‘There’d be justice,’ Gerry said.
Ben shook his head. ‘He’s not the same bloke. They can’t retry a different man – new ID, new person.’
‘Doesn’t matter. He’s breached the law so the protection he was given by a new ID won’t apply. Not up to me, of course. Right, the Chief’s got the glad news and I’m off to my sister’s for a decent dinner.’
Until he opened the front door of the farmhouse and smelled rich savoury meat, hot candle wax, baked potatoes and woodsmoke from the fire, Simon had felt slightly numbed, the good result processed and accepted intellectually but not emotionally. Now, as Cat called out to him and he went in to find her on her own in the warm kitchen, draining vegetables, an unopened bottle of Merlot on the table, he felt a rush of pure pride and happiness. Old people could sleep soundly again, he had tied everything up.
‘The only thing is,’ he said, pulling the cork on the wine, ‘this guy’s two men.’
‘It happens. You know how often neighbours and friends simply can’t believe that old Jim, nicest man on the block, always collecting for charity and going out of his way to do good turns, could be the killer of ten innocent passers-by, but there he is.’
‘Fletcher absolutely adores his kids. He’s got a nice wife, nice home, he’s a good reliable workman. He was a witness on one of the ram raids, gave us a pretty good statement without any trouble. But then he goes walking softly through the streets at night and carries out sadistic murders. Then he goes back home, slips into bed beside the wife, crashes out and wakes up right as rain the next morning to go and fit someone’s new back boiler.’
‘Jekyll and Hyde. It’s been done.’
‘Yup. Sorry I’m so late by the way.’
‘No prob, you gave me a chance to finish a report and start on my tax papers.’
‘So – what’s new?’
‘Where do I start?’
But she put a large forkful of food into her mouth to delay starting anywhere. Work, Molly’s return, the children – those were not what occupied her mind, not what kept her awake, not what troubled her beyond measure. They were not her father and Judith. How did you tell your policeman brother about a crime, of which you have no actual proof, but which you know in conscience you ought to report? You can’t.
Instead, there was Sam.
‘Bad start to the day. I got a call from the film company. They’ve postponed and won’t be filming until the end of next year . . . regretfully, Sam will be too old, so sorry and all that . . .’
‘The problem isn’t so much the film – I’m not sure how keen he ever was to do it actually. But of course it’s the humiliation in front of Hannah. If only they could see they’re both in the same boat and cling together for mutual comfort, but no.’
‘Stand-off. You sense the constant low rumble of the drums.’
‘I haven’t seen them for a while – maybe we can have a day out soon? Haven’t seen Dad and Judith either. Have you?’
Cat hesitated. Drank some wine. This was the moment when she ought to say, ‘I’ve got something to tell you about them.’
But she didn’t.
‘Saw Judith at book group. All fine, I think.’
‘Perhaps we could all four go out for supper? I’ll ask them. The Italian?’
Cat nodded vaguely. ‘I’ve got a lot of work on though.’
‘I thought the hospice hours were reduced?’
‘And my PhD proposal, and – I’ve had an idea for a book.’
‘Death and dying?’
‘That sort of thing.’
‘Still, you can spare an evening.’
‘I expect so. Do you want another potato?’
Simon held out his plate.
‘How does Rachel take it when you’re working round the clock and she can’t get in touch with you? Not all of them have found it easy to cope with.’
‘All of “them”?’
‘Girlfriends. Stupid phrase.’
‘Her husband died yesterday.’
‘I know, you told me. It’s tough, whatever she felt about him.’
‘She loved him. Don’t give me that look.’
‘Didn’t mean to. So now what?’
‘How would I know?’
Cat set her glass down and looked at him hard. ‘Now listen. I know you’re exhausted, I know you’re wound up and I totally understand what an awful state this is with Rachel.’
‘Of course I bloody do. I’ve seen you in enough messy situations with women to know first that she’s different, and second that the guilt and shock both of you feel now Ken has died is massive. I know you, so stop playing games, with me of all people. I want to help you, I’m not trying to interfere.’
‘And you know it. Shove your pride where the sun don’t shine for once.’
He laughed. ‘That doesn’t sound like you.’
‘No, well, that’s Sam for you. Anyway – are you hearing me, Simon?’
He poured them each a fresh glass of wine.
‘Please. Then we can open another bottle.’
‘Plan. But just answer the question first.’
‘I‘m hearing you, Catherine.’
She threw a pot holder at him. But she was filled with relief. They were friends again, he would lean on her while always pretending he was doing no such thing. She didn’t think he realised how tricky the next few months were going to be.
They broached the second bottle and sat by the fire, Wookie pressed up close to Simon, Mephisto basking in front of the flames.
