Gerald Hanbury had been a High Court judge until the previous year, a man much respected for his coolness, his intelligence, balance and fairness, and feared for the way he came down on anyone not entirely respectful of the traditions and solemnities of the law. He was generous to counsel, never bullied juniors, was never patronising to witnesses and never tolerant of careless policemen. But there was a touch of distance, an austereness about him, which kept some people at arm’s length. They mistook it for disapproval and severity but Cat had soon discovered that neither was the case. John Lowther had been a very different chair of trustees of Imogen House, much warmer, but he had lacked the necessary degree of ruthlessness when required to take unpopular decisions. Lowther had resigned because he felt guilty that he had introduced Leo Fison as head of a new fund-raising sub-committee, though he had been supported by the entire body of Trustees, not one of whom had laid a speck of blame on him later, for Fison or what he had done. But John Lowther was a man of conscience and he had decided his own position was untenable.
Hanbury was altogether steelier and Cat had felt great distress over the decision to close Imogen House to inpatients. She had also felt downgraded and devalued, in spite of reassurances.
Now, Hanbury had asked her to have a drink, talk to him. She liked him, in spite of it all, and she knew that he had precious little alternative to the draconian measures he had had to take. If he had not moved fast, the financial situation had been bad enough to have precipitated complete closure.
Judge Hanbury had been widowed as a relatively young man and his wife had left him with two small sons. He had brought them up himself, lovingly but in a slightly austere way, and married again much later in life, a formidable fellow judge in her fifties, previously single. Judge Nancy Cutler was the scourge of incompetent barristers, muddled witnesses and any form of disorder in her court, but famous for her generosity to women defendants and plaintiffs, especially those treated harshly by police or press, and in particular those brave enough to stand up against rapists and brutal partners.
Cat had met her a couple of times at formal occasions. She and Hanbury made an elegant and distinguished couple.
It was Nancy who opened the door now.
I am a confident woman, Cat thought. Yes, on the whole that is true. I have a good medical degree, I have been a practising hospital doctor and GP, I am clinical director of a hospice, I have three children, I run a house, I have been up against a number of terrible situations and come through. I dress quite well, I take care with my appearance. But faced with this sort of woman, my self-confidence drains out through the soles of my feet and I stand here feeling a mess, stumbling over my words, more or less as I might if I were up before this woman on a charge.
‘Dr Deerbon, how nice to see you.’
She was tall with a good figure but was not over-thin. Her hair was held up in a chignon with two combs, her make-up was discreet but applied as if by a professional. She wore a taupe dress and jacket which had not been bought on the high street. And her smile was warm and genuine. Why had she waited until her fifties to marry? Career? Presumably.
But there was, Cat thought, a shadow of something about her face, an anxiety or a wariness. Then it was gone, and she was leading Cat into the surprisingly informal and homely sitting room, where a large ginger cat sat on a linen-covered sofa and opened its topaz eyes briefly and haughtily before recurling itself back to sleep.
‘My husband’s just taking a phone call. Can I get you a gin, a Martini, a glass of wine?’
Cat asked for wine. A bottle of chilled Sancerre appeared with the judge who came in briskly, apologising, and then, like many men who have no small talk, embarking on the reason Cat had come, the subject of the hospice.
‘I know how much you’ve put into Imogen House,’ he said, after the glasses were filled, ‘and I know how you prized the excellence of our inpatient wards. But it’s only because we’ve taken this big step that we can survive. None of which helps you, I know. You’ve lost half a job, you don’t altogether approve of the day-care-only model – and you deserve an apology.’
He had an imposing presence and he still spoke as if he had the full attention of a court. His voice was strong, measured and with the slightest hint of Edinburgh Scots. He wore a pale yellow cashmere sweater over a dark blue open-necked shirt, with dark blue cord trousers. A touch of the dandy, Cat thought.
‘Tell me what you feel now. Tell me if you think you can work happily in the new set-up, eventually at least.’
Cat told him. Nancy Cutler had gone out, but returned now and sat quietly listening and looking at Cat with complete attention. Her Honour Judge Cutler. And after an hour and two large glasses of wine, Cat felt that everything she had said had been taken on board and understood. She had the full confidence of the chair of trustees, which meant the whole board, and Hanbury had suggested she take some days out to visit other day-care hospices, to study how they worked in practice and see if Lafferton could not only learn from them but bring something new and some real improvements to the model.
