A large posse of uniform, plus added CID presence, had come out of the pub door and from a side alley as if someone had waved a wand. The men had been surrounded and handcuffed before they knew what was happening. By the time anyone else had clocked the incident, it was over. Simon had stayed where he was, quietly finished his lager and ordered another.
He had no such luck today. He read the paper, drank two coffees and then went out to walk about the town, until rain and a bitter wind whipping down the side streets drove him back to the station.
No one else in the team had any luck either. It was scarcely surprising. Uniform patrols might have success but when you did not know exactly what the wanted person really looked like, the odds were too long. It would be luck or nothing. He went back to an afternoon of dull admin.
At the same time, a man in a navy parka identical to dozens of other navy parkas about the town that day drove towards the centre of Lafferton. He had mid-brown hair, an unmemorable face, and an elderly silver-grey Ford Focus. He went slowly in and out of the streets and inadvertently down a one-way route and had to reverse out of it. As he did so he managed to run over the kerb, shaving by a cyclist with little to spare.
The PC was tapping on his window with the usual, neutral expression.
‘Good afternoon, sir. I wonder if you realise that you had a bit of a close shave just now.’
‘I do apologise. My satnav took me down this street, not recognising it as a one-way, bloody thing, and then of course I had to reverse and it’s very narrow.’
‘Best to rely on the evidence of your own eyes and use satnav as a backup in a town centre situation, sir. Now you’re pulled up, may I see your driving licence?’
The man produced it out of a black wallet.
‘Thank you, sir. Any other ID on you at this time?’
He had a snooker club ID card with his photograph, and a couple of bank cards, plus the paper section of his licence. The constable took his time over scrutinising them, then checked the car’s tax disc and registration with the central database. The reply came back within seconds.
‘Thank you very much, sir. Everything in order. Just make sure you pay full attention to street signage in the future. You staying with us long?’
‘Not sure yet. Possibly tonight.’
‘Right, well, safe journey. On your way.’
As the Focus drew up at the next traffic light, the man’s mobile phone beeped for a text. He pulled into a garage forecourt.
What the f*ck are you doing getting caught by a plod?
He swore and deleted, then drove on towards an area of new housing, built, it seemed, on the design of a complicated crop circle. He had set his satnav for the postcode that contained Duchess of Cornwall Close. He saw it ahead, glanced and then accelerated past. Red-and-white crime-scene tape was still hanging limply outside one of the houses.
He spent the rest of the day alternately driving about without any apparent aim, and parking and walking up and down residential streets, looking about him in a rather vague and bored way.
He left the town just after the evening was drawing in and headed ten miles for an anonymous, functional motel by a service station. He checked in, went to his room, showered, changed, sent a couple of texts, and then went down, with his iPad, to the bar. He ate a burger and chips supper, and did not leave the motel until after breakfast the following morning.
His movements were monitored and recorded on the fifth floor of the building in which he worked.
After he checked out just after eight the next morning he drove around until he found a piece of waste ground behind a disused warehouse, where he unlocked the car boot, took two number plates from a canvas bag, removed the existing ones and exchanged the tax disc on the windscreen for another. He then locked the boot and drove off, once again in the direction of Lafferton.
During the afternoon, he approached the sheltered housing complex and turned into the street adjacent to Duchess of Cornwall Close. The area was deserted. Lights were on in two of the bungalows; a car showing a disability badge was parked in a designated space. The man reversed out of sight of a street light and opened his door. As he did so, a police car emerged from the shadows in which it had been concealed and stopped beside him. Two patrolmen leapt out.
‘Afternoon, sir. We meet again.’
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. What kind of luck was this, to be pulled up by the same copper twice?
‘Can I ask what you’re doing here? Going to visit someone in the Close or what?’
Copper number two stood in front of him, arms folded, daring him to run, while his old friend, copper number one, walked round the car quickly, then held his torch to the number plate.
Thirty seconds later, the man was inside the patrol car.