Cat looked at her brother, pale with tiredness, hollow-eyed, his blond hair in need of the barber. She loved him dearly, and she wished him not only the usual things, love and security and happiness, a solid home base, but for the prickle hedge that grew round him to be cut, like his hair, or chopped to the ground.
She also realised that, at least for now, and perhaps forever, she must keep knowledge of the situation between Richard and Judith to herself. But she was used to that.
That cop. He kept on saying it until it was like a drill going into my head.
‘You weren’t yourself. You weren’t yourself.’
I wasn’t Harry Fletcher because I’ve never been Harry Fletcher. I’ve no idea who Harry Fletcher is.
Yes, I have. Harry Fletcher’s a decent bloke. Good plumber. Reliable. Hard-working. Honest. Looks after his mother-in-law.
Harry Fletcher has a smashing wife and he has the best two lads in the world. He loves them. He’d die for them. He’d kill for them.
But he didn’t. He can’t have done. He wasn’t himself.
Alan Keyes, now, he’s your man. He’s a killer. They let him off. Why, I’ve no idea, I’m not into his secrets or theirs. But they let him off even though he was a killer.
He’s the one who liked to do it. Old ladies.
Keyes is your killer, not Harry Fletcher. But Keyes doesn’t exist and who’s Harry Fletcher? The one who was never born.
‘You weren’t yourself, Harry.’ Spot on.
But it’s like this. Harry Fletcher has confessed to the lot. Nobby Parks wasn’t a murder. How was anyone to know he was in the shack? He was out all over the town at night. Like me. Only he wasn’t, and he died, but that’s not murder. An accident isn’t murder, it’s manslaughter. People often don’t get a sentence at all for manslaughter.
Olive Tredwell. Yes, but I wasn’t myself. I’d just found out about Nobby. I went mad.
‘You weren’t yourself, Harry.’
So that leaves two. Rosemary. She just had to go because she might have seen something. That’s regrettable. Didn’t mean to upset Kaz and the kids. Rosemary and Nobby. Not meant to be killed.
So that leaves one.
‘You weren’t yourself, Harry.’
No. I haven’t a clue who I am, to be honest, so they can work with that, psychiatrists, all those people, they can understand and write it up so it’s not what people think of as murder. They’ve got words. Phrases. Jargon.
‘You weren’t yourself, Harry.’
So the way I see it, it’ll be five years in the hospital for treatment, cure, and out. The lads will be a bit bigger but not much. I’ll see them. I’ll go home to them. They’ll understand how much I love them. Everybody will. Like that young cop. He understood. So it’ll be all right. I won’t lose them after all. And they won’t lose me.
THE PHONE RANG.
He knew the voice. But that was all. Just a voice.
‘Result, then. Pity we’re invisible.’
‘I meant, it would be nice to go public and claim the prize, but we can never do that. So you get the glory. We begrudge you not at all, knowing you won’t forget.’
‘Forget what?’ Simon could barely believe what he was hearing.
‘That it was all down to us. If we hadn’t given you a piece of vital info, you wouldn’t have got on to Fletcher.’
‘So what you’re saying is, having Harry Fletcher behind bars is all down to you? We didn’t play any part in getting this result at all?’
‘Oh, come on, Superintendent, we’d never say that, now, would we? Just that you acted on information received. From us. But if there are any medals going, you get them. I’d say that was more than fair. Cheers, then. Nice working with you, Superintendent.’
Simon was incandescent, about to put in a call to the Chief, to make an official complaint, to write an official letter to . . .
But he didn’t. He wouldn’t.
He went downstairs to take the press conference.
The day petered out, as days after a successful op always did. Everyone had the usual sense of anticlimax and back to routine after the jubilation, no one felt like going to the pub at the end of the shift.
Simon drove home. He would shower, change, drink a Laphroaig, make an omelette and a salad. Go on with reading The Heart of Midlothian, lying on the sofa.
It was cathedral bell-ringing practice. He would open the big window to let the changes in. Another whisky. Early bed.
There were a couple of dull-looking letters and a magazine in his letter box. And a white envelope with ‘By Hand’ written, top left, and ‘Simon’.
This has been a difficult week, I’m in pieces, not certain how to process what’s happened. I knew Kenneth hadn’t much longer to live but his actual death has been a devastating shock.
I know – I hope – you will understand that I’m not sure where I am or what I feel otherwise. So I cannot and must not see you, or talk to you – anything. Please don’t try and get in touch. I don’t know how long it will take, when I will feel I can see you. Or even if I ever will. I don’t know who I am just now.
Please, understand all this and forgive, dear Simon.
He stood with the letter in his hand, in the light of one lamp, as the bells began to ring.
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