‘We would pay,’ he said, ‘that goes without saying. These would be legitimate expenses – visits like that can only boost our profile, and I think they’d be of real interest to you.’
‘I agree. But I wouldn’t want my expenses. They’d be small and in our present precarious situation it would be wrong. Thank you for the suggestion though. I’ll start making some arrangements.’
He also approved of her plan to do a PhD.
‘When I retire,’ Nancy said, to a short laugh from her husband, ‘I’m going to forget all about the law and take another degree altogether.’
‘Medieval palaeography. I want to spend days and days with eleventh-century manuscripts.’
That follows, Cat thought as she left. A structured, disciplined study in which detail mattered, and also a rather rarefied one, completely detached from everyday life.
They were a compatible pair, complementing one another, and who doubtless enjoyed enriching and mainly intellectual conversations at dinner. There was obviously friendliness and affection between them and they seemed completely in tune. But love?
It was seven forty. Silke, the sweet German au pair she now shared with another family, was at the farmhouse, getting supper and doing bedtime with Felix. Since Molly left, Silke had become a reliable alternative.
Cat had parked in front of Simon’s building and walked round to the Hanburys’. Now, as she bent her head against the biting wind that was whipping down Cathedral Close, she saw that the lights were on in his flat. His car was parked next to her own but there was no other, which probably meant no Rachel, though she sent him a text all the same.
In? Am outside but no prob if busy.
Reply came back In. Cooking. Come up.
‘I’ve been living off bananas and cheese sarnies for too long. Sick of it.’
Cat looked into the heavy pan full of beef, vegetables, thick gravy, watched him pour a glass of red wine into it and stir it round. Her brother’s cooking was spasmodic, consisted of about four dishes, was never based on any recipe and never failed.
‘Love to. I’ll text Silke.’
‘Good, because I need to talk to you.’
They sat at one end of the long elm table, with candles and a bottle of burgundy, and thick fresh bread to dip into the casserole. Opposite Cat on the white wall, lit carefully in the way Simon always planned his picture lighting, was the drawing of their mother he had done just before she died. It was in a distressed heavy gold frame which might have drowned out the pencil and charcoal lines but somehow did nothing of the sort. Every time she saw it, Cat was hit both by its beauty and by the way he had caught Meriel’s warmth, the generosity of heart that had always been coupled with a slight austerity of expression. It also caught her innate toughness of character.
‘Leave that to me in your will?’
Simon smiled. ‘I wouldn’t let it go anywhere else.’ He cut the crusty bread and handed a slice to her on the point of the knife. ‘Hannah,’ he said. ‘Have you talked to her?’
Cat put her fork down, a faint nausea rising together with the memory of the night she had learned where her daughter had been found and what might have happened to her if she had not been.
‘The thing is, I’d talk to her but I think that now the dust has settled maybe it ought to come from someone else. What you’ve said will have been mixed up with all your own emotion about it. What I might say would be some of the same, and also like “Uncle Simon the copper, boring on”. She still might not take me quite seriously enough.’
‘Who else is there? I wouldn’t want to ask Judith or Dad at the moment . . .’
Simon shook his head and poured another glass of wine. Cat put her hand over her own glass.
‘Steph,’ he said, ‘Ben Vanek’s wife. If I took Hannah into the station and got Steph to sit with her in one of the interview rooms we use for sensitive cases – meaning, there’s a sofa and a pot plant – it would really get home. Steph’s good, she’d hit the right note, make her understand what could have happened and stress how serious it could have been. But she wouldn’t terrify her or make her feel as if she was some sort of young offender.’
‘God, poor Hanny.’
‘I know. But it might have been much poorer Hanny. I still can’t believe I was the one to drive by and that I actually turned my head and saw her. I could just as easily have roared off on the green light.’
Cat shivered. Since Hannah had run away she had shivered involuntarily quite often, even woke in the night shivering.
‘I’ll fix it up and you can bring her in – maybe one afternoon after school?’