‘Right, let’s have an explanation, sir, and try to make it a good one. I catch you driving somewhat carelessly in the town centre yesterday. Number plates and disc all come up fine, matching your ID. I let you go with a caution about road safety. Thought no more about it. Now I find you parking out of the way in the immediate area of a crime scene – which is why you were stopped. Routine at the moment for every car that parks in the vicinity. Only to find your number plate doesn’t match the one you had on this car yesterday. Nor does the disc. Seems the same car. You’re the same driver. So what’s going on?’
Copper number one got back into the driver’s seat.
‘Checks out. Checks with the name, the ID, the road fund licence, car itself.’
Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit.
His mobile beeped for a text.
‘I need to pick this up.’
‘If you don’t mind, sir . . .’
But he had the screen open. Abort. Abort. Abort. We’ll deal.
‘My boss,’ the man said. ‘He’s about to contact you.’
‘Oh yes? Now why would that be?’
‘Confirmation of my bona fides. Explanation.’
The two cops exchanged a glance. Then the radio went live.
‘Base to 108. Driver of car licence number OYO 04 JOH to be released without further questioning. Confirm action taken.’
There was a slight pause.
‘There you go. My boss’s seen to it. Sorry about all this,’ the man said. ‘No one’s fault.’
Though he knew it was his. His fault for driving carelessly, his fault for getting too close to the crime scene without taking permanent police presence into the reckoning. His fault.
‘Out you get then.’
He got out of the patrol car. ‘Cheers,’ he said.
Neither of the coppers spoke. They just watched as he walked to his car, started it and drove away.
Get your arse back here now.
His car left Lafferton, going surprisingly fast for a 1.2 Focus, in the direction of the motorway to London.
I could have been an actor, the guy said once. He watched me put on the new sort of clothes. He followed me for half a day, just walking around, going into a shop, a post office, a pub. I could have been an actor if I’d thought. I’d have quite liked that. I’d got my walk a bit different, to go with the new clothes, held myself different, I’d never once looked uncomfortable, I’d looked as if it were – well, normal. Normal.
I knew that. None of it ever bothered me.
Only what was inside here, in my head, that bothered me. At first I thought it had all gone, didn’t cause me to lose any sleep, but then little things began to niggle. Only not often. I’d wake up and think, ‘Fuck, who am I?’ Voting. I’d always voted Labour. Never thought twice. Now I was supposed to be a right-wing Tory, veering towards BNP. But in my head, I couldn’t do it. I could never think like that. The voting ballot’s secret so that was all right, I voted how I always had. But in my head . . .
Sometimes the whole thing did my head in so much I had to go to bed. I got migraines. I’d never had anything like that. The only headache I might have had was the usual if I’d a bit of a hangover, which wasn’t often as I’ve never liked drinking to excess.
But I got really blinding headaches, with zigzags in front of my eyes and flashing lights and being sick as a dog. I got them more and more often. In the end I had to go to a doc, and he asked me how long I’d been getting them and when I said not too long, he was surprised. Said people usually started getting them as teenagers. Asked what triggered them, if I could think of anything – usually something you eat, he said, like chocolate, that’s common, or red wine, but could be lots of other stuff. I said I hadn’t noticed anything.
He gave me some tablets and they helped a lot. Didn’t stop the headaches coming but they made a big difference when they did.
But I knew they’d never go altogether until my head was sorted out. Who I was. Who I really was. The one that had been born, or the one that hadn’t.
The days when the migraine headaches were really blinding, when I could hardly see, I took double the tablets, and when they began to work, I started going out at night again, like the old days. His days. The first time, that woman Elinor Sanders, I sat on a wall behind some bushes and when the pain quietened down to just a blurred feeling, I went in.
And straight away, as soon as I’d finished, I felt something like a shotgun going off inside my head and it cleared. The migraine might never have happened. It was like a boil bursting.
But why didn’t that ever happen before? Why didn’t he get migraine headaches? The one that was born, I mean? Keyes. Go on, say the name. Alan Keyes. Why didn’t he?
Because his head wasn’t split in two. Because he knew who he was. Well, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he?
It was only after they took him away from me and made me forget all about him, when they wouldn’t let me stay in touch. That’s when they started up.
