am. I don’t ever forget, give the wrong name, fill in a form with some of the old details. But I’ve begun to lose touch with who I was and I can’t cope with it. I can’t go back, ever, and any case, who is this person who would be going back? Not him. He doesn’t exist any more.


I can’t go back and I need to feel like him again, just sometimes. Like who I was. Like Alan Keyes. Like who I AM. And the only way I can think of is to start the killings again. I feel better because I’ve found a way of getting back in touch. It’s like going to one of those mediums and finding someone you were really close to and who’d died. Only they hadn’t died altogether.


Apparently.


Alan Keyes is dead. But when I went into that first bungalow, I met him. And that was when I got a great wave of relief. Because if he still existed, I still exist. The person who is really me. Was really me. Shit.


I’ve worked out the difference now and why who I am can never be real. Not really, truly, completely real. And the reason is simple really, once you work it out.


It’s because Alan Keyes was born. He had a real flesh-and-blood mother who gave birth to him, and a real flesh-and-blood father. He was born. OK, so all that stuff has been rubbed out now. You won’t find his birth details on any register or on any certificate or even in any hospital records. But he was born. And I know it. I can be sure of it in my bones and beneath my skin.


But this other guy, this person I am now, he was never born. He was made up. Like a person in a story. He was invented by someone, doing their job in an office. All his details were invented. You’ll find him if you know where to look. You’ll find out where he was born, when, who his parents were, where they were living. It’s all there.


Only thing is, it’s all lies. He was never born. I was born. Alan Keyes was born. Well, of course we were born. That’s the only way you get into the world, isn’t it?


Only no. It isn’t.


Apparently.


It started to do my head in so badly that I got afraid none of it would stay there, afraid that I’d let something out.


The only way I knew to sort myself out was do something that would remind me of who I really was, who I used to be, who I am. Jesus. Which is it? All of them.


But when I walked into her bedroom, when I felt the flex in my hand, it was OK after all.


I said, ‘Hello, Alan.’


And then it was OK.


Thirty-nine


SATURDAY. HALF PAST six. Minus two. Hard little spits of hail. Serrailler was refilling his coffee mug, searching the biscuit tin in case the bottom of it would yield one last chocolate digestive. The harsh fluorescent strips made his office seem even bleaker, but at least it was warm. He could work with his jacket off.


He had a computer screen full of murder, none of it apparently relevant in the slightest to the killings in Lafferton. But just in case, just in case . . . a circle had been drawn around a twenty-mile radius of the sheltered housing complex and another, inner circle, of ten miles. Killers, more often than not, struck within this distance of their home territory, for a variety of reasons, most practical, a few psychological.


He set the coffee mug down and picked up his phone. He had barely spoken to Rachel since he had left her with the sumptuous hotel breakfast, though a couple of texts had indicated that she knew that the job came first, felt no resentment, bore no grudge. And the breakfast had been delicious.


He hoped she could talk to him. She would be in, keeping Kenneth company, making sure he was warm and as well as he could be in this weather, setting up an audio tape for him, preparing supper.


‘Guv?’


‘Come in, Steph. What’s up?’


‘Went to see Nobby Parks. God, what a place. How does he survive there? He’s got an ancient paraffin stove that stinks to high heaven, smokes like a tar factory – it’s lethal. And his shack is piled with the junk of ages.’


‘I know. He picks up stuff from skips and tips – might come in useful, he says. He’ll bury himself in it one of these days. So, I hope you read him the riot act about hanging about at night?’


‘Started to. But while I was talking to him, Kevin was nosying around. Found a reel of electrical flex hidden underneath a pile of old pillows.’


‘Oh hell.’


‘Yup.’


‘Sit down a minute. What’s your take on this, Steph – your honest take? If it had been anybody else, I‘d have had you go back there and bring him in.’


‘And I wouldn’t have waited for you to send us, guv. Only . . .’


‘Only this is Nobby Parks we’re talking about. Did the flex match?’


‘Yes. Green and yellow for earth. Nice half-full roll, the sort used by professional electricians, bought wholesale.’


‘The same then. What did he say?’


‘Said he got it off of a skip up at the sheltereds. Got a nice set of plastering tools and a lot of firewood as well. And some rolls of wallpaper. Want to see?’


‘He has an old cart he sometimes takes and fills it up with junk – and with useful stuff as well. So?’


‘Nobby Parks isn’t a killer, guv. I’d swear on it.’


‘So would I. I have.’


‘And it’s a reel of very commonly used electric flex.’


‘Did you bag it and bring it?’


‘Yes. He was quite happy about that so long as he got it back – alternatively, he said I could have it to keep for a fiver.’


‘Get it to forensics first thing Monday. It’s not worth an overtime call. Nothing else down there?’


‘No. Well . . . he’s got an ancient TV set up running off the mains. He knows all about the murders.’


‘That’s an offence and it’s another bloody life-threatener. We’ll have to take the TV off him.’


‘Guv.’


‘On Monday. Let him have his weekend of interesting and enriching programmes before we confiscate it and he gets fined and can’t pay and it goes to court . . . Bloody hell.’


‘I’m off from eight until Tuesday. We’re going to London to see We Will Rock You.’


‘All right for some . . . Go on, rock off, Sergeant.’


Steph closed the door, laughing.


But were they right to laugh about it and leave it? Nobby Parks, dippy old Nobby, one sandwich short, not the sharpest tool in, one brick less than a load.


One half-reel of electrical flex, yellow and green, for earth.


One nutter.


Simon wrote a long, careful list on his pad, mainly of one or two words. Underlined here, an asterisk there.


Nobby Parks.


Two elderly women.


Both strangled with new electrical flex.


Yellow and green, for earth.


The phone rang.


‘Guv? How’re you doin’?’


Hearing the voice of his former sergeant, Nathan Coates, gave him a big lift. Nathan had left the Lafferton force several years earlier, for Yorkshire and to rise to DI status. Simon heard from him far less than he would have liked, saw him rarely, but when the two of them spoke, the years between meant nothing. Simon could picture Nathan’s hair, sticking up like the bristles on a yard broom, and his cheerful-ugly face, which Cat had said always looked as if he’d fallen flat on a pavement from a great height. Nathan, ever-chirpy, ever-optimistic, ever-energetic, sometimes needing a restraining hand, a bit of steadying. But he was a fine copper, with the right instincts, the right priorities. Yorkshire had been lucky to get him, and they valued him accordingly.


‘DI Coates! How are you? Where are you? In this neck of the woods? God, I hope so, I could do with cheering up.’


‘Sorry, guv, up here. Oh, and – erm, I don’t take kindly to being down-ranked.’


‘To being . . .? Bloody hell, Nathan, you’re never a DCI? They wouldn’t be mad enough.’


‘Oi.’


‘That’s fantastic news. Well done. You see – it’s the early training that counts.’


‘So I always say. Is this OK for a minute or three or are you out somewhere?’


‘You’re kidding. In the office, and I’ll be here till late. You’ve heard why, no doubt.’


‘That’s what I’m ringing you about. I might have stumbled on something useful for you. If it is, and you need any more inside info, I can always come down.’


‘Tell me.’


‘One of our old DSs, chap called Roy Pickens – been here forever, retires later this year . . . well, he came into my office. He’d seen about your murders in the paper, and it rang a bell with him but he couldn’t think why, not straight away. So he dug about and then he found a reference and the case came back to him. A few years before I came up here, there was three murders on this patch, all of them of old ladies. They were linked by all sorts of stuff, but there’s a confidential file which has a detail only a few who were on the cases ever knew about. It never came up in the trial, was never made public. They was scared of copycats, and the info was restricted.’

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