‘All right. Thanks. One thing though . . . the best person to try and get Sam to see the error of his ways really is you. I can’t get through to him, Si, and I sometimes just don’t recognise him. I can put up with him being grouchy and monosyllabic, and I know how to snap him out of it, usually anyway. But he is being downright vile to Hannah. That’s the reason she left that night. God, think about it. A twelve-year-old doesn’t want to come back home but stands in the middle of town on her own on a bitterly cold night, frightened and distressed, because her fourteen-year-old brother is bullying her so badly. I feel as if I’m living out one of those awful stories in the tabloids when social services get brought in.’
‘Something’s going on and it’s not just adolescence. It can’t be.’
‘So find out what it is. And bring him up short, Si. This mustn’t ever happen again.’
‘The problem is I’m not sure when. The best thing would be if the weekend stays quiet. I can just drop in casually and take him out for an hour or so.’
‘He’s got a match on Saturday afternoon and it’s an away so he won’t be back till after seven.’
‘Sunday morning then, all other things being equal.’
‘Right . . . How’s Rachel?’
Her brother looked up, and at once she saw his expression blank as he pulled down the old, invisible portcullis.
‘I guess the job doesn’t give you much time with her either at the moment.’
‘No. Want some more of this?’
Cat shook her head. ‘I’ll have to get back after a quick coffee. Silke doesn’t stay overnight.’
Simon got up. Cat removed the plates. The coffee was made. They sat on the white sofa in his beautiful long sitting room, perfectly amicably, yet a hundred miles apart.
‘Have you got any further forward with these killings?’
‘A bit. Got some files to go through here.’ He pointed to the pile on the table.
‘It’s looking as if we just might have a breakthrough, which God knows we need.’
Cat finished her coffee. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’
Five minutes later she was driving out of the close. Rachel’s name had not been mentioned again.
AFTER CAT HAD gone Simon cleared the table, poured himself another black coffee and opened the large file Nathan had brought. He also opened his laptop and slid in the CD.
He knew what was coming but, in general, a detective is well used to seeing unpleasant sights, and he went through the photos carefully, examining each one in detail.
The images of three elderly women, dead in Yorkshire, could have come from the crime scenes at Duchess of Cornwall Close. The way the bodies, all of them wearing nightdresses, one a woollen cardigan on top, had been posed sitting in front of mirrors, the way they had been strangled, the yellow-and-green electrical flex . . . the women were different, but everything else was startlingly the same. He clicked through more photographs, close-ups, pictures of beds, doors, windows, wardrobes, dressing tables, mirrors, then of the women’s faces, necks, hands. And feet. Bare feet with freshly clipped toenails. He looked quickly through exterior shots of a complex of sheltered flats and bungalows, older than those in Lafferton but not dissimilar in layout or type.
The file contained the pathologist’s reports, SOCO reports, details of forensic analyses, dustings for prints. Then came the details of the trail that had led to Alan Keyes being arrested and charged – the result of a lucky break. Keyes had been caught on CCTV cutting through the town centre and had come just within range of the cameras at a bank, at three in the morning, after the last murder. No one else was about. The cameras captured only one or two random cars and a stray dog. CCTV on every building in the city centre, on the nights of the other murders, had been examined but he had obviously been careful to steer clear of them. His image was fuzzy but they had done their best with it and the press had gone to town. Soon after the lunchtime news, the calls had started to come in. Alan Frederick Keyes had been arrested that day.
At two in the morning Simon was reading the accounts of the trial in disbelief. The evidence against Keyes was solid. The press had had him hung, drawn and quartered well in advance.
And he had been acquitted.
After the full transcript of the trial, and the judge’s final remarks, the file came to an abrupt end. Someone had pencilled ‘Case closed’ on the last page. That was that.
Serrailler went to bed puzzled but buoyant. Find Alan Frederick Keyes and he’d find his own killer.
The following morning when he arrived in his office at eight o’clock, the photographs taken from Nobby Parks’s phone had been downloaded and sorted and were in a file on Simon’s computer. Forensics had eliminated a few obvious non-starters – blanks, flashes of brilliant light and nothing else, close-ups of brick walls, pictures of the road surface, a set of bus tyres and a patch of grass. These were in a side file.
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