And there’s one other thing. I don’t know why. If I knew once, then I can’t remember, but I wonder now if I ever did know, if they ever actually said. Why? Why did he have to disappear, as if he’d never been born, and why did this new one have to take over?
It’s like things you read, or see on films, about people being possessed by aliens or evil spirits against their will. They can’t do anything about it. They stop being themselves. They’re someone different. It goes back a long way. Jekyll and Hyde, all that.
In the end it drives you mad.
OLIVE TREDWELL HAD had her name down for one of the new sheltered bungalows since the day her grandson had shown her the notice about them in the paper. She was ninety, she lived in a house with too many stairs, and although she hadn’t had a day’s illness in forty years, her sight was failing. The old neighbours had all died or moved away and the bigger houses had become flats. The streets were more down at heel than they had been, and it was not altogether safe at night.
She had spent six months getting rid of the accumulations of her long life, throwing away, giving away, taking to the charity shops. Her grandson had even made her several hundred pounds by selling things on eBay, things which she had not realised were of any value at all.
She had got him to drive her up to Duchess of Cornwall Close every week to watch the progress of the buildings. They were put together nicely, Anthony had said, and he would know, being in the building trade.
She had had the letter saying she had been allocated one of the bungalows, then another giving her the number – 4. She had got rid of some more furniture and Anthony had gone with her to a huge superstore on the edge of Bevham, where she had spent most of her eBay money on new items. It was very different from the old post-war dark wood stuff and Anthony had been startled that she had wanted it, thinking her eyesight was even worse than she pretended.
‘Nan, it’s very Scandinavian – you know, Swedish and that. Pale wood and checked covers. Do you think –’
‘I like it. Don’t you?’
‘I do, but – well, it’s not really . . .’
‘. . . for someone of my generation. You’d be surprised. It isn’t even very expensive, not for all new.’
‘You do have to get someone to put the chest of drawers and things together – everything comes flat-pack.’
‘That’s all right, isn’t it? You can do that.’
Anthony wondered how much time he would have to give up to his grandmother after she’d moved. He hoped perhaps less. On the other hand she was ninety. The sheltered housing was a real plus. He’d dreaded having to come and live with her, if she refused to move and her health failed, but now he’d be able to carry on living in his flat in Bevham and come over to see her – just not so often, not be tied to it. It was all systems go.
And then the first murder happened, followed so quickly by the second.
‘Well, that’s that,’ Olive said. ‘I’ll just have to have the new furniture in here – not that it’ll look so well.’
‘Listen, Nan, I agree with you there’s no way you can move there yet, not for now, I wouldn’t think of letting you –’
‘I wouldn’t think of letting myself.’
‘But once the police have caught him, which they will any minute now, and all the dust has settled, then you can go.’
‘What difference would it make if they catch him or not?’
‘Well, obviously –’
‘The place is tainted. It’s got the mark of the devil on it. Nobody in their right mind would dream of going there to live after what’s happened, they’ll have to tear the whole lot down and start again somewhere else. That’s what they do. Remember Fred West? Remember Christie? Their houses were torn down and they didn’t even build new ones on the space, they left them like air. That’s what they’ll do here. Those bungalows will be haunted until they do and you don’t think royalty would want their name associated, do you?’
There had been no point in arguing with her about it.
The new Scandinavian furniture had arrived. New blue-and-white gingham curtains came as well, held by wooden rings on wooden poles, not by plastic clips on plastic rails, plus a lot of cheerful sunshine-yellow china and a bright red rug for the hall.
The remarkable thing was that now the old stuff had gone and the rooms were done, Olive was certain she could see better.
‘It’s made the world of difference,’ she said to her grandson on the phone, the day everything was finished. ‘What with that and the new light for the porch and the locks you got me. I don’t really know now why I ever thought of moving.’
She pottered about the brighter kitchen, making hot milk in one of the sunshine-yellow mugs, pleased with everything, her eyes picking out detail she hadn’t been aware of for a long time. This house had suited her for fifty-nine years. It had needed freshening up, that was all. It would see her out. If anyone moved into the sheltered bungalows now, they were fools.